All posts by Shirley

Shirley’s farewell post: My Central American land & sea adventures

In the previous Ariose Note, I shared how my intended sailing adventure off the coast of Central America was superseded by a different sort of life voyage, my mother’s passing. And then, less than 2 months later, I found myself travelling from Canada once again, on a deja-vu flight, this time to Honduras’ Bay of Islands. I was resuming my stint crewing with Mary, a solo sailor who was moving her boat to Guatemala.

I stepped off the plane into the thickness of the hot, humid Roatan air, made my way through customs’ photo and fingerprinting, and had a cab deliver me to the yacht club. I arrived just in time to be greeted by an open-armed captain as she climbed the stairs from the dock. After a poolside cool-down and relaxing catch-up, we headed out to Glass Slipper waiting at anchor a short dinghy row away.

[as usual, just click on thumbnail images if you’d like to view the larger photos]

OK, I said as I pulled myself up on the deck, Let’s try this again.

I settled back aboard Glass Slipper, and the next morning, we motored around a peninsula, escaping the fishing trawlers and inevitable debris from the town, to anchor where we could swim. How lovely to be back in warm salt water. Armed with scrubby pads and metal scrapers, we tackled the bottom which was starting to grow a living carpet, and pried off the barnacles that had decided to call the propeller home.

Mary’s intent to stretch out our anticipated one-week sail into several weeks, had evaporated. We had talked about staying a few days at each stop along the way, to have a leisurely time with lots of snorkelling and shore exploration en route to the Rio Dulce, our destination. We would leave the motor off and sail even if the winds were light as we wouldn’t be in a hurry. But Mary had been underway for 1/2 a year, and was feeling exhausted. The image of gentle sails and a tranquil life aboard is a false one for the majority of time cruising, and especially when solo. Mary felt she would only be able to relax once Glass Slipper was secure in a safe harbour where it would remain for the nearing hurricane season.

So we did move on each day, and if conditions weren’t ideal, we relied on the “iron sail” (i.e. the motor) to propel us. It was still a very pleasant week. A pleasant, albeit scorching, week.

It was so hot. Most days reached a humid mid-40s. It was the kind of heat that the relief of a “cooling” dip in the luke-warm sea was forgotten by the time I climbed back into the cockpit. It was the kind of heat that transfers litres of consumed water to a steady drip of sweat from chin and nose-tip … a very attractive look! It was the kind of heat that blocks solid sleep, but propping a fan a foot away from my face allowed catnaps. We rose before dawn every day to weigh anchor and get underway before the sun began to bake us again.

We made our way to Roatan’s West End, and the incredible reef that is its claim to fame in the diving world. The 3 main Bay Islands, a few smaller islands and over 50 cays form an archipelago along our earth’s 2nd largest barrier reef. I had sailed and snorkelled the largest, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, nearly 40 years ago, and still easily summon up those feelings of awe. It’s been 6 years since I’ve been in tropical waters, when Tim and I snorkelled almost daily during our 4 months in the Bahamas. I was so excited to be about to immerse myself in that magical underworld again. We slipped through the narrow marked channel and took a mooring ball. Less than a 10 minute swim, towing Mary’s kayak to be sure we were visible to the boats zipping around, brought us to an underwater wonderland.

There was gorgeous vibrant coral in blues, greens, a touch of reds and purples too – and sadly, much dead coral as well. Plentiful and varied fish ignored us as they went about their business. Once back aboard, a quick google refreshed my memory as what we had seen: lots of sargeant majors, varied parrotfish, butterflyfish, groupers, and comical trumpetfish, standing on their heads. Marvellous memories from past snorkelling merged with these new ones, clouded by the sombre recognition of what’s been lost. I don’t think its a matter of memory enhancement; this underwater world and the one I experienced in the Bahamas, although incredible, do not come close to the vibrancy, variety and density of life that I got to witness decades ago. The oceans are dying. Even so, I could have just hovered above the show forever. Mary agreed to delay the next morning’s departure so that I could visit one more time.

From there we headed to Utila, another of Hondura’s Bay Islands, where we strolled the main street and grabbed food at a roadside stand. We easily found immigration and adjacent, the conveniently located harbour master, and joined the queue of cruisers also checking out of the country. It’s always interesting to chat and hear about others’ journeys and plans. Lots of interesting folks out here.

Mary’s excitement to be on this, the final sail of the season, was palpable. Once we checked into Guatemala, we would be motoring up river. She had had enough of sailing. Now, the “can’t wait for this to be over” narrative was replaced by an non-stop Ed Sheeran playlist with the captain showing off her dance moves at the helm! 😉

An uneventful overnight sail (and that’s good!) sharing 3-ish hour shifts, brought us into Guatemalan waters. I’ve shared before the magic of being at sea in the inky-black night, infinite stars overhead. So sacred. My mother’s spirit felt close. The next day, we made our way along the coast in, according to Mary, the best sailing conditions she had had since first weighing anchor in Panama 6 months previously. A lovely day.

We ate well!

By late afternoon on the 2nd day, good depths and no reefs meant we could to stay close to the coastline. Such lush vegetation. The vastness of the ocean is magnificent, but I do prefer the closer vantage of coastal cruising.

Sunset, at anchor on the Rio Dulce

For me, one of the life lessons that sailing has reinforced on every voyage is that change is the only constant. Out near-perfect leg of this passage tended on the east side of Amatique Bay, Guatemala, with a tense after-dark anchoring. Our only chart was an electronic version on Mary’s phone. That phone was thought to be charging (but wasn’t). It died at the most inopportune time as dark descended and we were heading toward shore to drop hook. Stressful, but we did manage to securely anchor, and then, to decompress.

The next day, a short motor to the other side of the bay, narrowly making it across the shallow bar at the river mouth, brought us to Livingston, where we checked in. Then, we motored up the aptly-named Rio Dulce. The “sweet river” winds through a spectacular canyon with jungle-lined limestone walls, then past thatch homes and villages along the less steep parts of the river and lake widenings. What an ideal inland shelter from hurricanes that may assault the coast.

