Saturday, July 31, 2010

First and Second Impressions of Newfoundland

Our goal was to sail to Newfoundland as quickly as possible from Baddeck.  As such, we threw off the lines at 0300 in the morning of the 17th to catch the tidal current through the Great Bras D'Or channel expecting to arrive in Ingonish on the northern coast of Cape Breton by lunchtime.  The dock in Ingonish was deserted except for a few empty fishing boats.  We took a quick walk along the road but found no accessible walking trails so headed back to the boat.  It was a beautiful day so we set up a bath for the monkeys on the dock and they frolicked about for the afternoon.
We left Ingonish again at 0300 to sail the 75 nautical miles to Port aux Basques on the south west tip of Newfoundland.   About 15 miles from Port Aux Basques the strong wind (25 knots) turned against us and we were forced to tack back and forth making extremely slow progress under the coast.  As the boat pitched about on its upwind tack the outboard motor suddenly came loose from the aft stanchion and hung precariously from its safety rope.  Seb quickly pulled it back aboard but we were a little shocked an extremely grateful that we had tied on that silly little safety rope.  
A thick fog set in at the same time as the coast should have come into view so our first impression of Newfoundland was not as positive as we had hoped.  Fortunately, Port aux Basque harbour has a radio tower that is manned for 24 hours and they require all boats to check in at the 12, 5 and 2 mile radius lines.  They provide up to date conditions on fog levels, buoyage and marine traffic and make it an easy and friendly harbour to enter even in pea soup conditions.
As we tied up on the dock at 1830 the empty wharf slowly started to fill with people coming seemingly out of nowhere through the fog.  The evening was dreary and we were weary.  The welcoming committee consisted mostly of older men and they just stared at us initially and no one responded to our greetings.  When they finally spoke their words were almost completely unintelligible to us. Everything appeared to be closed for the night.  Fortunately a very nice lady named Katie (and her dog Olivia) directed us to a little fish and chips hut where we gratefully devoured a warm meal.

Our last conversation of the evening was as follows:
Owner of the F&C stand: “Brrr, she's cold tonight”                     
Me: “Oh, is it colder than normal? “                                                                             
Owner of the F&C shop: “Nah, she's allus cold ‘round here”

We decided to turn in early and re-evaluate our first impressions in the morning.

The morrow dawned as a bright and sunny day. We wandered about the town and were able to do a wash and dry out the boat (on the way Seb tried to close a hatch but a wave beat him to it). Everywhere we went we were warmly welcomed and had long and cosy conversations.  A lovely man named Stan drove us up to the Traffic Control Tower where Candice and Ray enthusiastically showed us how they guide boats into the busy, rocky and frequently extremely foggy harbour.  The tower is located on the top of the hill with a 360 degree view over the town and harbour, they definitely have the job with the best views.  
Week nights bring the local population down to the harbourfront stage to hear various musicians delivering traditional and modern fare.  On our second night we took a stroll around and listened to the music.  Emma danced vigorously in front of the stage and gave a deep and elegant bow as the applause began. On the following night there was an even bigger crowd and lots of kids to run around and dance with.  Emma and Macsen had such a good time that both cried when they had to go home.

We had more wonderful interactions with people in Port aux Basques than in any other place we have been to to date (and we've had some good ones). Bob and Katie (who grew up very close to where I did in New Brunswick) brought us preserves, beets, marmalade, prickleberry jam from berries only found in Newfoundland and fresh eggs from their farm chickens.  Stan drove Seb to the gas station to fill the jerry cans with diesel.  Stan lost his leg 15 years ago to an aneurysm while out fishing and although retired still spends a good deal of time chatting with the boys on the dock while sitting at the wheel of his car.  Stan's good friend Clarence took us to the fish store where we bought fresh scallops and halibut and Clarence gave Seb a hand line with a lead weight and feather hooks for catching cod and mackerel.  All in all our time in Port aux Basques was warm and wonderful.  I have never met such welcoming and generous people and we left with regret to say goodbye but eager to see what else this lovely island has to offer.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ur Beatha an Cheap Bhreatainn

