Calmly to Charlottetown

Leaving Port Hawkesbury, Photo, M. Mair

Leaving Port Hawkesbury, Photo, M. Mair

We left Port Hawkesbury in the quiet of a calm, misty morning with batteries fully charged (very important with an electric motor) to motor down the Canso Canal toward the lock. Richard had phoned the lockmaster earlier to find out what we should do. We were told to call in on VHF 12 when we were close to the lock, identify ourselves and say where we were coming from and going to. The fog began to lift as we got closer, and by the time we were at the call-in point visibility was good. And it was still calm.

That calmness turned out to be very helpful. I had made my way to the bow with rope and boathook, carefully and glad everything was still. Richard had hung fenders on the starboard side, as requested, and had a rope ready at the stern. As it turned out we didn’t need ropes or fenders. The lock operator told us the lock was calm, and we didn’t need to tie up – just to stay in the middle.

That meant there was time to just sit back and watch. Watch as traffic on the bridge before the lock came to a halt, and the lines began to grow longer. Watch as a couple of people left their vehicles to see the lock open and our boat go through. Watch the bridge swing open, its machinery creaking and groaning, and the lock gates begin to open. Watch the lights which told us when we could enter.

And then we were in. It’s a tidal lock, so there’s no going up or down. This lock allows vessels to go safely through an area where conflicting tides could create dangerous conditions. No danger for us – we went in and drifted slowly into the middle as the big gates behind us closed, kept drifting slowly as we waited for the gates at the other end to open. They did, then we were through, a small wind was rising, and we put up the main, unfurled the jib and set our course for Charlottetown.

We sailed happily for a while, but there were clouds on the horizon. We could see them in the distance, and were wishing them away from us. Sadly, wishes are not always granted – the rain arrived, and thunderstorms, and worst of all they seemed to have stolen the wind from our sails. So there we were, off Cape George, moving very slowly and watching the rain and the thunderclouds moving toward us. And there was nothing we could do about it.

Storm approaching, Photo, M. Mair

Storm approaching, Photo, M. Mair

The rain fell heavily when it did fall. So heavily that it filled the side decks and lay in the bottom of the cockpit. And collected in the new hatches, then overflowed, and worked its way in along the wires going through our deck plug. We towelled and taped, and put more sealing on our to-do list. Finally the clouds and rain went on their way but the wind didn’t come back.

So progress was slow, but that gave us a chance to look around. Off in the distance we could see fins cresting the waves and small dark shapes, but they never came close enough for us to be sure if they were harbour porpoises. There was the occasional glimpse of a seal raising its head above the water and taking time to look around, and we saw lots of sea birds resting on or gliding above the water.

After a while it became obvious we were going to have to find a way to move more quickly, or get to Charlottetown after dark. We don’t like arriving in strange harbours after dark; there’s something unpleasant about not being able to see everything around you and having to guess what’s there. We’d been cautious about using it for long distances, since our range is limited by the capacity of our batteries, but Richard cranked up the electric motor for a while and we motor-sailed. Progress was still too slow.

We had to decide how to handle a situation we hadn’t anticipated when we first decided to go electric. We had looked for, purchased and set up a system that would take us up the longest inlet we might have to travel along on our way south. Now we were making a very different journey, one in which we would need the motor more and more continuously than we had planned for. So – what to do, now and in the future?

Richard had been thinking about this, and reading about how other people had solved similar problems. Some charged their batteries while running, and if they had enough charging capacity to replace everything they used they could just keep running. We didn’t have the same ability, but we did have a generator that could charge half the batteries used for running the motor at a time.

Given what he has learned about batteries and charging, and the generator we have, he came up with a solution that allows us to run longer. We have two battery banks, and can run off either or both of them. The next bit is technical, so if you’re not interested skip the rest of the paragraph – the Peukert effect means that the more power you pull from an individual battery the less efficiently it performs, but if you spread the load among more batteries each one of those batteries will work more efficiently. So Richard decided to use both banks to run the motor (more efficient) and to charge each bank for an hour at a time as we ran (replacing some of the power, allowing us to run longer). It’s a technique we’ve used more or less successfully for the rest of our journey.

Now we motored slowly, still wondering if we’ld be able to get there in good time. Then, happily, an evening breeze decided to bless us with its presence, and we finally sailed into Charlottetown as evening fell and dropped anchor just off the yacht club. A convenient spot for getting to shore.

Charlottetown Yacht Club, Photo by M. Mair

Charlottetown Yacht Club, Photo by M. Mair

There we shared our space with moored boats, and a few others anchored. When the wind blew it was rolly – the more wind, the rollier it became. Though, as we found out, we didn’t have to worry about the anchor dragging. The morning we decided to go to a slip in the yacht club Richard, after fighting to raise it, found that it was hooked on a large chain attached to – who knows what? We shed the chain by dropping the anchor abruptly and motoring forward right away. Whatever it was attached to before it remained attached to after, but at least it was no longer attached to us!

A Charlottetown tour boat, Photo by M. Mair

A Charlottetown tour boat, Photo by M. Mair

While we were anchored out we enjoyed watching what was happening around us. There were the tug and barge that came in from outside. There were the small tour boats that sailed from one of the marinas, their design based on traditionally styled island boats with their high bows. There were the kayaks and stand up boards that came past, and people enjoying all kinds of vessels and water craft.

Shady trees, Photo by R. Mair

Shady trees, Photo by R. Mair

On land we had time for a little exploring. We have friends there who told us where the grocery stores were and how to get there – always a great help. The larger grocery stores were a good walk away on University Avenue, though the (smaller) Co-op was closer. And since they had a car, Richard was able to go looking for a generator spark plug (unsuccessfully), and they helped him find marine sealant at a good price. We did mention that we needed to reseal a few things!

The Hippo Tour, Photo by R. Mair

The Hippo Tour, Photo by R. Mair

And we had the pleasure of visiting with them, catching up on what was happening in their lives and enjoying their hospitality. Which included a wonderful fresh lunch and doing laundry – both things that we were very grateful for! We walked with them along the very popular path that follows the harbour wall, past parks and through their downtown neighborhood full of pleasant houses.  The amphibious Hippo tour vehicle covered some of the same ground. Walking with them gave us a chance to relax, enjoy the old shade trees along the way and pause to look out over the harbour’s red mud flats. They even took our picture for us!

Us in Charlottetown, Photo by Christine

Us in Charlottetown, Photo by Christine

After being rocked and rolled even more than before we decided to spend our last night in Charlottetown on the dock in the yacht club. A strain on the budget, but all the movement was tiring for me (Margaret) and a good night’s sleep is a bonus when you’re going to be travelling the next day. They assigned us a slip against their outer dock (because we are, these days, small). It was much more comfortable than being on anchor, particularly when a squall blew through, though we were more aware of the wind and waves than the boats docked further inside. But not aware enough to keep us awake.

The next day it was time to start the next leg of our journey. After talking with our friends, we decided to do it a little differently from the way we had originally planned. A little advice from someone who has travelled that way before you goes a long way – or helps you go a long way…

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 Calmly to Charlottetown

  1. lifeat6mph says:

    great entry and nice pics.. it is nice to put some faces to the story! The last time we were in Charlottetown, we were aboard a cruise ship. How much more fun would it have been to be on our own boat! Perhaps that will happen some time in the future.. for now, we are enjoying reading about your adventure 🙂

    • Margaret Mair says:

      Glad you’re enjoying following us! A cruise ship has its pluses, I suspect, like having someone else do the maintenance – but it’s nice to be on your own boat and make your own schedule. Maybe you’ll get to enjoy that too.

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