During the week’s voyage to get here, we had a few adrenaline moments: A dose of panic triggered by a reaction to an unidentified insect, confusion interpreting the direction of a freighter, and a jib furler sticking just as winds were building and we needed to reduce sail. We also narrowly avoided grounding when the fogginess of a sun-damaged depth sounder hid a crucial decimal point. The captain thought we had 35 feet under the keel, when it was actually 3 point 5 feet of water. This is all the stuff of sailing. With Tim and I getting ourselves into so many tricky situations, I realize I have become good at remaining calm, and find the demands of quick problem solving rewarding. Mary has far more training and live-aboard experience than I do, but spent long periods stationary, and usually only moves on in ideal conditions. That’s wise, especially considering her daughter was with her for many of those years. It has also meant fewer “learning” opportunities for dealing with those more tense situations.

Hitch-hikers onboard!

Two days after entering the Rio Dulce, we pulled into Catamaran Island Marina, Glass Slipper’s home for the next 5 months. Mary was delighted to arrive. I kept my disappointment that this sailing adventure was over so quickly to myself. The marina, tucked into mangroves with gorgeous landscaped grounds housing cabins, pool, restaurant, and free lanchas shuttling patrons across the water to Rio Dulce, the town… it was perfect. I stayed a few days, lending a hand with boat tasks, and enjoying the camaraderie of the community of cruisers there.

One morning, Steve, dockmaster and full-time Good Samaritan, initiated a work party. I was happy to join, lending my newly acquired carpentry skills to refurbishing desks for a local school. It was a fun time, working alongside other cruisers in a productive assembly line. We cut plywood into desk tops, seats, and backs, then rounded, routered, sanded, and varnished them. The next week, Steve would deliver it all to the school, where the kids would assemble them on newly painted metal frames. The heat wasn’t even an issue. After a cold northern Ontario winter constructing my little cabin, I discovered that I actually prefer +37 to -37 degrees Celcius for that kind of work. 

A few days later, Mary and I said our goodbyes. We had different personalities, some different approaches , and different priorities, but I so appreciated this opportunity she gifted me, and I hope I eased the stress she felt in moving her vessel. Would I crew on another’s boat again? Most certainly!

Yes, I would certainly “hop” on a sailboat again.

I decided to continue my Guatemalan adventure. I’ve long wanted to improve my patchy Spanish. My mother’s first language was Spanish, and I had mentioned this possibility to her prior to her death. She was so excited at the prospect of being able to chat in Spanish on our daily calls. Sadly, we won’t have that opportunity. The Lago Atitlan region in central Guatemala has developed a tourism niche offering classes, so I enrolled for a week with the Orbita school in San Pedro La Laguna. I set off on the 10-hour drive into the mountains in the heart of the country. Higher elevation = cooler temps. Mid 20s, and short bursts of daily rain were invigorating. So refreshing! I had energy once again.

This volcano-lined lake hosts about a dozen unique Mayan towns. What colour! The dress, the street art, the markets: Uplifting! Just wandering these streets brings on a smile. The gatos and perros, however, seemed unimpressed.

The Indigenous people have maintained their vibrant culture in this area despite not only centuries of colonization, but attempts at genocide (known as the Silent Holocaust) by successive US-backed Guatemalan governments between the 1960s and 90s. A horrific history.

Each morning, I hunkered down to one-to-one tutoring. The effort was eased slightly by being in an open-air classroom with the most spectacular view. Que hermosa!

I was shocked at how difficult it was to retain what I was taught. I wanted to explain to Fabiola, my patient maestra, as I asked her to repeat that verb conjugation for the 4th time, that really, I was a relatively bright person. Unfortunately, my limited vocabulary didn’t permit me to rescue my ego. I could feel my cerebral matter straining. Maybe the heat had melted some circuits? Or maybe menopause is to blame? By the end of most mornings, I’m not sure I could have even summoned up my name if asked. I longed for my younger brain that could cram for an exam and spit out rote learning with ease.

How I felt by the end of each days’ lesson!

After one week, I was just beginning to feel like I was making some progress – or rather, wasn’t fully burnt-out by the end of our 4 hours, so I extended by another week.

I lodged for those 2 weeks, along with 4-5 other housemates from around the world, with a family that provided room and board to students. I really enjoyed staying with “my” 3-generation Mayan family.

Their first language is Tz’utujil, one of the 20+ indigenous languages in the area. Spanish was learned in school, so with their relatively clear and slow 2nd-language speech, we were able to manage some conversation at mealtimes. For the most part, we could figure out what we were trying to share, although we were often forced to invite google to join, and at times, just threw up our hands and laughed together at the ridiculous communication break-downs.

For those 2 weeks in San Pedro la Laguna, I was immersed in a social circle of mainly 20-to-30 year old backpackers. Attending festivals, taking a Mayan cooking class, pre-dawn summiting an extinct volcano (by the light of our phones!) to catch a breath-taking sunrise … I had a great time.

I’ve heard that hanging out with people younger than oneself can help you stay youthful. Heading out for a beer together after attending a soccer game, with my beer acually being tea, and still, by 8:30, finding myself abandoning the others at the bar to flag down a Tuk-tuk to scoot me home for 9 pm bedtime because there were classes the next day… well… youthful is not how I felt!! Nevertheless, I had fun.

Then, it was off to Antigua, for a bit of touristing. It’s a remarkable city. Once the Spanish colonized these lands, they made it the capital of Guatemala (1500s to 1700s). Multiple earthquakes lead to the decision to move the political and economic centre to more stable ground, at the present location of Guatemala City.

I enjoyed hours wandering the cobblestone streets, getting lost, then suddenly turning a corner to find myself in a familiar park or at a building I recognized. Found! I – someone with no sense of rhythm – was talked into stepping out of my comfort zone to take a salsa dance class. Annette, one of my San Pedro house-mates who was also in Antigua did the convincing. Uno-dos-tres, shuffle-stumble-recover! By the end of the evening, if I was paired with the instructor who was able to puppet-master coordinate me, I felt like I got it!

