The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Crossing The Bay Of Fundy—Off To The Land Of Big Tides

After a long spell away from Pèlerin last winter, Lou and I were glad to return to her this spring to get ready for our planned season in Nova Scotia.

I wasn’t too rusty, having just got off two weeks of commissioning and working up the beautiful new Boréal 47 Astro in Tréguier, France, with proud owner Joao Guerra. And, if I needed a reminder of what was in store in terms of temperature where we planned to go, the windy and cold conditions off Tréguier soon put that right, reminding me to fling some extra warm gear into my flight bag at the last minute.

The Miles Take Their Toll

Everything was done in something of a rush up to the launch, as we needed to test all of the systems before we departed, Pèlerin having had a modest refit through the winter. She has covered a lot of miles since leaving the UK in 2009, and the time had come to sort out a few items that needed attention, not least the engine and the Webasto blown-air heater, the latter being a feature that we were sure we’d be needing.

We finally set off, seemingly in good shape, only to find that a lot of small items that had been working last season had now decided to down tools, and one system after another joined in the strike. So I spent most of my days patching and fixing as we went along, which was not what I’d had in mind at all, but appreciate is the cruiser’s lot.

Old age and overuse catches up with everything eventually, it’s what happens after many years at sea, and just has to be dealt with. So through a combination of rummaging through the spares kit, bodging up repairs and scarring knuckles, we kept going, albeit slowly.

But the Law of Sod had one last ace up its sleeve for us, which became apparent when the raw water pump began to weep salt water from the shaft seal. I knew from previous experience that this disease would soon be terminal, so I delved into one of our many spares lockers for the complete new pump that we carry for just such an eventuality.

Well, I say ‘complete’, but once I pulled it from its box it was clear that there was a crucial part missing, the gear wheel that drives the pump, which meant that we’d have to remove the old pump and pull the gear wheel off the shaft—and one look told me that my puller wouldn’t fit.

Having now gone from smug complacency to abject horror in the blink of an eye, I set about frantically phoning around for help, but not with any great hope that we’d find someone capable of effecting the repair at such short notice.

Happily, I was totally wrong on that front, and the next day we rendezvoused with a highly-skilled engineer who had the old pump off and the new one complete and installed in a couple of hours. He even took the old one away to rebuild for us, so that we now have a working spare.

The moral of this story? I’m going to buy a better puller, so that I can fit the thing myself next time. And, what’s more, I’m going to go through all of our spares to make sure I have everything I need to install them.

The Joys of Shoal Draft

Pressing on as fast as we could, we anchored most nights in whatever shelter we could find, often in very thin water. It’s always a laugh for us to watch as people sail by, smirking as they go, obviously thinking that we’re in for an awful shock as the tide falls. But with our board and rudder raised Pèlerin only draws 2’6” (76 cm) and with her flat bottom she can take the ground with no problem at all. So when the same people pass us by later at low water and find us still cheerfully afloat, the laugh is well and truly on them.

I think that real shoal draft, by which I mean less than 4’ (1.2 m) with the ability to take the ground, is a fantastic asset, opening up new cruising areas and enabling you to anchor even in places that are choked with moorings. But it does come with a further downside in terms of windward ability (see below for an exception), although that is compensated to a considerable degree by excellent downwind performance with the board up.

But if I had a boat with a 5’ (1.5 m) draft fin keel, I’d just as soon have 7’ (2.1 m) draft, as I simply can’t see the difference in terms of how far from the shore you can safely anchor. To me, it’s either real shoal draft or you might as well go down the other route and be able to go upwind well.

And The Down Side

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there are downsides to centreboard boats, more maintenance being one bugbear. We had recently replaced the hydraulic ram in our rudder because corrosion had got to it, and it wasn’t a cheap replacement.

But, on the other hand, I dread to think what damage we might have done to a fixed rudder when we soundly whacked some partially buoyant object underwater on our first test sail of the season. The hydraulic pump in our Ovni that controls her centreboard and rudder is fitted with soft brass disks that are designed to rupture and protect the whole system in just such an event. Which, thankfully, it did, and five minutes later we had a new disk installed and were on our way with no harm done.

Do Whales Know The Rules Of The Road?

Having spent considerable time in the company of whales during my previous occupation, I have to say that I don’t fear them at all. I’m not entirely sure if they are ‘friendly’, as we would know it, but they certainly can be inquisitive, especially the young ones that will often approach boats for a closer look, though I’ve never felt alarmed or threatened by them. At the same time, we are always very respectful of all whales and never approach too close or stay too long around them.

