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Posted By Robin & Jim

Where are we and what is happening with the weather?  Here's a map of Nova Scotia to help explain. 

nova scotia map

Just to review our trip so far, we crossed over from Maine to Yarmouth in early July, cruised our way up the coast stopping in various places, and have been in the Bras d'Or Lake (hard to see on this image) in Cape Breton - the northern island - for the past few weeks.  Baddeck is the northernmost point we've gone with the boat, but from there we rented a car and explored the Cabot Trail which circles much of the island, hiking and exploring.  Fabulous!!

We have been in St. Peters, at the southern end of the Bras d'Or Lake in Cape Breton for over a week, waiting for the weather to settle so we can start heading south. St. Peters is a lovely town and the site of the tidal lock at the south end of the Lake.  Unrelated to Hurricane Irene, the winds have been strong and the seas ugly all week so we really couldn't comfortably head south.  When in Rome... so we started paying more attention to the bulletin boards in town to take advantage of all the wonderful live music here in Cape Breton.  The culture up here is different from the rest of Nova Scotia, and music and the Celtic style reign supreme.

We've been to Ceilidhs (pronounced "kaylees") - a type of local Celtic style informal concert with fiddle and accompaniment. 

ceilidh

Here in St. Peters, we found the regular Monday night Family Square Dance at a local church hall.  We were hesitant about going, but the people were so friendly...  After watching the dancing for a little bit, we were dragged out onto the dance floor to do-si-do with the locals, who couldn't have been nicer or more fun.  

square dance

Afterwards we walked down to the Inn for more live music, and some of the people from the dance were there - greeting us like old friends.  We went to a jam session at the tavern the next night, met some new and some familiar faces, and enjoyed more live music at the Inn again later on.  St. Peters has a grocery store, liquor, hardware, post office, and the nicest marina around - everywhere people are just so amazingly kind and helpful.  Some folks from the square dance have come by the lock wall to see our boats and say hello (it's a Parks Canada site and a popular place for people to come and have lunch by the water or to fish off the wall).

Hurricane Irene wasn't much of a problem for us - we were well protected behind the tidal lock and by the high hills of town.  We never saw winds more than 34 knots where we anchored.  But after the storm passed we realized it was Monday night - time for square dancing again!  We had a ball with our new friends, and were sad to leave.  Tonight, our last night here, we're going to the jam session and then to the Inn for one last musical hurrah.  THANK YOU, St. Peters, for an unforgettable week of warm smiles and great fun.

st. peters


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

As our time in Cape Breton draws to a close, I'll post some photos from various parts of the lovely Bras d'Or Lake and the Cabot Trail.  It has been a magical time up here, and although there is still plenty of Nova Scotia to see, this is our favorite area.  This post is about the wildlife and the scenery... tomorrow's post will be about the marvelous people.

Sunrise at anchor in Maskell's Harbour

maskells sunrise

Dense forest in Johnstown Harbour

forest

One of the many bald eagles in Denys Basin that we could see from the boat

eagle flying

Another eagle in Denys Basin (my favorite place), which I stalked by kayak

eagle

A yellowlegs in Little Harbor, taken from the kayak

yellowlegs

Thistles near Ingonish while hiking off the Cabot Trail

thistles

The little railroad museum in Orangedale with the neat snowplow rail car

orangedale

The home of Alexander Graham Bell in Baddeck - whose contributions to society were many and varied, and the telephone was probably the least among them

bell home

 And the Skyline hiking trail overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

skyline trail


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We took our rental car and drove over to the far eastern shore of Cape Breton to spend the day at Parks Canada's restored fort at Louisbourg.  It's a huge reconstruction of only 1/5 of the original fort that the French constructed here to protect their interests in the mid-1700s.  Louisbourg provided terrific protection to seaward, but unfortunately neglected to adequately address the boggy landward approach.  The fort was taken by the British, given back to France as part of a treaty a few years later, and taken a second time.  It eventually fell into ruin and became the subject of an extensive archaeological dig in the 1960s.  It has been carefully and faithfully reconstructed to historical correctness, and is a truly impressive sight.
What makes Louisbourg so special is that it is animated with actors in period costumes who act out life in the fort in 1744.  There are soldiers as well as merchants and aristocracy.  Entrance to the fort requires some gracious words spoken in one's best French to the guard at the gate!

gate guard

There are parades...

soldier parade

...cannon demonstrations...