Mom and Dad and the monkeys joined us in Baddeck, on the island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia on July 10th. The Baddeck marina has good facilities (and good internet so we could watch the football finals) and we all stayed together on the Pjotter.  After a joyful reunion (Seb and I have not been apart from the kids for more than a few hours in months) we took a nice walk through the town and along the boardwalk before settling in cosily on the boat.
Probably Baddeck’s best known resident ever was Alexander Graham Bell.  Having become wealthy from his successful invention and marketing of the telephone, he and his wife Mabel undertook a sailing vacation in 1885 along the coast of eastern North America. Along the way, they were impressed by Cape Breton's Bras d'Or Lakes and constructed a house and laboratory there named Beinn Bhreagh. Some of his most notable accomplishments at Beinn Bhreagh included the first manned flight of an airplane in the British Commonwealth (the AEA Silver Dart) in 1909, and his HD-4, a hydrofoil boat that set the world watercraft speed record (71 MPH) in 1919, which remained unbroken for many years. On our first morning in Baddeck we visited the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site which includes exhibits of his life, his inventions and a life size model of the HD-4. Not only is it an extremely interesting museum depicting the life and accomplishments of an amazing person, it also has a really good kids room and child friendly activities.  We were therefore easily able to tag team kids room and tetrahedron making supervisions and all get the most out of the museum. 

Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton in particular, has a very strong ties to its Gaelic past brought from its Scottish settlers and much of the culture and music in the area can be traced to these roots.  Ceilidgh is the Gaelic word for a gathering.  It refers to any time that people get together, frequently involving music or storytelling.  In Baddeck there are daily ceilidghs in the parish hall and we headed there on the 11th at 1930 to take in a little local music.  Macsen unfortunately had little patience for the fiddler and pianist and spent much of the time climbing the banister outside the hall but the rest of us enjoyed ourselves.  

The Irish boat the Northabout was in the harbour and two of the men from the boat were in attendance and gave us a couple of Irish songs as well.  They invited us over to the Baddeck Yacht Club after the town ceilidgh for another more informal ceilidgh with the rest of the crew.  One of the performers from Baddeck came along as well and we sat in a small and cosy ring and enjoyed an exchange of Cape Breton (mostly Scottish influence) and Irish musical and dance styles.  Amongst the Irish performers from Northabout was Matt Malloy, who plays in the band The Chieftains, and is considered one of the finest Irish flute players playing today.  Their music was wonderful.  I sang as much as I knew of two Nova Scotia songs and we promised to learn a good Dutch one before we met again.  Seb and I toddled back to the boat in the wee hours of the morning marvelling at our luck to be able to take part in such a wonderful gathering. 

Baddeck is located on the Bras D'Or lakes an area with immense and easy cruising and gunk holing potential.  We took the Pjotter across the bay to a place called Iona to visit the Highland Village Museum located there.  This is a living history museum recreating an early Gaelic settlement. The six of us spent close to three hours wandering about, learning about the old days from the extremely knowledgeable staff, gazing at the huge workhorse named Mira, playing with and marvelling at the old barn tools (including a dog powered butter churn), and learning to bake bannock bread (Emma was the only one who actively tried her hand at this). My parents drove back to St. Andrews on July 15th.  Emma and Macsen in particular were sad and a bit disoriented to see them go but we all find it easier knowing that will see then again in September. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Since a few weeks we have a device called SPOT on board which reports our current location via a satellite connection. These updates can be viewed under 'position' or by clicking here.

