21 August, 2015
When I got up at 06h30 on the 17th, it looked like Seastar was in a different spot. Nah, must have just been an error of parallax. We got the “Q” up with very little mud or weeds-always a bonus when you don’t have to stand out in the wind spraying down the anchor and chain before your first cuppa. It took B & L a while to get theirs up, with their windlass moaning and groaning. I told the Admiral that I thought their clutch was dying. When the hook came up, there was a monkey fist of chain wrapped around it. In the windless night, Seastar had circled round and round the anchor, fouling it hopelessly. Good thing that the wind didn’t come back up, ‘cause that anchor wasn’t holdin’ nuthin’. As they got things sorted out, I was thinking (with my fingers crossed) that it was a good thing that we weren’t superstitious about inauspicious starts to long trips.
As the sun tried to crest the rim of the fjord, we were treated to some fog-free scenery. Seven miles later, at the mouth of the bay, the seas were running 2’-4’ on 5 second intervals as predicted under partly cloudy skies. The passage to Sydney, NS was uneventful. I trailed a line for 8 hours, but no bites from fish. The seagulls picked up my bait twice. I heard the line screaming off the reel, only to see a gull trying to fly away with my Ballyhoo. Increasing the drag gave him a big surprise-put on the brakes, and he dropped like a rock. He was stubborn though, and we dragged him through the water like a rookie water skier before he finally got the idea and let go-bird brain! We got another visit from Canada’s “eye in the sky”, and had another nice chat with them, but saw no sea life, except 1 Mola Mola. Just after sunrise, as we approached Sydney Harbor’s seabuoy, we were overtaken by “Blue Puttees”, the Sydney-Port aux Basques ferry as she completed her 8-hour voyage from Newfoundland. She looked big in P’aB, even bigger as she passed within 400 meters of us. At the sunny dock, relief was written all over Bill & Lauren’s faces. The boat problems that they had experienced, Lauren’s troublesome kidney, and the poor weather had really taken a toll on their psyches. It was as if a cloud had lifted (in reality, it had), and our old pals were back. After Bill grabbed a quick nap, his sister-in-law, Eleanor picked us up so that Lauren, Suz and I could visit the Miner’s Museum while Bill visited with his brother, Don.
We really enjoyed the Miner’s Museum. We learned that this area of Cape Breton was THE economic powerhouse of Canada in the early 20th century. Ninety percent of the coal fueling Canada’s industrial revolution era came from within this 10 mile radius. Mining, along with steel production made this northwest corner of Cape Breton the economic jewel of the nation. However, like the Cod fishery in Newfoundland, an economy relying on a one-trick pony is on shaky ground. When the mining industry started to decline, as was inevitable, the economy took a dive as well. Since the early 1960’s when the mines ceased production, population and per capita incomes have declined precipitously. Our walking tour belowground to a vein of coal was led by a retired miner. Although his charge was to give us an appreciation of what it was like to be a miner in the 1930’s, he shared anecdotes from his personal experiences in 30 years of mining this very colliery. We were fascinated to hear that it took him an hour and a half to ride a rake (underground coal-carrying cart) to the area where he worked six miles out to sea, 2,700 feet below the ocean. He told us that an American investor has purchased one of the other mines nearby, and will be resuming operations in the near future. This is certainly good news around here for the unemployed. After our visit to the museum, we joined Don & Eleanor for dinner at a local diner for some good conversation and some mediocre grub. They offered us the use of their car, and after dropping them off, we headed back to the boats for some much needed sleep.
The following day took us to Louisbourg, the site of a French fortress dating back to the early 18th century. During the nearly 2 centuries since it was abandoned, the structure deteriorated to the point that it nearly blended in with the landscape. The site was recognized for its’ historical significance in the early 1900’s, and archeologists had excavated and researched the fort and surrounding town for years. Then the mines closed in the early 1960’s, and unemployment skyrocketed. The Canadian government created a public works project to reconstruct approximately 20% of the fortress city. Unemployed miners were retrained in the trades of masonry, carpentry, electrical contracting, carving, blacksmithing, and etc. for the project. The result, after two decades of work, is nothing short of spectacular. Suz and I have visited many old forts these last years (as you can testify), but this one is a magnitude better than any others. Re-enactors(?) are plentiful around the park, and we found all to be receptive to our questions, and knowledgeable with their answers. We spent the whole day in the park, and could have spent another half easily. On the way home, we hit the grocery store to reprovision fresh fruits and veggies, which were sorely lacking in the outports of Newfoundland.
Thursday, the 20th. After traveling with Bill & Lauren for nearly 7 weeks, it was time to part ways. Bill wanted to stay in Sydney to visit with his family, then take a leisurely ride west, with a stop at Baddeck on the way through Bras D’Or, and short travel days as they headed to Maine. We, on the other hand, needed to start boogieing to catch our plane in Bangor, ME, to make our daughter Alison’s marriage to Ben in early September. As we readied to throw our lines at 06h00, Bill and Lauren were on the dock for a teary goodbye. I’m sure that we’ll see them again as we make our way south this Fall. We had a foggy cruise out of the harbor, and met “Blue Puttees” coming back from Port aux Basques. The captain hailed us on the VHF for a one-whistle pass (I think that he just wanted to say “Hi”) as we headed out to the ocean. Our departure was timed so that we could make the last lock-through (16h00) at St. Peter’s, some 10 hours away. What I didn’t take into account was the 2 knot current running against us as we entered Big Bras D’Or passage-Oops. Our ETA plummeted from 15h30 to 18h45 as the Girl chugged along at 5 knots. Oh well, we guessed that it wasn’t the end of the world if we got stuck on the north end of the lock and had to wait until 08h00 the next morning when the lock opened. The old John Deere need to stretch his legs, so we pushed the throttle forward a bit. As the current eased, our speed increased, and as the day progressed, it looked more and more like we’d make the last opening. We made the lock, and spent the night on the south approach wall, planning on a 07h00 departure.