Bras d’Or lake in Nova Scotia is an oasis of calm

Our Mason 44, Frances B, on the run from ever-colder climes farther north, swept by Cape Anguille at the tip of St George Bay on the south-west coast of Newfoundland. Over the past few hours the seas had got steeper, but we were happy with our progress through an area where south winds prevail. Already the stiff but fair north-easterly was forecast to back to the south-west soon. We were approaching Cabot Strait between Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island. The mighty St Lawrence River runs towards the Atlantic through the Strait. Add conflicting tidal streams on top of contrary swells and you end up with a nasty piece of water. Still we decided to press on. Every mile gained southward brought us closer to the shores of Cape Breton Island and, beckoning within it, the Bras d’Or Lake, an oasis of calm in the western North Atlantic. The next evening the seas and wind dropped signalling a change in the weather. The engine rattled into life to keep up our speed. I checked the current tables for Great Bras d’Or Channel, a bottleneck where, on the ebb, the inland waters race seaward at astonishing velocity.   Luck was with us – Frances B entered the Channel in dead calm against a weakening tidal stream. While the dawn light lit up the high, steep slopes on the starboard hand our thoughts focused on finding an anchorage peaceful enough for catching up on sleep after three nights of watchkeeping, two hours on, two off. Big Harbour A few miles farther on a couple of house roofs flashed red through the green of the forest, the sign of our approach to Big Harbour, a tight inlet snaking into the hillsides. A large home and a timber wharf appeared just inside, symbols of slow change creeping into this silent countryside since our visit a few years back. It was late September and no one disturbed the pool of deeper water under a bluff of white gypsum. Suddenly, silently, a bald eagle plummeted feet first and rose towards the tree tops with a fish in its talons. Minute ripples, the only evidence of the drama, spread out, shattering the mirror of calm water around the boat. Our slumbers over we weighed anchor and turned south again in the Great Bras d’Or Channel. Shockingly, a ship was on the move northward to the exit from the Lakes; earlier in the dim pre-dawn light the passage appeared barely wide enough for Frances B. But bulk carriers do come here to load gypsum from a plant up St Patrick’s Channel, one of the arms of the large body of water jointly named Bras d’Or Lake. A diagonal NE/SW line along the lake measures roughly 45 nautical miles. The main channel from the Atlantic begins at the Great Bras d’Or Channel we were sailing on. To the east and parallel to it stretches St Andrew’s Channel and south of the constriction at Iona and Barra Strait you can explore … Continue reading Bras d’Or lake in Nova Scotia is an oasis of calm