Going to Port Hawkesbury

New Harbour's Shallow End, Photo by R. Mair

New Harbour’s Shallow End, Photo by R. Mair

When we left New Harbour we expected a pleasant sail to Port Hawkesbury. We tried to time our leaving so that we would be around the corner and entering the Canso Strait by daylight. That isn’t quite the way things worked out.

It doesn’t take long to sail out to sea from New Harbour. So we were well away a couple of hours later when the wind started to build. Thoughts of Richard having a nap before nightfall vanished rapidly. Soon the boat was starting to pound through rising seas, and a check of the forecast on the VHF radio revealed that, indeed, there was a change – and not for the better. There was a strong wind warning. Now that there was not much else to do but keep going, and look forward to turning into more sheltered waters.

The pounding introduced us to more leaks, as water found its way in past the sealer we had used in our last refit (now replaced) and, yet again, through where the top sat on the water tank. Waves outside create waves inside which push water where it should not go, and obviously just tightening the top had not been enough…

The leaking this time was beyond the realm of paper towels, so real towels were called into service – folded into areas where they would catch the water, duct-taped onto the roof of the cabin where the water was finding its way past bolts used to attach the inside tracks for our smaller jib. Stuffed anywhere they might help, you could say.

Then we found that water was coming in through the new vents we had installed. Which means that we’ve added another new item to the departure checklist – close the forward vent. And more items to the ever-present boat wish list – new vents to replace the new vents.

Soon the boat was moving on more than one plane – a sort of circular motion, combined with being well heeled over – and I (Margaret, of course) learned that my balance was just not good enough to cope with all of it, not yet. So there I was, wedged into the berth in the main cabin, watching leaks and ripping duct tape and waiting for things to calm down.

Which meant that it was Richard who did what needed doing, dealing with the wind and waves and weather and setting up the vane and then sticking up towels with the tape I ripped – and hoping for better once we rounded into the Strait of Canso. There we would be away from those wide stretches of Atlantic water that give the waves lots of room to build. Before that we had round Cape Canso and sail past Chedabucto Bay – a little calmer, but still rough. After that there was only one hitch: we had planned to enter by daylight, and the wind was taking us there too quickly. So – we hove to.

For those who don’t know what heaving to is: usually when you’re sailing both sails are working together; when you heave to you’re using one sail against the other, to almost stop the boat. The nice thing about heaving to at times like this is the sudden cessation of noise. All becomes much quieter, and the boat drifts very slowly. In this case, very slowly backwards toward where we were coming from.

The other nice thing about heaving to is that it gives those on board a chance to catch their breaths, and evaluate the situation. We hove to for almost an hour, and then set Into The Blue sailing again about three in the morning. The timing was good; we reached the Strait as daylight came – and so did the fog. A tanker called us on the way in, making sure we were aware they were there and asking for a port-to-port pass (like driving on the right side of the road). Which of course we gave them. No arguing with a tanker!

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We sailed past the generating station at Point Tupper and the dock for the gypsum plant, and took note of the navigation buoys as we made our way to what looked like a good spot for anchoring, waving to another sailboat on its way out as we went. The first time we dropped anchor we were closer to shore than we liked, but things worked out better the next time. Then I kept an eye on things and started cleaning up while Richard made his first foray into the town of Port Hawkesbury. We needed a little food.

Marina and tugs in Port Hawkesbury,  Photo by R. Mair

Marina and tugs in Port Hawkesbury, Photo by R. Mair

From the water I could see that this was a working port. There were pilot boats and tugs docked just beyond the yacht club we had anchored close to, and small ships docked at a wharf on the other side of us as well. Small, but they were much bigger than we are! We quickly learned that the pilot boat was no respecter of speed or wake limits, and could be counted on to rock the boat several times a day (or night).

The waterfront bakery, Photo by R. Mair

The waterfront bakery, Photo by R. Mair

But the waterfront was also a place that people came to visit. There’s a short walking path along the harbour, and every time the frequent rain let up there were people walking along it. Others came to visit the bakery we could see from the boat – not that we knew what it was at first. We learned later from the friendly and helpful people at the yacht club/marina, which was staffed entirely by volunteers except for one young woman who seemed to have a variety of duties.

They might be volunteers, but they were professional in their approach. They made sure that visitors got the help they needed. And I appreciated the fact that they were happy to let me use their dock to get on and off the dinghy even when we were anchored out, and to tell us where to find the things we needed. That made the decision easier when we found our anchor dragging in high winds and decided that being at the dock was better than being at anchor. At least for the next couple of high wind days.

The Port Hawkesbury Marina clubhouse, Photo by R. Mair

The Port Hawkesbury Marina clubhouse, Photo by R. Mair

We called, and had a lot of help coming in to the dock. Possibly because someone had seen us dragging, and then circling as Richard tried to settle the anchor in place at the bow and put on lines and fenders. It was very pleasant being helped to tie up and having easy access to land and to all they had to offer at the Club. No doubt the club benefits from the income they get from sailors passing through – but the facilities are clean and well cared for and the services are very reasonably priced. And you get the benefit of lots of local knowledge and some humour as well.

Walking into town, Photo by R. Mair

Walking into town, Photo by R. Mair

We took advantage of time at the dock to walk into town for more groceries (in the Cape Breton fog, also known as light rain). The ‘fog’ meant that we didn’t have much opportunity for taking photos, and some things we would have liked to have taken and shared we couldn’t. Like the memorial to fallen soldiers, and the views over the rolling hills. Which is why a good waterproof point-and-shoot camera is on our wish list. We could see that Port Hawkesbury is a town that is proud of its maritime past, and that once the streets close to the harbour must have been bustling, the area prosperous. On our walk we passed houses with big verandahs, colorful chairs sitting on them that brightened the greyness of the day.

The walk was (of course) uphill, and took us to one of those streets that makes each town look like so many others. But it was a reasonable walk, no too long, and we found the bank and grocery store we needed, as well as a large pharmacy and all kinds of fast food establishments.

Just as we were starting to learn our way around the weather calmed, and it was time to leave. On a foggy morning we joined several other boats in saying goodbye to the town, and set off for Prince Edward Island and our friends in Charlottetown.

At least there were no strong wind warnings on the way. Though that didn’t necessarily mean the weather was settled.

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About Margaret Mair

In love with the sensuousness of paint, intoxicated by the rhythm of words, entranced by the world of water, ever an observer and explorer.
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2 Responses to Going to Port Hawkesbury

  1. lifeat6mph says:

    I am supposed to be preparing an Algebra II test for later in the week, but, somehow, I am finding this post to be much more riveting! Great report – with each entry, you are making me want to head north with increasing fervor 🙂 jt

    • Margaret Mair says:

      Glad you’re enjoying it. If you do head north maybe you could visit the Bras d’Or Lake for us. We wanted to go, but lacked time. Then we could read all about it…

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