The Last Push

Tuesday September 30, 2014 (46o 21’N   6610’W):  Off the Southwest Coast of Nova Scotia

By Tuesday September 23rd, we’d  spent four nights in Lark Harbour, Newfoundland waiting for the gale and storm-force winds to break their hold and blow from any direction other than southwest. We still had more than 100 miles to go to the southwest corner of Newfoundland, then an additional 100 or more across Cabot Strait to get to Nova Scotia. Under average conditions, that would take two full 24 days hours of sailing.  Tuesday morning, the weather report from the Coast Guard station was as follows:

Gulf – Port au Port: Forecast

Issued 03:00 AM NDT, 23 September 2014 (Tuesday)

Winds:

Gale Warning in Effect

Winds southwest 35 to 45 knots diminishing to west 25 near noon then veering to northwest 30 overnight. Wind diminishing to northwest 20 Wednesday morning then backing to southwest 25 Wednesday afternoon. 

Thursday: Winds southwest 25 to 35 knots.

Waves: Seas 3 to 5 metres subsiding to 2 to 3 this evening and to 1 to 2 Wednesday afternoon.

Thus was our dilemma. If left Lark Harbour too early, we’d be facing the tail end of 5 meter (15 foot) seas. If we left too late, we might miss taking full advantage of the northwest winds before they veered back against us. In the shelter of Lark Harbour, surrounded by mountains, it was difficult to judge the conditions on the outside, especially the wave height, but at the first sign that that the winds were clocking we said our goodbyes and backed away from the dock.  

It took over an hour before we  rounded the point sheltering Lark Harbour. The waves were still there. Not as large as five meters, but at least 3 meters on average, with an occasional set  of maverick toping  4 meters, higher than the width of the boat. And, they came from all directions, tossing and jarring us as we tried to make headway to the south. We shortened our watch periods to an hour and a half or hand steering, averaging only about 3 miles an hour for the first eight hours. Then the waves gradually calmed down and the wind shifted to the northwest as predicted. 

Two days later, by dawn Thursday, we were in sight of the narrows that lead to the Bras d’Or Lakes of Nova Scotia.  After our initial trial by wave, we had a good run down the coast and across Cabot Strait with the wind and waves at our back. Thursday night was crystal clear and as Eli came on watch,   the milky way was  off the bow, aligned  with the tilt of the mast, reminding me of the   line from the song  Drops of Jupiter” by Train, “ Did you sail across the sun? Did you make it to the milky way  … ?” Eli pointed out that you could see its reflection on the water. 

In the morning,  within sight of our near term objective, Mother Nature once again reminded us that she was in charge, making us work hard for last miles as the winds shifted back to the southwest, requiring three hours to cross the last ten miles to the entrance of the lakes. Then she let us pass. The notoriously strong tidal currents into and through the narrows were in our favor, despite our interpretation of the local tidal charts. We were sweep into the lakes, at one point with an additional 5 knots of current pushing us along. The lakes themselves were calm, allowing us to motor through the day, reaching the Lions Marina shortly after dark. Despite being torn apart for renovation, the diesel pumps at the marina were still active, so we could  take on much needed fuel. By noon on Friday we had passed out of the Bras d’Or Lakes, through the lock at St. Peter’s, and into a different ocean.  The winds were fair, temperature in the 60’s and we were  in our shorts, headed for  Halifax Nova Scotia  where we were to rendezvous  with Pete’s mom (my sister Sarah) and her husband John, who had driven up from Maine. Cookies from home, walking the waterfront, sushi for dinner … And then early yesterday (Monday Sept 29) Pete left for the airport to fly home to California.  I would not have made this trip without him.  About the time he was probably getting airborne, Eli and I motored out of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron for the final leg to Rockport Harbor. 

We are now 130 miles from Rockland Maine, our port of entry. It is one town down the coast from Rockport Harbor.  At 5 knots, we should be there sometime tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday Oct 1.  The US Customs have been contacted and will drive down from Belfast to clear us in. Once that is done, we’ll be home!

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