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

Pèlerin hard on the wind.

“Pèlerin” hard on the wind.

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.

 

Who set the bomb off?

Who set the bomb off?

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.

Ruptured disk and replacement.

Ruptured disk and 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…

A young fin whale crosses our bow.

A young fin whale crosses our bow.

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.

"Sila" tramping upwind.

“Sila” tramping upwind.

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.

Consume in moderation!

Consume in moderation!

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.

Entering Yarmouth.

Entering 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

A puffin checks us out.

A puffin checks us out.

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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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

23 comments… add one
  • Dick Stevenson Jul 24, 2016, 2:38 pm

    Lovely, lovely. Lyrical and lovely. Thanks Colin. Dick

  • Marc Dacey Jul 24, 2016, 4:45 pm

    Very well done piece on waters we hope to explore soon, but most likely with beaching legs!

    • Colin Speedie Jul 25, 2016, 6:07 am

      Hi Marc

      beaching legs – fine if you’ve got a boat with a long keel (like your own, I believe?).

      But yes, the ability to take the ground would be a major plus in parts of the Bay of Fundy.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Dick Stevenson Jul 25, 2016, 4:49 am

    Hi Colin,
    There is a good argument to be made that all spare parts (and not just the engine’s) on one’s boat, be swapped for original and the original be stored as spare. Not only does this pretty much guarantee that you have a spare part that works, but you have invaluable practice at executing the swap (the next time might be at night bouncing around at sea). And you can do it leisurely in your home port with help/tools ready at hand. It is surprising also, how often one hears of spare parts that were incorrect: wrong p/n, for the wrong engine, etc.
    This is only partially accomplished on Alchemy as it is a royal PITA, but I always get a worried pang when I have not. An example: I had a spare raw water pump when mine went bad. The swap went well until I could not get the elbow off the old pump that was essential to the new pump being connected to the hoses. I was luckily near help and tools (a very sturdy fixed vice), but you can be sure that after the failed pump was re-built, I got the elbow necessary for the next swap to be easy. And I went over other spare parts for just that sort of easy omission Some I even did a practice swap).
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • Colin Speedie Jul 25, 2016, 6:10 am

      Hi Dick

      I’m right with you – that has always been my policy. The glitch with the puller was entirely due to complacency on my part, as I just hadn’t looked closely at the new pump. Sometimes we need these little reminders, though, no?

      But, as I’m sure you can imagine it has had the deserted effect – I’m checking everything so that when we go into some remote areas next year we’re well prepared!

      Thanks for the kind comments above, too. I’m glad you like the article.
      Best wishes
      Colin

  • Robert B Jul 25, 2016, 10:28 am

    Hi Colin,

    That was a great article…thank you. I had to laugh at your musings about young whales and human teenagers. When I was ranger in Yellowstone, I attended a talk by one of the Park scientists who was presenting the latest statistics on bear interactions with the public. They had all the bear incidents for the past several years broken out by the bear’s gender and age. The resulting histogram was hysterical. The overwhelmingly largest category of bears that got into trouble with the public were sub-adult males. So your intuition has some scientific backing….teenage boys are teenage boys, regardless of species.

    I might add the same was true for getting between a Mom and her offspring. The results are also irrespective of species. Maybe we are all not so different.

    Robert

    • Colin Speedie Jul 25, 2016, 12:58 pm

      Hi Robert

      Ha – there’s the proof! I always suspected it and yes, I also think that we are not so very different from other intelligent mammals in that we are very protective of our youngsters.
      As you say, boys will be boys….
      Best wishes
      Colin

  • Bill Attwood Jul 25, 2016, 5:25 pm

    Hi Colin,
    I really enjoyed your article, a lovely piece of writing. I am currently researching replacements (spares) for the water and diesel lift pumps, and was set to worrying by your experience. Dick´s idea of fitting the spares immediately and keeping the original as the spare is brilliant so thanks for that, Dick.
    Regards,
    Bill

  • Eric Klem Jul 26, 2016, 1:41 pm

    Hi Colin,

    Have a great time cruising Nova Scotia, it is a wonderful place. If it were not so foggy or if we didn’t have jobs to get back to, I think we would head there more often. Given our limited cruising windows, we point the bow towards Maine more often as the August weather can be counted on to be pretty nice. Someday I hope to spend at least a full summer in Nova Scotia so that I can properly explore instead of our usual quick trips.

    On the subject of spares, we recently had our lift pump die (of course when I went to start the engine to get away from an obnoxious fishing boat that had literally anchored on top of us to the point of needing fenders) and I learned a little lesson on thinking through jobs better. In the interest of spilling as little fuel as possible while not needing to do a lot of bleeding, I decided to take off the fuel lines with the old pump still on the engine and placed my wrench against an area of a fitting with a thin wall which collapsed as soon as I applied any pressure. Had I gone to the trouble to purge the lines and done it off the engine, I would have seen that this was not the place to apply force. Thankfully, the local engine shop had the exact fitting in stock and I got there a few minutes before closing.