The most memorable highlight for me of my few days in Antigua was a guided summit of Pacaya, an active volcano. As we climbed, we had a view of a neighbouring peak, Fuego, which sent out the poofs of small eruptions every 15 minutes or so. Near the peak, we paused to take in the lava fields which had transformed the surroundings. Awesome is such an over-used word, but I have no other to describe the sight. And as if we needed further testimony to nature’s force, the guides cleared a shallow hole in the hot rock. Roasted marshmallows for all!

After having been away for a little over a month, a month of such varied and rich experiences, I felt well nourished. I was ready to head back home. Back to real life.

So what does that look like?

Real life has been working with my brothers in dealing with the final details of my mother’s estate. It’s been a fabulous week-long canoe trip with dear friends.

It’s been getting back to the finishing touches in my tiny cabin’s construction (and healing from an unfortunate finger-chopsaw encounter). And for Tim and me, it’s also been planning our individual lives’ next chapters.

Life does bring strange twists. Years ago, I introduced Tim to sailing, to the possibilities of live-aboard, long-term cruising. Tim introduced me to the possibilities of a kinder-to-the-planet, off-grid land living.

Now, the tables are turned.

I look forward to settling into life in my new home. I’m considering building something larger in the future – maybe as grand as 4 or 5 times the size of my current 80 square foot space! 😉 I’d love to take on the challenge of creating a home using natural materials, making it as healthy and sustainable as possible. Or maybe other opportunities will present, and I’ll seize them. We’ll see.

The thought of stepping into a void without a solid plan, not knowing what shape the future might take, used to terrify me. I’ve since realized I never knew what lay ahead; it was an illusion. For the short term, though, I’m looking forward to a winter of rejuvenating hibernation.

And Tim? He has just reunited with Ariose near Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. He is going to try out solo sailing. As mentioned in previous Ariose Notes, if all goes well, he will assume ownership of Ariose, and consider sailing to more distant horizons. I am confident they will take good care of each other.

It won’t be easy to part with Ariose. I never thought I could feel such attachment to something inanimate. Ariose has been much more than a boat. For Tim and me, our beloved Alberg 30 has been a central part of our lives for much of the past decade. This boat was the focus of a great deal of thinking and learning and consumed heaps of hours’ labour (not to mention making a significant dent in my savings). Who knew that the mental health program manager had it in her to become moderately proficient at fibreglass work, cabin carpentry, sewing canvas, boat painting, and so much more. And through our many miles at sea, and some rather hard lessons, our sailing-related skills matured. Ariose was our transportation and home from which we adventured. Ariose allowed us to realize life-long dreams and sparked new ones. I have memories to treasure. I’m so grateful.

Everything ends – from adventures to the lives of people we care about. As this chapter closes for me, I look forward to whatever is next.

So now, I’m disembarking from Ariose Notes, “our” blog. I’ve enjoyed sharing, and the connections forged with those of you who have been aboard virtually have been special. Ariose Notes will now transition to “Tim’s” blog, a record of adventures from his unique perspective.

Tim – I wish you fair winds and favourable conditions, at sea, and in life.

Winter Report

April 1st has come and gone, and this cover image is no April Fool’s prank. The snow IS still blanketing us here in northern Ontario. There’s no shortage of available berths at North Bay’s marina!

Despite winter lingering, the months have passed quickly since Tim and I left Ariose near Lunenberg  Nova Scotia. Instead of transporting our beloved Alberg 30 home, Tim and I towed the weight of uncertainty with us. We weren’t sure what was next in our lives.  We’ve spent the past few months figuring it out and making things happen.

First, though, our boat. How is Ariose faring? Very well. 

Early February and Ariose waits patiently. photo credit: George R.

It has been strange to not have Ariose tucked within view, in its boat shed on our property. Actually, though, there’s been a bit of relief. With nearly 2000 km separating boat from labourers, there is no pressure to tackle the never-ending list of boat-work, which is good as we have had plenty of land-based work to complete. We assume Ariose is a happy vessel, having experienced a less extreme, maritime climate this winter.  It’s been reassuring to have our friend George keeping a watchful eye and sending updates. 

And how are Tim and I doing? We’re doing well, too.

We’re both appreciating solo life. Living apart suits us, but we are taking a unique approach to this separation thing. We both love our land, and are grateful to have 130 forested acres of it. Certainly there’s plenty to share. We have no plans to give it up. We’ll continue our co-ownership and for both of us, this will remain our terrestrial home base.

Tim burrowed back into the straw-bale garage/cabin, and has focused on a few interests and projects since our return. Some of these have been his own, and some helping me… more on that in a moment.

Grateful for this bunkie’s respite.

When we got back, I moved into a friend`s bunkie for a bit of recovery and reflection time. (Thanks, F.) It was much like boat living, off-grid and compact, but without worry of dragging anchor. It was nearly perfect, but as autumn ended,  I missed being home.

Serene view from bunkie’s front porch… but I still missed “home”.

I was inspired to build my own tiny space on our property. Tim offered to help. I had over a month before deep cold set in, and expected that would be enough time to construct such a small structure, a mere 8’x12′, or at least, to get it to the point of being inhabitable.   

Balsam en route to new life as a rafter.

Late November, with Tim’s help, I chose a lovely site tucked in our woods near the lake. We took down a reluctant leaning balsam, which became the first roof rafter of my small off-grid abode. And thus commenced THE build.  Four months later, it’s still far from complete, but I have moved in. It’s been quite the learning curve. And quite the effort. My casual “this can’t possibly take long” assessment was way off. It has been a challenging winter build, especially for a novice. Dragging materials through the snow, scraping ice off the previous day’s work, working with frozen tools and frozen toes. Tim contributed his brains and brawn as needed.  A friend and neighbour helped out with his workshop tools and his expertise. (Thank you J.) Another generous neighbour let me stay in his summer house just a short walk down the road.  (And thank you S.) Luxurious warm baths at the end of the day sustained me. 

