Glen Cairns

450 square miles of inland sea

When many boaters in Central Canada imagine cruising in the Maritimes, they think fog, fierce tides and the perceived perils of the open ocean.  While there can be plenty of those things (although not nearly as bad as some imagine) there is however a place with almost no fog, tides or ocean waves, but with an abundance of breathtaking scenery, secluded anchorages and friendly inhabitants.  The Bras d’or Lakes in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, are 450 square miles of inland sea with enough cruising potential to last a lifetime.

It’s probably true that you’d be more likely to know sailors familiar with the charms of the Bras d’Or Lakes in Newport or Marblehead than in the whole of central Canada. This is party due to the traditional links between the Maritimes and New England, but also due the long relationship of American sailors with the lure of the Bras d’Or.  The Cruising Club of America (CCA) has made many cruises to the lakes since the 1920s. Indeed the idea for the CCA was first hatched aboard Alexander Graham Bell’s yawl Elsie by William Nutting (editor of Motor Boating magazine), Casey Baldwin and Bell’s son-in-law Gilbert H. Grosvenor while they were anchored in Maskell’s harbour near Baddeck. That Grosvener was the President of the National Geographic society and editor the National Geographic magazine meant the lakes got some very high profile publicity.



Alexander Graham Bell was an early visitor to Cape Breton and he so fell in love with the place that he built his summer home, Beinn Bhreagh, on the point overlooking the harbor of Baddeck. A visit to the Bell museum is a must to grasp the depth and breadth of his mind. In February 1909 the Silver Dart, designed under Bells supervision, made first flight in Canada taking off on the frozen surface of the lake. Bell went on the experiment with hydrofoils with his young helpers Casey Baldwin and Jim McCurdy.

 “I have travelled the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes and the Alps and the highlands of Scotland, but for simply beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all.” Alexander Graham Bell

The Bras d’Or lakes have recently been declared a UNESCO  “man and the biosphere” site reflecting the diverse ecology of the lakes and the surrounding coastline. A total area of 3,600 sq. kms. The Bras d’Or Lakes (properly Bras d’Or Lake, but the plural is more common) consist of two bodies of water connected by a narrow channel. The south basin is called the “Big Lake” and north is the “Little Lake” (still pretty big), and continuing with the literal naming, the Barra Strait connecting the two is usually called the “Narrows”. 

While the number of yachts coming from Ontario and Quebec each year is relatively small (mostly boats headed south to Florida and the Bahamas) it would be a big mistake to bypass the lakes in a rush to get south. Allow yourself at least one or two weeks to sample the pleasures of sailing this inland paradise. Believe me after the Gulf of St. Lawrence you’ll be ready for a break! Boats making a straight line from the Gaspe can stop at the Magdalene islands (another very special place) and then travel around Cape North entering the lakes by the Bras d’Or Channel.  Yachts taking the more common coastal route along New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island through the Northumberland Strait will enter the lakes at their southern end via the St. Peters canal.

 At the canal, the town of St.Peters is a friendly and convenient spot for provisions. Best to stock up as even simple supplies can be hard to find in the small villages and hamlets. Once you exit the canal a quick turn to the left puts you at the St. Peter’s Lions Club Marina. It’s a smallish, but well equipped facility with a very big heart.

Ben Eoin (pronounced, ben yawn) marina is a new facility located on the north eastern end of the Big Lake. Well appointed, with 84 slips and a large visitors dock, Ben Eoin makes a good spot for crew changes through the airport at Sydney, only a ½ hour away. The marina is adjacent to an excellent Graham Cooke designed golf course and The Birches Country Inn. A side trip to the National Historic site at Fortress Louisbourg, a Parks Canada restoration of the 18th French fortified town, is well worth the effort.

Baddeck is the main town on the northern lake and is a busy tourist destination with well stocked stores for provisions and numerous restaurants.  The town has two well equipped marinas, Baddeck Marine and the Cape Breton Boatyard. All this makes Baddeck a good place to winter your boat. This will give you time to really get to see the lakes and you wouldn’t be the first to be captivated by this part of the world.

