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
Optimized sailing performance and comfortable living – a sweet ride. The expression that came to ...
This is such an exciting time in boating! While we feel very sorry for people whose health and ...
For many, the 2020 sailing year will be one to go down into the books as “different”. With delayed ...
What perfect timing! Beneteau is has just announced their new Antares 11 model for North America ...
Commodore’s Boats is a full-service shipyard with over 50 years of generational history and ...
The Oceanis Yacht 54, younger sister of the Oceanis 62, embodies the innovation that has always ...
Beneteau announces the launch of the latest addition to the Antares range! With a length overall of ...
I had been looking forward to a sea trial aboard the Greenline 33 because I was hoping it would ...
New at the end of 2019, the 58 Salon Express design features large windows to flood the living ...
No wonder this is one of Regal’s best-selling boats; the Regal 33 Express offers amazing ...

CY Virtual Video Boat Tours

Virtual Boat ToursWe all love boats and nothing can break us up! So, what better way to spend our time than looking at interesting boats and going aboard in a virtual ride or tour. We have asked our friends at various dealers and manufacturers to help us assemble a one-stop online resource to experience some of the most interesting boats on the market today. Where the CY Team has done a review, we connect you to that expert viewpoint. If you can’t go boating, you can almost experience the thrill via your screen. Not quite the same, but we hope you enjoy our fine tour collection.

 

Read more about the CY Virtual Boat Tours....................

 

Hanse 418By Katherine Stone

Optimized sailing performance and comfortable living – a sweet ride

The expression that came to mind immediately was “Sweet Ride” – and I wasn’t referring to the latest ride at the CNE, a chairlift, or a new Mercedes – it was the new Hanse 418, as it cleanly cut through the water in a gusty 15-20 knot breeze averaging 6-8 knots on Lake Ontario. She was easy to steer and manoeuver even in the big gusts. The extra length over the 388 has made a big difference, with German architects Judel/Vrolijk focusing on updates to the deck layout, cockpit and stern.

Read More

ChemainusBy Marianne Scott

The approach to the Chemainus Municipal Dock from Stuart Channel is straightforward and is protected from all but strong northerly winds. The only obstacle may be some large log booms often anchored in the harbour. The Dock is immediately south of the B.C. ferry terminal; the ferry runs to Thetis- and Penelakut Islands.

Harbourmaster Harmen Bootsma, who has been the cheerful, welcoming presence here for a couple of decades, is ready to catch your lines. 

 

Read More

Lifestyle

  • Prev
OK, stop the presses. This photo just came in from Beacon Bay. Clearly those folks know how to get ...
Back in the day, the publisher of a magazine would receive a bound copy of the year’s monthly ...
Boaters on BC’s West Coast have heard the story of the garbage pickers of the Marine debris removal ...
Skipper John “Drew” Plominski is hoping that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Plominski, whose boat ...
The Association provides a forum for exchanging information, tips and access an advocate on behalf ...
Kristin Cummings, Operations Manager at Beacon Bay Marina took this shot after the skies broke ...
Our Photo of the Week (two, in fact) comes from New Zealand where the second America’s Cup AC 75 ...
The Marine Debris Recovery Initiative (MDRI), a collaboration with the Clean Coast, Clean Waters ...
The International Joint Commission (IJC) is reviewing Plan 2014 and could use your help. The plan ...
The Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR), thanks to funding from Environment and Climate Change ...

Discovery Harbour MarinaThe Association provides a forum for exchanging information, tips and access an advocate on behalf of the membership. Their Directors work with members to find solutions to issues in British Columbia. Members receive quarterly newsletter, with contributions by other members all along the BC coast.

The Association and its members continually update the list of marinas that allow little board moorings. This is a list of known and reported marinas that allow marine residents in British Columbia. We need your help to build and keep this list up-to-date. Please contact us with any additions or edits.

Read More

DIY & How to

  • Prev
There’s nothing worse than wondering how much fuel you have on board. You’re left wondering how ...
As the cold approaches, shrink-wrapping is a hot topic, and I’ve heard more than a few debates at ...
“They don’t make ‘em like they used to”, is a phrase that many of us are familiar with. Most of the ...
I’m on many different types of boats, with many configurations. Some have a single ...
I often get asked if regular care and maintenance is necessary for inflatable PFDs. Here is a ...
Labour Day weekend tends to be the ‘last hurrah’ on many fronts: the last long weekend of the ...
One of the Great Lakes’ best known tall ships, sail training vessel TS Playfair, will soon be ...
My Dad is not a mechanical guy. He is educated and well-read, and handy around the house – but not ...
I was cleaning up my workbench the other day. My eyes then scanned across my workbench and fell on ...
July and August  in Canada are the months of boating. People are on the water – exploring, ...

WinterizationBy Andrew McDonald, Lakeside Marine Services

“They don’t make ‘em like they used to”, is a phrase that many of us are familiar with. Most of the time it is in reference to a bygone era of better, and it’s used to lament the sorry state of what we have today. It is a phrase that can be applied to many areas of our lives: architecture, art, furniture, tools. Boats? I would argue that they don’t make them like they used to. But, is that lamentable, or is it progress?

Progress, I think. With this concept in mind, as we enter another season of putting boats to bed for the winter, why do we winterize as we always have?

Read More

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
Wait no longer, the 2021 Rideau Canal & Lower Ottawa River PORTS Guide has returned! Purchase ...
The Tundra 65 is Yeti's most versatile cooler, just as adept at keeping catches cold as it is ...
Fireball self Extinguisher. It's a revolutionary self-detonating device designed to extinguish a ...
The problem with driving any full-size Pickup Truck or Sport Utility Vehicle is that when you are ...
Wait no longer - the 2021 Rideau Canal & Lower Ottawa River PORTS Guide will be available for ...
Timed to help with those tough last-minute gift-giving ideas, we bring you the (almost) first-ever ...
With growing demand being placed on onboard electrical power supplies these days, it's an ideal ...
Timed to help with those tough last-minute gift-giving ideas, we bring you the (almost) first-ever ...
By Amptrup, Jon and Bob Shepton