Similar to our sailing experiences, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the degree of difficulty and the ultimate satisfaction. Let me just say that the satisfaction is high. Very high.

Once the cabin was enclosed, and my mini-woodstove installed, the icy discomfort was left behind. I felt a bit of a proud swagger in my gait as I wandered over to start each day’s work, circular saw in one hand, lumber on the other shoulder. 

Tim did a great job designing, sourcing, and instalIing a solar electrical system. There’ll be no need to ration power… this cabin’s loaded. For water, I’ll bucket it from a nearby spring.

Off grid power dude.

I’m wrapping up the interior’s finishing touches and later this year, I’ll complete the exterior and the landscaping.

It’s especially gratifying that most lumber has been harvested from our land and prepared on our mill, and other materials, like roofing, windows, and siding, we salvaged from demolitions thus rescuing them from a landfill fate. A few items, I did need to purchase new. I now have my own home base, a very simple, very light footprint nest to nourish my spirit

Tim and I will trial this new configuration of living apart but sharing our land. Maybe building a `real`home will be in my future – but definitely not in winter!

And what’s next?

Tim and I both have some sailing adventures ahead in 2023.  Tim is planning to return to Ariose this summer. He’ll test the waters – literally –  getting some solo sailing experience along Nova Scotia’s coast. If all goes well, he’ll assume ownership of the boat and consider voyaging further.

I’m leaving next week to join 2 other women sailing from Panama to Guatemala. Am I excited? Yes! We’re planning a couple leisurely months, enjoying several island groups along the way, and also will have some longer passages as we give the Honduran and Nicaraguan coast a wide berth for safety. 

So, that’s what we’ve been up to this winter, and what we have ahead. I’ll wrap up with one final (I hope!) image of this morning’s roadside icy wonderland. Happy spring to all!

A Chapter Ends

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:

Made it!

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.  

Waiting patiently.

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.

Tumbledown trailer awaiting Ariose.

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. 🙂

Chester Yacht Club… not a fire nor cauldron in sight.

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.

One of 3 rusted through supports!

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.

Motoring to a new – and final!- boatyard

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.

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.

This is how you play Tetris

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.

Melancholic scene, near Blue Rocks, NS

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.

On this leg of our voyage, we’re the ones passing freighters.

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.

Peaceful sunrise view from the cabin.

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!

Final Leg: Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast

In our last Ariose Note, Tim and I shared that we had made a very tough decision. We would call it quits, for now, anyways.  We would end our voyage. We would take space to consider whether our relationship had also run its course. And then, as ridiculous as it sounds, we proceeded to spend the next month continuing together in the very tight quarters of our boat, as we sailed a further 450 nautical miles from îles de la Madeleine to Cape Breton, through the Canso Strait, and southward along Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Coast to lovely Mahone Bay.  We’ve talked before about how cruising amplifies experiences. It also has a way of distilling what is important.  No need for relationship counselling when you have a month aboard to help process what you’re going through!

Yes, we could have hauled and stored Ariose in the Magdalens, and been done with it, but aside from the Islands’ remoteness (difficult for us to return to the boat, smaller pool of potential buyers if we decide to sell), doing so felt too reactive. In future, would we question if we had given up too quickly? We still had good weather ahead in the season, and felt it was important to get back on the horse, so to speak. We did not want a hurricane and a break-up to colour our final impression of sailing.

Our good friend George, has become a bit of a sailing mentor for us. Along with wise and encouraging messages of support, he also sent us details of several marinas in his home waters in south-easterly Nova Scotia, that could haul and store Ariose for the winter. He offered his garage for our gear. And a guest bed in his and Joan’s new home. And a shower. And laundry. How could we refuse? We would head Ariose’s bow southward and chart a course to Mahone Bay.

Tim and I were feeling rather raw, and in order to succeed on this final leg, recognized that we needed to be as gentle as possible – with each other and with our sailing. We had no immediate time constraints so once we made the overnight crossing of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Cape Breton, which we detailed in the last Ariose Note, we agreed to only day-sail, and only in favourable conditions. We also vowed to be as patient and compassionate as possible with one another. We weren’t perfect in this intention, but the fact that Tim and I are co-authoring this Note says something, doesn’t it.

Overall, Tim’s in-the-moment focus, without the inclination to worry too much about the future, protected him. I on the other hand, felt fully gutted on some days. The planner in me chided myself for having let the power of our sailing dream put blinders on compatibility issues. Then on better days, I recognized that I had staked hope on the possibility that those issues would fade when Tim and I were in the environment that cruising offers, with a shared purpose. Had we not taken the risk and set out on our adventures, we would have robbed ourselves of memories we’ll treasure for life.

Some days unfolded in comfortable silence. We’d agree on plan for the day, communicate the essentials, and otherwise, give each other as much space as is possible on a small boat. Some days were filled with appreciative reminiscing. Tim and I have shared a lot of amazing experiences, and we have grown through one another. We also brainstormed options for what could be next in our lives. And not unexpectedly, on some days, the atmosphere onboard held more tension than a tightly winched sheet in a blow. But all crew remained onboard, and we still enjoyed much of the voyage’s final leg.

Over to Tim to fill in the highlights of that final leg.

If you google the the Nova Scotia Tourism website, a little sailboat icon will appear as the page begins to load.  How fitting! Even with all of the stress we were under – the hurricane, the relationship whirlwind, and the ‘normal’ stress of just sailing – the trip down the Atlantic coast of the province was amazingly memorable. It’s such a fantastic place to sail. It is very rugged with no end to the inlets, islands and shoals where the large seas display their boisterous and frothy white exclamations!

Entrance to Sambro, south-west of Halifax, shows typical rugged coastline.

Port Hawkesbury, a town southeast of the causeway is where we dropped anchor once through the Canso lock. Not an especially pleasant spot with its highly industrial shoreline – piles of various materials, big cranes and the drone of large machinery – but a special place that reminded me of my motorcycle tour over 30 years ago.

A younger, thicker-haired Tim!