While Cape Breton is a long way by small boat from the Great Lakes, it is only a two days away by car. Trailering your boat here is a great vacation idea. There are a number of good launch ramps and Gerry at the St. Peters Marina can look after your vehicle and trailer while you enjoy your cruise. I’m surprised more trailer boaters don’t consider the lakes. There won’t be any traffic jams at the launch ramp and on the best days you’ll be happy if you see a few other boats sharing the most popular anchorages. If isolation is your style it is always available. The distances in the lake are small so there is no rush. Just slow down and start watching for bald eagles.

Summer weather is mild, but seldom really hot, 24C to 30C is the normal high on the lakes.  The weather can change quickly with the afternoon breeze coming on hard at times, but secure anchorages are always at hand. For the power boater mornings are usually the best time to travel.  Just pick your spot for the afternoon and enjoy the breeze.  If I had to pick a favorite time it would be late summer or early fall. The autumn colours come early to the lakes. The Celtic Colours festival in early October is a cultural event that takes place in various areas around the lake and Island. The fall scenery is spectacular and the weather can be beautiful although it will be cool in the evenings.

Race the Cape

There have always been numerous sailing regattas on the lakes but a new event is getting an enthusiastic reception. Race the Cape is a series of 4 destination races which see boats covering the full length of the lakes from St. Peters and around to Sydney. For 2014 the races will begin at Sydney. While racing ‘”round the buoys” can sometimes develop a ground hog day feel, this event has boats of all types working their way around the lakes.  For the leg through the Barra Strait boats cross a line, have their time taken and then motor through the bascule bridge, restarting the race at another buoy. Racers have to be content with wind conditions that can vary greatly depending on location and in the passage through the Bras d’Or channel, the current is a major consideration. Jen Rowe is the race co-chair and she points out that while the competition is real “the race is also about camaraderie at the end of the day.”

No shortage of “favorite” spots

Many boaters heading north or south through the southern Big Lake miss the attractions on the west side. While there are many to choose from, a favorite is Marble Mountain where you can anchor at the base of an old quarry and see marble blocks in the crystal clear water below. Another is between the Crammond islands where there is excellent protection. While Maskell’s Harbour mentioned above is a deservedly popular anchorage on the Little Lake, another spot handy to Baddeck is the Washabuck River where peace and quiet is the order of the day.  Indeed picking a couple of spots on the lakes to highlight is really impossible as there are literally hundreds of anchorages to choose from. The locals will always be helpful with friendly advice. The goal here is to wet your appetite to learn more about this fantastic cruising destination and encourage you to start working out your plan for getting there.

Here is a partial list of resources to help you plan your Bras d’Or visit:

Cruising Cape Breton: This is an on-line update of an older cruising guide which contains a wealth of information. www.cruising-cape-breton.info

Race the Cape: www.racethecape.ca  Lots of info on this web site including contacts for crewing on one the boats. At great way to be introduced the pleasure of the Lakes. Contact Jen Rowe

For general marine services information www.boatinginatlanticcanada.com

Yacht Clubs and marinas

Baddeck Marine: Full service yard in Baddeck, www.baddeckmarine.com

Cape Breton Boatyard: Full service yard in Baddeck

Bras d’Or Yacht Club: Baddeck, www.brasdoryachtclub.ca

Barra Strait Marina: Grand Narrows, www.grandnarrowswaterfront.com

Ben Eoin Marina: Ben Eoin, www.beneoinmarna.com

St. Peter’s Lions Club Marina: St.Peter’s. www.st-peters-marina.com

Photo Captions:

1) Either as a must stop over enroute to ports beyond or as a destination to spend several weeks cruising the lakes, the Bras d'Or Lakes enjoy the pleasure of welcoming many sailing vessels each year.

Credit: Ken Heaton

2) A fresh SW breeze is common in the summer afternoons.

Credit: Ken Heaton

3) Passing under the Seal Island Bridge at the northern end of the Bras d’Or channel.

Credit: Ken Heaton

4) Ben Eoin (pronounced, ben yawn) marina is a new facility located on the north eastern end of the Big Lake.  Well appointed, with 84 slips and a large visitors dock.

Credit: Ken Heaton

5) No visit to Cape Breton is really complete without a drive around the Cabot Trail.

Credit: Nova Scotia Tourism Agency

6) Fortress Louisbourg is easier visited by rental car or tour bus than by boat.