Staying in touch

We are currently sailing in Newfoundland and have no coverage for our Dutch cell phone number. We do have limited coverage for our local Canadian number at +1 902 579 1186. Also internet access is very limited so we prefer email via Sailmail. Hope to hear from you. Pjotter standing by..
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Welcome to Nova Scotia

Seb and I sailed the Pjotter out of the St Andrew's harbour on July 28th, leaving the monkeys behind to take care of their grandparents for a few days.  Our destination was Halifax, Nova Scotia and we expected to have a nice wind of 12-15 knots and take approximately 48 hours to get there.  Ohh, the folly of our optimism.  There was not a breath of wind, the fog was even thicker than pea soup and the waves were large enough to keep the boat pitching about in a most uncomfortable manner.  This coupled with the chugging engine wafting diesel fumes in our faces resulted in a long and nasty trip of 57 hours.  We arrived in the protected harbour of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron at midnight on the 30th and tumbled into our finally still beds with relief.

In Halifax we met up with some good friends Chrick and Beth who generously lent us their car to travel back to St. Andrews for HonGu's birthday and to run our many errands.  Our two visits to Halifax were spent doing some very efficient repairs and upgrades to the boat (including the installation of a new heating system) and taking advantage of the well stocked chandlers.  Our evenings were spent having cosy dinners with Chrick and Beth and on one occasion we took a short sail with them out into the Halifax harbour to enjoy the evening wind.  It was nice to use the boat for recreation for a change rather than our usual (and still very enjoyable) practical application of getting from A to B.  

The RNSYS is the starting point for the Halifax-St Pierre race and there were several interesting race boats in the harbour with us, including a former Volvo Ocean Race boat and an Around Alone boat (Spirit of Canada - Derek Hatfield).  Another boat that caught our eye was not taking part in the race but looked as though it had been through some interesting times.  This was a 49 foot aluminium boat from Ireland named NorthAbout.  We wandered over to have a chat and learned that this boat and its crew had completed two of the toughest cruising expeditions ever attempted, the Northwest and the Northeast passages.  Duly impressed, we bought a copy of their book, had a little chat and trying not to look too star-stuck, said we hoped to bump into them again in Baddeck in Cape Breton.   

St. Andrews, More Birthdays and the big Pjotter

 Macsen's birthday on June 6th was celebrated with an outing to the aquarium to watch the daily feeding performance of Loki and Snorkel, the resident seals. In addition to the seals, we admired the striking Delft blue coloured lobster and learned how slowly lobsters grow (they are still only 1,5cm after a year), that starfish have eyes at the end of their tentacles and that scallops are the only bivalve mollusk that can propel themselves about (and squirt Seb in the face). To complete the fish theme,  Nana and I made a bright orange clownfish cake with two candles.  HonGu joined us for dinner and presents and all in all I think Macsen had a wonderful 2nd birthday. 

Kees and Mart from the big Pjotter arrived in St. Andrews a few days prior to our arrival.  They had spent some time already with my parents and were enjoying the local people and scenery immensely and ended up making many friends and good memories while they were there.  We spent some lovely times sharing meals, ideas and plans with them and generally enjoying their delight in this lovely little piece of Canada.  The next time we see them will probably be in Curacao in February 2011.
On June 21st, the Seren (my parent's boat) and the Pjotter convoyed 30 nautical miles for a short visit to Grand  Manan Island. Grand Manan is a beautiful little island with rugged coasts located in the middle of the Bay of Fundy.  I spent many happy days there staying at my friend Hannah Grant's summer house when I was little.  The Grant's were in residence when we visited and treated us to a yummy dinner and a couple of bags of the most delicious ginger cookies from the local pastry chef.  Although there was little wind and rather thick fog for much of our sail we did see an exciting amount of sea life including both harbour and gray seals, porpoises, and minke, finback and sei whales (one curious one swam within 2 metres of our boat)!  