cannon firing

...and there are many exhibits and interesting things to experience.  The town is basically open and you can wander into any open buildings.  You might find a small museum exhibit about a particular aspect of history or the reconstruction, or live demonstrations of blacksmithing or the different types of breads made for the various classes of people living there.  I love that the fort is left for you to explore and discover.
The aristocracy gave a demonstration of dancing and music, and were around town available for questions.

aristocrats

We ate lunch in the commoner's inn, where soldiers and the working class ate.  It was a very realistic experience, with big cloth napkins that we tied around our necks (as was the custom).  We were served either a seafood dish or a stew with beef and root vegetables, eaten with a large metal spoon - the only utensil provided.  It's just a great place and there is so much to learn and discover and experience!

drummer

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

One of the highlights of our trip is the wildlife, and we got to see a lot in one place at the Bird Islands.  We saw a puffin out in the ocean down off the SW coast of Nova Scotia, but nothing compares to seeing lots of them.  They come to the Bird Islands during the summer to nest and raise their chicks, and by September the chicks will have fledged and the puffins return to their life on the open sea. 

puffins

Other sea birds also nest on the islands - razorbills, guillemots, and black-legged kittiwakes.  Cormorants and gray seals are abundant, and seals are shy but curious - always poking their heads up to look at us.

gray seals

Bald eagles are also abundant.  The eagles fish, but they also pick off the sick and injured birds.

eagle eyes

It takes four years for a bald eagle to fully develop the white head and tail.  This photo shows a yearling landing next to a three-year-old.

double eagle

We did this same tour on our last trip up here and it was just as wonderful.  The last time was earlier in the nesting season so the puffins were staying closer to their burrows.  This time there were fewer puffins - most were out fishing, able to leave their growing chicks in the nest for longer periods of time.   


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

Continuing our exploration of the Cabot Trail, we spent a day exploring up the east (Atlantic) side.  Near Ingonish we hiked out to a large promontory that separates two bays, and the views were gorgeous. 

north bay ingonish

The east side is a bit different from the west side - the coastline is more rugged and vertical on the ocean side, and the culture is much more Celtic where the west side is predominantly French Acadian. 
The shoreline is craggy with lots of pink granite, sometimes streaked with feldspar and quartz and other types of rock.  This is similar to what we saw at Acadia National Park in Maine, but the lines of other rock in the granite was more pronounced up here.

pink granite

We stopped at the very photogenic Neil's Harbour where the huge rock jetty has been constructed from the pink granite.  It's very much a working harbor, but is quiet in the summer because lobster season is closed in Nova Scotia in July and August. 

neils harbor

Later in the day we traveled down to St. Ann's Bay to catch a bird-watching boat tour out to the Bird Islands - a pair of high, rocky cliff islands about 6 miles off the coast.  We had to take the cable ferry across the narrow part of the bay - about 200 yards...

st. ann bay

...and the late afternoon sun on the rocky red cliffs was just a stunning sight.  But the best are the birds that we saw... to be continued in the next blog entry.

st. ann cliffs

 
Posted By Robin & Jim

The weather finally improved and we were able to run up the east coast of Nova Scotia to Cape Breton - the northern island.  This is my favorite part of the trip - the Bras d'Or Lake (really a very long and complex inlet to the ocean) is so beautiful and quiet and dramatic, and there are many anchorages and places to explore.  The way you get into the Lake on the south end of the island is through the tidal lock at the town of St. Peters.

st. peters lock

The lock is run by Parks Canada and was built in the 1850's to replace a portage for ships.  Once the lock gates are open we have to wait until someone gets in a truck and drives up to the little bridge and opens it.  It's an old and slow bridge, so we take our time cruising through the very narrow canal cut through the rock.  After a few rainy days and two nice anchorages where we could watch bald eagles, we cruised up into the northern part of the Lake to the town of Baddeck - the home of Alexander Graham Bell and a place for us to leave the boats by day and explore the famous Cabot trail.

baddeck lighthouse

The Cabot Trail is a scenic drive that runs around much of Cape Breton island, and includes the Cape Breton Highlands National Park at the northern end.  We rented a car and headed up the western side the first day - along the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

cabot trail west


pleasant bay

We stopped to hike the spectacular Skyline trail.  At the trail head there was a Park Ranger talking about the local wildlife, and the discussion about moose was most interesting since there is always a good chance of seeing moose on the trail.
The Ranger had some moose antlers - each antler weighs about 25 lbs, so you can imagine the size of the animal that carries 50 lbs of antlers on its head!