Credit: Nova Scotia Tourism Agency

7) If another of your vices is golf, there are number of world class courses available.

Credit: Nova Scotia Tourism Agency

8) While the numbers of yachts coming from Ontario and Quebec each year is relatively small it would be a big mistake to bypass the lakes in a rush to get south.


Related Articles

Friday, 13 November 2015 13:21

Cruising on Canada’s East Coast, at least for those who have never been there, can conjure up images of fierce tides and dense fog. While these conditions do exist at times, they can be managed with...

Wednesday, 11 November 2015 01:51

Cape Breton Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, is home to Canada's largest in-land sea - the Bras d'Or Lake. A true boater's paradise where you'll find some of the best cruising grounds in North...

Tuesday, 26 May 2015 22:28

Let your sailing adventure begin with five days of challenging point to point racing over 175 nautical miles in beautiful Cape Breton Island. Enjoy seven nights of legendary food, hospitality and...

Thursday, 17 April 2014 13:30

Cape Breton Island is a sailors’ destination.  Race the Cape is a sailor’s dream.  Five days of challenging point to point racing through the amazing Bras d’Or and along Cape Breton’s rugged...

Wednesday, 08 May 2013 11:01

With the historic Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race leaving Massachusetts July 7th, followed by the Bluenose Ocean Racing Circuit’s departure from Halifax to St Peters on July 13th, Eastern...

Tuesday, 09 April 2013 12:15

With the historic Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race leaving Massachusetts July 7th, followed by the Bluenose Ocean Racing Circuit’s departure from Halifax to St Peters on July 13th, Eastern...

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
Over the years Canadian Yachting has had the pleasure of doing several boat review articles on new ...
When J/Boats set out to make their latest model, their thinking moved away from a boat that you had ...
Wellcraft launched a legacy of offshore boats from Sarasota, Florida more than 60 years ago and ...
The well-known Four Winns brand is now a part of the international boatbuilder Groupe Beneteau and ...
Boats have been in high demand for the past two years and there’s no sign of this easing. ...
When we arranged to interview the designer and manufacturer to write a profile of the X Shore Eelex ...
I am lucky to have the opportunity to helm many types of boats. I am even more lucky to sail boats ...
The weather wasn’t cooperating for our test of the new Fountaine Pajot Isla 40. Rain, storm clouds ...
Last August, we were again invited to the Neptunus Yachts facility in St. Catharines, Ontario to ...
Cruisers Yachts’ 34 GLS is the latest model in the Cruisers Yachts line that includes a dozen ...

Video Gallery

Neptunus 650F

By Andy Adams

Over the years Canadian Yachting has had the pleasure of doing several boat review articles on new Neptunus models and we are familiar with the qualities that Neptunus is famous for. They have all been exceptional yachts, but this is the one I would most want to own myself. It’s a personal choice and a matter of taste as to whether you would prefer to have a sedan express model or a flybridge but in my opinion, the flybridge layout offers some wonderful attributes.

We met with Neptunus Managing Director Jan Willem De Jong this past fall to take the new Neptunus 650F out in Lake Ontario. 

Read More

Sunset off St. John

By Mark Stevens

I was first seduced by the United States Virgin Islands during a ferry ride from St. Thomas to Tortola to begin one of our earliest British Virgin Islands charters nearly twenty years ago.

A perfect sunset off St. John with St. Thomas views for backdrop.

Clearing Pillsbury Sound, surrounded by voluptuous emerald mountains as the ferry sliced through royal blue waters, I was struck by the unspoiled ambiance of St. John, the island gliding past our starboard beam and the irresistible charm of a village called Cruz Bay visible from our quarter stern.