Emma's birthday, on June 25th was celebrated with a visit to Kingsbrae Gardens to see the alpacas and play in the many playhouses - viewing the gardens was strictly a nice to have on this visit.  Emma received a digital camera for her birthday and happily clicked both still life scenes and action shots.  Balloons and presents followed and the evening culminated in the blowing out of candles on the mermaid cake (Nana and I again) and a very happy four year old girl toddling off to bed with her new camera in her hand.  
In addition to these events, we spent almost a month in St Andrews enjoying lovely weather, eating extremely well, getting things fixed on the boat, attending some amazing concerts, going to the local pub, seeing friends and relaxing with my parents and enjoying ourselves immensely.  A perfect time and it was difficult to drag ourselves away to move on.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Homecomings: The Ultimate Goal

 The distance between Bristol, RI and St. Andrews, NB is 350nm.  Our plan was to sail up as quickly as weather and mood would allow in the hopes of arriving in time for Macsen's 2nd birthday on June 6th.  Apart from a five hour stop in Southwest Harbour we managed to move pretty quickly.  The stop was necessitated by a blown fuse in our radar.  Thick fog all along the coast made travelling without radar not only unpleasant but downright stupid/dangerous.  In addition to the fog (and accompanying rain and cold) we also had little wind and were forced to motor much of the way.  This was doubly unpleasant as there are thousands of lobster pots dangling along the coast (even in 100m deep waters) and there is a great danger that the lobster lines will get caught in the propeller rendering the motor useless.  To prevent this Seb and I spent the night switching between hand steering the boat and standing on the bow watching out for lobster buoys.  An unpleasant and unrestful night.
The unpleasant night was forgotten however as Grand Manan Island came into sight.  The fog and the lobster pots thinned in unison and the lovely coastline of the Bay of Fundy came into view.  Breathtaking in both its beauty and its significance for our voyage. As we passed through Letete Passage and into Passamaquoddy Bay we hoisted our homecoming flags (guest flags from the 21 countries that we have visited so far) in the forestay.  My parents and some other close friends were waiting on the dock (the wharfinger even brought my mother out in the skiff to meet us). I simply cannot describe how great it was to finally arrive here in beautiful St. Andrews after more than a year of anticipating this day! 

Monday, July 05, 2010

Birthdays and Homecomings

Arrived in the harbour of Bristol, RI on the morning of the 29th and threw out our anchor close to the Toad.  Toad is the sail boat that my brother and his wife lent to us to cruise down the coast of Maine for our honeymoon five years ago.  Jen and Rhys (sister-in-law and nephew) came down to the dock to greet us and we practically danced the five minute walk up to their house.  Emma and Macsen were thrilled to be on land and Ems was particularly excited to spend some (long long awaited) time with her cousin Seren.  Seb and I were pretty chuffed to have made it to one of the key places that we had been targeting for a year (some people travel more slowly and less directly than others) and were looking forward to some quality hanging out time with Booh and Jen.
 My parents arrived on the 30th and we celebrated my birthday on the 1st with a combined super present-festival for all four of the kids (and quite a few for me too).  Whew...that was a lot of excitement for everybody and it was all concluded with surprisingly few tears and a lot of laughter and squeals of excitement.  
After and excellent week we packed our bags again for a flight back to Amsterdam for Jop and Miriam's wedding on May 21st . Our 2,5 week visit passed in a flash of gatherings with family and friends (and some less pleasant but useful administrative sorting).  Seb and I took full advantage of the happy grandparents and left the kids to celebrate and see friends in Amsterdam.  Wow, Amsterdam can really be fun when you have no responsibilities and no job. Jop & Miriam's wedding took place at her family home The Bockhorst in Spankeren. This was a beautiful location and Seb, as best man, and I were honoured to be included in three days of family activity surrounding the wedding.  It was a wonderful wonderful wedding and super gezellig to spend so much time with the newlyweds, family and friends.  Being back in the Netherlands felt very natural and we were surprised at how easy and comfortably we picked up our old lives.  Seb and I stopped  to visit our house in Amsterdam and had a nice chat with the family who is renting it.  They have done wonderful things with our garden (especially the ponds).  It was sad once again to say good bye to family and friends.  
Our next stop was a visit to my Gu in Hereford, UK.  She took excellent care of us an stuffed us with three three hot meals a day (plus elevenses and tea).  We had good chats and solved some more of the worlds problems.   We were also lucky enough to catch “Great” Uncle Owen and Aunt Jenny and two of my three English cousins who are both starting families of their own.