|Rounding the Scotian Cape
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
The time has come to move on. The Scotian coast is waiting. Kobuk is ready and I am rested. There are all kinds of delays in trying to get away, though. I have to do work online before leaving harbor but the only nearby Internet connection is in the Armdale clubhouse and it does not open until 11:30 AM. I go there at that time, but when a connection is made it proves to be unworkable, opening pages at such a slow pace that I spend the better part of an hour just trying to get to the website pages necessary for what I need to do. Eventually I give up and wonder whether I should leave with my work undone. I don't want to since I know that in the evening Kobuk will be anchored in an isolated cove distant from all communication and since tomorrow's weather could easily preclude moving on to Lunenburg, the next destination along the way. After waffling for a while, I reluctantly decide to head out with the work undone.
Then, as Kobuk and I are departing from Armdale Yacht Club it occurs to me that the very exclusive Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron--the oldest yacht club in North America--is located just a few miles along on the Northwest Arm. Why not stop there? I need ice and surely there will be some to purchase at the gas dock. This will give me the chance to check on whether they have an unsecured wireless connection dockside--a distinct possibility given the expectations that members of such an august institution are likely to have. When I arrived at Halifax I avoided this yacht club because cruising guides labeled it as expensive, exclusive, and elitist. Now that I am here, however, in the shadow of a massive Bermudan-rigged yacht with a mast reaching half way to heaven, I find the dock master to be the friendliest and most cooperative of harbor employees. He fixes me up with ice and invites me to stay tied off by the gas dock to work on the available wireless Internet connection. He'll let me know if a yacht is coming in to gas up, but until then I am welcome to stay put. This is a level of hospitality that greatly exceeds anything I experienced at Armdale. It reminds me to not put too much faith in the things I read. Of course, it is probably true that the Squadron is expensive and elitist, but that also means great service and outstanding facilities.
When finally Kobuk and I are on our way, it is nearly mid-afternoon and it will take much of the remaining daylight to reach our desired destination some thirty miles along the coast. We are headed for a little hole in the wall called Rogues Roost, a totally protected inlet that can only be reached via a convoluted passage through narrow channels that remove you totally from the vagaries of the open ocean. Although I am hopeful that on the way there we can proceed at speed with the main engine for a while in order to insure arrival well before dark, that plan is thwarted by afternoon breezes out of the southwest that heap up ugly pieces of chunky water. There is little choice but to plug into it at Yamaha speed, and even that is diminished by the vigor of the onslaught. For a good many miles our flat-water cruising speed of a little over six miles per hour is dragged down to under five by the oncoming waves. Kobuk staggers and stalls whenever struck hard, and then gradually recovers, only to be struck again. Eventually, though, the coast curls around to the west and we are able to drive diagonally across the waves, lessening their impact and riding up and down them much more easily.
As we turn downwind to enter the island studded cove in which the retreat to Rogues Roost can be found, the waves and swells coming up from behind us are now allies instead of adversaries. We rock and roll down the bay with islands and reefs passing swiftly by to left and right. The late sun is slanting golden across the ragged landscape and we can see the hazards without any difficulty. Navigating into this particular spot is a complicated collection of angled routes to one side and then the other, but with the visibility this good the risks are not so great. This would not be fun on a foggy day, however. When at last the hole-in-the-wall channel to Rogues Roost comes into view, we are in very calm water and the entry can be made without stress. A man and a woman on Waverunners zip past to enter ahead and then bear to the right out of sight. A few minutes later they come flying back out again and the reckless abandon of their takes the edge off the residual anxiety I have regarding what is around the next corner.
The entrance to Rogues Roost is tucked in behind an island that shields the upper bay from the ocean. It penetrates into the mainland a short distance before confronting a T-junction where one can go either way. We choose the right, and then carry on in a deep channel only tens of feet across until an embayment opens up off to the right once again. It is only just large enough for two or three boats to anchor for the night and on this particular evening the only other occupant is a couple teenagers in a runabout, temporarily anchored off the stern. They are conversing in muted voices, surrounded by untouched nature. The land slopes quickly down to the water on all sides in this little bay, and the low tide has exposed a ring of rust-enshrouded rocks running up to high tide level. Above that, a green landscape of small meadows and spruce forest intermingle, with erratic boulders strewn across the surface, looking lost and incongruous lying there on their beds of green. Before the sun has set, the young couple lifts anchor and motors away, leaving Kobuk in total solitude.
Rogues Roost: 44* 28.222' N / 63* 45.041' W
Distance: 30 miles
Total Distance: 5,499 miles
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Overhead the sky anticipates the dawn, and when the sun breaks the hilly horizon it is as palely yellow as the sky is palely blue. Quickly do the colors intensify and even from this sheltered site is seems safe to think that there will be no fog out on the ocean today. We rig up and set out, leaving the matter of breakfast for a later hour.
Last night when we entered this embayment we came in from the east and followed a course marked around islands and reefs along its eastern side. Now as we exit we wish to go westerly but to backtrack the way we came in would add a few miles of travel. We shall leave along a more direct route, but the most obvious--a broad swath of open water next to the mainland--would oblige us to travel off the edge of the nautical chart that I have for this region and so it seems more prudent to thread our way through rocks and islets scattered around in the middle of the bay. The hazards are nearby, but the chart shows their location and that is more reassuring to me than open water near shore which looks fine but about which I really have no information. We make our way out beyond the final outer reefs into deep water, and then continue on south for another mile and a half before turning west-southwestward off the chart and across open water towards Lunenburg.
