It’s a Really Big Country


As many of you know, Morgan’s Cloud is laid up and we have spent most of the last year at our Base Camp in Nova Scotia. However, nice as it is, The Hovel, as we affectionately call our cabin, is not insulated…not even slightly. So, faced with a Nova Scotia winter, we did what any sensible people would do and bailed.

I say “sensible people” but, now I think about it, that might be an unrealistic claim for us to make since, instead of doing what a couple aspiring to that designation would do and heading for a warm place, we are heading west toward Canada’s Rocky Mountains on the theory that if you are going to do winter, you might as well do it full-on and cross country ski like crazy. There’s also the added attraction of a rented condo with insulation and heat that does not require splitting and lugging wood—a novel concept, don’t you think?

Wait, it gets better…or maybe worse. Sensible people would fly. But Phyllis and John, oh no, only the train will do. So as I write we are somewhere north of Lake Superior in the middle of…well, nowhere. And I do mean nowhere. Lots of trees though. Lakes too. It’s the Great Canadian Shield, all covered in snow, and quite beautiful.

But no cell phone coverage, which means no internet. So this post is really just a long lead-in to explain our absence from the comments. We will be back. When we get somewhere. Rather than where we are now, which is, as I said, nowhere. Actually, it’s rather nice, and a good reminder that being without the internet sometimes is a good idea.


As to the title of this post. One of the interesting things about traveling by train, particularly a train that moves at, shall we say, a leisurely pace, is that it reconnects us to the real dimensions of our planet. Kind of like offshore voyaging in that way, only without the puking. But unlike flying, which compresses everything in unnatural ways.

We have now been traveling for some 48 hours and we are not even halfway across Phyllis’ native land and my adopted country. Canada is a really big country. Beautiful too.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

19 comments… add one
  • Marc Dacey Dec 19, 2013, 6:48 pm

    So, John, is your leg now healed enough to go cross-country skiing, or is the idea of cross-country skiing to speed the healing of your leg?

    I ask because I had a three-bone break in my lower leg and have the scars and titanium to prove it, and I found that I could pedal my bike (with a cane on the rattrap) considerably sooner than I could walk without a limp. Lower impact and very little side movement!

    • John Dec 20, 2013, 8:11 pm

      Hi Marc,

      I found exactly the same thing: biking was a lot easier a lot earlier, than walking! We will see on the skiing. Will start slow!

  • paul shard Dec 20, 2013, 10:15 am

    Gorgeous pix!! Thanks for posting guys!
    Best regards
    Paul & Sheryl
    SV Distant Shores II – Grenadines for Christmas

  • Horatio Marteleira Dec 20, 2013, 10:36 am

    That’s an amazing trip.
    I don’t know if the train goes any faster these days. Back when I as a full-time student and part-time tree-planting bum, I rode that train 3 days from Toronto to the Rockies.
    On the other hand, we may share the same love for water, but I hate cold weather with a passion. No snow here in Peniche, Portugal.

  • Heather Holm Dec 20, 2013, 11:04 am

    Excellent choice of travel. A civilized speed, and creature comforts. And a great way to know in your bones the vastness of the continent. Have a wonderful time in the mountains.

  • Ray Verlage Dec 20, 2013, 11:26 am

    Will you and Phyliss be stopping in Calgary?
    If so, please let us know. We would love to have dinner with you?
    Ray and Anita

  • richard dykiel Dec 20, 2013, 11:47 am

    I’ll take a train over a taking a plane any day, for any destination. Gorgeous country: it must be nice enjoying the moving scenery while sipping hot beverages.

  • Victor Raymond Dec 20, 2013, 12:22 pm

    John, If you make to Vancouver or Victoria let us know. We are on Orcas Island right now and just short days sail in either direction. Would love to finally meet.
    Enjoy the snow.
    BTW I think your cabin is a Pan Abode so I not sure you have NO insulation.:)

    • John Dec 20, 2013, 8:13 pm

      Hi Victor,

      I think it was the first ever Pan Abode, 2.5″ of wood between you and the great outdoors and that’s it! Not sure if we will make Vancouver, but will keep it in mind.

  • Scott Kuhner Dec 20, 2013, 12:54 pm

    Why would a cabin without insulation be any worse than a boat in the arctic regions without insulation? I always thought that the two of you were so tough that you keep your socks up with thumb tacks. Well actually cross country skiing everyday for miles also reflects your toughness.

    • John Dec 20, 2013, 8:14 pm

      Hi Scott,
      Ah, but we have insulation on the boat. In fact she is way warmer than the cabin! Best to you two for the season.

  • Peter Sotham Dec 20, 2013, 2:04 pm

    As one does when looking at partial picture of a boat, we tend to imagine and put together the whole layout of the vessel. So getting to the point, in as your picture, you seem to be in the last wagoon or caboose, however the narrowing of the back door area does seem odd since wagons usually end up with a square transom ! So are you on some type of upper deck ?? Interesting set up.
    Enjoy the Rockies, we left our boat in Greece and are currently enjoying winter in Victoria B.C
    S/v Counter Girl
    About and get a feel for the

    • John Dec 20, 2013, 8:16 pm

      Hi Peter,

      Last car has a raised dome, where the first shot was taken from and the slightly rounded back end where Phyllis is sitting in the last shot. They call it a “Park Car” and it was built in 1955.

  • Arnie and Gladys Dec 20, 2013, 3:58 pm

    The Rockies are the place to be!! We are picking up Richard and Bre’el and our 21 month old grandson Ben at the Calgary Airport. They are flying in from Comox bc. Flight is delayed… But still a little quicker than the train. We plan to be back to MH and enjoying a bowl of Borscht for supper, complements of Arnie’s dad(he does soup very well). We wish you and yours a very merry Christmas.

  • John DM Dec 20, 2013, 5:48 pm

    Love train travel, though it has become ridiculously expensive in Canada. Snowstorm two days ago dumped quite a lot of snow here in Nova Scotia, suggesting this may be a longer winter than usual. You didn’t need to go to the Rockies for white stuff, just for the hills. Have a good time

  • Chris Dec 20, 2013, 5:53 pm

    You left out the best part — the dining car!

    • John Dec 20, 2013, 8:17 pm

      Ho Chris,

      Maybe there was no photo, but I ashure you we did not miss out as my tight belt will attest.

  • Chris Dec 20, 2013, 8:22 pm

    An enduring memory from age 9 – Rice Krispies served with cream instead of milk on the Southern Pacific — still working them off.

  • Philip & Sharon Dec 22, 2013, 12:22 pm

    We found it interesting that you call your home “base camp” as we do also. Instead of calling our place “the hovel” we have labeled it “Utter Chaos”.
    Happy holidays. See you out there sometime. P&S

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