July/August 2004

By Reinhard Zollitsch

Winter thoughts

Ever since I finished Part One of my Nova Scotia venture from Port Elgin, NB to Halifax, Nova Scotia in August 2003, I had been thinking about Part Two of my solo circumnavigation, which would take me from Halifax along the South Shore to Yarmouth and into the Bay of Fundy to Digby. I have to admit, I somehow felt very compelled to finish my project, but more importantly, I wanted to see Halifax after Hurricane Juan hit the harbor city head on, on September 29, 2003, compare the remote Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia with the more populous and popular South Shore, and thirdly meet the challenge of rounding the corner at Cape Sable Island into the Bay of Fundy.

Scotia Map
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So Scotia was very much on my mind during the cold Maine winter months, filled with the usual neck-to-toe arthritis flare-ups. But they are best ignored and replaced with positive thinking about trips and all my great gear, my totally awesome lightweight carbon fiber bent-shaft canoe paddle and my thoroughly reliable 17’2” Kruger sea canoe. It has all the good features of a sea kayak without those ridiculous 8” gear-stuffing holes.

My boat effortlessly swallows my mammoth “shelter bag” with tent, sleeping bag, mattress and Crazy Creek chair, as well as two old-fashioned lidded milk crates full of food for 20 days, five gallons of water and a couple of other waterproof bags for clothes and personal gear, as well as my pack of charts, satellite phone, marine radio and plenty of reading. The trade-off? I cannot fully roll the boat and have to make sure I stay upright.

Compass and charts were again mounted right in front of me, and instead of a GPS, which my two sons wanted to give me, I opted for a fully enclosed high-tech lensatic radar reflector mounted on my stern deck. Thank you, Mark and Lee. I did not want to change my way of navigating: dead reckoning has been my style and my pride, but I would not mind showing up on other boats’ radar screens in the fog, which I knew I would encounter even more so this year than last.

Off Again

So on July 27, 2004 Nancy and I drove up to Halifax via the St. John-Digby ferry (with a quick peek at my eventual take-out spot in Barton/Digby), for an early morning launch the next day into the Northwest Arm of Halifax Harbor. The boat launch at Point Pleasant Provincial Park, where I had finished my 2003 trip, was fenced off. (Because of last year’s hurricane damage?)

But other than that, Nancy and I were nicely surprised to see how fast Halifax had repaired the tremendous damage Hurricane Juan had caused. The streets looked a bit airier though. Many of the old trees were gone. Only Point Pleasant Park still looked like a half-plucked goose when I paddled by it and will need decades to replace its former dense canopy of trees.

Our alternate put-in on South Street, which a police officer had suggested, was even better than the park. The road led right down to the water - no portage for all my gear and boat. Zipping up my spray skirt, my mind raced through my entire gear list.  Had I thought of everything? Because this was suddenly it. A quick good-bye, a wave with my paddle, and 100 yards into my trip Nancy disappeared in the fog, and I was off.  382 miles to Digby, and as always all alone. I gulped. Thanks for letting me go again, Nancy, and the long car shuttles. You are a sweetheart!

Three weeks of gear and supplies
Three weeks of gear and supplies

Canada's Operation Sail 2004

I had planned my trip to coincide with Canada’s big Operation Sail in honor of the Acadians’ arrival on America’s shores 400 years ago (in 1604 on St. Croix Island, Maine to be exact; see my article in MAIB “The Acadians Have Landed”). The parade of square- riggers and schooners was to start in Halifax on July 29, and would swing along the South   Shore of Nova Scotia as I was doing, stopping in various harbors, eventually making it to Digby (on Aug. 13/14) and across the Bay of Fundy to St. John (on August 14/15).

I also wanted to be home for the TV coverage of the 2004 Athens Olympics, starting in mid-August. So I set my daily goal for the trip at 20 nautical miles, 22.5 statute miles, which is 2.5 miles (10%) short of my usual target of 25 miles. I had to take higher tides and more fog as well as my advanced age (65) and certain health problems into account - and it felt good and worked out perfectly. I made every single predetermined landfall for 18 days, and did not have to add extra days for storm, rain or fog delays. I was able to paddle through everything this year. That takes a lot of careful advance planning and constant perseverance to stick to one’s plan.

Day One - a typical day on the water

Day One turned out to be a typical day on the water. After the initial 12 miles to the southeast, I eventually turned southwest into the prevailing wind, which varied from 5 to 25 knots, increasing with each hour of the day. Almost every day was foggy, varying from THICK, like on the first day when I had to cross Sambro Harbor and never saw it, to a distinct haze. Visibility was almost always restricted.

The air was heavy with mist settling on your eyebrows, or it even rained, but I never had big thunderstorms, at least not during the day. Almost every afternoon, when I had set up camp on shore, I had a hard time drying my one paddling outfit for the next day (yes, one long-sleeved shirt and one pair of paddling pants for the entire trip - I travel light). Even my Gore-Tex stayed clammy.

There always was a big open ocean on my left, and there were many exposed points to round, like Pennant Point the first day. Wind waves and old swells were infallibly crashing against a hard, mostly granite shore or were breaking on offshore ledges and rocks, leftovers from a receding shoreline. But I saw many more harbors and houses here on the South Shore compared to Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore from Cape Canso to Halifax.

But boat traffic remained sparse compared to New England standards, with Mahone Bay being the only exception.
That first night I was looking for a pocket beach between Martin and Saddle Islands in Pennant Bay, and there it was, with light gray granite just behind it. And yes, I had packed all my gear. I was really ready to go now.