To the right, the broad opening of St. Margaret's Bay gapes, putting the coast so far removed that it is no more than a dark line on the horizon with a single large island somewhat nearer at hand. Past that island, the even larger Mahone Bay will stand far away from us. At this early hour, the conditions are ideal. There is no wind to speak of and the broad swells slip by undefiled. The only other objects visible on the water are two distant fishing boats that begin as dark specks on the horizon and take a couple hours to mature into concrete forms and specific colors. One has a red and white hull and the other is painted blue, but even as we pass they stand farther out to sea looking pale and washed out because they lie between us and the morning sun. But then directly ahead in the far distance the sun catches the brilliant white of a lighthouse on a small island. We motor along, once again in a sort of time warp with the distant object seeming to never grow larger--as if the Yamaha is continuing to run but time has stopped.
By the time we close with the low flat island that has the lighthouse, the peninsula behind which Lunenburg is hidden has become a well defined presence up ahead. Now, though, the day is well progressed and the inevitable breeze is beginning to ripple the ocean's surface. I switch over to the jet drive and cover the remaining few miles of open water at bounding speed so as to get us into somewhat more sheltered waters before the waves come on. It is not yet noon by the time we reach Lunenburg.
Lunenburg is for Nova Scotia what Gloucester or Nantucket might be for Massachusetts: an icon from the age of sail. When you enter the harbor at Lunenburg you are looking at a town of unsurpassed coherence, a tight cluster of gaily painted clapboard houses filling the whole of a hillside that runs down into the small bay. It has the compact density of a medieval town but the brightly colored cubism of a Picasso painting. From out on the water, the tiers of hillside homes and businesses seem foreshortened, like a landscape looked at through binoculars. The waterfront is a more or less continuous run of wooden piers constructed using debarked trees for their vertical posts and squared timbers for the horizontal members that tie them all together. It is a town made of wood.
The bay is full of moored yachts and many of the waterfront piers have boats tied to them. One pier, however, is free of all vessels and so up against it, next to its only ladder, I secure Kobuk. At first I feel the usual lethargy that overcomes me at the end of most every crossing, but after an hour or so I cycle around town. The cruising guides that I have read refer to this as a fishing town that has yet to be unduly changed by the power of tourism, but that sure no longer is the case. The shops cater to the out-of-towners. The Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic is an extravagant operation spread along a significant part of the waterfront. The people on the streets do not have the appearance of fisherman or their near relatives. This town has been transformed by tourism and the result is an urbane place that is attracting ever increasing numbers of sophisticate fleeing the big city. Fishing may still thrive here, and a few large trawlers in the harbor support the proposition, but clearly it no longer sets the tenor of the town. Nothing makes this clearer than the clever message on one of the shirts in the museum gift shop that says: “Lunenburg: A Nice Little
Why was Bluenose so fast?
When you read the speculations that attempt to answer this
quickly becomes clear that nobody knows. Some
say it was her marginally more spoon-shaped bow. Others
claim it was the slightly increased
upward tilt of the bowsprit. Still others
point to the more acute entry into the water of her overhanging stern. Some believe it was nothing more than the
genius of her only captain, Angus Walters. So many
different answers but none that seem definitive. Under the
surface the question is far more complex than its simple words would
suggest and to answer it definitively is no less impossible than
explaining why Helen, and no other woman, could precipitate the fall of
In the afternoon the sky fills with gray
and the air becomes a thick mist. The fog moves in until the
anchored yachts are vague and haunting silhouettes barely visible and
appearing as if suspended in the mist that now on completely obscures
the still waters of the bay. A chill dampness permeates the air
and the gay crowd of wandering visitors who only an hour or two ago
were lively and animated are now lonely and isolated shadows moving
slowly and quietly about town.
I am buttoned up on Kobuk with all the
curtains zipped when from high above on the dock I hear "Halloo,
Spike." When I peer out, it is Donald Cameron looking down at
me. He has come to Lunenburg with his wife Marjorie to take part
in a meeting of the Cruising Club of America that is being held in a
dockside warehouse. Many of the grand yachts assembled here in
the harbor are owned by members of the club who have voyaged from some
distance to be present at this multi-day get-together. The
evening festivities will include announcements, awards for winners of
dingy races held during the day, stories told by various individuals
(featuring a short story written by Donald that he will read himself),
music, dancing, and plenty of drinking. Donald introduces me to
his flamboyant wife Marjorie and invites me to the evening
festivities. I spend a few hours at this event, in the presence
of wealthy and sophisticated yacht owners who enjoy as much as I do the
outrageously funny story that Donald reads about the mishaps of a
couple who, with no knowledge of boats and boating, spend a week
sailing on the Bras d'Or Lakes. Socialization occurs in a large
room in which a dory has been set and filled with various kinds of
liquor. Most everyone drinks robustly but nobody seems to pass
beyond the limit and into foolishness. This is to be expected, I
suppose, in this particular class of individuals.
Both Donald and Marjorie are professional
writers. Both of them take the time to encourage me in my
aspirations and each has suggestions to make for how I can advance the
productivity of my efforts. It means a lot to me that they should
be so supportive when we are but a couple hours removed from being
Distance: 34 miles
Total Distance: 5,533 miles
Thursday, July 19, 2007
The western end of Lunenburg's waterfront is occupied by the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Its broad, three storied building is painted red and fronts directly on the weathered gray boardwalk that runs parallel with, and overhangs, the edge of the harbor. A schooner and a trawler are tied off there, restored relics from half a century ago. They are part of the museum. Up on the third floor of the museum building, in a small room tucked away at its outermost extremity, is a memorial to all the men and ships from Lunenburg that have perished at sea. Much like the engraved stone memorials in the central common of so many small towns that list the names of those who died in wars, two walls of this room are covered with column after column of plaques listing the names of Lunenburg fishermen who never came home. All those known to have died before 1925 are compiled in alphabetical order in a series of columns that take up one entire wall. Then on the next wall the alphabetical list is given for each year separately from 1925 through 1995.
