One of the most pleasing sails of our 3-month voyage – on a gorgeous blue-sky autumn day, with steady south-westerlies and warmth in the sun – carried Ariose into Mahone Bay, and us to our destination: Chester, Nova Scotia. Were the conditions really so perfect or were our senses so primed on this last day under sail, that impressions were heightened? Perhaps both.
Shirley fendered up and prepared port and starboard dock lines, uncertain about the configuration of the marina we were heading to. Tim reluctantly started the engine and we furled and dropped sails for the final time, as late as we dared. Then under motor, we slalomed around markers and boats moored at the entrance to Chester’s “back harbour”.
Glancing up as we approached the dock, we saw our friend George ready to greet us. (Almost said “our saviour, George”, but he reads most posts and we don’t want to ruin him by giving him an overinflated sense of self!) He was a welcome sight! We made it. An emotional voyage complete.
Our approach was abrupt, but George fended off Ariose’s bow saving her nose from being nicked. Shirl stepped onto the dock, secured Ariose, then gave George a hug. He commented, “You guys look pretty good. I was expecting skin and bones!”, referring to some of the rough times – sailing and relationship – we’ve gone through. “Let me get a photo of you for that blog of yours.” And he did:
We took a wander around the boatyard. THIS was where we’d be hauled out?! We didn’t expect a fancy marina that caters to the upper crust, but…
This yard had certainly seen better days, and didn’t inspire a lot of confidence as a place to safely store Ariose, but the owner had lots of experience and was respected. There were a couple other boats at the docks, and those who had the half dozen or so other boats on the hard seemed to be ok with leaving them here. Well, most of them did look like project boats, in other words, not seaworthy. The “for sale” sign out front was also concerning. What if the yard sold and new owners wanted Ariose out of there? It’s been for sale for years, we were told, so don’t worry about it going anytime soon. On the other hand, the yard was right in town, a short walking distance to anything we might need – and – the price was right. Now that we were here, there was such a sense of relief, that we pushed aside any thoughts of not staying.
There were no facilities for yachties, other than the port-a-potty propped near the workshop, so George’s offer of an overnight visit to his and Joan’s home to get fed and cleaned, and to enjoy a brief break from the boat was especially appreciated. We tried to recall when we last showered… and as we scrolled backward in our memory of this voyage, we realized that our bodies hadn’t been properly bathed since Iles de la Madeleine, 24 days previously! We must have been emitting quite the heavy scent of eau-de-sweat & sea, but our noses were immune to it and George, a salty sailor himself, was too polite to comment. Joan, definitely not a sailor, graciously directed us to all we needed as soon as we stepped into their home.
En route, George pointed out highlights in the postcard-worthy towns along the way, most notably Mahone Bay (the town) and Lunenberg. Both are steeped in rich sea-faring history. We watched tourists get a taste of sailing on Eastern Star, a gorgeous wooden schooner which even so late in the season, offers daily excursions. It still feels pretty incredible to us that we have been able to have such experiences, and on our own boat.
Lunenberg is famous as the home of the Bluenose, the iconic racing schooner / fishing vessel built in the early 1920s that is immortalized on the Canadian dime. We wandered over to the Bluenose II, an exact replica of the original. It was built the year Shirley was born, so she can attest to the fact that it, too, is getting old.
We had a lovely evening with Joan and George, and felt absolutely spic & span, clothing our freshly washed bodies in freshly laundered clothes!
The next day, it was back to the boat, and to the work of preparing for haul-out. We were disappointed to be informed that there would be a delay. The boatyard owner was waiting for a part for the trailer that Ariose would be stored upon. It could be several days or a week or more. We were a little ticked that he hadn’t advised us of this earlier, but perhaps he hadn’t inspected the trailer until we booked in. He seemed surprised that we weren’t packing up and heading out. He had expected us to leave Ariose behind for him to crane out at his convenience. No way.
We still feel the pain of having had Ariose damaged last year in the hands of a well-run operation that we knew and trusted. We’ve never stored Ariose anywhere other than on our property, under the protection of a boat shed, within view of our front door. For our own peace of mind, we needed to see for ourselves that she was tucked in well for winter, and resting securely. Ariose is immensely valuable to us. We have put in so much time and labour and love into this boat, not to mention, hard-earned money. Ariose had been through a hurricane after all – it would be heart breaking to suffer ice damage because it wasn’t leveled correctly, or toppled in a run-of-the-mill winter storm, or who knows what other disaster could befall our unattended boat. Nope. We were not leaving until we were confident Ariose would be ok.