Dancing off Peggy’s Cove

Day Two started out in thick fog again, but then it cleared enough for me to enjoy the cutest little passage between Lower Prospect and Ryan Island and a bit later the passage through the Port Dover area. By then the sun was out, the wind had sprung up and the big ocean swells came rolling ashore. I was getting to the massive, bare gray granite headland of Peggy’s Cove, the most visited tourist spot in all of Nova Scotia.

In our early married years, Nancy and I were standing there too, looking out to sea, summing up the immensity of that experience in the one word “WOW!”. I had to smile and could almost hear the hundreds of tourists on shore now mouthing the same three-letter word, while I was doing my best wave dance in my tiny little boat, dashing along shore, avoiding the breaking parts of the waves and mailing myself between shore break and outlying magnificently breaking Halibut Rock.

After I was safely through, I wished I could have seen that solo paddler round this point, and I felt smug to have given the many rock-bound tourists a good show rather than provided them with a now very typical TV disaster moment. But I was pressing on towards Indian Harbor, since I had planned to jump across the three-mile-wide mouth of huge St. Margaret’s Bay in tomorrow’s early morning calm, rather than going around this big bay.

Sand was scarce in the granite harbor bay, and what little sand I found for my tent got partially claimed by the sea at high tide. I had to move my tent to higher ground, which happened to be a level lawn belonging to a nice retired couple from Halifax. Rather than shooing me off, they treated me to cookies, a glass of orange juice and friendly conversation.

Mahone Bay - Nova Scotia’s ocean playground 

The morning was calm and clear, and crossing St. Margaret’s Bay was easy and a great relief. I would then round the Aspotogan Peninsula and slip into Mahone Bay, leaving the two big Tancook Islands, squatting there like two formidable guardians of the bay, to my left.

I had wanted to paddle around Mahone Bay for a long time. My chart of that area was so much older, it must be majorly outdated by now, but should still do fine for my purposes. After six hours, my 20 nautical miles were up, and I was at my predetermined spot, a small pebble beach in East Chester. I enjoyed cooling off in the cold waters of the bay, but I have to admit, I had to restrict my swimming in the more exposed open water areas still to come, since the water was simply too cold.

I cannot remember any water as frigid as along this shore. I resolved to make absolutely sure I would not take an involuntary swim, because I knew I could not handle these temperatures - no normal person can, for that matter. So I promised myself to be prudent, careful and sharp. I had done tomorrow’s trip many times in my mind, since it was the essence of Mahone Bay, the ocean playground for Nova Scotia. I am speaking of the western half of the bay, from Chester past Mahone Harbor to Lunenburg.

I especially liked Chester, the approach from the east into the harbor and the passage known as “The Canal” under the granite and wood bridge, leading into the Back Harbor. The houses ashore as well as the moored boats reflect a lot of class and affluence. Mahone Bay is so big and is studded with so many beautiful islands, one could explore a new one every day for an entire year, and come up with ever new passages between or around those hundreds of islands.

Chester Harbor, Mahone Bay
Chester Harbor, Mahone Bay

The official Sailing Directions also point out that “during fogs, which are frequent in July and August, the SW shore of Mahone Bay is usually clear with winds west of south”; great for small boat sailing. I had a fun time here, always looking for the most enticing inside passages I could find, while enjoying perfect visibility.

The powerboat traffic, even on a Saturday, was nothing compared to what I am used to in Maine. There was good sailing wind from the west, but when the wind exceeded 20 knots right on the nose, I decided not to run the extra couple of miles into Mahone Harbor proper for some quick sightseeing, but instead move on towards my goal for today, the eastern edge of Second Peninsula at the back entrance to Lunenburg. I had collected enough beautiful images of Mahone Bay; I was satiated, like after a great meal. As I hate overeating, I also do not like to gorge myself visually beyond a certain point.

My sandy beach site in Sandy Cove was perfectly chosen back at my desk in Orono in the middle of winter, and I was still on schedule. I like it when a plan works out. It is very gratifying and motivating for the rest of the trip. I am not a floater; I need goals.

Lunenburg’s past and present

The Lunenburg area was my next big goal. I of course had to see this significant fishing harbor and home of the fastest fishing schooner, the Bluenose. But I was also afraid of what I would find there after off-shore fishing went belly-up some years ago in Nova Scotia and the northeast Atlantic shores from Cape Cod to Newfoundland, for that matter. The shipbuilding industry also went under.

Lunenburg Harbor
Lunenburg Harbor

I had read that Lunenburg was declared a “UNESCO World Heritage Site”, which sounds better than it is for its citizens, I thought to myself. I was afraid that that designation would turn the town into a museum and become a static, stale and lifeless place, in other words: wrung out. I was afraid to see a town with such a great past turn into a place with no real future, unless it reinvents itself. But I decided to spend an entire day in the greater Lunenburg area and find out for myself.

I first poked through The Narrows into the Back Harbor of Lunenburg, which had absolutely nothing to show other than being the start of a side trip I had been looking forward to for a long time: going down Back Passage and Tanner’s Pass into the Blue Rock area, a jumble of jagged slate islands and a myriad of sharp-edged, elongated ledges. This shore is so different from the rest of Nova Scotia’s shoreline, which is either granite, mostly gray, or glacial drumlins, crumbling gravel and rock banks.

I had hoped for a high tide through this area, and got just that, because the Back Passage is impassable at low tide, as are a few other shortcuts I wanted to try out. It was going to be a real navigational challenge without GPS. I was psyched.         
And this stretch was as much fun as anticipated, since visibility was perfect.