 I was a solo sailor of the 2-wheeled kind, (an 87 Yamaha XT350 enduro, to be precise) and, as such, was much more inclined to create social connections than I usually am. Sitting in the Tim Hortons in 1991, journalling, I struck up a conversation with a local fellow.  Blaize has stuck in my mind for all of those years. I don’t even have to go back to my diary to remember that he was a retired teacher, that he struggled with his alcohol addiction, and that he played a lovely little ditty on an old, beat-up guitar, Cape Breton style, when he invited me to his home for lunch. We were two lonely guys, appreciating a chance to chat about our lives.  Port Hawkesbury was one of many unforgettable stops on my 12,000 kilometer journey of the Maritimes, and Newfoundland & Labrador over 4 months in my 20’s. Guess I come about this travelling thing quite honestly. Sure was nice to revisit the memories. 

By mid-morning the next day, Shirl and I were heading south-east across Chedabucto Bay, in a direct line towards Canso Harbour through a narrow series of rocky islands. The conditions were less than ideal. We attempted to sail in the light winds for a few hours but realized that if we were going to get into the intimidating-looking channel at Canso before dark, we needed to call up the Yanmar for a few hours.

We anchored off the town. It looked as though it had seen better days, when it was a fishing hub, but still had charm. It would have been interesting to go to shore, but we were on a mission to get south, so, we left early the next am.

Most of the next day we motored through pine-topped rocky channels, with buoys marking the way.  It was nice to see the land so close and get an intimate view of the coastline, something that often isn’t possible under sail. It felt like we were boating in the Muskoka area, close to our northern Ontario home.

We were a little nervous as we rounded the most easterly part of mainland Nova Scotia and hit the open Atlantic, as we had heard that there can be conflicting currents there. It was fine, though. In fact, the conditions were very mild. There were large swells, but they were so widely spaced they offered no resistance. We had enough of a breeze on the beam to keep us going about 5 knots. Very pleasant.

Strong south-westerly winds were forecast for the next few days, so with our intent to avoid vigorous conditions, we tucked into Tor Bay where we would be protected. This gave us the chance to explore this area a little. I was quite happy to get Poco, our dinghy, off of the deck and head into Webber Cove. A provincial park showed on my terrestrial maps, so I went to explore. Turns out that this bay gets pretty shallow and even in Poco with the 3hp electric motor, I had to be very mindful of the prop. After nosing around a little, I found a deeper channel that took me near the road. I pulled Poco, wading to shore in deep mud, and emerged at a sign we would see in other areas along the coast, warning of contaminated shellfish.

Just a few minutes’ walk down the road was Tor Bay Provincial Park.  It is open to the ocean to the south-east, and also has beautiful inland salt marshes.

It’s a small day-use park, with well-maintained boardwalks and it was free!  It was well worth the effort to get there. I love plants and found myself checking out every one along the path. Most species were familiar – just like those in wetlands back home in northern Ontario – but, every now and again, there would be something new and intriguing! A gorgeous and wild beach with crashing waves over sand and rock was a feast for the eyes and other senses.

Shirl had stayed on board, appreciating some solo time, but when I returned, I encouraged her to make the trek too.  The next day, she did join me for my second trip in, and this time, we avoided the mud by motoring ashore to the gorgeous sand beach just off our anchorage. I went on a hunt for road access, and sure enough, an ATV trail was just discernible through the muskeg-like vegetation and, as hoped, it did lead to the road.

En route to the park, we checked out what looked like an abandoned house that we had noticed from Ariose. 


It was indeed deserted, and was an interesting place to poke around. The house was in pretty good shape and there was an odd 30 year old Isuzu truck with Massachusetts plates beside an ancient barn. It’s always fun to think about the story behind such a house that probably held promise and witnessed a family’s lives, and to wonder what led to it being left behind. The yard was long since grown in with native vegetation. I then gave Shirley a tour of the Park. She agreed, it was a lovely little gem.

That afternoon, we hauled Poco up on deck once again, lashed it down, and got ready to head out early in the am. We used to often forego going to shore as lowering then raising our 120 pound Portland Pudgy dinghy seemed such an arduous task. With all our recent practise, the manoeuvre was getting easier.

Heading out of Tor Bay was one of our more spectacular mornings. The brilliant early morning moon in the west sky lighting our stern, and after pulling up the anchor,  we pointed Ariose eastward into the sun just rising over the horizon!

 These are the experiences that make sailing so worth it! We’ll include a video with this day’s start, and other clips, at the end of the post. There is a peace to end all peace and a wonder that puts your soul at ease. All is right with the world in those moments. 

We anchored that night in Holland Harbour, then a 6am departure next day, allowed us to anchor by 5pm for the night at Sutherland Island.

Despite us having agreed that we wouldn’t rush this last leg, that we’d enjoy the journey, Shirl felt impatient with our inching-along progress. The drive to “get there” seemed to overpower her desire to savour these last days aboard. I was fine with that. We still appreciated the special moments, like a burst of sunset capping off an otherwise stormy day.

There aren’t many opportunities to provision along this section of the coast. Sheet Harbour does have a grocery store and gas station within close proximity to the water, and we were due for fuel and groceries so headed up the inlet. As we were rounding Sheet Rock, a lighted shoal several miles out from the entrance to the harbour, I was in contact with my sister Cynthia and sent this picture to her!

It was really nice to share a part of our trip at the exact moment that it was happening.

The town has placed a few mooring balls, so we helped ourselves to one just off the back-end of a hardware store. Although the docks had been removed for winter, we rowed in, strolled through the “staff only” section of the store’s yard, receiving cheery “good mornings” from the workers. The famous Maritime friendliness abounded, from the chatty grocery cashier, to the elderly woman who,  noticing jerry cans beside Shirl while I was in paying for the diesel, pulled a u-turn to offer a ride.

We were thinking of staying here a couple nights but the wind was now forecast to allow us a brisk close reach, and we looked forward to an invigourating day! 

