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A Sailing Cruise to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland

Cruising the Canadian Maritimes – Part VIII
By John H Slingerland
Posted: 2023-08-26T11:53:02Z

Reflections on the 2023 Maine Cruise

First, I want to thank Bill Dobson and Pat Dieselman – especially Bill for his yummy blueberry buckle and Pat for educating me about BWSC flag etiquette – but of course both of them for their awesome cruise leadership. It was evident from the group texting following the stop in Dark Harbor that everyone on the cruise shares this feeling and had a really good time.

Equally apparent from the texting, everyone bonded. Boats were looking out for other boats throughout the cruise. This continued after the cruise ended. When the group started dispersing on their various homeward journeys, lots of good information and follow-up was still being shared. As my son shared after this cruise on our drive to Dallas with Holly (his dog and Avocet’s four legged crew member on this cruise), he tells his 5th graders (and sometimes their parents) that it’s not about one’s self – we are part of a larger whole. In a group cruise, so true!

We may all be fans of the group text now. It serves as a really good supplement to the VHF radio. I believe it, or something akin to it, was previously advanced by John Garner.

The Maine cruise unfolded more like a Sidney Bechet jam session than a military marching band performance. Boats joined, broke off and re-joined…anchorages changed leaving Honalee and Avocet at one point on their own in the Basin… and boats experienced the usual mechanical and anchoring difficulties. All matters were eventually solved - often with help from other BWSC members. 

Folks knew and shared different and interesting things ranging from architectural items (Lisa Goodwin, Len Bertaux and Starr Tofil on the historical walking tour in Castine) to more immediately relevant items on Avocet such as a broken hose in the fresh water cooling system discovered in about 30 seconds by Len Thibodeau. Within the culinary arts, Len Bertaux produced tumbleweed to help start Avocet’s charcoal grill in a bit of a blow.

My favorite anchorage: Long Cove.

Long Cove is snug. This is an anchorage we missed because we were not listening to channel 72. It is also the anchorage where Joost Vlassak magically appeared in a launch out of nowhere. He was not on the cruise. Joost and Kiran own a house there.

My favorite day sailing:

The only day we sailed sans motor. Camp Island to Castine. It was upwind all the way. Because the cruise legs are short and we started fresh after two nights at Camp, it was a blast. Close hauled. Lots of tacking. Plenty of wind. Avocet, with its deep keel, is good to windward. Following this sail, Marcia and I were both too tired to join others ashore on the beach in Smith Cove for a sundowner. Several of the stops on this cruise were two nights. A good thing. For us, the second night in one spot affords us the recovery time necessary to enjoy group activities.

Although much credit should go to the thought that these cruises should go where the wind blows, I say wind direction does not matter because tacking is as much fun (often more fun) than downwind sailing and the legs are short. As I see it for the sailboats, the issue is having wind, not wind direction. As previously discussed in my seminar and blogs, I expect Nova Scotia starting mid August thru mid September next year will have wind… more wind than Maine in early August - with perhaps a bit more W in the SW prevailing winds.

The issue for us is the short one night stop. To make the cocktail hour, boats leave early and motor. This reduces or often limits sailing as the wind typically comes up later in the day. Upon arrival, we are tired and have to drop sails, anchor, run Holly and eat at some point. This leaves little time to squeeze in social activity. Better, in my view, to unpack things a bit and make more two night stops. Time, not distance, is the value. Folks can do more sailing and return (or add another anchorage) if they choose.

Mistakes made:

  1. Should have taken the generator. When Avocet lost coolant, I was down to the wind generator and solar for electrical. If you have a lot of systems, be prepared to use them all because you never know what or when things break.
  2. After my return from Europe, I should have replaced a broken engine mount and replaced all engine hoses. At least I had an extra hose that worked okay as a temporary replacement.
  3. Never run out of fresh water for showers.

