Cruising in Cape Breton: A Bras d'Ore Lake Adventure!
We left Newfoundland for Nova Scotia, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in 20 knots of wind on the beam. It was an amazing sail that lasted the full 200 nautical miles.
On the way, we spotted plenty of wildlife. Three Mola Molas (giant ocean sunfish) swam close to our boat. At first, we thought they were sharks flailing around but the water was crystal clear and we could see their flat bodies. Whales were off on the horizon spurting and jumping. We saw birds, birds, and more birds. Seagulls, puffins, and cormorants surrounded Lagerhead. The occasional purple jellyfish floated by as well.
Night Anchoring.... Again
We planned our trip to arrive on Cape Breton island in the morning light calculating 5 knots. However, we had such perfect wind, we averaged 7 knots which put us arriving at 11 pm. After swearing to never enter a new port at night after Mingan, we found ourselves doing it again (we would go on to anchor at night three more times including in Boston).
Just as we entered the narrow channel known as the Great Bras d'Or Channel, we got the added bonus of fog rolling in. Dave stayed calm and anchored the boat in the fog and dark without a problem.
Bras d'Or Lake
We woke up to discover we were nestled in a serene, small harbor that evoked the tranquil charm of New York's Finger Lakes region.
Bras d'Or Lake is a large inland sea located in the middle of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. The name "Bras d'Or" is derived from the French words for "arm of gold," some say inspired by the stunning sunsets that reflect off the water. It has nothing to do with boobs!
Bras d'Or Lake is a unique body of water with a mixture of saltwater and freshwater. It is divided into two main basins: the North Basin and the South Basin. The lake is also dotted with numerous smaller islands, making it a popular destination for boaters.
The lake holds cultural and ecological significance for the region. It has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve due to its diverse ecosystems and the efforts to maintain the balance between human activity and nature in the area. We saw lots of seals swimming in the lake.
Bras d'Or Lake is a significant part of the Cape Breton region's identity and economy. It offers a picturesque landscape, recreational opportunities, and a source of livelihood for local communities through fishing and tourism.
There are only four bridges in the lake. The giant suspension bridge, the draw bridge with swing train bridge combo, and the final swing road bridge at the bottom of the lake.
This part of Nova Scotia is renowned for its musical heritage, our mission was to uncover some authentic Cape Breton music. This led us further downstream to the enchanting village of Baddeck, a true hidden treasure.
We saw this monster house hidden in the trees on our way into the bay.
It turned out to be Alexander Graham Bell's summer home Beinn Bhreagh, Gaelic for 'Beautiful Mountain.' When I see these giant estates that are not museums, I always wonder about the upkeep and if the descendants still live there.
I did a little googling and the family does still own it but no one has lived there since 2006. It is in need of about $1 million in repairs and the trust fund set up for caretaking is down to $400,000. The family is currently trying to get the $1 million yearly tax lowered to have more money to fix it up.
We learned a lot about Alec (like his nickname) in Baddeck. He's the pride of the village and we visited the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site here. I always thought he was American, turns out he's from Scotland.
He was a very busy guy, into a lot more than just telephones. He started as a teacher of the deaf (his wife was one of his students). He was fascinated with building huge kites to fly a man (competing with the Wright Brothers for first in flight) and hydrofoil boats (ahead of his time). He chose Baddeck for his summer home because the look of the area reminded him of Scotland.
Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site
Baddeck Gathering Ceilidh
We found the music! While in Baddeck, we visited the Baddeck Gathering Ceilidh (pronounced "kay-lee"). A ceilidh is a kitchen party where everyone is welcome to perform. We watched teachers and students from the nearby Gaelic College play the fiddle and the piano, dance, and explain the music to us.
Cape Breton Island's fiddle music was brought here by Scottish immigrants primarily from Gaelic-speaking regions in the Scottish Highlands. The tradition of Scottish fiddle music has been preserved in Cape Breton through the generations and by being fairly isolated for most of the past two hundred years.
Dance styles associated with the music are Cape Breton step dancing and square dancing which was demonstrated for us.
The room was packed full of visitors from all over the world. The chairs were very uncomfortable and squished close together and it was super hot inside! Although, we were really enjoying the music, we were very glad for the halfway break to stretch our legs and eat their snack of tea and oatcakes (which are like oatmeal cookies sans raisins).
A highlight of Baddeck for us was meeting the crew of Spirit of Tobermory, Mark and Terri. We met up with them again in St. Peter's, Halifax, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, and Lockeport. We stay in touch and hope to see them again along our travels. They, like us, have just started their cruising life this summer.
Pictures from their website Wandering with Spirit.
After spending a month in Newfoundland and being surrounded by mostly small fishing boats, it was a jolt to the senses to see this enormous super yacht pull into Baddeck. The crew asked Mark and Terri to move down on the dock to make room.
This one was only a paltry $20 million and is owned by businessman and real estate mogul Larry Silverstein. Silverstein was the developer behind the rebuild of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and is estimated to have a net worth around $4 billion. He named the boat after his two daughters Sharon and Lisa- Silver Shalis.
We would go on to run into Silver Shalis in Halifax and Bar Harbor. Poor Silver Shalis now looks tiny and old compared to the mega yachts we saw in Portland, Maine and Newport, Rhode Island!
Our next stop on Bra d'Ore Lake was down at the end of the South Basin in St. Peter's.
The anchorage was very full when we arrived due to the Salty Dog Rally (all the boats fly this flag). The Rally is a bunch of boats that pay a fee to travel together and party together along the way. This rally started in Rockland. Maine. We saw the rally near the end, their final destination was Baddeck.
We met up with our own people, the crew from another Corbin 39 sailboat. We had a nice visit with them aboard their Corbin. We have spotted over 12 other Corbins so far on our journey. That's pretty good taking into account there are only about 150 left in the world.
Boarded by the Cops!
While in St. Peter's we got boarded by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They apparently left their horses on land and came by zodiac boat. They were fully outfitted in black swat team gear with giant guns which is a little intimidating. However, like all Canadians we've met, they were super friendly. They sat all squished in our cockpit, checked out our paperwork, our flares, and life jackets then got back in their boat and zoomed off.
Battery Provincial Park
The highlight of St. Peter's was hiking Battery Provincial Park. The park is situated on a hillside overlooking St. Peter’s Bay adjacent to the St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Site (which we would take our boat through to exit the lake). The views were quite spectacular of the Atlantic Ocean and we got a good workout hiking up and down the hills.
We also enjoyed one more night of Cape Breton music at a local pub.
St. Peter’s Canal
St. Peter's Canal connects Bras d'Or Lake with the Atlantic Ocean, specifically the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It's the only way to exit the lake from the south.
St. Peter's Canal is unique in that, due to the difference in the timing of the tides between Bras d'Or Lake and the ocean, sometimes the lake side is higher and sometimes the Atlantic Ocean side is higher. As a result, the canal requires special "double" gates, the only ones of their kind in North America.
To enter the lock, first a road swing bridge needs to open. The bridge was brand new in 2017 replacing an old version. I never saw such a fancy swing bridge with actual road on it and not just grates.
We went through the lock with two other sailboats and made our way down to Halifax where we visited the graves of the Titanic victims. But that's for our next blog!
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! We really appreciate it!
Much love, Dave and Diane