    Eric

    • Colin Speedie Jul 26, 2016, 3:19 pm

      Hi Eric

      we’ve all had experiences of jobs like that. It’s a bit like repairing an old wooden boat – you think you’ll just replace a small patch of rot and and an hour later you’re looking at a gaping hole and you wish you’d never started. Lucky for you that the engine shop had the part and you were in time to get it. May jot always be so….
      Best wishes
      Colin

  • ben Jul 27, 2016, 12:38 am

    hey Colin -you probably have lots of good ontacts in NS already, but if you are looking for things ‘engineery’; or suggestions for nice spots to stop – or want to pick up our mooring in Purcell’s Cove (halifax) and have the use of a car for a bit – then don’t hesitate to email me.

    we just came back from a few weeks on the Eastern Shore of NS (our favorite cruising ground), including a dart out to Sable Island for a couple of days; and will be on the sw shore for a couple weeks starting on the 4th. will have good email coverage via cell though. bgarveyhfxATgmail.youknowtherest

    best-

    bg

    • Colin Speedie Jul 27, 2016, 1:17 pm

      Hi Ben

      that’s very kind of you and we may well take you up on your offer.

      We’ll be back aboard in a few days so do look out for us.
      Kind regards

      Colin

  • Chris Aug 1, 2016, 10:11 am

    Hi Colin,
    Feels like we are following you! After exploring Scotland the last few months, we are heading south to cross the Atlantic spend winter in the Carribean and then head north to Nova Scotia next summer aboard our Garcia exloration 45. I have two questions for you:

    1/ Can you share with us your route from Carribeans to Nova Scotia? We were planning to sail to Bermuda in May and then onward straight to Nova Scotia in June , but with the America’s cup in Bermuda around that time I am not sure this is such a good Idea. Bermuda will be packed.

    2/ What is you strategy to avoid crab pot floats? I heard there are particularly bad in NS even quite far offshore. We just caught one in the Saint George Channel in Heavy fog and strong wind and are not too keen to repeat the experience.

    Many thanks

    Chris

    • Colin Speedie Aug 1, 2016, 4:12 pm

      Hi Chris
      we went from Grenada up through the islands up the Virgin Islands. We particularly enjoyed the Spanish Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and especially the Exumas in the Bahamas. I’m glad we didn’t miss any of those. From the Bahamas we went to Charleston S.C and entered the ICW at Beaufort NC. As we were by now out of season and approaching the start of the hurricane season we had a very quiet and enjoyably different passage up through the ICW to overwinter in the Chesapeake Bay. This season we left there to head straight to New York, Long Island Sound, Cape Cod and Maine before crossing the Nova Scotia where we are currently.
      Maine was painful with the pot buoys as they are never out of sight. In fog they are a pain in the neck. But In SW Nova Scotia the season ends 31st of May and all of the gear has to be lifted out of the water – so no problem there. This rule varies somewhat (I believe) around the region so we’ll find out more very soon. Look out for my next few posts.
      Bad luck on the pot buoy in the St George’s Channel – not the best of places for that to happen!
      Best wishes
      Colin

      • chrisdeveyrac Aug 5, 2016, 5:08 pm

        Colin, thanks for your reply. We did the same section of the ICW a few years ago and enjoyed it too. This time however our airdrought is about 20 m and I think we will sail a more direct route.
        Cheers
        Chris

    • Eric Klem Aug 1, 2016, 5:22 pm

      Hi Chris,

      I know that there are many people on here who have spent a lot of time dealing with pot buoys. Having sailed well over a thousand days in areas with thick pot buoys, I pay close attention but don’t get too worried about them. We have caught them from time to time and have been inconvenienced a few times but have never had a real issue. As Colin says, Nova Scotia has a fishing season which really helps as you can go there out of season and it is really nice. If you go to the Chesapeake, you will hit some crab pots and if you go to Maine, you will hit a lot of lobster pots. Lobster pots do stretch south a ways but the density of them in places like Rhode Island is much less.

      For dealing with pot buoys, preventing contact is the biggest thing and then knowing how to deal with the occasional wrap up is key. Certain areas have many more pots than others and some of this is a local knowledge thing but some of it follows rules such as the more brackish the water, the less pots. Being underway at night is really tricky if you have a boat that is susceptible to catching them. We try to plan our sails such that we are out in the middle of the gulf of Maine at night and approach shore only in the light but there are exceptions such as there are pots that must stretch 20 miles south of Matinicus Rock in Maine. Knowing what on your boat catches them is important, for us it is the prop and the rudder so we can run them over with the bow as long as they are clear by the time they get aft. Going across the current is by far the hardest thing as you get set down on the pots really badly. If we run into an area of heavy pots, I much prefer to be sailing rather than motoring as it is far easier to deal with one that gets caught.

      If you are not familiar with toggles, it is worth understanding them before you go to somewhere with them. A toggle is a float that is used to take the strain off of the pickup buoy so the line goes from the trap to the toggle and then another line goes to the pickup buoy. The problem is that the last line is very close to the surface and presents a target that could be 30′ wide. If there is enough current to stretch out the pickup buoy, you don’t want to go between it and the toggle. Unfortunately, this makes it quite challenging to go across the current as you have to weave everywhere. You will learn to watch for patterns of what color toggles go with what color buoys and how far apart they usually are.

