The Story Of Venture I - Part Twelve
Halifax was founded by the British in 1749 as a counterpoint to the French fortress at Louisbourg (referred to earlier in this blog) and its location was a good choice. Second only to Sidney (Australia) it has the world's largest natural harbour with an easily defended narrow entrance. Its deep water remains ice-free in the winter despite its northern latitude which makes it relatively close to Europe. Like Quebec, it has a citadel built on a hill in the centre of the city.
Like so many of the cities we had visited, Halifax has redeveloped its waterfront from being strictly commercial to being focused on attracting tourism. We shared cozy Bishop's Landing, right in the heart of downtown, with a sailboat which had sailed the St Lawrence from Ontario down to the Caribbean and back up to Nova Scotia.
Halifax has been witness to several of the major events of the 20th century. Following the Titanic disaster in 1912, ships left from here to retrieve the bodies - many of which are buried in three of the cities cemeteries. On a grey, rainy day I visited the Fairview Lawn Cemetery which is the final resting place of 121 victims. The headstones are set in a curved pattern. said to represent the bow of a ship. It is a peaceful yet somber place to reflect on that famous tragedy now almost 100 years in the past.
Just five years later, in 1917, a French ship loaded with munitions exploded in the harbour after a collision with another vessel. The explosion leveled a major section of the city and caused the deaths of 2,000 people with injuries to an additional 9,000. The explosion broke windows 60 miles away and the blast was heard in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and in northern Cape Breton Island. Having just come from both those places, we could appreciate what that meant. The disaster was compounded by the worst blizzard in a decade which buried the injured still trapped in the rubble and which held up the delivery of relief personnel and supplies. The maritime museum has sections devoted to both of these tragedies.
Since the dawn of mankind, turmoil generated by warfare has fueled the disruption of countless lives and the displacement of people seeking to escape its horrors and misery. Pier 21 is Canada's equivalent to Ellis Island and witnessed huge influxes of Europeans seeking to avoid the consequences of two world wars. The original immigration hall, now converted into an excellent museum, was used to process over one million immigrants for whom Halifax was their first sight of the new world and their new lives.
Pier 21 was also the embarkation point for Canadian personnel on their way to various conflicts so, for those who failed to make it back, Halifax was their last view of their home country. During WW2, the huge harbour was the assembly point for the majority of convoys carrying food and supplies to wartime Britain. Many of the ships were sunk in the cold, grey waters of the north Atlantic by packs of waiting U-boats so Halifax was also, for many, the last place they ever set foot on land. The harbour itself was protected from U boats by nets strung across the narrow entrance.
On Labor Day, after three days of sight-seeing, we headed back out into the Atlantic and down the coast of Nova Scotia. The wind was strong and the seas turbulent but the weather was from aft and Venture, with her full-length keel, tracked well in the following waves. We turned in towards the coast and threaded our way through a pattern of islands and headlands on which there was just the occasional house so it came as something of a shock to round Battery Point and see, spread out before us, the colorful, close-packed buildings of historic Lunenburg lining the waterfront. Founded in 1753, the town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. It is the birthplace of the famous Bluenose schooner and among the many interesting vessels tied up along the waterfront was the 188ft barquentine Concordia being prepared for her departure on September 8th for Europe. This vessel has traveled the globe and is part of the Canadian Class Afloat program with groups of students traveling on her around the world.
As we had seen in so many other coastal towns there was a memorial to those lost at sea which listed a chilling number of names accumulated over the years. The reduced number of victims in recent times is proof of increased safety due to modern weather forecasting and more accurate navigational tools.
The following day we headed back out to sea and, when far from land, passed by Black Rock which, being barely awash, must have ensnared many ships over the years. Modern charting systems and GPS have made it so much easier to be sure of your exact position although nothing should ever be taken for granted. Murphy is always ready to take advantage of those guilty of complacency. If any reminder was needed, we came across the bizarre sight of a fishing boat perched atop a barely exposed piece of rock ironically called Little Hope Island. It looked as though it had been there for some time though how it had got there without being washed off again was hard to fathom.
Our next stop was the historic town for Shelburne where it seemed that every other home was flying the British flag. When I asked the reason I was told that the town was celebrating the 225th anniversary of its settling in 1783 by loyalists from New York who, not being happy with the outcome of the War of Independence, had left the fledgling United States. By the following year the population had increased to 10,000 making it one of the largest contemporary towns in North America. Today the population has dropped to 2,000 and many of today's residents are descendants of the original loyalists. Shelburne was also famous for the building of fast clipper ships in the early 1800's.
