To Nova Scotia

It is chilly and foggy. Can’t see the boats in the harbor from our slip at Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina. But, it’s supposed to lift and Bruce Kessler on Spirit of Zopilate told us if you don’t go in fog you may rarely go anywhere in Maine. So we cast off our lines and edge sideways out of our tight mooring bound for Nova Scotia. Our route is roughly 180 nautical miles across the Bay of Fundy, around the south end of Nova Scotia and into the port at Shelburne to clear Canadian Customs. We slowly pick our way through the mooring field and lobster pots. The fog lifts somewhat though visibility is still limited to a mile or less. Whisps float off the water’s surface masking the shoreline as we exit the harbor.

I was curious to see how far out the lobstermen place their pots. Fortunately, they thin out quickly within a few miles of the coast, but we still found ourselves dodging them 20+ miles offshore and in 350 feet of water. Once we crossed into deeper 400+ feet the pots disappeared; what a relief.

We motor on, the fog dissipates somewhat by mid-afternoon; seas are relatively calm, the miles pass. We are continuously surrounded by seagulls and guillimots…looking for a handout I suppose or expecting to find fish confused by our passage. A rather portly gull hitches a ride for quite some time and is kind enough to leave us a present. Mile after mile passes, D and I take turns at the helm with no set schedule.

Bang! We hit something in the water hard. It didn’t have the crunch of a solid object so I suspect we’ve run into a sea critter of some sort. I run to the back of the boat and see a large dorsal fin flopping back and forth, receding in our wake. It doesn’t look like dolphin or shark; small whale? We aren’t certain but we feel terrible. We don’t know if it was a glancing blow or fatal, we don’t know if it hit the bulbous bow or a stabilizer fin, but the event really dampens our day. Being struck by a 90,000 pound vessel doing 8 knots had to hurt. I run down to the engine room to assess any damage on our part. Checked stabilizer fins, rudder, bilge, drive shaft….no water coming in. Breath a sigh of relief. There was nothing to do but continue on. Not 20 minutes later we see another fin in the water dead ahead flopping about much like the one we hit. I immediately throttle back to idle and put the boat in neutral as we narrowly avoid the creature. D and I both run to the Portuguese bridge on the starboard side to see what it was. Still hard to tell for certain but, most likely, the critter was a Mola or ocean sunfish. These animals can grow to 10+ feet in diameter and can weigh 5000 pounds; they have large dorsal and ventral fins for propulsion, and have the fatal habit of lounging on the sea surface. Because of this and their slow speed they are often hit by ships; I recall seeing a photo of one caught on the bulbous bow of a freighter. We may have hit a Mola. Didn’t make us feel any better knowing.

The miles pass and we watch the icon of our boat on the chartplotter inch its way ever so slowly away from Maine and toward Nova Scotia. By late afternoon, the fog returns and we are soon engulfed. Flying on instrument flight rules, IFR. Under these conditions our attention is riveted to the radar. With “True Motion” and “continuous trails” activated it is much easier to assess the relative motion of surrounding vessels. And AIS, of course, is invaluable. As night falls and the moon rises we have light fog on our starboard side and dark fog on the port side; visibility is nil.

We remain 10-15 miles offshore of Seal Island and Cape Sable giving the south coast of NS a wide berth. Both have lighthouses that can normally be seen 15-20 miles out, but neither are visible in the enveloping fog. I’m being conservative approaching a strange landfall but also want to steer well clear of the overfalls and tide rips denoted on our charts. The Bay of Fundy, noted for its 40 foot tidal range, is approximately 500 feet deep. As the bay fills or empties into the Atlantic with every tide change a huge volume of water races at 3-4 knots up over the top of the shallower sea floor off the N.S. coast, creating wild seas in these areas called overfalls. I don’t want to encounter these in person, in the fog, at night…or in sunshine for that matter. So we stay 6-8 miles away from every known location.

The current gives us a big boost in speed, at times we hit 10 knots at an RPM that usually delivers about 7 knots.

We have the FLIR on but it’s of no value in fog; the water surface temp and fog temp are the same. Apart from our bow pennant and rails the rest of the screen is a uniform white. I had grown accustomed to this and was surprised when suddenly I see black “holes” in the sea surface coming toward us. At first I thought we were about to hit a whale or something but realized a warm-blooded animal would be white on the FLIR. We could not avoid these patches and ran over the top of several without incident. A quick check of the underwater topography revealed several “hills” in the sea bottom in the area. I imagine these might channel cold deep water to the surface but this is pure speculation on my part. Very strange and something one wouldn’t notice without a FLIR. I guess one can have too much information?

The only hazard this far out in deep water is other vessels and in this location they are primarily scallop dredgers. As we approach Cape Sable I see 5 targets ahead on the radar; 4 with AIS and one without, moving back and forth across our route 8 miles out. Over the hour they move erratically back and forth, sometimes doing 11 knots and sometimes 2 knots. As we get close the four vessels with AIS are approaching from the starboard side so I slow down from 8 knots to 6 or less giving them time to cross in front; increasing our closest point of approach to 1 mile. To my surprise they turn 180 degrees and move away from my course….no longer a danger to Tivoli. I throttle up, only to have the non-AIS vessel to my port turn to cross my path doing 11 knots. I again slow to give him plenty of time to cross. I was relieved when we finally edged past the fleet and moved into clear sailing. All this plays out over an hour or more. With your radar set to a reasonable 8 nautical miles you can essentially see an hour ahead of you. At lawnmower speeds everything plays out slowly. Funny how that doesn’t seem to take the excitement out of it. Patience is a virtue.

By sunrise we had turned north up the eastern seaboard of Nova Scotia and we remain in pea soup traveling in a cone of visibility 100 yards in diameter. Seas are running 6 -8 feet or more with swells rolling in from the southwest and behind us. Few vessels are seen and the entire voyage has been devoid of any commercial shipping. By 9 AM we are nearing the entrance to Shelburne Harbor and I admit to some nervousness entering a strange port in these conditions. But, the guides say it’s easy and the harbor inlet is large and well marked, so we march on. Radar provides a clear picture of the entrance and the hazards including 2-3 boats coming and going and the commercial aquaculture pens located on the west side of the entrance. By 11 we are tied up at the Shelburne Harbor Yacht Club, cleared Customs, and are flying the Canadian courtesy flag. Oh, and the fog has largely dissipated.

All in all a nice crossing for us, a bad deal for a fish.

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