Lunenburg today is a town of about 3,000 residents. In 1926, there were 53 fishermen who died at sea. The following year the number was 84. Most years had fatalities in the single digits, but 20 perished in 1934, 29 in 1943, and 16 in 1966. The number of deaths declined perceptibly in the later years, but even up to the end of the time period covered a few names appear under almost every listed year. Statistics rarely convey much emotional impact, but when the recorded losses are such a large share of the total populace it gives one pause. Fishing has always had a reputation as one of the most dangerous of occupations but I never before realized just how dangerous. In the early part of the twentieth century this town may have been larger than it is now, but even so, the able bodied adult male population probably did not much exceed a thousand. This means that when the year 1927 came along, nearly one man in ten was lost at sea. And that was just one year.
Fog rolls up and down the streets of Lunenburg, sometimes advancing and then at other times in retreat. Its maneuvers are silent and stealthy, like the dark designs of a commando unit, but they seem to lack a strategy: each advance is oddly tentative; each capture proves temporary. When Kobuk and I entered harbor yesterday under a bright morning sun the clapboard buildings of the town were gay and colorful, a gaudy choir singing in harmony. Now each building looks pale and unwell, silently withdrawn from its neighbors and lonely in its isolation Looking out to sea, the wrinkling water quickly disappears under the mist. Nothing can be seen in the bay but the dark gray dance of half obscured waves flashing ephemeral black highlights directly down below and a wall of greasy mist everywhere else.
As predictable as tides, the afternoon breezes strengthen. Out of the south they come bringing rough harbor waters with them. Lunenburg is a little exposed to the south, and when this weakness is exploited by the wind the boats in the bay bounce and bob like stringed puppets. I have moved Kobuk to a vacant spot at a nearby floating dock, but with her bow pointing out towards the incoming chop she lurches and bounds like a skittish horse, slapping the waves as she does so and sending spray everywhere. Even the floating dock is dancing frenetically and although they are tied together their motions are completely unsynchronized. It is painful to watch for their lurching movements are accompanied by squeaks and groans as the boat and dock rub together and the dock flexes on its hinged attachment units. I watch for a while to see whether Kobuk is likely to sustain damage but unless the harbor becomes an even rougher place the erratic motions do not seem to be abusing her. How wind and fog can so readily coexist is a mystery to me but it happens all the time here in Nova Scotia.
It is a painful thing to watch, however, and yet the idea of putting it out of sight by going to sleep in Kobuk's bobbing bow doesn't seem that appealing either. I decide to let Kobuk shift for herself and go to town. On the nearby main street there is a used book store managed by a Dickensian character whose ample proportions and swirling black beard contradict his mild manner and church hall voice. His name--Chris Webb--is not Dickensian but the way in which his life is governed by peculiar rituals and curious social behavior certainly is. The bookstore, I gather, is his. It is named Elizabeth's books and when it is open Mr. Webb sits at a desk at the back end of the large square room, facing the entry door so that a prospective buyer entering and the prospective seller ensconced are immediately aware of each other's existence. Mr. Webb sits at his desk with papers and books piled up around him, fenced in by low literary barriers. As the door opens, he looks at you and you can see him from the chest up. Even from across the room, you are aware of the roundness of his face, the black ringlets of curly hair running back from the top of his high forehead, the smallness of his regularly spaced teeth that look as if they never grew up entirely to take their place in the world.
Mr. Webb's world of books is in a remarkable state of disarray, even by the generally lax standards of used book stores. The walls have book cases running up to near the ceiling and the middle of the room has a collection of chest high bookcases as well as a couple large tables. All these potential storage spaces are filled to capacity with books. On the floor in the passageways, often obstructing access to the book cases and the tables, are cardboard boxes overflowing with books. It appears that the books were at one time placed in order according to subject matter, but time has passed and now the casually designated subect areas are only faintly suggestive of what might be found there.
I got to know Mr. Webb yesterday when I happened to stop by in his store at nearly eleven in the evening. When I remarked on how impressive it was that he should be open so late, he softly explained in his English accent that he does not like to arise at an early morning hour and thus does not open for business until about three in the afternoon. "Really, one should do as one wishes in this regard, don't you think? There really is no need to do as everybody else does." These, more or less, were his words to me and he offered them not with assertiveness but in the sort of inquiring tone that suggests a desire to discuss a topic. I obliged and we quickly passed on to a variety of other subjects.
This morning, Mr. Webb was passing by on the street when I was in a coffee shop working at my computer. When he saw me through the window he came in to exchange pleasantries. We talked about the fact that I was still in town and I commented that I didn't feel like leaving on such a foggy day. Mr. Webb heartily approved and invited me to stop by at his store later so that he could tell me about a couple experiences he had when he worked at sea--experiences in which he acted upon pure intuition and as a result averted potential disasters. Thus it is that I am now choosing to visit his establishment on this foggy, restless evening.
Mr. Webb worked on boats as an engineer for over thirty years, but I will save his tales of intuition for a different time. Instead, please consider his son Gus who comes into the store while Mr. Webb and I are talking. In physical appearance,Gus is his father's son. He is not as round as his father, although his youthful pudginess suggests that the day might come. Neither are his teeth so distinctive nor his forehead so high, but there is an indefinable essence that makes his filial status anything but a surprise. In a different respect, though, Gus is the opposite of his father. Gus is a mathematician and a musician, and his mind reflects the logic and rigor underlying both pursuits. It also turns out that Gus is a self-taught expert on computers. In twenty minutes he is able to open up my laptop, connect to the wireless internet service of the Picton Castles headquarters located upstairs, and sort out the problem I have been having trying to publish web pages. This is something that has bedeviled me since March. I have visited technical offices and computer stores but nobody has been able to help me. Gus does, though, and puts me right. He charges me five dollars for his time.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Ten, eleven, twelve . . .and then the sound of the low, deep fog horn comes across the harbor from the entrance buoy, reaching me in my bunk up in the bow of Kobuk. Every twelve seconds the horn vibrates for a second or two. I went to sleep last night with this low, mournful note in my ears, and now as I awaken in the morning it's mechanical regularity persists.
