Clang, clang, clang.
That will be my most lasting memory of Nova Scotia - the clang of the bell buoy as we navigate through the fog. We had
28 days coastal cruising in NS and for 18 of those we had fog for most of the day. The coastline is a fairly inhospitable
one with many offlying dangers hence the great number of bell buoys. We navigated from buoy to buoy using gps waypoints and
radar. I never knew that the bell on the buoy is stationary and 4 clappers round it swing with the buoys movements and strike
the bell – clang, clang, clang….
We also had fish traps to contend with and as many of these were small buoys joined with floating lines you could get
yourself in a right old tangle. This made for some very stressful travelling; made all the more frustrating as we couldn’t
see any of the countryside we had come to visit. Often the fog would lift as we got inshore which was why our first port of
call, Shelburne, was so nice as it is up a 10 mile long inlet. We spent 10 days there and never knew fog existed. It was an
excellent first port with a cheap alongside berth at the harbour. Everywhere else since then has been charging $1-$1.50 per
foot plus taxes. Needless to say we have been anchored everywhere else. Shelburne was settled by the losers in the American
war of independence, given land grants and supplies by the British government. The town became famous for shipbuilding and
the inventor and builder of the big clipper ships was born here. They also built the small fishing boats known as dorys. They
are flat bottomed for easier stacking and were taken out to the Grand Banks aboard larger schooners; then the 2 man crews
fished for cod on the banks. The boats are traditionally painted yellow so they can be seen more easily in the fog. Today
there is still some very tightly regulated inshore fishing, mostly for lobster or crab.
On our way into Halifax, the provincial capital, we again had thick fog and had to report our position to the harbour
traffic control that monitors the approaches on radar. They called us on vhf every time a ship was coming near us. About 3
miles in from the sea the fog started to thin out and we could see houses and trees on the headlands all bathed in sunlight
which sparkled on the waters. It made a spooky contrast to look back at the thick, gray blanket of wet, dank fog. An approaching
container ship loomed out of it – a ghostly apparition with the fog streaming from it like smoke. We had a brilliant
anchorage in Halifax, very convenient to a shopping centre and about 10 minutes cycle from the city centre – not to
mention the fact that it was free - while other visitors chose to use moorings belonging to a nearby yacht club costing $25/night.
We were there for Canada day and watched the procession from the citadel built on a hill overlooking the main harbour. It’s
a very militaristic parade with army bands and of course the Mounties in their distinctive red and tan uniform with the broad
brimmed hat. Curiously the mounted police walked in the parade – still wearing long black boots with spurs and carrying
lance like pennants, but no horses. We visited the Titanic graves where some of the stones are just numbers as the people
were never identified. Halifax was the closest port to the disaster and 4 ships were sent out to recover bodies. Some were
buried at sea but more than 300 were brought back to Halifax where class distinctions were maintained in death as in life
with first class getting coffins and steerage being sewn into canvas bags. The White Star Line paid for the burial memorials
and today of course they are a tourist attraction.
After staying more than a week in Halifax time was once again speeding up on us and we made an overnight sail –
again in fog – to the northern end of the state and then across to Cape Breton island. We’d been looking forward
to this as everyone said there was never any fog there. A series of lakes, running through the middle of the island, are reached
by a sea lock and short canal. The water in these Bras d’Or lakes is warmer and keeps the fog at bay. In the mornings
we could see the fog banks lying over the hills towards the Atlantic while we tootled along in light winds and sunshine watching
out for bald eagles to come swooping down to catch a fish. We had an eagle’s nest near us in one anchorage and we watched
the big chick take its first tentative flaps. Cape Breton makes much of its Gaelic heritage - Scottish not Irish - with village
names like Iona with its replica black house and MacIvers the kilt makers. There’s even a single malt made at the Glenora
distillery which weighs in at £40 a half bottle – must be good! We anchored one night in the Washabuck River which we
thought might be a bastardisation of a native American word; turns out to be ‘uisge buic’. Some towns even have
dual language street signs! We were at first surprised how easily the locals understood our accent as in other places we had
met with blank stares as though we speaky hindoo. But then we heard the country people speak and it was like a Cork man on
speed pretending to be a yank. No wonder we were easy to make out. Alexander Graham Bell lived beside the Bras d’Or
lakes at Baddeck where there is now a museum. We never knew that he had been involved in so many other things besides the
telephone. He pioneered hydrofoils and airplanes. His first career was teaching deaf people.
Cape Breton made a fine end to our 6 weeks in Nova Scotia where we could remember the sun and sheltered anchorages without
fog. We’d had very little wind anywhere since arriving and all the anchorages we visited had good holding. The c-map
electronic charts were good enough as far north as Halifax but non-existent for Cape Breton. We actually had to buy a new
chart for the Bras d’Or. Take note of those unfamiliar words ‘buy’ and ‘new’. There were so
few visiting boats about that we couldn’t find anyone to borrow and photocopy from. We met a couple of European boats
heading across the Atlantic from Halifax and a few Americans up there for their holidays but generally it’s empty. I
don’t think we’d go back again by sea. The fog is just too prevalent, especially in July. Locals would say ‘oh
August is better’ or the old chestnut ‘an unusual year’ would be mentioned but dozens of bell buoys along
the coast tell the true story – clang clang clang…...