We agreed to be patient, after all, what’s a few more days.
Then, we asked to see the trailer where Ariose would be placed once craned out, and pulled a short distance across the yard to then rest for the winter. He motioned toward a jumble in the yard. Shirley had to ask again, what, within the metal and wood she was looking at, was the trailer that he had promised was perfect for Ariose, as she thought that the one he was pointing toward look destined for the scrapyard. Oh. You DO mean that one.
She glanced at the rusted assembly. “Trust me, this trailer has lots of life in it”, he assured her. He had nearly 50 years experience running this boatyard that had been in the family for generations before him. We were used to towing Ariose on its trailer at high speed for hundreds of highway miles, so were accustomed to looking at a trailer with different requirements than one that would just be sitting stationary. Hmm.
Looking back, we can now see that we were not in best shape for decision-making. We each had reservations about this set-up, but beyond acknowledging that we could add supports to the trailer, we didn’t really discuss our concerns with one another. Wanting to move on in our lives clouded our judgement. We leaned toward the easiest option, the one in front of us. That “we’re not leaving until Ariose is secure” resolve was beginning to fade and a bit of uncharacteristic “whatever” attitude crept in, as the need to put this chapter behind grew stronger.
We let a few days pass as we tackled some small projects on Ariose, while also enjoying daily strolls around the charming town of Chester.
Chester is well known in the sailing community. Mahone Bay’s island-filled waters offer great sailing, there’s well-attended annual races, many marinas and boatyards, and a rich history of ship building. We were delighted when a good friend shared with us a personal connection.
J’s brother had built his own sailboat here at Chester, guessing by the hair and clothing styles in the photos she shared, in the 1970s. Anyone who has such skill and fortitude, sure has our respect. As we walked by the present-day Chester Yacht Club, we doubted that they would appreciate fires in the yard, melting lead to pour a keel, as shown in one photo. As J pointed out, “have you noticed when gentrification takes place, it can have an unfortunate result – as in sterile. It needs the old cauldrons of melting lead with the good fumes; the old sea dogs reliving their high sea adventures; some truthful tales , but who cares. Character is what counts. Then you’ve got a setting worth noticing.” We didn’t ask permission to include her words here, because we suspect she’d decline, and her observations are so perfectly stated, we just had to include them. Forgive us, J. 🙂
On the topic of character, Chester’s motto, “A progressive community” sure lacks it. The homes and the community’s vibe do have interest, though.
The village was founded in the mid-1700s, and had a contentious start. After the Acadian people were forced out, the government, wanting to repopulate the newly vacated land, saw opportunity in the population boom happening south of the border. Land grants were offered to New Englanders, and thus, Chester was born.
Shortly after, during the American Revolution, Nova Scotia, enemy territory under British rule, was regularly invaded by the military and the privateers (essentially, pirates on payroll). Some of the ex-Americans were found to be sympathizers, including the founders of Chester who were charged with sedition.
Today, with Chester less than an hour’s drive from Halifax, invaders are from the city and not the States, and clearly rankle some of the folks born and bred in this village. One fellow who shared his uncensored opinion with us bemoaned the changes since those city folks started buying properties and moving here.
A couple days passed, and we were still wavering on whether this was the right place to keep Ariose. The thought of finding another boatyard, and getting there, as we’ve said, seemed overwhelming. Yet we were in sailing-central … there were many options within an hour’s sail. What was the big deal?
We were out of fuel. Still lots in Ariose’s tank; none left in either one of us. Yes, we had enjoyed much of the voyage, but it also required an incredible amount of emotional labour to get here together after we had decided to take a break as a couple. And now that we were at what we thought was our finish line, we were on empty. We were grieving the loss of a dream, our relationship fracturing, processing emotional reactions than had been suppressed along the way…
Then, a closer inspection of the trailer, followed by a restless night, kicked us both into gear. We’re reluctant to include a photo anticipating a chorus of WTF were you guys thinking that you even considered this an option!? Well… here it is.
First thing the next morning, Shirl got on the phone to other marinas in the bay. As she was speaking to one, the current yard’s owner dropped paperwork off to us, asking for a signature. When we reviewed the lengthy waiver, the decision that we had been waffling about was made very easy. If we still had any inclination to stay here, it was gone.