There are things to do, but the pervasive fog and unrelenting wind and periodic outbursts of heavy rain leave me feeling disinterested in the practical matters of life. Aboard Kobuk, everything is damp. The floor is wet from windblown rain that has found a way in. The canvas Bimini holds up well, but even it allows a bead or two of moisture to drip occasionally. The aluminum frames supporting the canvas top are beaded with moisture and even the dry surfaces in the cabin don't feel dry. The sleeping bag has become limp and clammy, so coolly humid that it is distasteful to get in it at night. The insides of the cabin windows are thick with condensed moisture and with each new rainstorm the exterior of the windows runs rivulets. Nothing outside can be clearly seen and everything inside is cavernously moist. There is no peace on board--for Kobuk continues to bounce around in the chop of a south wind--so instead of trying to snatch extra sleep on a port-bound day I arise and cycle along the main street that hugs the waterfront.
Much of the day I spend reading: A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols. This is one of two books that I selected last night in Mr. Webb's bookstore. I gave him two books that I had recently finished and he insisted that I select two to replace them. I think his establishment is intended more as a way of meeting people, staying busy, and satisfying personal interests than as a provider of daily sustenance. I suspect that Mr. Webb is not particularly interested in business. His son Gus, however, is cut from different cloth.
The book is about one of the more peculiar competitions ever to have taken place. In 1967, when Francis Chichester returned home after sailing solo around the world with only one stop (in Australia), it became apparent to many in the nautical community that the only real milestone left in the single-handed sailing category was a circumnavigation with no stops at all. A number of dreamers--some sailors and some not--immediately began to think about attempting something so audacious. The Sunday Times (a British newspaper) saw an opportunity to generate sales by organizing the efforts of these "mad" yachtsmen into a race. These were not the sorts of individuals to look favorably on yacht racing, however, and so the rules established were quite unusual. A competitor could start and finish at any location as long as it was more than forty degrees north latitude. Also, they could begin their voyage whenever they wished as long as it was during the 1968 summer season. To not be disqualified, a competitor could not receive material assistance at sea (supplies or a tow, for example), could not go ashore during the voyage, and had to take his boat south of the three major southern capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin, and Horn). These rules were designed to make sure that the various. There would be two ways to win: by arriving home first or by circumnavigating in the shortest time. Both achievements would be rewarded, but the fastest circumnavigator would take home 5,000 pounds whereas the first circumnavigator would get a trophy (but most certainly much more fame).
By designing the rules in such a manner, The Sunday Times insured that these sailors would only be asked to do things they all obviously would be expecting of themselves, turning them into competitors without having to recruit them. The voyage to be undertaken was exceedingly hazardous and would require that both the boat and the sailor be highly capable. The newspaper made pious proclamations about the need for such competency but did nothing to guarantee it.
The individuals who undertook this adventure were not "mad." In his book, Peter Nichols treats them with respect but views them as being in some way abnormal. His point of view is quite legitimate, I suppose, but then anybody who acts as a true individual is bound to get labeled as odd. Is it crazy to want to do something that nobody else has done? If so, then how can we ever expect human society to become anything besides whatever it always has been. Without such "madness," the word "progress" has nothing to which it might refer.
Nine men set out off to circle the world. One made it. One disappeared at sea and two were rescued from it. The other four gave up or were forced to quit the race, and one of those five committed suicide shortly thereafter. Failure is a common human condition and should not be considered a sign of madness. As for Robin Knox Johnson, the one successful voyager, he became of course a national hero and something of a lion in the global yachting community. I doubt that after his success there were many people around who referred to him as mad. Emily Dickenson puts it best, I think (although probably with different punctuation):
Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails--
Assent and you are sane;
Demur, your straightway dangerous
And handled with a chain.
I have been enjoying Peter Nichols book, for he obviously respects these "madmen" for what they were trying to do. I think, though, that a different question should be raised that has nothing to do with the sanity of the competitors: Were the faceless responsible individuals at The Sunday Times evil?
Saturday, July 21, 2007
The fog persists and although I do not plan to venture out in it, there are two encouraging signs. The first is the death of the strong south wind; the second is the promising weather forecast for tomorrow. Whenever contrary conditions keep Kobuk and me too long in port, she turns cranky and I become complacent. She suffers silently as long as we stay portbound, but as soon as it is time to leave she finds some way to express her discontent. As for me, I somehow lose momentum. As long as we are moving on each day I can get caught up in the routine and move unquestioningly to the next leg in the journey. After a handful of days, though, I get tired and need a break. To stop and spend a day someplace is not a problem, but if we keep portbound for longer--well, then the business of heading out becomes an unsettling choice that has to be made. " Should we go?" Well, of course we should, but somehow the whole business becomes a matter of making a conscious decision rather than executing a simple routine. Already, now, I am gearing up for tomorrow's decision, one that--no matter how obvious--will oppress me.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
The wind is down and the fog is lifting. In the early morning the sun breaks through to electrify parts of the town, but the harbor entrance remains shrouded in gray. A couple hours later, though, the improving view to seaward looks promising and I decide to depart.
