The Bras D’or Lakes, Nova Scotia, referred to as “Canada’s Largest Inland Sea” were a pleasure to sail around. We spent almost two weeks enjoying nice weather, flat water, and the cruising life. The danger in these lakes is the phenomenon of lathargia; where days somehow don’t start until noon and sometimes you forget to go sailing…
After few days at the St. Peters Marina dodging hurricane Arthur, we moved up the narrow passage into Bras D’or Lake with a stop in Damion’s Cove. The next day it was on to Johonstown Harbour, whose entrance appears tiny, but we found plenty of deep water. The many fingers of the area allow you to choose one that is protected, depending on the wind direction. This cove was full of birds including many blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, terns and sandpipers.
Hiding out in the little coves we often couldn’t tell what the wind was doing until we got out into it. In the lake the prevailing southwest wind varied from strong 25 kts one day to flat calm the next, with little indication which it would be until that day. Navigation in the lakes is easy but strong mountain waves, nightly shore breezes and wind funneling in the channels kept things interesting. We have gotten good at putting in and taking out one or two reef points while sailing along (allowing us to reduce or increase the sail area depending on the amount of wind). Due to small spaces and hilly terrain wind direction can change by 90 degrees or increase by 5 to 10 kts over a short distances. A great book “Where the Wind Blows”, put out by Environment Canada is dated but still very relevant for explaining all the different phenomena of wind and waves in the St. Lawrence area.
Some other areas we visited included Pringle Harbour, under the advisement of Kent Young who we met in St. Peters. Strong winds flowing down the surrounding mountains, and shallow water made staying in the bay inadvisable for us that day. We were able to anchor in the nearby cove however and enjoy the wonderfully flavourful hascap berries that Kent gave us. These berries are in the honeysuckle family and are also referred to as honeyberries. They look like giant bumpy blueberries and taste like a nice slightly tart wild blueberry. Raved for their “antioxidant” properties, I don’t doubt that we’ll soon see them taking over the stores along with the gogi berrie and other “superfood” fads. Currently being grown in Canada mainly for export to Japan, hopefully some will make it to markets here in the near future.
We then crossed Bras D’or to Little Harbour on the northern shore, to try to visit the Smokehouse, one of the only restaurants on Bras D’or Lake. Unfortunately they didn’t have anything smoked at the time, and weren’t going to have anything ready for another few days. Little Harbour had a tiny entry, almost indistinguishable until you’re there, and you wonder if we can get in but put our trust in the cruising guide and charts. We are getting used to finding these tiny spots as they often have the most interesting and protected spaces inside.
What is amazing about the lakes is the lack of people. We could not understand how there are not more cruising boats around as we only saw maybe five in our time there. This area is well charted, the Cruising Guide put out by the Dobson Yacht Club (just updated this past winter) is really helpful, and the weather was never as foggy as we have seen on the coasts. While we didn’t find other cruisers, we found the locals over at Marble Mountain beach. This Caribbean-like blue water beach had nice water for swimming and probably half the summer population of the lakes (all 50 of them!) were there on a nice weekend day. A small community center at Marble Mountain has wifi, but the museum advertised in some guides has been torn down and replaced with a gazebo. The old general store was being repaired by a semi-retired couple to help accommodate their six kids (and significant others) when they come home. Unfortunately the store will be used for personal use in the future, and not for selling ice cream as we were hoping we might find there when we passed by.
We had some great sailing days, beautiful sunsets and nice swims in Bras D’or and certainly recommend anyone in the area spend a week or more exploring the many coves and inlets. Overcoming our lathargia we are moving on to Great Bras D’or and the “big city” of Baddeck.
Great photos and description of cruising in Bras D’or Lakes — it is surprising that more boats don’t take advantage of it. Looking forward to hearing about Newfoundland.