The Back Passage was very narrow, rocky and almost treeless and made me feel I was in Labrador and not at the edge of Mahone Bay. Rather than going outside of all those menacing looking ledges, my course was aiming for the tiny Stonehurst bridge right in the middle of the rock garden, eventually getting me into Mud Cove Harbor and Blue Rocks from the back, from the northeast.

It was my best gunkholing ever, and I was right on target. The sun made the slate take on various shades of blue, darker when wet and grayer when dry. I stopped for lunch at the mouth of little Mud Cove Harbor, which could barely be called that. The harbor itself would run dry at low tide, i.e. was only accessible at mid to high tide and was protected from ocean swells only by a thin string of slate ledges, which would lose their protective function at high tide. Waves would either crash on or break over them. In either case, it must be extremely difficult for boats to get in or out, even for small lobster boats. I surely would not want to do that on a daily year-round basis, I thought to myself.

While I was munching my PB&J sandwich, a carrot and a small cup of applesauce, the wind sprang up to its usual noon strength of 20 knots, and as so often from the west southwest. It was a hard pull to the Lunenburg lighthouse on the massive breakwater and into the inner harbor. The first thing you see when you get in is the huge defunct fish-processing plant on your right and then a string of large, rusting and peeling, derelict fishing trawlers tied firmly to dilapidating docks.

Names like “Sable Island”, “Cape Race” and  “Cape Chidley” are reminders of former great fishing grounds. Now the boats are part of a “living museum”, with tourists gawking at gear and a world they do not understand. Except for one tour boat swinging through the harbor, pointing out the different boats from the water, the Lunenburg harbor was dead, a museum, a large expanse of very red boat sheds and buildings fronted with rusting and peeling obsolete fishing boats, schooners and other marine relics of the past. It seemed as if the city had decided to sell its past to the tourists, because there was nothing else to sell - a sad sight when all there is is history.

The only cheerful thing for me was suddenly spotting Joshua Slocum’s two-masted  “Spray” from Boston tugging at its mooring in the outer harbor in a pod of modern sailboats. It had an eager dinghy off its stern as if it was ready to round the globe once more. It was a total surprise for me to suddenly see the boat of one of my boyhood heroes.

Slocum's Spray in Lunenburg
Slocum's Spray in Lunenburg

I had originally thought of visiting Slocum’s hometown on Digby Neck, as well as Howard Blackburn’s birthplace in Medway Harbor, to pay homage to two of my nautical heroes, but this would have to do for Joshua Slocum, because crossing large tide-ridden St. Mary’s Bay towards Brier and Long Island was not prudent for a little boat like mine.

Seeing “Spray” cheered me up immensely as I swung around Kaulbach Head, Mason Pt. and Corkum Island, my overnight spot for the night. But to my surprise, Corkum Island was connected to shore with a steep rocky causeway. I had anticipated a bridge so I could go around. Instead, I had to backtrack, which is not my favorite thing to do. I was also getting tired from paddling against the strong headwinds today, and the bay I was in was very shoal.

My energy and spirits were also drained from what I had seen in Lunenburg Harbor. I was spent and finally, after 6:45 hours in the boat, crawled out onto a hard nondescript seawall at the southern tip of Corkum Island. But I had covered the first 100 nautical miles of my trip - hurray! - only 240 more to go! My three-minute satellite phone call to Nancy that night was a great pick-me-up.

Point roundings

My seawall campsite was marginal, with the midnight high tide almost kissing my tent. I was stiff and wondered whether I could get my aching bag-o’-bones back into my boat. But the day picked up nicely, as it mostly does. I was rounding a spectacular coastline, “The Ovens”, a steep, jagged, often undercut slate cliff shore. Some of the clefts, caves or “ovens” were huge and looked awesome and menacing at the same time in their cool bluish-black hue.

I only wished man had left this spectacular shoreline alone and admired it from the sea, but instead I found numerous massive concrete stairways and viewing platforms built down to the water’s edge, I guess so that every “Hans und Franz”, Tom, Dick, and Harry could see it.

I am offended by something like that. I see it as a violation of nature. Tourists could just as well take a boat ride out of Lunenburg Harbor to see this unique coastline. They do not need to be able to clamber down those stairs to see it from their trailer park just beyond the cliffs. I had to move on and think about something else, namely how I could best round the next four rather exposed headlands.

Point roundings are always a big deal. My first, Ovens Point, was very ledgy and needed some special attention. Rose Point sounded sweet, but I had to cross two-mile-wide Rose Bay to get there. I almost got stung when the wind suddenly piped up to 25 knots and threatened to blow me out of the bay into the open ocean and almost made me miss the point. But I got the message and hugged the shore all the way around the next bight, King’s Bay.

When I came to “Point Enragé” with “Hell Reef” off its point, I knew what to expect and made sure I was set up right. Names like that are mostly there for a purpose, which I always try very hard to find out by carefully studying my charts. Names like that make me very humble, and I was more than willing to tiptoe through the rock garden off Cape Enragé.

But when I got to the point, it was slack high tide, and there was plenty of water on the reef - no rip tide running over the shallow rock shelf, no hell. I’ll take it! The wind even let up for a moment, and I felt the “sleeping lion” did not even notice me passing by, and instead purred like a pussycat.