When doing all the preparatory tasks before casting off, I find that a thick matting of sea grasses has collected under the cover of the jet drive off the stern of the boat. I clear it out as much as possible and wonder if the grass might have filtered into the intake grating down below the boat. It seems unlikely since these are dead grasses floating on the surface of the water, but when we set out for the open sea I discover that the jet drive is not functioning properly. Many times this has happened before so I am certain it is matted material clogging the grating. I turn Kobuk out of the channel and over towards the starboard side where there is a nearby headland. We motor slowly towards shore and when the depth finder registers three feet, I shut off the engine, put on a bathing suit and go for a swim.
But there is a problem: the grating is not clogged. It has drawn in some grass, but obviously not enough to incapacitate the jet drive. I clear out the small amount of detritus, get us back into the channel, and once again try running the jet drive at speed. The system still only runs us up to about thirteen miles per hour so the problem persists. We will motor for the day with the little Yamaha as I try to figure out what might be the jet drive problem. It cannot be the engine as it is running fine and will run up to its full 6,000 rpm without any hesitation. It cannot be the linkage between the engine drive shaft and the jet drive because that is neither geared nor mediated by a transmission. The problem has to be in the jet unit. If the grating is clear so that water can be taken in unobstructed, could it be that there is damage to the impellers? That seems highly unlikely since there are three of them and since the grating stops anything destructive from getting in to where they do their work. Besides, how could they be damaged sitting in a harbor unused for four days? I puzzle over this for some time and finally decide that maybe the jet drive nozzle is the problem. The water from the jet drive gets expelled out through a nozzle that when pivoted left and right steers the boat. Even though the nozzle is only about five inches in diameter, the jet impellers blow water out through the nozzle with enough force to propel the boat. As I think about it, I remember that the nozzle has crossing ribs in it, like the crosshairs in a rifle's telescopic sight. These ribs must be either to keep large objects from drifting back into the impellers are when the jet is not running, or else to reinforce the nozzle which, when the jet is running, spews out water with tremendous force. I convince myself that grasses must have wrapped themselves around those ribs, enough to partially block the nozzle, and that this must have an effect not unlike the clogging of the intake grating. It doesn't sound right to me for some reason, but it is all I can think of. At the end of the day I will particularly check to see if the ribs in the nozzle are completely clear.
It has been a long wait, but at last the conditions are cooperative. We motor all day in light breezes blowing from behind and much of the time the sky is clear enough to see the coastline. Sometimes the sun even shines, but usually not. Broad swells undulate past, rolling us slowly in the process. They are too big and too broad to give the motion any sort of unpleasant snap. Even though the swells are striking us on the beam, our movement up and down is much more noticeable than the rolling side to side.
Kejimkujik is the improbable name of a national park in the interior uplands of southern Nova Scotia. From it, a river flows down to the Atlantic Coast, and where it enters into the sea there are two coastal towns: Liverpool and Brooklyn. We are headed to Brooklyn for the night since a marina there will offer protection from the ocean. To reach Brooklyn, we aim for the offshore buoy situated a few miles directly seaward from it. Out where the buoy is located, the bay is a few miles across but by the time we work our way up to where Brooklyn is, the bay will be very narrow.
As we approach the buoy out in the middle of the bay, it begins to disappear in a sliver of fog. The buoy is large, however, and the fog is only a localized sheet, thick enough to mask the tapering lattice work of metal that rises up out of the water, but not thick enough to obscure its top. From some distance away the entire buoy had been visible, but now all but its top have disappeared from view. As we move into the fog surrounding the buoy, the swells are grand undulations that drop us down and lift us up like riding in an elevator. Each time we slip down into a valley between swells we are consumed by the fog so that nothing can be seen but an uninterrupted dome of mist all around and above. But then when the next swell rolls under us we ascend so high that we can look out across the top of the fog and see not just the rapidly approaching top of the buoy ahead of us, but also the coastlines on either side of the bay a few miles away. Then we sink once again.
Brooklyn Marina: 44* 03.014' N / 64* 41.427' W
Distance: 41 miles
Total Distance: 5,574 miles
Monday, July 23, 2007
From Canso to Lunenburg the weather often conspired to hinder our progress. Most of the time the culprit was fog but even on the days when it was not such an issue our southwest bearing would put us in the teeth of the wind. Yesterday was the first real exception: light easterlies and only occasional patches of fog. If the marine weather forecast can be believed, yesterday will have been the first of a sting of favorable days--a string that most likely will not be very long. Ordinarily, all this wouldn't matter much, but since I must fly back to Utah on July 30th, getting to Yarmouth by the 28th would simplify the problem of abandoning Kobuk for a month.
Yarmouth isn't that far away--only about 130 miles on the water. That sort of distance can easily be covered in three days of travel, but only if the weather permits it. Since we have six days in which to fit three days of voyaging, Yarmouth might look like a done deal, but along this particular stretch of coastline the weather can easily shut us down for days on end. I try to not be pressured into taking Kobuk out in marginal conditions, but this problem of a looming deadline is hard to put out of mind. Today, the conditions are better than marginal so I feel no anxiety when we set out early in the morning for Lockeport. The winds are light and variable, in accordance with the marine forecast, and as we run out of Brooklyn Marina the air is humid and hazy but not foggy.
That changes quickly as we move out to sea. Beyond the protection of the harbor and out near the mouth of the bay, Kobuk motors into a world of gauze. The fog does not clamp down on us; it cradles us gently and permits us to see the oncoming swells one tier, two tiers away. The scope of visibility is acceptably wide. All day we sit at the center of a constrained circular disk of gently undulating ocean waters moving mysteriously under a dome of fog. Occasionally, the top of the white dome brightens, offering hope that eventually the sun will burn through. There even are times when the fog overhead thins away to reveal a temporary patch of blue. In the end, however, the forces of white prevail and the rugged coast of Nova Scotia remains constantly hidden behind the veil.