After a day in which fog alternated with rain, we got underway at 1400 for the overnight passage to South West Harbor on Mount Desert Island in Maine. Once again we encountered blustery conditions accompanied by fog which reduced visibility to less than a mile. Fortunately this lifted at sunset which was just as well because, during the night, we encountered no less than four full-sized cruise ships plus a fleet of fishing boats which filled the horizon right across our route. Cruise ships often re-locate at night and travel at speeds in excess of 20 knots so they can come upon you alarmingly fast. When hull down below the horizon they may not show up on radar even though, in clear conditions, their lights can be seen.
We crossed the mouth of the Bay of Fundy whose tides in the upper reaches exceed 50 ft. This extreme tidal range is reflected in the flow of water in and out of the bay and, with the tide in our favor, our speed over the ground reached 8.8 knots at only 960 rpm. In fact we had to keep cutting back on engine rpm as we did not want to arrive in South West harbor too early. We covered the 171 miles in 20 hrs giving us an average speed of 8.55 kts burning less than 0.7 US gallons per mile.
The first signs of dawn appeared at 0600 and the sky was clear. The orb of the sun broke the horizon at 0700 and with it came the fog. This burnt off quite quickly - just in time for us to see the hundreds of thousands of lobster pot floats for which the Maine coast is infamous. There is no question of being able to follow a chosen course on auto pilot. The boat has to be manually steered around each and every float.
We tied up in the nice little South West Harbor after 20 hours underway and set our clocks back one hour to east coast time. The following day we hired a car and toured the more scenic parts of Mount Desert Island - a very strange name for such a surprisingly large, thickly forested island which is home to extensive and scenic Acadia National Park. Also on this same island is attractive North East harbor and the larger, and better known, Bar Harbor. We drove along the shore of Somes Sound - reputed to be the only true, glacier-generated, fjord in the US, and also took the winding road the top of Cadillac Mountain from which we had a stupendous view over the island and the adjacent coast.
We visited Bar Harbor which is the main town on the island and a port of call for the cruise ships. Shortly after our return to the boat, the ever-lurking fog descended like a shroud and hid everything from view. We had been keeping a close eye on Hurricane Hanna working its way up the coast after first making landfall in Florida. Although its was now downgraded to a Tropical Storm, it continued to head our way and passed over us on during Saturday night when it dumped 6" rain but fortunately brought little wind.
We drove around part of the island the morning after the storm passed but apart from some flooded roads there was little sign of wind damage. We moved the boat to the fuel dock and took on fuel for the first time since leaving Charlottetown. We got underway at 1010 took inside route to Camden. Once again the plethora of pots took the pleasure out of cruising but Stonington and Northaven were two attractive towns we passed along the way. We arrived in Camden at 1525 after 43 miles. Despite our extreme care we found that we had a lobster pot float, with at least 50ft of buoyant line attached to it, floating behind us . The water was too chilly for swimming so we hired a diver (wearing a dry suit) to check out the underwater situation. Although we had one wrap around the shaft there was no other complications and he reported that the bottom was clean and that the propellers were still shiny from the Prop Speed we had applied in Vancouver way back in early 2007 .
Camden was another attractive Maine town with historical roots whose waterfront is mostly focused on catering to summer visitors. Sometimes space is limited for boats the size of Venture but Camden has a Travelift which could handle boats much larger. We had planned to stay just one night but a weather system promised rough seas outside and we stayed in port an extra day.
The following morning the weather was beautiful with clear sunny skies and, shortly after noon, we set out for Jamestown in Rhode Island. We had to pass through what can only be described as an absolute infestation of lobster traps which, when heading into the sun's glare coming off the water, could only be spotted at the last moment. At this time of year many lobsters have shed their shells for larger new ones to grow into so what you see is not what you get when it comes to the lobster on your plate. The animal inside can be considerably smaller that its shell with the intervening space taken up with water that floods your plate. I have to say that the plethora of pots does detract from the pleasure of cruising in Maine because you have hand steer the boat and you cannot relax your vigilance for a second - not even to use the head. The pots are everywhere including in navigation channels and clustered around navigation marks. We even saw pots in depths exceeding 200'.
Traveling at night in pot infested waters is even more hazardous that dealing with the logs on the west coast where traveling after dark is considered to be asking for trouble. Fortunately by the time the sun dropped like a vast orange flare below the horizon, we were well out to sea and had left the pots behind.
Directly ahead of us a gibbous moon cast a pathway of light across the water which led us directly towards the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. Opened in 1914, the canal allows mariners to bypass the often hazardous passage through the Nantucket shoals and around the crooked arm of the Cape Cod peninsula. In a characteristic it shares with Point Conception in California and Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, Cape Cod is a point of demarcation in weather patterns where you can expect a dramatic change is conditions and water temperatures. As the sun rose majestically out of the sea and dawn spread its welcome light across the heavens, we could just see the structures on the cape along the horizon.