Gaff Point on the other hand sticks out into huge La Have Bay like a crooked finger and took some hard paddling to get around, but it is clean, and that makes all the difference. For the next hour I then hugged the north shore of the huge bay, which by the way was named by Champlain in 1604. At that point I decided to jump across to West Spectacle, Outer Hirtel and Bush Island, my stop for the night. And a nice, warm, easy, sandy beach campsite it was, with friendly people nearby who let me top off my water containers with good-tasting well water.

Lunch stop in LaHave Bay
Lunch stop in LaHave Bay

More fog and big swells

Next morning was different though. I had to feel my way through THICK fog down Crooked Channel, through some very shoal waters into Green Bay, past famous Crescent Beach and eventually to Pollock Point and yet another Hell Bay. I noticed a lot of large swells from the southwest crashing on rock outcroppings today, and I was watching out for them in the fog, especially rounding ledgy Pollock Point. One edge of one breaker got me though in Hell Bay, and I was wet for the rest of the day, but stayed up.

I stopped for lunch on a tiny island across the mouth of Medway Harbor and thought a lot about Howard Blackburn, the indomitable fisherman/rower/sailor who grew up here before he joined the fishing fleet out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Everybody always admired his survival row off Newfoundland in a winter snowstorm, an ordeal, which cost him several fingers and toes and took the life of his fishing partner. But that did not stop him from sailing solo across the Atlantic several times when that was still a great feat.

But he finally (in 1903) had to give up his attempt at another solo trans-Atlantic sail, in a small dinghy this time, right along this South Shore of Nova Scotia. He was only 44 years old then, when arthritis more than the storms stopped his questing. He then wasted, as I see it, the second half of his life (29 more years, to be exact), turning himself into a living museum retelling his survival story to anybody who wanted to hear it, while serving liquor to his listeners in his Gloucester pub, the Blackburn Tavern, of course.

But I admit, he was one tough fisherman and sailor when he was younger and very generous and kind to the poor people of Gloucester when he got older. He is very well remembered in that fishing community. There even is a 20 mile open ocean small boat race in his memory, the Blackburn Challenge, which I participated in the last three years.

News of Hurricanes Alex and Bonnie

I was getting hungry as I paddled past Puddingpan Island and swung into Blueberry Bay to West Berlin. There also is an East Berlin, by the way, next bay over - I am not kidding - but having grown up in West Germany, I had to spend the night in West Berlin. It was a tiny three-boat harbor, but well protected behind a significant seawall/breakwater, a “Mauer” for all true Berliners.

West Berlin perch
West Berlin perch (tent on pier)

The tides were such that every morning I was leaving at dead low, so I had to make sure the afternoon before that I found a spot from which I could get to the water and not be stranded by the tide. Steep and protected sand beaches and harbors with boat ramps, especially ones that have sloping wooden dinghy docks, are perfect. I am always confident I can find a small level 5X7 spot for my tent, wherever I stop.

Canadians are also very good about letting you pitch a tent almost anywhere. West Berlin, however, did not have a ramp, only steep piers and lots of mud flats, but I noticed a new wooden dock space up a bank at the end of the harbor, and that’s where I pitched my tent that night - like a new fish house.

Later that afternoon an older couple who had turned the old boat shed next to me into a modest summer home, were busily tidying up their place, getting it ready for the first two hurricanes of the season, Alex and Bonnie. They were very concerned that the first storm had already reached Cape Hatteras and was coming up the coast like last year’s Hurricane Juan.

I did not like the news, and decided to pay close attention to my NOAA weather reports. But I was not packing up, no way! Not now, anyway. At least I knew where those long swells were coming from, which, by the way, followed me for the rest of my trip all the way to Digby.

Champlain’s Port Mouton

THICK fog again the next morning, but the shoreline was easy to follow by compass. I had to cross Liverpool Bay, a good 1.5 miles, and was glad I had my radar reflector. But again, no other boats were out on the water. I made it fine to Western Head headland, which has such a powerful foghorn that I had to plug my ears every minute, it was so loud. I counted the seconds, and at 57 I stopped paddling and pressed my two pointer fingers in my ears.

Somewhere between Black Point and White Point the sun suddenly came out, and the day turned absolutely beautiful and warm. I was approaching Port Mouton, which locals pronounce like “Matoon” as in “a spittoon in a saloon”. This town was also named by Champlain, who lost a sheep over the side, the story goes. I am afraid the poor thing drowned.

I had picked a cove with a tiny island near the Spectacle Islands, and I found a beautiful white broad sand beach with a steep granite wall behind it, and deep enough water to get off in the morning. I finally got all my gear dried, including sleeping bag and pad, rain suit and, most importantly, my one pair of paddling pants and shirt. There even were some modest white dunes covered with sparse beach grass off to my left. This was a great place, my best overnight spot so far, and I enjoyed myself immensely. But the water was brutally cold again, but it was time for a shower/bath with sea soap.

Champlain's Port Mouton
Champlain's Port Mouton

One other reason for stopping in that spot was the fact that a mile down the way the Canadian National Park Kejimkujik was taking up the next 10 nautical miles and does not allow any landing or overnighting on its shore. This could be downright dangerous for small boaters who do not plan right. I knew from a bad experience at the National Park at Forillon (Gaspé peninsula, Quebec) that those wardens mean business and would truck you out of the park, boat and all, stranding you like a beached whale at the park entrance. I am not kidding, folks!

So if you are planning a trip along a Canadian National Park shore, plan it carefully, as I did. - Hurricane Alex, by the way, was off Cape Cod by now and was sending bigger and more frequent swells up my way. I was watching my step carefully.