With so little wind the fog is not threatening, and with the constant capacity to see a short distance the anxiety of potential collision is greatly diminished. As long as I remain reasonably alert, there is little chance that reefs or islands or other boats will loom up out of the mist so close at hand as to be unavoidable.
When the wind is blowing waves about, the sea exhibits a rude boldness that cannot be ignored by anybody who is on it. But even on a day like today when its surface is relatively peaceful, the sea is a living force. Under the dome of fog, the broad swells sweep by with constant undulations and unpredictable modifications in their shape. They give the appearance of life beneath a skin, just as movements of a baby in the womb can modify and reconfigure the shape of its mother's belly. This suggests a living force without revealing it directly, and when you see it you become fascinated by its potential.
The only nautical chart I have for this stretch of coast between Brooklyn and Lockeport is at a scale too small to show appropriate detail for closing with a complicated shore. We stay well off all day and only move towards land when we have to in mid-afternoon. The chart shows a broad stretch of approach waters that, although shallow, appear to be deep enough for a small boat. To enter via the main channel would take us a number of miles out of the way so we angle across the shallow bay and proceed as if walking on thin ice. Almost surely, there will be no problem with water depth in this area, but it is nonetheless a relief when the fog lifts a little and the distant, rocky shore becomes vaguely visible. It is even more of a relief when we finally pass into the properly buoyed entrance channel running right beside that unforgiving shore. The channel buoys lead us in and under the light mist we tie off inside the breakwater harbor of Lockeport.
Lockeport Harbor: 43* 41.965' N / 65* 06.662' W
Distance: 44 miles
Total Distance: 5,618 miles
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
After reaching harbor yesterday, during the misty gray hours of evening, I cycled around the little town of Lockeport where a diminutive grid of streets--no more complex or elaborate than the layout for a game of tic-tac-toe--vainly attempts to tie together a loose collection of homes and shops. Sidewalks here are few and the grassy verge that lies between the edge of a street and the structures along it conveys a message: "This is not a town. It is an isolated place where a few families have chosen to spend their lives together." It is that rare sort of community in which the assembled populace has not entirely banished the wilderness. In most small villages, the surrounding nature presses in very close so that you are often aware of it, but then finds itself held off by a clearly set perimeter that protects the core like a low stockade. Here, however, the feel of the native forest has somehow intruded itself into the heart of the town. It is a vague and indefinable reality that marks the town as a bypassed entity, disconnected somehow from the larger world of humanity. I like this kind of feeling for it seems to suggest a prehistoric time when land and people were one. There is only one place I have ever been that evokes this sense overpoweringly: Hana on the island of Maui. Lockeport reflects this primitivism in only the palest and meagerest of ways, but even a pale reflection is noteworthy for something so rare.
There is a beach at the edge of town, a broad-bladed scimitar bounded by low bluffs at one end and breaking up into irregular, fir-clad outcrops of bedrock at the other. The breach is broad and long and its gray sands were strewn with scattered patches of dark sea grass. Each oncoming wave started its break at a distant end of the beach and rolled along as a continuous curl of white that swept towards me, passed in front of me, and carried on towards the other distant end. I haven't seen many beaches along this rugged Nova Scotian coast, and certainly none so dramatic as this one.
Lockeporte is all fogged in when I get up in the morning but the mist partially dissolves as the sun climbs above the threshold and visibility gradually stretches to out beyond the rockwalled entrance to the harbor. Like yesterday, it continues to be a fog-bound world, but with enough scope for seeing beyond the bow of the boat that I feel comfortable setting out for Cape Sable Island.
Cape Sable Island: it is a landmark in this trip. As the southernmost extension of the Nova Scotian peninsula, its lighthouse guards the watershed divide between the open Atlantic and the broad waters of the Gulf of Maine. It has a reputation in Canada not unlike that of Cape Hatteras in the United States--a headland with the perverse ability to use storms and currents (and also fog) to lure ships in to their shipwreck fate. On the Atlantic side of Cape Sable Island the open ocean can can more handily batter the rugged coastline, but does not plague it with excessive tidal ranges and their extreme currents. Once past the Cape Sable Lighthouse, however, the tides become magnified. At the head of the Bay of Fundy the tidal range can be over thirty feet. Please stop to consider this. The Bay of Fundy is roughly fifty miles across and extends inland about 150 miles. Twice a day, so much water moves in and out of it that the sea level rises and drops about twenty feet. This would be like covering the entire state of Massachusetts with twenty feet of water, removing it all, and then repeating the process--all in a twenty four hour period. The end result of so much water washing about is that wherever there is any sort of constriction, like a passage between islands or a narrow estuarine penetration of the mainland, the water moves through like the mad hatter late for an important date. A tidal flow of ten miles per hour is not at all unusual in places like that, and there are recorded cases of 40' fishing boats being swamped by whirlpools (not directly, but by spinning the boat so aggressively that its heavy load shifts to one side and tips the boat far enough to let the water in).
I don't plan to take Kobuk all around the shore of the Bay of Fundy, but instead to cross the bay at its mouth--a significantly longer open-water passage than any other attempted so far. Preoccupation with the upcoming task of navigating this crossing and that has kept my attention diverted from the hazards of rounding Cape Sable Island. Now, however, the cape is within striking range: it might be possible to get around it today if these light winds continue to accompany the light fog.
