13. Upper Bras d’Or Lake

Well, this was the week in which we moved from Ramea Island in Newfoundland to Bras d’Or Lake in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. We didn’t meet many people at first, so bigger adventures come next week…

Thursday, 24 AUGUST 2017

On Ramea. A gray day that keeps us indoors for most of it. The highlight is when Ava and I take internet personality tests. (Glenn sensibly refuses to participate in this form of self-knowledge.) We each fill out the questionnaire by agreeing or disagreeing with general statements about our behavioral tendencies. When we get the results we are each very happy with our respective analyses, but cannot image why the other is happy with their own. Ava, it is determined, is a “Reliable Realist.” She is thrilled to be considered responsible and organized with her feet on the ground. From my perspective this just says BORING. I wonder if her enthusiasm is because she is so young and is looking forward to a time in her life when she can take charge of her situation to shape her own destiny. I wonder if her desire to be considered a realist or reliable is merely circumstantial. In other words, once she becomes legitimately responsible for her own life will she dream differently about herself? Will she become a dreamer? When I recall my own youth, though, I don’t remember this kind of fundamental shift. Being a realist or reliable, for example, were definitely not on my list of aspirations. It is possible then – and this is something I have always found to be a personal parenting conundrum – that Ava actually may want things for herself that I do not want for her. She may want things for herself that I don’t even understand. This is when I need to force my eyes to not roll upward to that condescending “one day you’ll come around” place, or risk losing a source for knowing her (and many other things) further. This is when I need to keep myself the most open. It’s hard to admit I may not completely know, or completely agree with, my own kid…  Or is it? I wrote these words some minutes ago and then struggled to find a resolution with which I agreed. Why should I know Ava more than I know any other person with whom I am close? Yes, she is my child, but she is whole and wholly her own. Our genetic relationship does not, gratefully, predicate any other correspondence, so, I have to get to know her like every other person I encounter. This is the thinking – my thinking – today anyway. When I was Ava’s age and even still today, my parents make more assumptions about knowing me. They believe that I believe what they believe… And for the most part I do because I admire and respect them a lot. But there were things that distinguished us apart. Personalities, for example. They are both Reliable Realists.

Oh, what personality type did I get? The best one, “Spontaneous Idealist.”

Friday, 25 AUGUST 2017

Glenn and I take a walk the entire island on the boardwalk trail. Ava stays home to… be a teenager.

Saturday, 26 AUGUST 2017

This is the last day before our departure. Glenn has been studying the weather closely and tomorrow continues to appear to have favorable winds. Because we need to travel south and the winds here at this time of year mostly come out of the south we have to wait, unless we want to fight (beat into the wind). And we don’t want to fight; it can be so grueling. Now it seems there is a window of northwesterly winds on the edge of a high pressure system moving through the middle portion of the Cabot Strait tomorrow. We think we will have good speed and direction. The prediction of wind we are beginning to understand, while often quite good, is also definitively NOT foolproof. Really, it can at times vary a lot. Hence, there’s always a bit of walking off the ledge when one unties the lines and leaves firm ground behind. I feel Glenn’s nerves about this on every eve of a bigger passage. He’s uneasy, doesn’t sleep well, and becomes glued to the directional arrow symbols alit on his computer screen. There’s not much nothing that relieves him. In the late morning the three of us take a walk on the boardwalk, but Glenn stays mostly on his own. I can feel him weighing and being weighed down by the question of leaving.

Would it be so hard if he were leaving me?

Sunday, 27 AUGUST 2017

We leave at 6:30AM. On the water the weather already feels like fall, cool and whipping. Our bodies are tired from not enough rest, making the chill in the air harder to keep out of our bones. The winds are, as predicted, 15kph out of the ENE. We travel WSW at 6-7kph with a wing-on-wing sail arrangement. Though the waters are not completely cooperative, we make very good progress with good sailing for the first nine or ten hours. Normally I can read or knit or work on my ukulele skills, but this time it stays too rough. Soon, we run out of conversation and someone puts on a podcast and then another and another. Plugged into the Jawbone speaker to overcome the clamor of the slapping water, all three of us listen together. As we get bumped and knocked by waves coming from all directions, we get relief in the sounds of faraway worlds. The best episode of the afternoon is entitled “Voice is a Thief” from The Organist. It’s subject is the human voice, on the surface an innocuous topic, that through examination by essayist Elena Passarello, evolves as an enthralling fusion of corporal physiognomy and cultural construction. It’s fascinating.

Architects rarely think about things like human voice. For one, voice lies in the dreaded category of Sound, which is something we seek to dampen, or even better, eliminate. For another, voice is not visual. As much as architecture may seem to engage the body in a fully sensorial experience, it is rare that aural qualities get as much design attention as the visual ones. Any pleasant or compelling acoustic results in contemporary buildings, are most likely lucky byproducts of a set of materials composed for completely other purposes. And human voice, in particular, gets completely ignored in buildings. Even rooms designed for vocal presentation often assume technological solutions rather than spatial ones. I think this lack of attention is what makes sound, and more so, the human voice, so attractive to me as an area for architectural investigation. Last summer I worked on a project that began to open up this possibility. Along with three colleagues, we designed an entry entitled VOICEOVER for a the “Memorials for the Future” competition. If you’re interested in pink mechanical flying parrots (that speak, of course), and memorialization through the human voice check it out here.


