15. Maskells Harbour to Isle Madame to Halifax



Say it now!

I’m back!

I’m back!

I’m back!

I’m back!

I’m back!”

-James Brown



Thursday 07 SEPT

Tense day. I’m grumpy. Traveling by boat leaves so much out of my control. I have talked about the schedule and our dependency on the fickle moods of the weather. This alone can drive me mad by chaining me to a place of which I have tired, or keeping me from a place I want to see, or just keeping me in place. But there are other factors too. We can’t always eat well, we can’t always exercise as much as we would like, we can’t be in the company of people we love, we can’t be as clean as we want to be, we can’t be alone. You get it. Its’ hard… in a first world kind of way. No matter how much I remind myself of the immense privilege I have, there are just days that keep me focused on the bad instead of the good. So like a good wife of twenty-one years, I take it out on Glenn. I tell him that I think we should leave sooner. I worry to him that we are going to get stuck up too far north and the stormy Canadian fall weather will catch us before we can escape. And no matter how much Glenn tells me that he is being very cautious and watching the weather very closely because he doesn’t want to be in stormy conditions, I just whine and whine today.

On top of it, it rains hard all day. We all stay inside reading, cooking, and eating (why did I make so many biscotti?) I am in serious memoir/personal essay mode. I vacillate between the following books:

  • Torre DeRoche’s Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World, a delightful memoir about her walking treks in Italy and India. (she has a great blog too: http://www.fearfuladventurer.com/)
  • Phillip Lopate’s Bachelorhood. Personal essays about his life as a bachelor (and so much more) in New York. These writings are so light and effortless about difficult times/themes. Makes me want to be an essayist.
  • Patrick Madden’s Sublime Physick, personal essays on quotidian topics by a Mormon author who inserts religion into his writings in a interesting and actually pleasant way. Read “Spit” first!



Friday 08 SEPT

The full damage wrought by hurricane Irma is just now beginning to be reported here. St. Martin, the island where we bought Netzah and spent some time living aboard + working on her, has been utterly devastated. It is heartbreaking, and so much worse than anything I pre-imagined. Every single building is damaged, there is widespread flooding, boats are in piles, and of course, the human suffering is extensive. I have no words, just tears.


We leave Baddeck today, but the wind is not favorable, by which I mean the wind is completely non-existent. Rather than motor for a long distance, we stop for the night at a very nearby spot called Maskells Harbour. This pocket of space is stunningly pretty and, due to the still conditions that have doubled the extra-vibrant sunset above and below us, we feel like we are sitting inside a glowing ember.



Saturday 09 SEPT

Again, no wind. We motor to St. Peters, a gateway to the Atlantic. To get into the ocean side which is higher water, we have to travel through a canal lock. We (well, I) get pretty excited as we have never been through one before. Unfortunately, we arrive right at slack tide, making the water difference only about one foot. When the guards open the second gate for the filling of the lock chamber, we couldn’t really perceive a rise at all.

In St. Peters we tie up at the public dock for the night. Glenn again studies the weather and tells me about the severe weather coming on Monday. He says he wants to tie up in D’Escousse, a small town on the north side of Isle Madame that has a small yacht club, until it passes. He says the gusts on Monday will be 40kph, the remnants of Hurricane Irma. I get annoyed. Inside of me I feel that familiar panic rise up that we will get stuck too far north in the winter storm season.  I say I don’t want to stop. I say we should just endure the gusty winds and make more significant progress down the coast NOW. Glenn argues back that the seas will be rough and the additional risk isn’t worth it. I don’t care. I’m not listening anymore. I just want what I want. I want to leave when I say so. I want to go where I want to go. I want to win an argument. I am an asshole. And I can’t stop. Even my own brain is trying to stop my whingey mouth from talking, but I am a giant rolling snowball now taking out anything in my path. Soon everyone is mad at me.