      How your boat is set up makes a big difference. One of the most important things is visibility. Turning on the autopilot and not paying attention doesn’t work in these places, you need to actively steer and have great visibility. The common places that catch pots are vertical keels, centerboard trunks, props, and rudders especially balanced ones. If you can set up something to deflect the buoys around all of these, you will be able to sail while completely ignoring the pots. Some people run a small wire from the aft end of the keel to the bottom of the rudder but I could see this causing additional problems. Unless you have a racing boat, the keel probably isn’t an issue. On rudders, the area around the post or the bottom of a skeg is usually the culprit but a simple stainless or bronze fairing can make the line slide past. You would be amazed at how small a crack the line will end up in. For props, the best under sail is definitely a folding prop although we use a fixed one as it is the most reliable under power for hitting one. Also, consider adding a line cutter to your prop shaft. I really like Spurs but they need to be serviced and can be a pain to install. We have a line cutter from Evolution Drive.

      Once you hook a pot buoy, getting it off depends on whether you were motoring or sailing. If motoring with a line cutter, try to get the engine in reverse quickly as that usually cuts best. If you don’t have a line cutter, you have a mess on your hands. If sailing, figure out which side of the hull it is stuck on, grapple the pickup buoy and drag it forward on that side until you can release it from what it is stuck on. Keep in mind that your boat will swing either downcurrent or downwind pretty quickly making sails hard to take down. If you get desperate, cut it with a knife on a boathook or one of those hook knives. Keep in mind that cutting a pot is expensive to the fisherman and they get quite upset about it.

      Many great cruising grounds have lots of buoys and that shouldn’t stop you from going. You will quickly get used to steering around them, as long as you don’t mind hand steering, it is not a big deal.

      Eric

      • Marc Dacey Aug 2, 2016, 12:22 am

        Very thoughtful response. We anticipate going through these waters and I’ve already experienced them in Portugal with suspended nets, so we’ve installed a line cutter. It wasn’t cheap, but I like to make my wetsuit expeditions voluntary.

      • chrisdeveyrac Aug 5, 2016, 5:10 pm

        Hi Eric, and thank you for your extensive reply. I see you are a real expert at these! I will add a Spurs line cutter to the list.
        Cheers
        Chris

    • John Aug 2, 2016, 7:19 am

      Hi Chris,

      To add to Eric and Colin’s excellent comments. In Atlantic Canada most fishing gear, with the exception of lobster pots, is marked with high flyers and radar reflectors. For the this reason we maintain a radar watch at night, even in clear weather. In most cases radar will pick up said reflectors at about 1.5 miles.

      As Colin says, the lobster season ends 31st. May in most of Nova Scotia, and does not start again until late November. However, there are summer seasons in Northumberland Strait and Cape Breton, if memory serves. However, the pots in those areas are not as densely packed as in Maine. Also, Atlantic Canadian fisherman do not use toggles and sinking line as in Maine. Instead floating line is used, and a lot of it. The result is as much as 200 feet of line on the surface.

      Taking all of this into account, my recommendation is that any boat cruising Maine or Atlantic Canada should be fitted with line cutters on the prop shaft, and, like Eric, I favour Spurs.

      As to Bermuda, my native land, yes it will be a zoo in May, but their should still be room to anchor in St. Georges harbour since all the AC action will be at the other end of the Island, so a stop of a few days should not be much of a problem.

      • chrisdeveyrac Aug 5, 2016, 5:17 pm

        Hi John, thanks for the advice. We bypassed Bermuda last time we sailed from the Bahamas to Europe so I think we will give it a try this time , and it seems to be a good place to cut the journey to Nova Scotia and plan for a good weather forecast for this passage.
        Chris

  • Carl Linley Mar 10, 2019, 11:57 am

    Thanks for all the fishing gear info, Planning this years cruise and had thought about going up to Digby and AR. We have a power boat so currents are not so much of a problem but how does it compare as a destination to the east coast of NS? Years ago we did a bike tour and ate at the Digby pines one night so there is some nostalgia there but have no idea what the water side is like.

    Thanks,
    Carl

    • John Mar 11, 2019, 7:35 am

      Hi Carl,

      Any cruise of the Digby area is going to be all about tide. Even with a power boat if you get in a wind against current situation it can get messy very quickly.

      As to where to go in that part of Nova Scotia, the very best source is Peter Loveridge’s Guide: http://cruisingguidetons.blogspot.com/2016/11/how-to-get-books.html

  • Nicholas Burnett Mar 11, 2019, 10:56 am

    I live in Maine and cruise from the Bahamas to Nova Scotia, but usually from Portland to Eastport. Yes, lobster pots and associated toggles are a pain, but you learn to weave and read the sets. If I do hook one, always on my skeg-hung rudder, I do try and free the line with a boat hook. Failing that, I jump overboard with a knife, but I always tie onto the line connected to the pot before cutting free. I then tie the pot line together before going on my way. Yes, the lobster men (and women) make their living using this gear and we are pretty much interlopers on their territory. Some seasons I have to dive two or three times, other years, not at all. A small price to pay to cruise some of the most beautiful areas!

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