Read More

Lifestyle

  • Prev
Our Photo of the Week this time comes from our CY Team at FLIBS. Perhaps it’s the camera angle or ...
Yes, we are once again going to the dogs, a very popular and always welcome Photo of the Week ...
Last week Antonia and Georgia Lewin-LaFrance from Chester NS were named today Sail Canada’s Rolex ...
This week’s Photo of the Week comes from BC. The 99th Grey Creek Regatta was held at the Lakeview ...
Back in 2019 (I believe) your magazine used a pic of Sweet Love, a Ranger Tug 31, in a photo ...
a few shots of my wife Maggie practicing her silks routine on our 1982 C&C in the North Channel ...
Last issue, we took a look at boat names. Little did we know we would get what probably will be the ...
Boat names and puns go together like …. Well, like nothing else. Here’s a couple shared by our pal ...
Frequent Windsor racing contributor to Sailing in Canada Roger Renaud, caught this gorgeous ...
The Kingston Yacht Club (KYC) celebrated its 125th anniversary in the summer of 2021, in all the ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Last issue we explored NMEA 2000 networking, including the advantages of creating an on-board ...
The fungicide also acts as a biocide and prevents bacteria & fungal growth contamination from ...
Imagine a world where multiple touch-screens conveniently located will display information from ...
Last fall, a few members at my yacht club walked over and joined the exchange, which, by the way, ...
Boaters tend to be hands-on and active. Many (most?) like to launch and trailer our boats on our ...
We settled Svala into what my family and I had come to think of as the most desirable anchorage on ...
Never chartered? No problem. Here’s how to plan, execute and enjoy a vacation on a charter yacht ...
Once you’ve removed everything around and opened up all accesses to the engine and prop shaft, use ...
Most boaters are thinking about the end of the season at this time of year: prepping for haul-out, ...
Do you have abnormal engine vibration; rubber dust around engine mounts; telltale signs of possible ...

Svala at Anchor

Story and photos by Matt Bera

We settled Svala into what my family and I had come to think of as the most desirable anchorage on Lake Ontario, on a sunny summer afternoon. With an abandoned settlement, an old schoolhouse full of swallows, giant snakes and a rum-running past, Main Duck Island had it all.

That we had to sail past the Psyche Shoal, a magnetic disturbance, and into the middle of the rumoured Marysburgh Vortex made an even better sea story. It had taken us two attempts, two years, two boats and a new sort-of experimental engine to get there.

Read More

 

  

Sailing With a Captain

By Zuzana Prochazka

Never chartered? No problem. Here’s how to plan, execute and enjoy a vacation on a charter yacht where life is easy and the sunsets can’t be beat.

Decide on a crewed or bareboat charter

A crewed charter means you have a captain who manages the boat and maybe a chef or mate as well. Crewed charters ensure a safe and comfortable vacation with most everything done for you. The chefs are usually outstanding so if you’re a foodie, you’ll be in heaven and you may be able to pick up new recipes too. Larger crewed yachts may also have a mate who works with the captain and will do things like getting toys (kayaks, SUPs, snorkel gear, etc.) ready for you to use so you do very little work.

Read More

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
The world of marine electronics is just on fire in terms of development. You can almost name ...
On the water, most people store mobile devices in safe but relatively inaccessible spots. This ...
Many consider a tender a utilitarian means to an end—mere transportation. Argos Nautic's RIB ...
Internal mechanical marine tank sensors are plagued with problems that cause inaccurate readings. ...
When the weather turns ugly, how many of us contemplate just taking off, maybe forever. Long ...
Nothing is worse than going to the freezer to find that you’re out of ice. With a portable ice ...
For the skiers, wakeboarders, wakeskaters, or kneeboarders, the Kwik Tek Airhead Rope is a ...
Highly regarded by our readers as some of the best wine glasses for marine use out on the market ...
Teak accents and accessories are always a good idea. Keep your glassware safe with this appealing ...
The Hot Dog Banana Tube (aka “water weenie”) guarantees a summer full of laughter and fun.

Mercury marine V10 OutboardsOn November 15th 2022, Mercury Marine, a division of Brunswick Corporation (NYSE: BC), introduced the industry’s first ever V10 outboard with the official launch of its all-new 5.7L 350 and 400hp Verado® outboard engines.
 
Consistent with the award-winning Verado brand, the new V10 engines are the quietest and smoothest in their class running 45 percent quieter than a leading competitor at cruise. In addition to NVH, the new Verado’s are not only compatible with the latest Mercury SmartCraft® technologies but will also be offered with an optional dual-mode 48V/12V alternator to seamlessly pair with Navico Group’s Fathom® e-power system, an integrated lithium-ion auxiliary power management system, providing boaters the opportunity to eliminate an onboard generator system.

Read More