Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Crossing the Gulf of Maine

Well, now that we are safely back in Canada I must admit I was certainly more than a little nervous about making the crossing from Maine to Nova Scotia. I was really nervous. In fact, I would even say I was scared. It wasn't the open water, or the 26 hour crossing that concerned me so much. It was the idea of crossing at night on waters notorious for fog and littered with fishing buoys. But, I needn’t have worried.

We left at 5am on Sunday morning after a day of rain and heavy fog in Northeast Harbour, Maine. It was clear with about 10 knots of wind. The sun was just coming up over the horizon as slipped off our mooring and motored out of the Harbour. Nothing else was moving. Even the water was still, the colourful buoys marking the lobster pots were hardly moving on the water’s surface.

We navigated between Cranberry Island and Great Cranberry Island and out into the Gulf of Maine. The wind became a steady 14 knots. We raised the sails and settled in for a downwind sail. Before long, we caught the current and were moving along at 8knots. We were making great time - too great in fact. We had to shorten sail and slow down or we would be fighting a much stronger current rounding the tip of Nova Scotia if we arrived too early.

We settled into a routine of three hour watches, with the autohelm doing most of the steering. We saw the plume from several whales in the distance, but other than three cruise ships heading in to Bar Harbour, Maine as we were leaving, we saw only one fishing trawler for the next 12 hours.

There was a beautiful sunset over the water, with no land in sight in any direction. The water sparkled as the sky turned beautiful shades of orange, gold, then pink and purple. But as the sun went down, so did the temperature. Despite heavy foul weather gear, and several layers of clothing, it was cold. Jay had the first night watch and at dusk I climbed into our bunk to warm up and get some sleep. When I came back on deck at 12:30am it was like I was entering another world. The waning gibbous moon had risen and was shining brightly on the water directly ahead of us, almost as if the moon was laying a sparkling path down for us to follow home. The wind had lessened substantially and was directly behind us, so we were running under motor alone. As Jay went below, I settled in for my first night watch.

We have sailed a few times at night before, but it has always been situations where we have been out sailing and returned to a familiar port after dark. This was the first time I was on the open sea at night making a passage in unfamiliar waters. We had watched the weather carefully and tried to catch a fog-free window, and we succeeded. The stars in the sky were muted due to the bright moon, but the night air was clear, and crisp. The sea had calmed from the 6 foot waves from earlier to about three feet. Including my Mustang lifejacket and underwear, I had on 9 layers. With my tuque, hood, long underwear, several pairs of socks and winter mitts, I was warm. I could barely move I had so many layers on, but I was warm.

The three hours of my watch passed quickly. Several ships passed in the distance and the lights marking the shoals off the coast of Nova Scotia grew closer and closer. I rounded the outside buoy and changed course towards Shelbourne. Although I kept looking for lobster buoys, I didn't see any. However, unless one was practically alongside, I knew I wouldn't see them anyway. I was concerned that if we ran over a line it might foul the prop. I needn’t have worried though. The lobster fishing season had ended the week before.

Around 3:30am Jay came back up to take over from me. By then, the cold had seeped though my layers and I was happy to climb back into our bunk and get some more sleep. By the time I came back up at 5:00am, we had crossed the US-Canada border, and the sun was coming up. I watched two sunrises in 24 hours – strange for me as I am more a nighthawk then an early bird. Jay went back for a few more hours of sleep and I kept us moving towards Shelbourne.

At 9:15am, we pulled up to Shelbourne, with our yellow quarantine flag flying and called customs to be cleared into Canada. Customs officers came by the boat 45 minutes later and cleared us into the country. We had officially arrived back in Canada – 163 nautical miles from Northeast Harbour, Maine, 710 nautical miles since we left New Jersey and still several hundred nautical miles from home in PEI.

I stepped ashore with mixed feelings. I was proud of myself for facing my fear of the night passage. I was happy to be home in Canada. I was sad that the US portion of our trip was over, and I was disappointed that we would be leaving the boat for 2 weeks to return to PEI to attend to some work commitments for The Turret Bell, our bookstore. I love being on the boat and hate having to interrupt our adventure.

Shelbourne was a great welcome home to Canada though as Jay has an uncle in the area and cousins so we spent the day visiting with everyone.

Today was spent readying the boat to leave it for a few weeks. Jay and I also did an interview this morning with Karen Mair for CBC RadioPEI’s Mainstreet program about our trip which was pretty cool. I don't know how well our words have communicated how wonderful this trip has been. It has been fun, challenging, and entertaining. We have met interesting people and enjoyed seeing the east coast of the United States from a new perspective.

Although our adventure is not over, it is on a short hiatus. It will be hard to leave the boat for a few weeks. But we are looking forward to picking back up in Shelbourne and making our way up the coast of Nova Scotia to the Strait of Canso. Then the decision will be whether we point the bow to the one of our favourite cruising grounds in the Bras d’or Lakes, or whether we head for Prince Edward Island. Stay tuned.

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