I had left early in the morning that day, and had no problem getting around the entire park in the relative calm of the early morning. The two crescent beaches in the park were large and stunning, the shore often treeless, just plain bare green ground cover, as if it had been harvested at one time and then used for grazing sheep.  

At the next couple of headlands and points (Joli, Wreck and Thrum) the swells got longer and were building menacingly over shoal areas farther and farther off-shore, before tipping over with that sickening, hissing, thunderous crash. Those waves looked like trip-enders if one got caught sleeping and got hit by one of them. I felt greatly relieved making it around the ledge outcropping off Hardings Island into the tiny harbor of Jones Harbor, just east of the mouth of the Sable River.

Harbormaster Bill and his friendly wife Rhonda offered me their cabin on the wharf, but I decided to “tough it out” in my tent. The wind had not really hit yet. The only casualty of today was my stopwatch. It must have run out of juice. Hope my wristwatch keeps on ticking and will see me through all the fog still to come, on my way to Digby. I need it! The rest of my carrots got pitched today also. Green was not the right color for them. My bread was beginning to taste slightly fermented, but that was just too bad. Sorry, Nancy, I’m losing weight again. (My usual ten pounds for the trip.)

One-hour rain delay

It rained all night and into the morning.  I gave myself a one-hour rain delay, as in a baseball game, but then I got packing and was off again in Gore-Tex and with lots of wet gear. It was dead low tide again, which meant a long portage to the water.  A small craft advisory was out and a gale warning for the waters farther offshore. It was not a promising start, but I decided to take today one step at a time, baby steps along the shore, like Bob in the old movie “What about Bob?”

There was no fog, and the wind had shifted to the northwest, i.e. it would come more from behind and help me down the coast for a change. The rain had turned into a steady drizzle. Those were three positives to cling to. If only there weren’t Western Head, sticking its long thin finger out into the ocean. Raspberry, Haystack, Hemeons and Black Point I thought I could round with prudence, but Western Head? We’ll see when we get there, I told myself consolingly. The only good thing about Western Head was that it was the last point to round today before crossing Green Harbor and Jordan Bay, so I could scoot into Lower Jordan Bay Harbor.

The Haulover

Well, all went fine, and Western Head was a no-mistake situation, as I had anticipated. But it felt good being in Lower Jordan, drying out and warming up with some hot chocolate. I had paddled another 100 nautical miles. I was making great progress, I felt.

The next day the windjammers from Halifax were supposed to be in Shelburne Harbor, but I decided to skip the parade, because it was 10 miles, or half a day, out of my way. I went instead around McNutts Island and then straight south to East Point and into Negro Harbor Bay (“Bay of the Black Rocks”, according to Champlain) to the Haulover, a 500-yard-long narrow canal built in 1828.

The Haulover
The Haulover

It is a straight cut through tidal grassland, and must have been relatively easy to build. It was high tide - perfect to go through now. Tomorrow morning the canal would be dry. So I glided through “The Haulover” and pitched my tent on a tiny island on the other side in Port La Tour Bay.

Big Bad Baccaro Point and Cape Sable Island

Tomorrow was going to be a significant stretch: down Port La Tour Bay and around another very exposed point, Baccaro, with a long extended bar and tides running across it hard, not to mention the swells from the hurricane passing offshore. Baccaro Point has a large radar station and is mentioned on every weather report for this region. I needed to plan my rounding very carefully.

I was going to be there at dead low, I decided, with good visibility, I hoped. Instead, the fog that morning was so thick I could not see shore 100 feet away from my little island. I postponed my departure till 8:00 a.m., the latest I could leave to make low tide at the point. It was eerie, to say the least, paddling through a rock garden to hit Johns Island and later Page and Crow Neck. I heard but never saw the many gray seals all around me, till suddenly at Port La Tour Harbor the sun came out - whew!

But Baccaro Point was as bad as anticipated - no, even worse. The tide was still running, creating a jumble of breaking waves off the point. I decided on the best possible route through that melee and shifted into my no-mistake race-mode. Speed for outrunning the breaking parts of the waves was of the essence. I was moving, always anticipating the waves from what previous waves had done in that spot. I was bathed in sweat. It was exciting, to say the least, a bit too much on the edge, but never over. I never had to throw a brace to stay up, I never was about to flip, I was right on, but also glad when I had rounded the point.

However, the tidal stream would not stop till I got way into Barrington Bay, almost six miles later, when I finally decided to cross over to the Cape Sable Island side and the huge rock causeway. CAUSEWAY??? NO BRIDGE???  A slight miscalculation on my part, but even if I had known that, I would not have gone around Cape Sable Island anyway. There should have been a bridge!! PORTAGE! I moaned.

Cape Sable Island causeway - no bridge??
Cape Sable Island causeway - no bridge??

It was long and hard, as all good portages are. It took me 100 minutes exactly, without a break, or help from any motorist zooming across this thoroughfare. I dragged my boat up some big rocks on driftwood planks, through a thorny rose patch, carried it along and across the highway and down the other side to the water, which fortunately was high.

I had picked a small harbor along the Barrington Passage for the night, but got engulfed in thick fog yet again and realized port was three miles or one hour from the causeway. I was spent after 7:20 hours in the boat and portage. I mechanically put up my tent, had a hot drink and a can of Dinty Moore stew, took two Tylenol and fell into bed.

Turning the corner

Next morning was a wonderful surprise: no rain, no fog, no wind, an easy launch down a wooden dinghy ramp, but most surprising was my new course. After going basically southwest for about 400 miles, since Cape Canso that is, I was suddenly headed NORTH or at least northwest up Cockerwit Passage towards Pubnico Harbor. I had rounded the corner and was now entering the Bay of Fundy.