In the evening we head into town for dinner, two people not talking to the other one. We end up at a dumpy place that Ava and Glenn had scouted earlier. Maybe because we are feeling zesty, we order the donair pizza. What is a donair, you ask? Donairs are the Canadian version of a donner kebab, the Turkish style meat stack cooked on a rotisserie that is made into yummy fast food platters and pita sandwiches all over the world. (Think: gyro) Unfortunately, Canadians, in an effort to be “creative” or something have made a misguided change in the accompanying donair sauce. Their version is… sweet. And horrible. The traditional sauce is made with yogurt/mayo, lemon, and garlic and is refreshing. This version leaves me (even more) aggravated.



Sunday 10 SEPT

The thing to remember is, the captain is always right. Or, the captain, at least, always gets their way. The captain doesn’t have to listen to other voices. It must be this way, of course, because only that person, the captain, must bear the burden of the decisions made. Because of this, the captain’s mates should be prudent when voicing opposition to the captain’s decisions because they themselves have no burden, and, worse, risk further burdening the already burdened captain. Plus another thing to remember, though the captain is rightly angry with me, the captain is trying to save my life.

We motor (due to NO wind) to the Isle Madame and quickly find space to tie up at the small dock of the D’Escousse Yacht Club ($1/foot/night). In short time a neighbor comes over and welcomes us to town. He is about our age and very friendly. He tells us a bit about the town (pop. 3000) and the island in general. He tells us that he used to work from home in the seafood industry, but nowadays he spends part of his year driving giant trucks in the western oil fields. (Glenn’s boy-eyes light up.) We tell him about ourselves and our trip and he is warm and interested. It’s a very pleasant chat, something often missing in conversations with local people (Canada, I’m sorry, it’s true.) Eventually, he opens the club house for us and makes us feel welcome to use all of the facilities: showers, laundry, wifi, etc.

Glenn and I go for a short walk to get the “lay of the land.” We walk west on the road along the water.  Every person that passes us, whether on foot or in a car, waves. Nice, I say (in my head). Very close to the yacht club is an inn and restaurant called the Groundswell. Painted yolk yellow on the exterior with a warm, glowy interior it looks very inviting and we make a note to go back in the evening. Next door to the Groundswell is a surf shop/shack. Maybe they rent boards or just store boards. I don’t know. I can’t tell if this is a serious commercial venture or a quirky way to draw people to the restaurant. Wait, whaaaaa? There’s surfing in Nova Scotia?

Some of you know that I am a surfer. I mean, in my heart. I mean, in my soul. If I had had the right circumstances: a Hawaiian childhood, parents who didn’t care if I skipped school, mentors, equipment – in other words, a completely different life – I would have been a surfer, a very good surfer. I believe this. Surfing is my sport divine decree. There is very little real basis for this belief. I did, for a summer or two in my late twenties, windsurf on the finger lakes of upstate New York. This period fueled my conviction as I became so addicted to that (similar) sport to be almost fired from my job as an architect. But really, despite an intense interest in surf films (yes, even Blue Crush) and the reading of some memoirs, there is not a breath of reason for my delusion. And yet, surfer persists as how I often understand my(other)self.

By the way, a small aside: I always thought that everyone had this feeling. I always thought that everyone saw a place in the world where, had they been given the right foundation, would have been their rightful place. Maybe someone connects with the violin in this way, or skateboarding, or physics. I am speaking of a connection that exceeds an aesthetic experience now. It is great to be moved by a poem, it is another to believe oneself capable of participating in, or even furthering, its substance – to be “made for” something, constitutionally. One time though, I presented this thought to a group of students, telling them about my kooky hang ten fantasies, of being “in the barrel”, etc., but I got only blank stares back. It’s possible these delusions are constructed later in life, long after one would have the courage to actually pursue them. Or then again, it’s possible that I am simply delusional.

In the evening we head to the Groundswell. It’s a great little place owned by someone with a clear passion for live music, surfing, and good beer (Kitchen Party, please). The place has and easy laid back vibe that makes me want to hang out long after we finish our meal. Luckily, Ava spots a shelf of board games that extends our visit. She retrieves the game Cards Against Humanity. Neither Glenn nor I have played before. As its name implies, the game is relatively bawdy and, it turns out, is exactly what we need. We laugh for the next hour and a half straight!