New systems I like:

  1. The dinghy davits. Even though I still use the crane to put the outboard on the rail, the whole thing is much easier to deploy/retrieve and you go faster without dragging a dinghy behind your stern. You are more nimble in effecting dinghy travel to other boats and shore. On the overnighter to Nova Scotia in 2024 and the bigger return from St Pierre in 2025, the davits can handle the dinghy and it sure beats covering up the vberth hatch with a lashed down dinghy on deck. 
  2. The charcoal grill. Advanced cruising, especially as a couple, is ultimately about self-sufficiency and eating well. Food tastes better on a charcoal grill. Being messy is a myth. (This grill drops nothing. Our previous propane grill dropped grease). Multiple propane canisters and the related attachment is bulky and the cylinder fitting/starter button breaks.
  3. A new chartplotter with Navionics auto navigate. I was able to sail (no motor) a really byzantine, tight and beautiful route transiting Casco Bay to Orr’s Island from Boothbay. I would not have done so without auto navigate and a good plotter display. It is similar to what mapquest on my iphone has done driving new and obscure but helpful routes in the car.
  4. The esbar cabin heater (a new replacement). There was nothing better in the early morning than being warm and getting everything dry down below with that first cup of coffee. Runs on diesel and bumps down to minimal amperage after initial start up.

New systems I want:

  1. 1A salt water hose in the anchor locker. I have forgotten how muddy the bottom is in Maine. I would rather not have multiple buckets of mud in the chain locker, on the chain and on my hands. (I sweep the castle under the windlass as there is more rode than adequate locker space. This is a slow and messy process). I will likely replace 20 feet of one inch nylon rode at the end of the chain with a lighter, much longer and more compact, stronger 8 brait rode.
  2. Additional solar panels on the davits. It’s a great place for another panel. You can never have too much electrical re-charging capacity.
  3. A new whisker pole/spinnaker pole combo. I cut a bit too much off my spinnaker pole when converting it to a whisker pole for the transatlantic return in 2022. I want the option (and the spinnaker pole configuration) to enter the racing division again in some regattas and, with the shorter whisker pole configuration, I anticipate more downwind sailing on the NS/NF cruise in 2024-2025.
  4. I will add a third and larger high quality cooler on deck (as I had transatlantic). With this capacity, I can supplement the frig below and easily carry ice and food perishables for more than a week for four souls.

For those having the time and contemplating the Canadian Maritimes Cruise

I highly recommend a shakedown of boat, crew, Captain and Admiral by repeating what Breakaway and Avocet did this year: the Boothbay Harbor Regatta followed by the BWSC Maine Cruise.

Lessons learned:

Subject to further boardroom discussion, I will advocate taking a third crew for all of the Nova Scotia/Newfoundland trip in 2024-2025. There is a tradeoff. For any couple to be successful, cruising should be as easy as possible. Double handing the Maine cruise is one thing. Doublehanding NS/NF will be, in my view, another thing easier to do with a third crew.

Running a boat like Avocet that has almost as many lines as the Blonde (the big, square rigged , three masted, 32 gun frigate which the British used with two other sloops-of-war to blockade Castine against the Americans in 1779), eating well and navigating through fog is a lot of work for two people. Sailing offshore on auto pilot – not so much. See The Fort, Bernard Cornwell (Harper, 2012). Mike, our tour guide in Castine, referenced this battle as described in detail in The Fort.

Deciding on crew is an individual (and close) decision to be made. Each Captain and Admiral has to honestly measure it for themselves. This Maine cruise was the perfect shakedown cruise for us to re-evaluate what lies ahead!

My recommendation for Nova Scotia / Newfoundland:

  1. Bring spare parts.
  2. Bring tools.
  3. Bring a third crew.
  4. Bring plenty of fuel, water and food.
  5. Have proper ground tackle.
  6. Mentally add one week as cushion to the proposed itineraries.
  7. If the return from NF and St Pierre is daunting, keep that decision under advisement and think of doing just the NS cruise in 2024 with a leisurely return in 2025.

Nova Scotia could be, in my view and for some of the reasons mentioned above, the next big addition to the regular BWSC annual cruise lineup if 4 or 5 non-veteran boats break through on this in 2024. Registration for the NS cruise is now posted on our website under “cruises” and under ”events”. Registration for the Newfoundland cruise gets posted, I believe, one year out.