The tides would pick up, I knew, and I had to plan them in more carefully. I had learned that a couple of years ago, paddling from St. John, New Brunswick back to Maine. But the southerly headwinds were suddenly pushing me along my way, and even the sun was no longer in my eyes. I could get used to this new picture, and the long, hard day yesterday was quickly forgotten.

Pubnico Point was my first test of the day. I planned to power my way against the ebb flow to the mouth of the harbor, arriving there at dead low, in order to avoid the rip currents off its point and off Rip Point a bit up the peninsula. I believe my nautical charts.

Two huge wind generators clearly identified the point, and when I got there, the tide was just turning. It then helpfully pushed me up the shore towards my goal for the day in Abbots Harbor. It has a nicely protected public landing or Government wharf, as they are called in Nova Scotia, and a spectacular view of Lobster Bay, from Whitehead Island with its prominent light, to the distant tide-ridden Tusket Islands on the horizon.

I had a chance to talk to a couple of fishermen, who were delighted to meet me. Friends along the South Shore had put out the word about my venture, and I was sure they would pass on the news about the lonely sea canoeist along these shores towards Yarmouth and Digby. I felt quite honored.

We also talked about the new, rather lucrative, rockweed harvest, which a lot of lobstermen have picked up in the off-season for this region (June 1 to December 1). This is not the traditional, light-colored Irish moss, but good old dark, stringy seaweed, which I understand is used for anything from food additives to cosmetics.

I asked them about the cold water temperatures in these waters, and they agreed with my observation, saying that it suddenly got colder three winters ago, and never really warmed up again. Now the entire Lobster Bay and many harbors would freeze over in winter, despite the salinity of the water and the vigorous tidal flow. This summer was also colder than usual. I did not hear a single cicada in August. And yes, all fishermen warned me about “The Sluice” or “Hell’s Gate” north of Tusket Island, which I was planning to go through tomorrow.

The Sluice/Hell’s Gate

I needed a plan of action. I certainly did not want to go outside of the Tusket Islands or through Schooner Passage because of the strong tides, and I liked the challenge to figure out how I could best get through that narrow sluiceway safely. It is dry at low to almost mid-tide; so that would not work. I had to hit the tail end of high tide in order to flush through there, but not too early, because Hell’s Gate is said to run at 5-8 miles/hour. But which way is it flooding?

Neither my Sailing Directions nor Scott Cunningham’s book says anything about that. But I figured it should flood west northwest, OUT into the open ocean, which is only a mile away from it, strange as this may sound. I was pretty sure the tide would come up around Pubnico Point into huge Lobster Bay and would want to go on into the Bay of Fundy proper, i.e. it would squeeze through all those many Tusket Islands in a northwesterly, and later northerly direction, towards Cape Forchu and Cape St. Mary’s. Hell’s Gate had to flood towards the ocean; I was pretty sure.

So I left Abbots Harbor so that I would arrive at the critical point one hour before high tide, which should not occur till 6:00 p.m. But I soon doubted my decision, since the tide was coming at me vigorously all the way to Wedge Point on Tusket Wedge Peninsula and even beyond. I felt I had made a crucial mistake and would have to wait out an entire tide cycle to flush through there and commence my trip. I hated to be wrong (being a teacher and all that - you know what I mean).

I already castigated myself for my faux pas, but kept inching my way closer to the maelstrom. I had to see it to believe it, and voilà, the tide was doing it MY way, i.e. it flowed to the westnorthwest, as I thought it should. All the other currents I had encountered on my way to this point were thus side currents up into Tusket River and its numerous large tidal side arms, which filled my entire nautical chart #4244.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Getting through the sluice itself was anticlimactic.

I flushed through without a hitch, and for the night joined a flock of sheep on Ram Island off Little River Harbor, 2.5 miles down the way, or better, to the northwest of The Sluice. My confidence was restored, and I was eager to get to Yarmouth and Cape Forchu tomorrow. I even told Nancy via satellite phone that she should plan on my ETA (estimated time of arrival) in Barton/Digby four days from now on August 14th on the high tide at 10:00 a.m. (That man is crazy! I knew it all along!)

“On the road” to Cape Forchu, Yarmouth

But thick fog greeted me the next morning. It was so thick I could not even see the harbor docks on shore. But my trusty Ritchie compass, my charts and watch took me around the point and up the coast towards Chebogue Point, which I must admit, never looked good on the chart, since it had lots of point rips drawn in. And the tide was still ebbing till noon, and the wind had kicked in at its usual southsouthwest 20 knots.

The waves grew fast and became steeper, while the visibility remained poor, as I island-hopped towards the point. Then suddenly I saw myself reverse course. It was getting too chancy. I got slapped by the waves and could not see where I was going - no shore to hold onto anywhere. It felt as if I was headed out into the open ocean. However, ten minutes later I was back on my original course with a plan B/C: run a bit deeper into the bay behind the point and sneak up on Chebogue Point from behind, or hole up there till the weather improves and the tide turns.

But when I got there and poked my bow around the point to size up the situation, I suddenly felt confident again that I could dance around it, which I did, in very confused sea conditions, but with the southwest wind now helping me along.
I did not see Cape Forchu, the entrance to Yarmouth Harbor, till I was upon it. The mouth of the harbor looked and felt like open ocean. Halfway across, I finally saw the tall white lighthouse on the high bluff on the eastern tine of the forked cape. I only hoped the CAT ferry from Bar Harbor would not show up now. Would it see me with my new radar reflector? I certainly hoped so.