But I’m beginning to wonder if the youngsters are like human teenagers, born with an appetite for risky games, especially after a young fin whale appeared out of absolutely nowhere and cut right across our bows. There was just enough room to alter course to pass behind it, even if that did entail a sudden lunge to knock the autopilot off, but it did seem like a giant game of chicken to me. And as it was a classic port/starboard incident, with us as the give-way boat, it led me to speculate that perhaps they have an idea of the rules of the road, too…

We always look forward to seeing whales, especially as we are taking part in a photo-identification project for yachtsmen called Carib Tails, where participants can help scientists trace the migration of individual humpback whales by taking pictures of the underside of their tail flukes. No luck for us so far, but it’s still early in the season.

And The Race Begins

One of the things we’d had planned for ages was a meeting with our friends and fellow AAC contributors Christopher and Molly Barnes. They, together with their sons Porter and Jack, aboard their Boréal 47 Sila, were fresh from her 36,000-mile voyage of the last three years. But as the days drew by and the minor breakdowns piled up, this began to look increasingly doubtful, until finally the gods decided they’d had enough sport with us for a while and we were able to pick up the pace.

It was ‘better late than never’ when the two boats finally met for a belated but thoroughly enjoyable catch-up, followed by a sail in company the next day. Now, as every sailor knows, the definition of a yacht race is two boats in sight of one another, and even though the conditions were light, both boats were soon engaged in a tacking duel.

On paper, having a longer waterline should have allowed Sila to walk away from Pèlerin, but with her bottom very foul from the last leg up from the Caribbean, that advantage was cancelled out, especially as our bottom was very clean. As such, there was nothing in it speed wise but, even with her foul bottom, Sila was easily outpointing us, which only goes to show that it is possible to design a true shoal draft centreboarder that performs creditably upwind!

The Joys of Entering New Countries

It always pays to read the small print carefully before entering a new country. Going through the paperwork as we prepared to leave for Canada, Lou brought my attention to the rules concerning the allowable amounts of alcohol per person.

Over the last few years we’ve gathered quite a few partially-consumed bottles of local booze, left over usually because they are barely drinkable. So, rummaging through the depths of all the lockers, we dug out the worst of the hooch to pour (or give) away, so that we could stay within our allowable limits and keep the good stuff for Nova Scotia.

Whereupon we found the ultimate nightmare, a three-quarters-full bottle of melon-based moonshine bought at little or no expense in some country market up a river in Brazil. This firewater comes complete with a novel health warning in the form of a label that appears to depict an over-refreshed reveler waving a bottle around before falling into a river.

As there was no way we wanted to drink it, and were concerned that alcoholic stores of such ferocity might alarm Canadian Customs, we disposed of it in a safe manner rather than risk causing harm by giving it away, just in case it actually ‘does what it says on the tin.’

Going back to the old ways

Final preparation for the crossing of the Bay of Fundy to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, got me thinking about the tides. Rather like the English Channel, to most intents and purposes the tides cancel each other out over a 12-hour passage, but with light winds forecast we expected our crossing to take more time than that. So I got out my notepad, chart, and ancient Breton Plotter, and set about working up a tidal vector for the passage, the first I’ve done since I can’t remember when. [Much more efficient than altering course continuously all the way across, which slavishly following a GPS waypoint would require. Ed.]

And it was fun, something you can never say about push-button navigation with electronic charts. As always, I felt a small touch of pride that we made a perfect landfall, dead on time in the approaches to Yarmouth.

Quite apart from the fact that you never know if one day you may need to dust off the old skills, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the simple ways that were our daily lot not so very many years ago.

Of course I wouldn’t want to be without most of the electronic kit we have at our disposal these days either, but I think I might just keep my hand in with some of the old-fashioned skills when it suits, just for the pleasure of it. At this rate, you never know, I might even get out our old sextant.

It Feels Just Like Scotland

After several years in the tropics we have been missing home, so as we crept steadily northward we were delighted to re-encounter old friends. Softly murmuring eider ducks, fluttering petrels, wheeling fulmars, the rank stench of a whale’s breath in the black of night, and then finally a puffin, were proof indeed that we were entering familiar waters, albeit on the other side of the Atlantic.

Then the rain cranked up several notches, T-shirts and shorts gave way to ever more layers of fleece materials, and the radar was warmed up and stayed on. As we rounded up into Yarmouth Harbour, Louise and I agreed that we might have been looking at a vista anywhere in our beloved Hebrides.

As we awoke to thick fog and gentle rain the next morning, our homecoming felt complete. No wonder they called it Nova Scotia*!

*New Scotland
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