It  ended up, however, being a torturned sail with wind on the nose and not much progress, so after hours of zig-zagging, we decided to fire up the Yanmar and head in to an anchorage.  We picked a spot behind Cow Island.

Anchored at #77. Tim dinghied to Harbour Point, exploring ashore to Burnt Point and back.

We ended up staying here for 3 nights trying, with only marginal success, to shelter from strong winds. We were in the lee of a cluster of islands that seemed to cause a bizarre redirection of currents and swell. Steve and Lisa’s trick of bridling the anchor to angle Ariose saved the day. We took Poco down and I headed in to the eastern point of Clam Harbour Provincial Park. The waves were crashing on the rocky shore, but once I tucked in behind the point everything calmed right down and I was able to slide Poco up onto a smooth even rock, pull it up with the painter and tie it to a big boulder many times Poco’s size.

The rocks along this shore were endlessly variable from smooth and undulating to jagged and standing on edge. As I walked along, I looked for potential trails installed by the park. There were none, until I came to the opposite point where a trail was marked from the campground.  I took it. Every time I rounded a corner I’d ask myself, should I? Considering that the further I went, the longer it would be to get back. But, every time I countered with “maybe I’ll find another trail that loops back along the other side of this peninsula to take me back to Poco.”

Turns out that there was none, but the gorgeous beach that I “found”, about a kilometer long and a 100m wide, made up for that miscalculation. It was still well worth the several kilometre walk over sand, jagged rock, folded rock, boulders, wave worn rock, pebbles, around cliffs and back to Poco, still holding onto the giant, well, you guessed it rock,  I left it tied to. 

The tide always seems to be working against me when ashore, receding, leaving Poco far from the water, as it had again this time. Luckily, it was a slippery smooth rock slide back into the water and an easy ride back to Ariose. I missed not sharing this little side trip here with Shirl. The remaining 2 days there while we awaited better sailing conditions were soggy and cold with waves too robust to feel safe dinghying in again.  She lamented the chance to go to shore. (Shirley’s edit: Tim’s being kind.  Actually, I was hit with major cabin-fever and spent 2 days darkly moping.) But, these are the Days of Our Lives! sigh…….(Oops, did I just say that out loud?)

Eventually, we got back underway. We took a direct route along the off-shore buoys where at  5 nautical miles out, we could avoid the many shoals. The ocean on this day was spectacular. There was only the slightest breath of air, so we had to mainly motor. This was boating on hilly terrain, though, with swells coming from winds that were perhaps hundreds of miles away.  Waves were several metres in height, but with such widely spaced periods, they were just large rounded hills and valleys. We’d motor up-up-uphill, feel like we could see forever in the view from the top, then slide down-down-down before heading back up. Very gentle. All day.

We made our way across the open expanse of Halifax Harbour, all the way to Sambro, keeping an eye on our AIS for other vessels. After spending more than a month on the St.Lawrence River, often with a freighter in view, we had expected the same along this coast since Canso lock provides a short-cut for shipping, and we assumed Halifax Harbour to be a major port. After leaving the St. Lawrence, aside from occasional fishing vessels and a couple of other sailboats, we found that we were alone out there.

Lighthouses certainly help you feel less alone on the sea. We’ve seen so many along the way, and here in Sambro, yes, another.  There’s no mystery on why the road that snakes along this coast is known as the lighthouse route by the N.S. Tourism authority.

Net day, we glimpsed Peggy’s Cove, the iconic landmark, in the distance as we sailed across St. Margaret’s Bay. Its lighthouse remained but a little elf with its tiny red cap, surrounded with smooth rounded, barren rock. We were way too far out to appreciate it. We’ll visit Peggy in the next Ariose Note.

Then, before we knew it, the end of our voyage was just ahead. Back to Shirley:

There it was. The distinctive red/white fairway buoy that signifies safe water to mariners. Buoy “MA” guided us between Little Tancock Island and Sandy Cove Point, welcoming us into Mahone Bay, a gorgeous sailing area, and our final destination.  

Emotions for me, ran high, and like some of the seas we had sailed, they ran confused.   There had been days in the last weeks where I wanted nothing more than the voyage to be over, and to move on to whatever our next chapter would hold. And now, as we made our way to where we expected to haul, I was hit with waves of deep sadness and loss, conflicting with uplifting feelings of accomplishment. Watching Tim on this final approach, he seemed less affected. As usual, he whistled his way across the bay, enjoying the perfect conditions we had that day.  We even considered anchoring with the bay, just to extend our time a little longer. But the marina was expecting us, so we shouldn’t dally. And truth be told, I couldn’t shake a superstitious feeling that we would be tempting fate, that if we spent even one more night at anchor, something disastrous would happen. As a logical, fact-based thinker, that I was harbouring such irrational worries concerned me.

As we sailed into the bay, we both revelled in the gorgeous day with steady breeze. It really was a perfect day, and we wanted to hold the memory, the sensation, painfully aware that this could be our last sail on Ariose.  We’ll end there for now, and wrap up this voyage in our next Ariose Note.

Until then, if you’d like to sail along with us a little more, here’s some video clips … no high-seas, just some typical day-to-day sailing (& motoring) caught by Tim’s GoPro, mounted on the stern rail. Enjoy.

Post-Fiona: Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Québec to Canso, Nova Scotia

Hurricane Fiona moved on with haste, but Tim and I remained on les Îles-de-la-Madeleine for nearly a week after she departed. We had to reinstall all the gear removed from Ariose in storm prep and deal with what’s become an ongoing issue. We needed to wait for a good weather window to cross to Cape Breton. And although the aftermath of a hurricane is not the best time to be tourist-ing, we also wanted to enjoy these slips of land that form such a lovely archipelago in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Checking out Étang du Nord

We moved from our warm and dry motel room back aboard a cold and soggy Ariose. That pressure wash of Fiona’s wind-driven rain, which had given Ariose’s deck a clean sparkle, also pushed lots of water inside. Portlights that had never previously leaked, did, and wires from the mast looked as though they had been as good as a faucet in flowing outside rain water to within. Bedding, mattress, settee cushions, most clothing… all soaked, and even our composting head (toilet) contained a few inches of fresh rinse water. For the first few days back aboard, depressingly, it continued to rain.  Did I mention that the motel room we chose to vacate had been warm and dry?