The boatyard had no insurance. Marine insurance is getting incredibly difficult to obtain. Seems there’s no profit, and most companies are moving out of the business. The only insurance we were able to obtain, after considerable effort and a significant expense, was bare-bones liability, so we understood that it might have been impossible or unaffordable for this small yard. But seeing in black and white that we would need to accept ALL risk, even if there was negligence on the part of this operation that was about to place Ariose on a rusty trailer for the winter or longer while we were a few provinces away? Well that sealed the deal.
Within the day, we paid slip fees, and motored over past seals basking on a rock (gotta be a good omen), to another boatyard. Gold River Marina is nestled in a protected inlet. It has hundreds of boats – almost all in good condition – stored in their yard. There are on-site shipwright services, friendly staff, they have insurance, and require proof of liability insurance from those using their yard. They even have washroom facilities with showers. This felt MUCH better. As a bonus, George’s lovely Alberg 29, musically named Sh-Boom (… life is but a dream, sweetheart) is on the hard there.
We arrived on a Friday, with no chance of haul-out until Monday. George gave us a lift to Halifax to pick up a rental car. We had a bit of free time, and now the means, to be land-based tourists.
We headed downtown Halifax – such a scenic city. One stop on our tour was The Tare Shop. It’s a great little package-free eco store, and is the entrepreneurial venture of the sister of one Shirley’s kids’ partners. She also has products online if anyone’s interested. https://thetareshop.com/
Wandering the waterfront brought back memories for Shirley of her last time here. It was about 10 years ago, but she commented that it felt like a lifetime ago. She was here to present at a national conference with a dear colleague, back when her career dominated. “I still naively believed that I could be a part of major paradigm change in the mental health world.”
We decided to treat ourselves to a restaurant lunch – our 2nd meal out in 3 months! We passed by many options, full of charm, and chose a rather plain, but bustling diner with positive reviews. What a good choice! We feasted on generous portions of excellent seafood. No need for dinner that evening.
On the drive back to Ariose, we took a detour to catch sunset at Peggy’s Cove. So photogenic!
Again, it brought a flood of memories, and again, from what feels like a lifetime ago for both of us. Tim was last here on his marathon motorcycle adventure tour in his 20s. Shirl was last here nearly 2 decades ago on a family summer holiday, part of a month-long road-trip through the Atlantic provinces. A photo of her kids scrambling over the rocks with the lighthouse in the background graced the central hall in her (Maritime-inspired red) home for years. Time passes. Chapters close and new ones open.
Sunday was spent finishing up stripping and emptying out Ariose and filling up the rental car. The weather remained cooperative with temps in the mid-teens, and skies clear. It was ideal for spreading the ropes and canvas and bits and bobs found marinating in salt water under the sole and at the bottom of locker on the dock to dry. We took a run to George’s to drop off items that we wouldn’t be carting home, like sails and canvas and life-raft. They will fare better off the boat and its humidity. Thanks, George and Joan.
It sounds like a simple task – transferring stuff from a boat to a car – doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s a physically and mentally challenging reality Tetris, the puzzle game, but 3-dimensionally in an odd-shaped car interior. For starters, Tim wrestled the two 140 pound batteries that are needed for the off-grid system at home, out of their tight space in the cockpit lockers. Shirley was relieved that he did so without injury. We had packed with the possibility of being away for years, and despite having set out only a few months ago, the volume of stuff we had aboard still was shocking. We felt like magicians, pulling out an endless array of things from our hat. We left clothing to the end, placing it in crammab;e garbage bags, but they would not fit. Impossible. We had to removed most items so that we could shove this t-shirt in that little gap, and that pair of socks, in this gap. As you can see, we were victorious!
Finally, Monday, haul-out day, arrived. The marina was unexpectedly short staffed, so it looked like we’d have to wait another day. Then, much to Tim’s delight, they recruited him to operate the winch. He was thrilled to be able to play with the machinery. Even Shirl was amazed by the system.
Their massive winch – and as you can see, we do mean massive! – was formerly the windless on a naval vessel. It pulls boats out of the water on a rail lift, then a hydraulic flat-bed transports them to their resting place. They are able to haul vessels more than 10x Ariose’s weight. Tim’s short video at the end of this post captures the process. We rented jack stands (non-rusted, in case you’re wondering!) that, once chained together, will hold Ariose upright over the winter.