I had just pulled out on a small pebble beach below the light, when the big ferry to Portland steamed out. Soon thereafter, I heard the roar of very powerful engines, and the CAT breezed into port, pushing effortlessly through the water, compared to the blunt- bowed wave bruiser, the Scotia Prince. I had my hands full with the wakes of both boats, but more so with the fast pressure waves of the CAT than with the much slower regular bow and stern waves of the Portland ferry.

It was almost lunchtime, and I had planned to wait here anyway for the tide to turn, around noontime. Cape Forchu is a formidable headland, and I felt I had to set up my rounding very carefully. (By the way, “Forchu” is pronounced something like “horseshoe”, and of course means “forked cape”, since it has two thin pointy connected headlands like a pickle fork.)

Cape Forchu in the fog
Cape Forchu in the fog

I had lots of time for my minimal lunch and time to reflect on my trip. Before I started this trip, I had set myself a couple of “goals of achievement”. Having had neck and shoulder problems all winter and spring, I was not really sure whether I could pull off another big trip like last year, or any trip for that matter.

Shoulder or no shoulder, I decided, I would definitely paddle the first 100 miles to make the long car shuttle worthwhile, and even if I had to finish a whole bottle of Tylenol. I could not call Nancy for help sooner than that, nah! My second goal of achievement was making it to Cape Sable Island, i.e. finish the entire South Shore of Nova Scotia. (Cape Sable Island is the official entrance point into the Bay of Fundy.)

Stage three would take me to Yarmouth, because it would be the easiest pick-up and car shuttle back to Orono, Maine (via the CAT). The fourth stage was the stage of full success at Barton/Digby, also because of an easy car shuttle back home with the Digby-St. John ferry. Paddling around the rest of the Bay of Fundy was out of the question. I wasn’t even interested. I had seen this tidal mud hole in Cumberland Bay in August of 2001 and decided I wanted none of it.

Cape St. Mary’s, last of the big capes

12 noon came, it was about dead low tide, and I was off again for ten more relatively easy but tiring miles straight north to a seawall in Sandford Harbor. I had set myself up so that I would wait out the turn of the tide at the next big cape, Cape St. Mary’s, come tomorrow. The tide was supposed to rip over the extensive ledge outcroppings, according to my Sailing Directions.

My chart shows rip waves all around this cape, plus the unmistakable words “Cape Rip”. I can read, folks, and I would much rather avoid trouble than try to “conquer” it, as mountain climbers like to say about their ventures. I avoid fights, especially with nature, and use my brain rather than my brawn to be successful. I am also a firm believer that success is no accident, but rather is carefully planned.

So next morning I left at my usual 7:20 a.m.(up at 6:00 a.m.) to take advantage of the calmer wind and sea conditions, since I had to paddle against the ebbing tide. I could not change that. After 12 miles I got to Cape St. Mary’s Harbor and pulled out on a wooden dinghy ramp for a long lunch break and even some reading, while listening to the very melodious two-tone foghorn. Its pitch sounds like the first two notes of the theme song of the old lions-in-Africa movie “Born Free”, or the notes “a-e” on my piano. Do any of you readers remember it?  Then suddenly it was time to leave again; the tide was about to turn.

One of the “baddest” capes around was just purring, no claws, fangs, roaring or spitting, i.e. no nasty rips over the rock outcroppings, because at this stage of the tide the rock outcroppings were all exposed, like an extension of the coastline. I liked that and only had to handle the wind waves and old swells crashing against the “new formerly submerged shore”. And that was relatively easy and fun. I grinned from ear to ear as I rounded the steep intimidating-looking, ragged slate headland. I even took a self-portrait of my grinning, bearded self with the cape behind me. I felt so good about my decision.

To my surprise, this steep, rough-looking slate headland continued for almost seven uninterrupted miles, almost all the way into Metaghan Harbor. (The French Acadian pronunciation puts the stress on the second syllable of that name, with the “a” as in “bad”.) This shoreline rivaled that of the Ovens near Lunenburg - it was most impressive, but at the same time foreboding and far away looking, simply awesome. 

Metaghan is a big and busy fishing port with a couple of extra schooners and sailboats, because the schooner Bluenose, the pride of Nova Scotia, had just arrived as part of the 400-year-celebration of Acadians in the Maritimes. I had finally caught up to them again, and next morning I left Metaghan along with the Bluenose, both headed for Digby, where I saw her again, she going the outside, I the inside route.

Schooner Bluenose in Metaghan Harbor

Along Acadian shores - St. Mary’s Bay

St. Mary’s Bay started shoaling in Metaghan, and the shoreline was almost as flat and low as the farming areas along the North Sea shores in northern Germany and The Netherlands, which I am very familiar with. So it came as no surprise to see dairy farms down to the water’s edge and hear and see Holsteins in the extensive fields.

It reminded me also of the Acadian farming areas at Grand Pré near Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and on shore that afternoon and evening I heard more French than at any other place I had visited on my entire canoe trip - no wonder, with town names like Saulnierville, Comeauville, Pointe Noir, Grande Anse, Anse des Le Blanc and more. I even had to dust off my by now quite rusty school French. But Acadians always impressed me as kind and fun-loving people, and they liked hearing about my trip “avec ce petit bateau-là” - that tiny little boat there.

I was in a good mood. No more points to round, no more bad rips. All I had to do was flush into the bay with the tide and the prevailing winds - a cinch. Then I heard that another hurricane was on its way. Bonnie was coming up the coast fast, dumping lots of rain and whipping up some strong winds.