moose antlers

She also had a casting of a moose footprint, which was really interesting to see in Jim's big hands. 

moose footprint

These are really large animals, normally pretty quiet, but give them a healthy dose of respect if you encounter one.  Unfortunately we only saw moose droppings, but no actual moose this time.  We ran into other people on the trail who saw some, but all our diligent looking was for naught.  The last time we hiked Skyline we saw two moose, so we know they are around.  Tomorrow we'll explore up the eastern side of the Cabot Trail.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

Halifax is a major port and a great place to visit.  If you like trivia, it's interesting to note that people from Halifax are called "Haligonians".

We like to stay in the Northwest Arm - a beautiful wooded setting with high hills and lovely homes just a short distance from downtown.

nw arm

We like to stay at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron - a storied yacht club that's warm and friendly.  They have a very active summer youth sailing program and we could watch little tykes in their bathtub-like Optimist Prams learning to sail and race, as well as older children on 420s and other racing-class boats.  Wednesday night the club comes alive with big boat racing, rain or shine, fog or not.

Halifax has several forts from its days protecting British interests in the 18th and 19th century, but the best one is the Citadel for landward defense.  It's run by Parks Canada and is animated with actors showing life in 1869.  Fabulous!

citadel guard change
citadel bunkhouse

The Citadel was so well constructed and designed that it was never attacked - it was considered too hard a target. 

From there we walked down the hill and explored downtown and the waterfront - there's always lots going on in the harbor. 

halifax downtown

We also made a short side-trip over to Peggy's Cove - a tiny fishing village with a famous lighthouse on a rocky point shaped by the glaciers.  It was getting near sunset, but it felt pretty dark because of a storm front moving in - we could see it coming off the ocean so we couldn't stay long before the rain and strong winds came. 

peggy's cove

We enjoyed our time in Halifax, though the temperatures this summer have been unusually cool and we had a good stretch of rainy weather.  We've had wake-up temps of 55 degrees a few mornings, and with the damp and rain it always feels cooler than the thermometer says.  One afternoon we were waiting for the bus into downtown and we realized that we had missed it.  The next one would be a long wait so we went into the clubhouse to sit and relax.  When we walked in there was a nice fire going in the fireplace, and we gravitated to it immedately.  This was on August 6.

Now that the weather is improving and the winds are laying down out on the ocean, it's time to start heading north to the Bras d'Or Lake in Cape Breton.


 
Posted By Robin & Jim

We rented a car and drove from Halifax to the Bay of Fundy side to experience the massive tidal change first-hand.  The last time we visited Nova Scotia we took a day trip to raft the tidal bore and we had such a great time we wanted to do it again.

The tidal bore is where the incoming tide actually creates a series of standing waves where it meets and eventually pushes back the outflowing Shubenacadie River, at the far NE end of the Bay of Fundy.  The tidal change is about 33' and it all happens in a very short time.

tidal bore before

The river looks like watery chocolate milk, and we were warned that we would get soaked with this iron-laden water.  The rain suits are just to help keep us warm in the wind.  We got to stop and walk around on one of the huge sandbars in the middle of the river before the water came...

sandbar

...but we kept a close watch on the rising tide since it covered this bar literally in minutes.  I had to run to make it back to the boat, and those last few feet were a fight against the building current! 

Here is the actual tidal bore - this time the tide was bigger and we could really see the leading wave of the incoming tide - just amazing.

wave

I shot these photos with my underwater camera which was clipped to my life jacket for safety.  Unfortunately I didn't get any good photos of the huge waves that built up - they were so big (10' tall or bigger) that I couldn't risk holding onto the boat with only one hand so I had to stow the camera and make sure I had a good grip when the waves were the most dramatic.  I was sitting in the very front of the boat to enjoy crashing into the huge waves, but my hands and arms were really tired from holding on so tight!

wild waves

The whole point of the trip is to enjoy repeatedly crashing into the huge standing waves - like white water rafting but without fear of rocks.  Because the waves were so large, our skilled driver made sure to flood the boat with a smaller wave to add weight so we wouldn't get flipped over when climbing up the side of the bigger waves.  These are tough, large inflatable boats that are self-draining.  But if you look closely, you'll see that the water in the boat is up to our knees... we had to make sure we didn't float off!  It was a grand time and I'd do it again if I get the chance.

flooded boat