We spent our final night at George and Joan’s, and appreciated their hospitality and the warm supportive conversation. They, like many others, were trying to understand our decisions. In between pizza slices and wine, questions were gently posed, suggestions offered, and we tried to explain. In all relationships, there are so many layers of complexity. We’ve shared in our Ariose Notes some, but of course not all, of the issues that have been challenging.
George, who at nearly 20 years our senior, solo sails. He has crossed the Atlantic multiple times and is gearing up to do so again. He wondered why we were so often tired. There were two of us after all! We caught him cringing when questionning the times we chose to stay put and rest when conditions were favourable to move on. We also had equipment with us that could have made our lives aboard easier and safer, but we never figured out how to use it. The IridiumGo, for example, would have provided satellite wifi. We could have been tracking Fiona long before we arrived on Iles de la Madeleine, and possibly would have altered course. The Cape Horn self-steering vane, is another. It could have allowed us to avoid the fatigue on longer passages where one of us had to be at the helm 24-7. We never had the energy to invest in figuring out either. And why? With hindsight, we realize that the increasing difficulties working together, the relationship tensions, were taking a serious toll.
George is not the only one who has had questions. Did we not expect tension when living aboard a small boat? A reasonable query. Yes, we did, and we were hopeful that pursuing our common dream would allow us to rise above the tough times. Do you think the next time you encounter some of those trying sailing scenarios, that you will be better equipped to face them, and they won’t seem so big? Yes. There’s a learning curve, and if we had continued, the sailing would likely have become easier and easier. You guys just need a little break. Yes, we certainly do. The two of you are so different, but so complementary. Yes, and yes, and we’ve accomplished what we have so far through a tremendous amount of effort. If only you hadn’t encountered the hurricane. Well, Fiona precipitated our decisions, but they would have been made with or without the storm.
We appreciate all the suggestions, concern and support that has poured in. A few seem to feel slighted or even angry with us for giving up too easily. Perhaps they have projected their own unfulfilled dreams on us? In the 10 years that Tim and I have known each other, we’ve lived together for over 6, nearly ¼ of that time on Ariose, and the remainder in a one-room off-grid cabin. So we know intimately the challenges of tight quarters and living in a way that requires a lot of effort and collaboration. Our shared dreams and interdependence on one another to achieve them, have been our glue. We have considered and tried many ways of making our rather mis-matched relationship work. We intended to continue on this voyage as long as it was fun. It was no longer fun. In fact, it no longer felt safe. We’re both feeling good about our decisions and the road (waters?) ahead.
Okay, enough relationship explanation, back to Ariose.
The next day, we completed winterizing the boat. By mid-afternoon, we said goodbye to Ariose – with some tears – and were on the road. The heavily weighted down rental car was riding stern low and bow high, much like our Alberg! Two days later, we were back to northern Ontario.
So what now?
We’re composing this wrap-up Ariose Note as Shirley sits in a 9’ x 13’ off-grid cabin, generously offered as a place to land by a dear friend who rarely uses it. It’s small and very basic, but as with everything in life, it’s all relative.
It’s quite spacious compared to Ariose. She’s appreciating the solitude, the peaceful sunrises, and having land just outside the door, inviting her for long meditative walks.
Tim’s back in the strawbale “garage” we’ve called home, re-claiming his space, and settling into his routines. We’re in touch every day as we sort out what we’d like our next chapters to entail.
In one of our first ArioseNotes, we shared that when Shirley left (paid) work to join Tim as we prepared the boat and ourselves for sailing, her colleagues, as they wished her well, tucked a quote into her farewell card. It’s attributed to Mark Twain, and despite having become part of the inspirational porn peddled on plaques, t-shirts, and mugs, it still resonates for us:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines! Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore! Dream! Discover!
We have done just that. We have connected with so many special folks, we’ve stretched our capabilities, and have had incredible experiences. Just in the last few months alone, we’ve been surrounded by frolicking whales, we’ve been moved by vast silver ocean-scapes on full moon nights, we’ve been awed by the fury of a hurricane, and so much more.
We have accomplished a lot together, both on and off the water. The memories we’ve made will last a lifetime. We’re full of gratitude.
What’s next? We’re not sure. If sailing Ariose is in our future, we’ll invite our virtual ship-mates back aboard. Thank you for having been along with us.
Best wishes to all for fair winds & comfortable seas!