127 Nautical Miles

From August 25-29, Sean and I lived aboard the Squander, a 40ft. sloop owned and captained by our sailing instructor, Adrian Rogers. In that time, we sailed 127 nautical miles in sunny weather, rain, and wind to earn our Intermediate Cruising Standard qualification from Sail Canada. Here's a little of our story.

Day 1: St. Peter's to Crammond Islands, 21 Nautical Miles

We sailed from St. Peter's to Crammond Islands in good wind on a sunny day. From time to time, the wind would die down, often because we were sailing in a lake surrounded by land. But our minimum speed was 3 knots, and our maximum speed was 7 knots, so we did well. We practiced positioning ourselves to pick up mooring balls, tacking, jibing, and trimming sails. It was a good re-introduction to sailing, and I felt more confident in the evening than I had in the morning. 

Day 2: Crammond Islands to Indian Cove, 32 Nautical Miles

We sailed in 20-25 knot winds and whitecaps on the water with a reef in the main and half a genoa at a boat speed between 6-9 knots, sometimes cresting to 10 knots. It was a challenging sail, especially when we were close-hauled and heeling over, and I was bracing my foot on the side of the cockpit to stay upright while I steered. It was stressful but exhilarating, and like anything else of its kind, I both did and did not want the experience. But I am glad to have been there, my hands on the wheel, my attention fixed on the wind and sails, while every part of me was living in the present moment and learning, learning, learning.

Day 3: Indian Cove to Maskell's Harbour, 15 Nautical Miles

Maskell's Harbour has recently been the subject of a major conservation effort on the part of caring sailors and others working to protect it from development, so we wanted to see it for ourselves. The previous day's sail had taken the wind out of me, and I was feeling a bit fragile, but I decided the best cure for both would be to sail the whole day without sharing the helm with my husband, Sean. So I sailed in the rain and worked hard to close the gaps in my knowledge. I also made sure to correct Adrian when he thought I was about to turn the wrong way to tack, but I was only seeking the wind. (It was the only time he was wrong, by the way. He knows his craft.) Much as I wish it were different in 2023, I think sailing for women is still about speaking up when we might otherwise be silent, finding courage when we'd rather not make the effort, and remaining humble before the water, the wind, and the sailors who know more than we do. 

Day 4: Maskell's Harbour to St. Peter's, 30 Nautical Miles

We came out of Maskelll's Harbour at 8:15 and tacked across the lake to Barra Strait Bridge, then on to St. Peter's where we did man overboard drills before returning to the marina at 3:00. It was a good sailing day in sunny weather with a southerly wind, and we capped it off with our first shower since Friday, salt and vinegar french fries at the Bras d'Or Lakes Inn, and a tall glass of Big Spruce Cereal Killer, my all-time favourite porter. 

Day 5: St. Peter's to St. Peter's, 29 Nautical Miles

We passed through the St. Peter's Canal to the ocean and sailed windward and close-hauled in 5-10 knot winds, practicing pilotage until we were several miles out. It was a calm day to learn ocean sailing, far calmer than the passage from Crammond Islands to Indian Cove had been, and we traded helm duty back and forth. I went down into the galley to make sandwiches while Sean took us into the Lennox Passage between Cape Breton and Isle Madame and then allowed myself to enjoy the sail while Sean brought us back out again so we could make the canal before it closed. We had originally planned to anchor out for the night, but the wind and rain forecast were foul for the following day, so we ended the lesson early with the promise of another sailing day with Adrian when we bought our own sailboat. The best part of the afternoon was the moment when we found ourselves on a run with the genoa full of wind to port while the main was full of wind to starboard, goose-winging. (Well done, Sean!) I actually clapped and laughed aloud with delight, it was so beautiful to see. Then we returned to the marina and took our written test before packing out and coming home ahead of the weather. 


In the end, we earned our Intermediate Cruising Standard qualification with the admonition that we still have much to learn, and we still need a lot more sailing experience. We're not ready to charter a boat, but we are ready to buy one and sail it in our home waters for a couple of years until we're confident enough to venture farther. In short, we worked hard, and it showed, but we have to keep working. Many thanks to Adrian for his patient instruction and to Sylvia and Dan for watching the house and our kitties while we were away. As our friend Trevor might say, onward.