I have plotted an offshore course for the day, from outer buoy to outer buoy, that will get us to the Cape Sable Island Lighthouse, but around the point itself I would prefer to run inside a littering of offshore reefs and rocks. This inner route is marked with buoys too, but if the fog is thick it would be somewhat stressful trying to locate them. As the day progresses, the fog becomes a little thicker, but not prohibitively so. The visibility remains at least a tenth of a mile, and this should make it possible to spot the buoys for which I have entered GPS coordinates. But then in the afternoon hours a southerly breeze springs up that creates a lively surface on the swells. We do not have to struggle with it since or course puts the waves only slightly ahead of the beam, but the combination of slightly thicker fog and slightly rougher seas eventually spooks me into abandoning the idea of rounding the cape before nightfall. I bear off to the northeast and guide Kobuk a few miles up along the eastern coast of Cape Sable Island towards Bull Harbor. When about a mile from our destination, the fog thins away and the dark line of the coast becomes visible, along with the piled rock breakwater of the harbor.
Bulls Head Harbor: 43* 28.100' N / 65* 34.038' W
Distance: 39 miles
Total distance: 5,657 miles
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Bulls Head Harbor is only a few miles from the southern end of Cape Sable Island, but when I get up in the morning the fog is so thick that Kobuk's plastic curtains and cabin windows are more thickly beaded with moisture that the mirror in the bathroom after a long, hot shower. So dense is it that I begin thinking about leaving Kobuk in safe haven for the day and doing a circuit around the island on Bike Friday. The fishing boats along the concrete pier running down the center of the harbor are alive with activity and so I walk over to see what is going on. On one boat men are busy unloading baskets of polypropylene rope using a small stationary crane mounted on the pier. On another boat a couple men brightly clad in waterproof slickers are filleting fish while a third is washing out the stowage areas. The whole atmosphere is one of "business as usual," and as the fog begins to lift a little I begin to think along the same lines. By mid-morning I feel comfortable taking Kobuk out in conditions that now are no more threatening than they were yesterday or the day before. In fact, as the day progresses the fog clears more and more so that there are many times when it is possible to see a distant shore.
The passage around the tip of Cape Sable Island is done in marvelously placid conditions that belie the reputation of the place--although there is a short stretch of water where a confusing jumble of cross waves seem to well up from under the surface. This is a place where conflicting tidal currents meet. Unless extreme, a tidal current is not visible on a calm day and so the rough water seems to be the terrible consequence of some violent struggle occurring beneath the surface of the ocean. When you enter water of this sort, what you see is what you get, but I always carry into it a little anxiety that maybe something more extreme is going on down below, something with greater potential to capsize poor little Kobuk.
From Bulls Head Harbor, the distance to Yarmouth is a little over fifty miles. This can easily be done before the end of day, but in order to get there with a few hours to spare, I power up the main engine and cruise across the twenty miles of open water separating Cape Sable Island from the Tusket Islands at two or three times the Yamaha's cruising speed. The open water here at the mouth of Lobster Bay is somewhat rough as we cross and so Kobuk throws up sheets of spray as we bound along with the waves at our back.
There is a hidden agenda here, more than just a desire to arrive in Yarmouth early. I have been hiding a dark secret that seemed too shameful to admit: Kobuk has begun to leak. By abusing her a little on this crossing, I will be better able to judge the seriousness of the leak and make a decision about whether the problem must be dealt with right away or can be put off for a few months. For four years, Kobuk did not leak at all, and this was a secret source of pride for me. Now that she has started taking in water I have to confront the possibility that she is not sufficiently tough to carry through with the voyage I planned for her. Either that, or I failed to properly repair the damage to her hull that was done last season. When floating in harbor or motoring across calm water, her hull now allows in a couple gallons of water per day. This quantity can easily be pumped out each day, but of course it means that somewhere down below the plywood planking has become saturated with water and will eventually soften to the point of disintegration. The fact that she leaks now but did not do so last fall is a clear indication that the disintegration has already begun.
Kobuk deserves to be repaired but I do not feel like doing the work. It should not be such a hard job to do, but getting her out of the water and waiting for her to dry out will take time. Also, the repairs themselves will have to be done over a sequence of days. In total, more than a week would be involved in putting her right. Progress this season has been slow already, and to take the time for this kind of repair project will slow things down even more. But even so, the job should not be put off. When I check the bilge to see whether the hard pounding of the twenty mile crossing has forced significantly greater amounts of water in, the answer is an unequivocal "yes." I think in Yarmouth I must Kobuk out of the water at least for a more careful examination of what is going on. In reality, storing her for the month of August while I am away in Utah probably would be no more expensive than leaving her moored in the harbor. Not only should the repairs be done; this break in the voyage is the logical time to do them.
As we close in on
Yarmouth, scattered pods of thicker fog appear here and there, one of
them clogging the mouth of the narrow bay that leads to Yarmouth's
inner harbor. This is disconcerting since the cruising guides I
have read say that the narrow channel to the inner harbor is flanked on
both sides by very shallow water and that the
buoys marking the
are easy to miss in the fog. So far, however, the patches of fog
have been neither thick nor extensive, so we enter the bank of
mist. Only after Kobuk is motoring along inside this shroud does
it occur to me that The Cat leaves Yarmouth for Portland at about this
time today. The Cat is a jet-driven, high-speed, catamaran-style
ferry. It is big and wide and I have no idea how carefully it
monitors its radar. I don't really even know whether Kobuk is an
obvious blip on the screen. I am thrown into a temporary panic,
veering to starboard and preparing to start the main engine for quick
getaway. I have visions of a ghastly, two-hulled silhouette
looming up over us and for a moment Kobuk runs a highly erratic course
that is masked, fortunately, from the view of the many professional
mariners who might have nothing better to do than critically review the
performance of passing boats. After a minute or so, a more
rational review of the situation leaves me reassured that The Cat
should not appear for at least another ten or fifteen minutes.