Tim and I got to work, under the eye of the watchful marina heron. A visit to the laundromat for its much-needed dryers was top priority. When the sun did come out, we spread what we could on deck to air. We hanked on the sails, set up the lines, and reinstalled the solar panels. The Cap-Aux-Meule marina kindly did not charge us. We’re not sure if it was a “you survived Fiona” reward or if it was just post-season, and the books had been closed. Whatever the reason, it was appreciated.  Merci Donald!

Certainly, the warm hospitality of our new friends, Richard and Raymonde, made our stay all the more memorable. Gifts from their kitchen and garden were heartening, and their enthusiasm and humour lifted our spirits. Richard, an engineer retired from the local Windsor Salt Ltd mine, whose creative brain has certainly not stopped working, is re-powering his own A30, among other restoration work. He had many questions. We were pleased to share what we could from our own experience upgrading Ariose.

Enjoying fresh seafood and exceptionally good company.

One of the highlights of our time on les Îles was a lovely meal out with Richard and Raymonde. They suggested a restaurant with great ambience, Les Pas Perdu, just a short walk from the wharf. It was a gift of an evening where we could forget the discomforts and the stress of the last week, and just enjoy their good company while we feasted on delicious fresh seafood. (This wasn’t “fresh” as in “not previously frozen”; it was “fresh” as in “hauled out of the sea that morning”. Yum!)

Richard and Raymonde had lent us their vehicle, and we so appreciated being able to get out and explore. Travelling by boat opens the world, but our perspective on most of the areas we’ve sailed to is limited to the narrow strip bordering the water, with little opportunity to experience what lies inland. Having wheels was a treat.

Much of the coastline on Île du Cap aux Meule and Île du Havres Aubert, especially on the west side, looked suspiciously freshly carved, and the seas were still wild. Unfortunately, but understandably, attractions were closed while hurricane repairs were addressed

We didn’t have time to make it to the hardest hit regions to the north, but in the areas we did visit, we were relieved to see that much of the storm’s impact seemed surprisingly minor: roofing shingles off, fences horizontal, and hydro crews busy repairing downed poles and lines. One church’s metal roof was now strewn across the gravestones next door. We also noted more substantial damage. Some boats on stands had toppled, and we spotted a few water-front buildings that had been shifted to now be in-water. As with so many areas in eastern Canada, though, many homes exuded such cheerful character, it seemed surreal that only days before, they had withstood a hurricane’s battering.

One yard we passed caused us to stop and reverse, just to confirm what we thought we had seen. It wasn’t unusual for there to be a parked boat, often just a skeleton remaining of what had been a sea-worthy vessel. But this! This was literally a boat skeleton, adorned with whale bones. Made us smile.

Another boat that caused us to smile was our slip neighbour at the marina. M’onc’Omer, is a beautifully crafted historical fishing skiff. It had been unharmed by Fiona, and although its dinghy, p’tit Omer, did sink, it was easily resuscitated. It was a pleasure meeting its builder, Claude, a talented artist who usually works in copper and whale bones. (google Claude Bourque, artist, Îles de la Madeleine if you’re interested in checking out his remarkable creations). A few years ago, Claude had gathered together his copains, a crew that joined him in a labour of love recreating this classic fishing boat of the islands. Apparently, these boats used to dot the bays, but have now disappeared. Perhaps M’onc’Omer will inspire others to resurrect such lost traditions.

Then, before long, a good weather window was upon us.  North-west winds, at 15-20 knots, decreasing to 10-15 knot westerlies, with seas at a metre, were forecast. This was ideal for the south-easterly crossing to Cape Breton. Although more time on les Îles-de-la-Madeleine would have been lovely, we have lost our appetite for vigorous sailing, and knew it could be awhile before conditions were favourable again.

We bid adieu to these very special islands. Richard and Raymonde, and their cleverly named poodle, Fidel Castré, saw us off, snapping a photo of Ariose as we motored out of the marina. 

Our overnight passage to Cape Breton’s western shores was one of our most successful yet. (Yes, Gravol was consumed and retained.)

We tucked into Cheticamp, one of the closest communities to head to in this crossing. It also happens to be situated in a well-protected natural harbour. We anchored off a public area, and lifted Poco, our dinghy off the cabintop into the water, to row the short distance to shore. We’re getting good at this manoeuvre. It felt great to work out our sea-legs wandering the town and its back roads. Brushes of autumn colour caused us to miss our spectacular maple forest at home this time of year.

Next, it was on to Mabou Harbour. Our friends, Guy and Lisa who had explored these waters on Inti this past summer, had spoken of Mabou being a worthwhile anchorage, otherwise, we would never have braved coming in here. According to the charted depths, there was not the 5 feet we require. As we approached the narrow dredged channel into the inlet, it felt like we would be running Ariose up onto the beach ahead. Quite unnerving.  Inti, also an Alberg 30, is much lighter than Ariose, and likely rides a half foot higher. We questioned our judgement and we questioned Guy and Lisa’s intentions, but we made it in – whew! They were right. What a place! It felt rather magical, as though we had sailed in from the wild rocky sea coast to another world of a pastoral fresh-water lake.   We did run aground, but that was only during our efforts to explore by dinghy. No biggie.

It was then a brisk sail down the remainder of Cape Breton’s scenic west coast.

We headed into the Canso Strait which divides Cape Breton island from mainland Nova Scotia. The Canso Causeway, built in 1955, provides a roadway connection between the two. The scars lining the hill along the Strait bear witness to the volumes of rock required for its construction.  The causeway acts as a damn blocking the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence from those of the Atlantic. Previously, currents were so strong that it was difficult for all but the most powerful vessels to pass through. Now, even 30 foot sail boats can move from one side to the other via the lock. This was the simplest lock of the 40+ we’ve transitted on Ariose. No cost, no pre-booking. We just hailed the lockmaster on our VHF a few minutes before arriving, she stopped road traffic, obtained some details, and provided us with instructions. We didn’t even need to tie up, but rather, just hovered as gates closed and the water slightly rose.  Once the vehicular/railway bridge opened, we were on our way, with an entitled glance back at the line-up of traffic, caused on our behalf.