As evening comes, our wind at first dies and then picks up at a higher speed than before. It evens out at about 20-25kph from the north. We sail the entire night on a reach, with two reefs in the main and maintain a speed of 7kph or more. All is good, but the waves in this open part of the Cabot Strait are rough. It never feels unsafe or out of control, but it doesn’t feel good either. My seasickness returns during my shift. To make things worse, I get the time change shift and Glenn gets an extra half hour of sleep. Lucky man! (Why only a half hour? Newfoundland is only a half hour ahead of Atlantic time.)

P.S. All weather predictions were 95% correct!

Monday, 28 AUGUST 2017

We arrive at the mouth of the Bras d’Or Lake at 6AM and our wind slows. Plus, the current is against us. (We are earlier than we intended.) We start the motor and right away we get the oil pressure alarm. When Glenn checks the oil he sees that it’s full of sea water. This is very bad news. We pull over, anchor, and wait for a fair tide. In the intervening time, Glenn changes the oil, but also tries to figure out what is wrong. The worst possibility is a cracked engine block and this is what he thinks it must be having had this problem reoccur now three times. At noon we enter the lake and find anchorage at Otter Harbour for the night. It is the most still we have been in two months. We sleep like newborn kittens with full bellies.

Tuesday, 29 AUGUST 2017

There are days meant for sailing. This is not one of them. We have very little no wind. Because our engine has been acting up, we do not risk turning it on. We put up sails because that is the beauty of this boat, right? We can go anywhere on the power generated by our big, beautiful planet. And then we sit… and bob. We have to go about fifteen miles to get to Baddeck, a town with a marine center that can help us. But we are, at times, moving backwards. We do this for, uh, two or three hundred hours. Then Glenn decides to call someone. I see him dial and then he’s chatting about the engine and the oil and the boat and the conditions on the crossing and the changing of the oil and a bunch of words I don’t understand and where we are and more. He gets off the phone. He feels a lot better. He is starting to think that the water got into the oil through the exhaust due to rough seas. He turns on the engine and motor the rest of the way without incident.

We arrive in Baddeck in the late afternoon. The landscape here is much lower and more pastoral than in Newfoundland. The hills seem climb-able, the ground is fertile, and there are people. So. Many. People. While the town only has a population of 800, after the desolate shores of NL, this place feels like a bustling metropolis. It is a strange feeling.

Just before dinner we meet Henry Fuller. (He’s the guy Glenn called!) We are staying at his dock in his marina. His place is not really in operation anymore, but it’s in great shape. There are some older boatworks buildings, some floating docks, and a building with shower and laundry. Henry has let us pull up and diagnose our engine problem. Though he’s stopped by now, he suggests talking to Tim the mechanic in the morning. We agree. After a bit more conversation I allude to the rates for staying at his dock. I don’t want him to think we are trying to freeload or something. Henry laughs a little and then says, “Don’t worry, it won’t be much. I’m not a capitalist. I left America a long time ago.” And so it seems, to my great delight, we have found the one socialist marina in Nova Scotia. Then I start to wonder, does being from the United States make one a capitalist?

Wednesday, 30 AUGUST 2017

Glenn fixes the engine… by not fixing it. Er, I mean, in changing the oil one more time, it has become clear that the water in the oil came in by the exhaust, or, as Henry like to say, you “got some water up your arse.” This is great news. We celebrate by checking out the town with our additional leisure time. In the evening Glenn and I go on a date to the Thistledown Pub where there is a local singer who sings Cape Breton sing-along-songs everyone but us knows.

Cabot Strait Crossing_BLOG
Early in the crossing of Cabot Strait, looking back at Ramea
Otter Harbour, utter tranquility
Otter Harbour
Baddeck Harbour
Baddeck, Nova Scotia
marina crane
Family Happiness
Baddeck’s oldest Catholic church. Gothic!
board and batten buttresses
Baddeck barn
Baddeck barn
Bras d’Or
the monkey

NEXT WEEK: More time with Henry and a tour of his facilities and boats!

Henry Preview!

5 thoughts on “13. Upper Bras d’Or Lake

  1. Well, well I wish I am more of a “Spontaneous Idealist” but Anca is correct I am what I am a “reliable realist”. Sometimes characteristics skip a generation. To me Ava is anything but boring!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Ileana. I am also a Reliable Realist and a planner and a maker of lists. I doubt anyone would ever call me Spontaneous, although I’m working on that. I’d love to know the website this personality questionnaire is on. It would be interesting to take it. Maybe Ava has inherited her reliable trait from both grandparents.

    I’m glad Glenn was able to solve the mystery of the engine problem. I keep thinking what it would have been like if you had this problem out in the middle of the ocean and couldn’t use the engine — too scary to think about!


  3. For the first time in ages I’m doing the total academic thing and talking to my students about semiotics and deconstruction and fun stuff like that. So – two things – I appreciate the sous rature moments, and if you are interested in the voice you should read Barthes’ “grain of the voice.” http://www.gregsandow.com/BookBlog/grain_of_the_voice.pdf. As always a delight to read. When you make it all into a book you need to expand upon your parental musings, they are insightful and provocative – but then you are an impulsive idealogue or socialist or whatever.


  4. Oh, and apparently, I’m and Independent Thinker. The description is frighteningly accurate with a minimum of input. Algorithms are studying us, learning from us, understanding us. We are really just one step away from becoming batteries.


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