Almost as soon as I become aware of this time cushion, Kobuk and I
break out of the localized fog and continue on our way as if nothing
had happened. When we get to the inner passage and approach the
Yarmouth waterfront, we can see The Cat maneuvering away from the dock
and then bearing down on us. We hug the starboard side of the
channel as it passes. From our humble perspective, she is big and
sinister and moving way too fast for a ship in an access channel.
My temporary panic in the fog bank was not a helpful response to the
situation--but I'm awful glad we didn't have to pass this monster in
Soap and water are quite remarkable, really; by the time it is dark outside, both Kobuk and I have been transformed by them. Feeling noticeably less self conscious, I leave Kobuk dockside and go into Rudders for a bite to eat. While sitting at the bar where fish and chips and beer become a celebratory feast for having reached Yarmouth in a timely manner, I cannot help but notice that Rudders seems to attract all the good looking women in town. I am talking here about not just guests but employees as well. Over half the people in here are female, including all the bar staff, and the women who pass by are almost universally interesting in one way or another? Have I been at sea too long?
Just as I am about to leave, Laura passes by, sees me at the bar, and comes over to ask how things are going. Then she looks around, spots her friend Carla, and insists on introducing us. Carla Allen is a bright eyed dynamo with a Sargasso ocean of wavy red hair. Direct, frank, and freckled, she gives makeup a bad name. She is a reporter for The Yarmouth Vanguard and she takes an interest in my story. But that is not exactly the way it feels; it feels more personal than that. What I mean is, she treats me as a person and not just as a story. We make an arrangement to meet in the morning, and I return to Kobuk in a mild daze at how much has happened already here in Yarmouth.
Yarmouth Harbor: 43* 50.230' N / 66* 07.353' W
Distance: 54 miles
Total Distance: 5,711 miles
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Kobuk comes out of the water looking betraggled but game. Filth and scum around her waterline testify to her weeks of hard labor, and a trio of newly acquired scars add to her character. Overall, though, she keeps her head up and stoically awaits the diagnosis of her problems. When finally she is off the trailer and blocked up in Jonathan's yard, I do an inspection. I have left her bilges full of the water that she took in yesterday on the theory that if water can leak in it ought also to leak out. As she dries, I am hoping, the zones of weakness will be revealed as crack lines that look constantly damp. Reality exceeds the theoretical by a wide margin: a long, deep groove along her bottom, parallel with her keel and about a foot to port of it, seeps water uncontrollably. Other locales also remain moist, but this one, long fissure appears to be the major health problem. All those other places probably are nothing more than quickly patchable ruptures in the epoxy and fiberglass sheathing--places where the wood underneath has sponged up some amount of water but has not been so traumatized as to transmit it into the wood. But the long fissure drains steadily, gentle rivulets rolling down to the KeelGuard where droplets form up and plunk to the ground.
Later in the day, after a general cleanup topsides, I crawl below the hull to gouge out the bad wood in all those places where moisture remains visible. The long fissure continues to drip and when I open it up the drip becomes a drizzle. Digging out the soft wood exposes the extent of the problem: truly serious damage is limited to a short stretch of about six inches, but in this area a thorough excavation would almost surely bring daylight down through a hole. I stop digging at this point and leave the lesion to dry out. With a soft wood backing in there, it will not be so hard to pack in and fill the cavity with layers of fiberglass. Everywhere else, hull damage appears to be superficial.
This deep gouge--I know where it came from. Back in July of 2005, not far from Bismarck, North Dakota, Kobuk collided with a rock while running down the Missouri River. Our speed at the time was about ten miles per hour and the terrible crunching sound that followed impact immediately convinced me that Kobuk had been holed. I frantically searched for where water might be coming in, but no water did and only later did I discover a place in the bilge where the plywood had been struck so hard from below that it had been exploded upward to expose the raw, fractured edges of a few plywood layers. Later, when Kobuk had to be pulled out of the water to get around Oahe Dam, I was able to patch the damage, but not with appropriate materials. Even so, for the rest of that summer and all of last summer as well, Kobuk refused to leak. Finally, though, the rot progressed to the point where she could no longer keep the water out. I am relieved since in all likelihood this can be repaired in a relatively straightforward manner.
The repair will take many days, however. The areas of exposed wood must first dry throughly and then successive layers of fiberglass and resin must be laid up as filler. After that, the patch work must be faired out and repainted. For this entire process to be brought to conclusion will require ten days, perhaps, so if I am to do the work it will be necessary to stay around in Yarmouth for some time after returning in late August. Really, though, I don't want to do this work. When I explain the situation to Jonathan, he recruits for me a rock fisherman named Sheldon who agrees to do the job while I am away. It is the first time that any sort of significant work will have been done on Kobuk by anybody but me, but it appears that I am ready for that sort of compromise.
In the middle of the day, Carla stops by at Kobuk and takes me off to be interviewed in her patio at her home. She feeds me lunch there and when the interview is over she offers me a spare room in her upstairs boarding house. I was planning to stay at the youth hostel for the next few nights but staying here in her place would be much nicer so I tell her I would like that arrangement. Then she offers to give me a guided tour of the surrounding countryside, and the two of us plan the outing for tomorrow.
Three days from now, I will take The Cat to Portland, and then fly from there to Salt Lake City. Everything has changed so quickly. A few days ago I was worried that Kobuk and I might not reach Yarmouth with enough time to spare. When it became clear that that would not be a problem I saw myself using the extra days to begin the necessary work on Kobuk. But now, Kobuk is cared for and I am free to do whatever I wish before leaving for Portland. What I wish is to have Carla be my guide--but to talk about that would surely exceed the proper scope of subject matter for a boat log, so today will be the last entry until the end of August when I return to Yarmouth and start readying Kobuk for the crossing to Maine.