Before we get too far from Les Îles, back to the issue I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the issue that we had to deal with before departing. Ariose’s gooseneck has become our Achilles’ heel. Ever since our first voyage, we’ve had difficulties with this fitting that connects the boom to the mast. After our first day’s sail in 2016, a vigorous one down the Hudson River and across New York harbour, the gooseneck and the track it’s mounted on pulled out of the mast. We had recently installed a new rigid boom vang (holds the boom down and allows us to adjust sail shape). That model, rather than the more traditional rope block & tackle arrangement, was an impulse buy at the Toronto Boat Show earlier that year. We weren’t sure if the new vang caused the issue, or the, ahem, few uncontrolled gybes we had undergone as we put on a show for the tour boat at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

On that occasion, Tim hitched a ride to the Atlantic Hylands hardware store to purchased larger bolts, refastened the track, and we were on our way. It held well, taking us to the Bahamas and back. Last season, in our final weeks returning up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, the gooseneck track began to pull away once again. We secured it by lashing with dyneema. It held.

Over the winter, we looked into the matter.  The manufacturer of the boom vang, of course, denied that it could be a contributing factor. Ariose is 50 + years old, and like most of us over 50, parts get worn and weaker.  We consulted with a rigger not associated with the vang, and he concurred. The aging metal had fatigued, he felt. Other Alberg owners, some with similar issues, provided lots of good suggestions for either replacing or reinforcing the gooseneck.

Before departing this year, while that mast was horizontal on deck, Tim tapped holes in a stainless steel plate which we inserted into the mast. With some fiddling, we managed to screwed the track through the mast and into that backing plate. Well done! We were set.  The track has indeed remained secure. But when crossing from Gaspé to Îles-de-la-Madeleine, we noticed that the brass car of the gooseneck was becoming deformed, with a slight split forming where it had splayed. Not good. There’s obviously forces being exerted that shouldn’t be, and reinforcing one component (the track) has just pushed the problem to the next weak link (the car).

 At Cap-aux-Meule, a welder at a major boat repair shop, kindly bent the car back into shape, and tack-repaired the crack for us (for a very reasonable $15!!). We then flipped the car upside down so that the weaker repaired end would be under less force. This was a temporary fix, we knew, but we hoped it would be good enough to get to a point where we could purchase a new car and replace the rigid vang. Experts say the boom vang is not contributing but we see and feel that it exerts huge forces. As far as we’re concerned, it needs to go.  We then lashed the whole apparatus, just in case. And sure enough, the repaired and inverted car is now splitting open – again! We’ve adjusted the vang and the topping lift, trying to find an angle for the boom that does not place stress on the car. We’re trying to avoid strong down-wind conditions. And we’ve crossed our fingers. About 10 days in from the latest jury-rigging, and it seems to be holding. Fingers remain crossed.

Okay. Now the hard part of this Ariose Note. Maybe that gooseneck issue – a connection between 2 vital parts on our sailboat that is now splitting apart – is a good a segue way to move into sharing this next news.

Last post began with relationship issues, and here we are again, with more. Apologies to those along with us who are here for the pure sailing stories. Well, the sailing experience, we’ve learned, is perhaps more influenced by the crew aboard, than any other factor. At least that’s been true for us.

As mentioned, events leading up to the hurricane, and down-time taking refuge was an opportunity, a rather forced one, for Tim and me to once again re-evaluate our future. We have about 600 nm in our wake on this voyage, and another 2000 to go to get us beyond next year’s usual hurricane zone by July.

A boat, as we’ve shared before, amplifies everything. That halyard, for example, a mere rope, if left unsecured before retiring will tap-tap-tap on the metal mast, transforming into a torture device as the night wears on. Relationship tensions are also turned up.  Tim is Autistic and I’m not, so as a couple, we function on different operating systems. Sometimes this is complementary. Often, though, the systems are less than compatible and it requires a lot of intentional effort, creativity, and flexibility to make it work.  This is true when we are off the boat, and most definitely true when we are on it.

It often feels as though we are dance partners, with one doing the tango, the other a waltz.  We come together, appreciate our differences, teach one another steps, and pull off some creative hybrid moves.  But it always takes effort, and eventually, in this awkward match , toes are stepped on. Even though no harm is intended, feet get bruised. The dancers need to take space. On Ariose, our melodically named boat, with only 20 square feet of floor space, there’s no room for that.

Anchored off Cheticamp.

Early in our relationship, Tim and I recognized the challenges, and worked hard to learn about our neurodiversity and to adapt and accommodate each other. Through our shared dreams, a strong interdependence on one another grew. These dreams have been the adhesive that has helped hold us through the challenges. Even a metal gooseneck, though, under enough strain, will eventually deform and split.

Tim and I have made a decision, a heartbreaking decision that also offers much relief. We need to take a bit of distance in our relationship, to have some time apart, and this is definitely not possible on a boat. We’re bringing our voyage to a close. Over the winter, we’ll keep our minds and our hearts open to options, for our dreams, for Ariose, and for us as individuals and as a couple.

We’re continuing on to Chester just south of Halifax, where thanks to George, who we think of as our guardian-sailing-angel, we’ve secured a spot to store Ariose for the winter. We will post the next Ariose Note in a week or two, once we have our boat and ourselves on land, to share this segment sailing the wild Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia .

And in case anyone is harbouring any dark thoughts, we assure you that there will be no crew overboard “incidents”. Tim and I are being gentle with each other, and as implausible as it sounds, we are finding moments of joy in this final leg of the voyage. We promise that we will both make it safely home.

Peaceful scene from Ariose’s cockpit at dusk, in the calm waters of Mabou Harbour.