As we approached land, we once again had the occasional pot to contend with but these were few and far between plus, unlike those in Maine, the floats were upright and much easier to spot. The tidal range at the east end of the canal is 9' while at the west it is only 4' so tidal flows of up to 6 knots can be encountered but we had timed it so that the tide was in our favor. Notorious Buzzard's Bay was calm so we had an easy passage through this man-made channel which, at 480 ft, is the world's widest sea level canal with an average depth of 32'.
At its southern end Buzzards Bay becomes Rhode Island Sound with the approximate boundary running between the Hen and Chickens islets off Gooseberry Neck on the west to the Sow and Pig reefs off Cuttyhunk to the east. We turned in towards Narragansett Bay and, passing between Beavertail Point and Castle Hill Lighthouse, took the East Passage dividing Conanicut Island to port from Rhode Island to starboard.
Although our ultimate destination was at Jamestown on Conanicut Island we first headed for the Newport waterfront where the annual boatshow has just opened. We cruised past the boats on display partly to take a look and partly, I have to admit, to show off Venture! After being featured on the front cover of the September issue of Yachting magazine, (showing her anchored in the Galapagos Islands - just 13 weeks ago) she had become something of a celebrity and recognizable to many.
Newport is famous for the hosting of the Americas Cup as well as for the magnificent boats, sail and power - classic and modern, which ply its waters and it certainly lived up to its reputation during our visit.
We crossed the water to Jamestown and were escorted to our berth by a runabout driven by the owner of a recent Fleming 55 whom we had met at the Fleming Rendezvous organized by Burr Yacht Sales in July 2007. It was in fact at that very same rendezvous that the idea had been born to bring Venture around from the west coast to follow the so-called DownEast circle route up the Hudson and St Lawrence rivers and back down through Nova Scotia and New England. By the time we tied up at our berth in the Conanicut Marina, we had covered the 216 miles from Camden in 26 hours giving us an average speed of 8.4 knots. We had deliberately held the speed down so as not to arrive before the check-in time of 2 pm but the lower speed had kept our fuel burn down to less than 6 gph or roughly 0.7 gpm.
We had planned just a brief stay in Jamestown but a combination of inclement weather and wonderful hospitality from the Fleming owners kept us there for five nights. Jamestown and the island of Conanicut provide a welcome contrast to so many towns in that it has retained its natural charm and has not lost its individuality to tourism. Narragansett Bay and the surrounding areas such as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard together with, slightly farther afield, Boston, Long Island sound and even New York offer a banquet of cruising destinations. We had planned to visit many of them but, with a date to speak at Trawlerfest in Maryland on September 25th, time was running out. On the Monday following the boat show, I learned that the next ferry across the bay to Newport was not until the following Saturday; a clear sign that the season was winding down and it was time for us to head south.
Our schedule was very much controlled by the weather and we took advantage of a window between systems to run nonstop from Jamestown to Burr Yacht Sales in Maryland. En route we provided a temporary pit stop for a couple of small pretty birds, most likely warblers, also on their way to winter in warmer climes. We passed close by famous Block Island and, headed direct from there to Cape May so the only view we had of New York was the loom from its lights over the horizon. We closed our DownEast cruising circle at the Atlantic entrance to the Cape May Canal. It had been 79 days and 2,606 miles since we were last here on our way north. The wind and current were opposed in Delaware Bay which created an uncomfortable chop. We overtook a boat that very much resembled the Mayflower - looking very out of place among the freighters, tugs and other commercial traffic. The bay is relatively shallow and the dredged channel is marked by a series of huge, picturesque light houses. We took the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal through to the Chesapeake and we reached at destination at 6 pm. We had covered 347 miles in 33 hours giving us an average speed of 10.5 kts.
So now our long journey is over. Since the end of March we have traveled 9,429 miles through all kinds of conditions. We crossed the equator, anchored in remote bays and tied up in urban marinas. We have been miles offshore in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and covered hundreds of miles through inland canals.
When the organizers of Trawlerfest invited me to be one of the speakers they had come up with "the ultimate sea trial" as the title for my seminar. This is certainly most appropriate because that was one of the main motivations of the trip - not only for Venture but, by using what we learnt along the way, for all the boats that carry the Fleming name. But for her crew it is much more than that. We have come away enriched by the experience; each with our own, individual, treasure chest of memories. Every voyage is a journey of personal discovery - a kind of buffet of experiences in which you don't know what to expect until you raise the lid of the chafing dish for each situation you encounter.
A yacht offers a means of travel like none other. While continuing to live in familiar surroundings, it allows us to draw aside a curtain and glimpse, if only briefly, ways of life outside your own which in turn makes you a wiser and more understanding person. The real rewards are in the people you meet along the way both ashore and afloat - some of whom are making journeys which made our own look like a stroll in the park.
To the fortunate few who have the time, the means and the spirit to travel as we have been lucky enough to do, I hope this blog has encouraged you to embark on your own personal voyages of discovery. For the less fortunate or less adventurous, I hope that it has allowed you to share, vicariously, our experience.