Monday 11 SEPT

A cold and stormy day. The wind swirls and the seas are white capped… just like Glenn said it would be. In the back of my mind, though I have a tiny little thought that this weather isn’t so bad and the we probably could have gone. I know that on the ocean, where we are headed, is likely rougher, but still, the bravado angel sits on my shoulder today.

Instead we do laundry and wifi all day. At least we have clean sheets!

In the evening we return to the Groundswell, this time only for drinks. We play another round of Cards Against Humanity. It’s still fun, but not quite as much tonight…


Tuesday 12 SEPT

In the morning as we are preparing the boat for departure a really nice guy named Gilles and his adorable dog (Dickie) stop by to see if we need to go to the supermarket in a bigger town. We feel like we have enough food, so we decline the offer, but we are left with the best impression of this small town. It is possibly the nicest group of people we’ve met in a long while. It feels a little like a comeuppance for me since I am the one who didn’t want to come here.

We leave at 1pm. The ride to Halifax will be 140 miles once we round into the Atlantic. Conservatively, this should take us 30 hours. Given the good wind, it could be as little as 24.

Even though the winds are decent from the NE @15 kph, the seas are contrary and still rough from yesterday’s storm. I am sick for 6-7 hours. It is completely miserable. I hang my head and stare at my feet for hours wishing for the side-to-side rolling to… Please. Just. Stop. I am so close to the ground now that I bring myself down to a kneeling position in the cockpit facing Glenn, who is at the tiller. I clasp my hands in prayer position and put them on his boot-tops. With a deep breath, trying to keep my stomach steady, I look up and say, “I could not have been more wrong about sailing in these conditions. This is horrible. You were right. We should always wait for good weather. Please, please accept my deepest apology.” (Just kidding. None of this happens, but only because I couldn’t lift my head.)


Wednesday 13 SEPT

In the afternoon the winds shift. They are now out of the SW, almost exactly our destination. This is always the worst point of sail, and if we could find a decent anchorage in which to stop for the night we would, but there is none. What would have been another 4-5 hours turns into 14. Our situation is complicated by the fact that, due to high winds, we have two reefs in the mainsail, making it even more difficult to point well. On port tacks we progress at less than 1 kph on starboard tacks we make zero forward progress. It goes like this until we arrive at the mouth of Halifax Harbour. We anchor in the northwest arm at 2AM and fall directly into our beds.


Thursday 14 – Thursday 21 SEPT

This first week back in Halifax is plagued by an abundant amount of mundane tasks. Glenn spends the week working on a back-up system for the autopilot. One of the main reasons we did not cross the Atlantic this year is because we were worried about our autopilot. Adding a robust second one has taken a lot of effort and, as of right now we continue to struggle with certain aspects of its installation. Ava and I, on the other hand spend the entire week going to the Central Public Library and downloading the complete documents for three high school courses from Khan Academy. Because there are so many videos, articles and assignments it takes us five whole days. Hopefully, these additions will (interestingly) supplement Ava’s school work and keep her on par with other ninth graders.

All of this is to say… that’s all for this time.


BTW, I have decided that I don’t like two weeks in between blog posts. I had a rhythm going before that served my undisciplined character. So, I will be back to my regular schedule – once per week for now. Posts every Tuesday. Obviously, I reserve the right to take a week off now and then…


Next week: Dance Party in 20 square feet! And we careen the boat onto a sand beach!

tiny uninhabited islands in Bras d’Or Lake
Maskells Harbour was a miraculous mirror
It was hard to stop taking the same picture over and over!
Because I mean,
come on!
Maskells tree
St. Peters lock
our new pet
almost blending in
Freckles emerging
Lady Luck, French style
Isle Madame Surf Shop
Made in Canada
Finally some asymmetry
Cards Against Humanity at the Groundswell

12 thoughts on “15. Maskells Harbour to Isle Madame to Halifax

  1. Once again I am completely mesmerized and lost in your new life#world. I could read nonstop until my eyes dim. I ‘feel’ your writing. I am in awe of this FAMILY life…individuals in a pod. ❤️❤️❤️


  2. Anca, I was wondering when the boredom, frustration and all-around restlessness would set in. Living on a boat is not easy by any means. And your sea sickness isn’t helping at all! Did you ever try the crystallized ginger? What about the anti-sea sickness patches or bracelet. They always worked for Carol on cruises.