Getting out onto the gently shoaling beach at Metaghan yesterday afternoon was a long portage, and putting in my boat and gear this morning was almost equally rough. But I wanted to be off and was not willing to wait for the tide to pick me up. The sky was darkening, the wind was picking up, and in no time the bay was filled with whitecaps and streamers. Fortunately for me, both forces were helping me up into the bay, but I had to keep a sharp lookout for breaking seas from behind, especially in these shoaling waters.

Digby Neck and its two islands at its southwest tip, Brier and Long, came into view briefly, before they disappeared in a low deck of black clouds. I felt St. Mary’s Bay should be more sheltered from the open sea, but instead it was gusting to 30 knots, and at 10:00 a.m. the tide changed and ran against the wind, which made for very interesting paddling.

I had thought of going up the Sissiboo River into Weymouth Harbor for my last stop of the trip, but it was blowing too hard out of the wide mouth of the river, so I decided to go on to Brooks Beach. The word “beach” also sounded more promising and proper for my last overnight spot of the trip than the silly name “Sissiboo”. However, I found out that “Sissiboo” is the English corruption of the French name “Six Hibou”, “Six Owl River” (“River of the Six Owls”).

I’d like to think, though, that the original meaning was more bird- specific and less mathematical. I’d like to think of this river being the “Home of the Six- Hooter Owl”, the Great Horned Owl that is, which mostly hoots 5/6 times and was a new species for the new settlers from France.  (The “Eight-Hooter” being the Barred Owl.) But I cannot prove that.

Checking in with Nancy that night I heard of yet another hurricane, a third one, Charley, which was just hitting the west coast of Florida in the Punta Gorda area, and was also predicted to come up to Maine and the Maritimes. I sensed it was time for me to get off the water.

End of trip

The portage onto the seawall at Brooks Beach was long and hard; so was the night. There was no beach, by the way, just soccer-ball-sized rocks. Bonnie let loose that night. It rained profusely, right through breakfast and my tent takedown. I was in Gore-Tex, but everything else that was not quickly stuffed into waterproof bags got wet. It was so bad it was almost funny - my last night of the trip and my last day on the water. I knew only one thing: I had to get to the prearranged take-out spot near the church in Barton, my only landmark, at high tide, at 10:00 a.m., today, August 14, 2004.

The sky got darker by the minute. Digby Neck disappeared again, turning into a black cloudbank, releasing tons of water. I was eager to get going and cover the remaining eight miles to Barton. I was glad I had not left myself 18 or 28 miles to the take-out spot. Bad picture weather for my grand arrival, I thought jokingly. Just think of the band and the Mayor and all the townspeople in their uniforms and best clothes, all getting wet. What a shame, I chuckled, as I rounded the last bend - and there she was, in her Gore-Tex suit, waving her arms, welcoming me in. Thanks, Nancy, you are a gem!

But all of a sudden eight or ten more people came to the shore, waving excitedly. What was going on? I have no fan club, nobody knows I am coming in today, hardly anybody knows or even noticed I was gone. What’s up?

Time to get off the ocean (Barton/Digby)
Time to get off the ocean (Barton/Digby)

It turned out we had chosen a take-out spot where the owner had planned an annual family-and-friends get-together, and now they were all welcoming me “home” and helping me get my gear and boat to my car. I did not have to do a thing. Thanks guys, I needed that! And then I suddenly had a cup of hot coffee in my hands, and Nancy and I were munching on a piece of delicious carrot cake, our favorite, which we had just enjoyed at our 40th wedding anniversary celebration with family and friends at home in Maine.

What a great homecoming, what nice warm people along this mostly Acadian and Micmac shore. Thanks, Carol. We were urged to stay for the big party (50 people were expected), but we had ferry reservations and other pressing obligations back in Orono. We made the 1:00 p.m. Digby ferry to St. John, New Brunswick and rolled into Orono around suppertime that same day.

A great ending to a great trip, 382 miles (612 km) in 17.5 days, and again right on schedule, for a grand total around the Province of Nova Scotia of 832 miles (1331 km) in 36.5 days. I felt elated and greatly relieved to have finished my circumnavigation without a hitch. I surely shook the monkey off my back. But please don’t ask me right now what great trip I am planning to do next year. I need to dry out first. Squish..

RZ with support crew Nancy
RZ with support crew Nancy

NOAA charts, Halifax to St. Mary’s Bay: see Canadian chart catalogue for numbers
Sailing Directions, Nova Scotia (Atlantic  Coast) and Bay of Fundy. Fisheries and Oceans, Ottawa, Canada.
Scott Cunningham: Sea Kayaking in Nova Scotia. Nimbus, 1996.
Joshua Slocum: Sailing Alone Around the World. New York, 1900.
Joseph E. Garland: Lone Voyager (Howard Blackburn). New York, 1963.

Verlen Kruger 17’2’’ Sea Wind sea canoe (Kevlar) with rudder and spray skirt
Zaveral White water/Expedition carbon fiber bent shaft marathon canoe racing paddle (11 oz)
Ritchie deck-mounted compass with course memory bezel
Lensatic passive radar reflector (from WEST MARINE) mounted on stern deck
Iridium satellite phone and VHF marine radio telephone with NOAA weather stations
Standard camping gear and food, for beach camping
Expenses other than gear, food and car shuttles: none
Distances given in statute miles, unless specifically given in nautical miles
(as on all charts).

© Reinhard Zollitsch