    I, too, am worried that you’ll be stuck up north when the cold weather sets in. You had said you would be in NC by October, but I don’t see how that will be possible. The main thing is for all of you to stay safe and warm. Hoping you have better weather soon. Love to all of you.


    1. Greetings Linda, I hope you’re feeling well. How is the recovery going??

      We are in Port Joli tonight (Monday 10/2). The seas were very calm today and the winds were high and following, so it was a very good day of sailing. This includes no sea sickness. I only found extremely expensive candied ginger and so bought a ptach instead. However, I’m a bit afraid to try it as it says that a very common side effect (more than 1 in 10 people) experience dizziness with it. I think I’d rather be seasick than nauseous… since the patch can linger for three days!

      We should be in NC in November. I don’t think we even want to be there in October (though that is what I said…) given that the hurricane season doesn’t end until November. How about Thanksgiving?


      1. Hi Anca. My recovery is about 90%, but I’m back to most of my activities except Curves. I can go back to that in November. Thanks for asking.

        Glad to hear you finally had some good sailing weather and you weren’t seasick. Whenever you get to NC, we’ll have Thanksgiving with the whole family — no matter what date it is! Maybe we can all gather at Dean and Sherry’s so you can sleep on dry land for a change. Or possibly we can all rent a condo in Beaufort? I can’t wait to see all of you. I miss you. Sending all my love.


  3. I keep searching trying to find the thing I should have done with my life that would be equal to surfing. I’ve yet to find that thing, but suspect that it is somewhere out there. I’m aways amazed when there is something I have been doing or thinking for years (decades) that I discover that no one else does. Its always kind of shocking.


    1. Maybe you actually pursue your surfing? Like with your cycling. Though, I did actualize my fantasy. I got a surf lesson for Christmas from your brother last year. It was the BEST Christmas present I ever got. It came complete with a hot surf instructor.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, looks like you’ve finally (!) departed Halifax.

    I’ve been thinking about you guys a lot lately. For the past ~3 weeks the ocean by my house has been very rough. Winter comes so early to the North Atlantic. I’ve been afraid you might not make it off Nova Scotia in 2017 if you don’t get across to Maine soon.

    I also keep thinking about the time Liane and I took the ferry between Portland ME and Yarmouth NS back in 2002. It was the very beginning of September (around Labor Day) and the last week that the ferry ran for the season. It was VERY rough going. In fact, the crew themselves seemed nervous. I wouldn’t want to make that trip after Sept 1 again … and that was a huge ferry, not a tiny netzah-cork bobbing in the sea!

    Keep us posted more often!

    p.s. I see you’re in Lunenburg. That is such a lovely town.


    1. Hi Mike! Yep, we finally left. We had a lot of trouble with our autopilot and wanted to have things fixed before we left, which we did. We are now in Port Jolie, further south than Lunenburg (which was fantastic – wow!!) and will press southward. The weather seems to be switching and the wind will blow from the south for the days we are hoping to cross. This may push us a bit further north than Portsmouth at first, but are so far planning a stop there as soon as we can. We will let you know more tomorrow or the next day when we get to Shelburne and get a good plan in place.


    2. Hi Mike,
      It looks like we are leaving very early tomorrow morning (Wednesday) to come across to the U.S. The wind is switching tonight to come out of the north. We want to use this to go as far south as possible since we are bit late. This means we will land most likely in Plymouth sometime on Friday or early Saturday, because we also need a port of entry to clear customs back in to the country. I think this may be far for you, but we will be there for the weekend, most likely. Any chance we can meet up there? If not, we will be back through in the summer as we plan to leave the boat in Maine at the end of this trip. (I may have told you that already). Let us know… Glenn and Anca p.s. all of our plans are always somewhat tentative since we are dependent on the weather…


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