Tuesday, September 13, 2022

A pleasant week in Halifax

We are under way westbound along the Nova Scotia coast, with Halifax  and Lunenburg astern. We have our sights set on the harbor of Brooklyn and Liverpool this evening, on the second of a two-day weather window. We've been in Halifax for a week and I have lots of photos to share in this update.

Vector docked at Museum Wharf in Halifax, across from HMCS Sackville in her "dazzle" camouflage.

After my last post, seas built throughout the afternoon, and with the unreliable forecasts here, we decided to keep open the option to make Halifax Harbor in two days rather than three. That meant passing up the free public wharf in Little Liscomb or even the run a few miles upriver to an anchorage just off a nice little resort, in favor of pressing on through a channel north of a small group of islands. We dropped the hook in the lee of Dogfish Head on Goose Island (map), just across from the small fishing port of Marie Joseph.

Sunset moon over Goose Island from our very calm anchorage off Dogfish Head.

The islands sheltered us from the relentless swell, and we had a comfortable night after a nice dinner on board. We saw no eagles here but we did see some harbor seals. In the morning we got an early start, again in case we needed to make Halifax Harbour in just a day, but with Jeddore as our nominal destination. We worked our way back out to open water between numerous rock shoals and islands.

This large concrete sculpture in the form of a breaking wave, just a stone's throw from us, was popular with kids who would scamper up and slide down. The sign at lower left forbids climbing, but they surrounded the sculpture with spongey playground surfacing anyway. We heard squealing at all hours.

The actual playground, just a few feet away, also very popular.

We had a very comfortable morning, but not long after lunch time the seas were growing, and the forecast for Monday was deteriorating. We had made the right decision to press on to Dogfish Head and get an early start. By the time we arrived at the turn for Jeddore it was clear we needed to push on to Halifax, or we'd be spending another few days in an anchorage with no services.

This sculpture "Sail," is made entirely of stainless wire mesh.

That made for a very long day, but the rocky coastline here is stunningly beautiful. It's similar to Maine, but much more exposed, as Nova Scotia itself shields the Maine coast from much of the northeasterly weather. Contributing to the uncertainty in the forecast and the potential for being pinned down were a pair of tropical disturbances spinning up, one of which would become Hurricane Earl.

These oversize "stairs" know as Queens Landing are also a piece of art. Strip lighting along the sides extends right down into the sea.

By mid-afternoon seas had gotten very sloppy, and our speed made good fell off to the point where we'd be entering the harbor past 7pm. We opted to have dinner well before the turn, and I cranked up the grill around 5:30 and grilled up some brats while Louise readied the rest of dinner, with the pilothouse being something of a dance as each of us took turns minding the helm or fixing our part of dinner. I managed to finish grilling without any brats rolling off the grill and into the briny deep.

The local version of a "Duck tour," these "Harbor Hopper" amphibious tours had to clear in with Halifax Traffic every time they entered and left the water, so we heard them on the radio all day long. I believe these are converted LARC-Vs.

Our dock was booked for Monday, and there was no good reason to pay for an extra night by arriving just before dark, and so I plotted the route to an anchorage called McNabs Cove, on the eponymous island that used to be a military base but is now a provincial park. Halifax is a big cruise port, and just before turning into the harbor we watched the Norwegian Pearl making her way out to sea.

Free concerts on the "Grand Parade" in front of City Hall.

After making the turn to the final northward leg toward McNabs Island, as I was drilling down into the details of the chart, I noticed a note saying anchoring was not permitted there. This despite the fact that our crowd-sourced database showed it as being a well-used anchorage. We started clicking around the entire harbor on our various chart programs, only to find that every square inch, including all of the several anchorages listed in the aforementioned database, was so marked. Uh oh. A last-minute scramble to try to find the underlying documents for this was unsuccessful, and there was no mention of it in the Sailing Directions, or the boaters' guide to the harbor that I had downloaded when I made our reservation.

Vector and Sackville as seen from the Maritime museum. At left is a 73' "Dashew FPB" named Ugly Betty, our across-the-dock neighbor for a couple of nights.

After exhausting all our other options I finally just picked up the radio and called Halifax Traffic, the vessel traffic control for the harbor, to whom we'd been listening for over an hour, and asked. Their very first answer was no, we could not anchor there, so I asked more specifically where we could anchor for safe harbor. That sent them on a hunting expedition, and after a silence of several minutes they came back to say that the area we had originally requested was fine and actually outside the controlled harbor limits. We're probably the only boat ever to ask.

Halifax is the fourth largest port in the nation and ships came and went throughout our visit, including our old friend Baie St. Paul. The container ship ONE Helsinki was one of the larger vessels to pass just in front of us.

We arrived to find another boat already anchored, and we dropped the hook in the cove a short distance away (map). We had a comfortable evening, but sometime in the night the wind shifted, holding us parallel to the incoming swell, and we had an uncomfortable roll that persisted into the morning. That nixed my plans to tender in to explore the island, but while I was researching that, I came across this map, which suggested we might be anchored just above some historic shipwrecks that are not shown on the nautical chart. Fortunately, the anchor came up without issue.

Sunset from McNabs Cove.

We weighed anchor after our first cup of coffee, crossing our fingers that our requested berth was already available at an early hour. We had to swing out around the east side of Georges Island because the enormous Caribbean Princess, who had passed us as we were getting ready to weigh, was spinning around to come alongside the dock, just in front of the equally enormous and already secured Mein Schiff. The much smaller Seabourn Quest was also just making fast to one of the piers.

Caribbean Princess docking between Seabourn Quest and Mein Schiff. We had to leave Georges Island, right, to port to leave her room.

In a stroke of pure luck, we arrived at the dock just as two motor yachts who had been there overnight were casting off lines. We hovered in the harbor for less than two minutes as they departed, then spun around and backed in, to what is reported to be the most protected berth in the harbor (map), owing in no small part to the historic warship berthed on the other side of the same slip. We had heard this harbor can be a rolly mess when the swell is out of the south and we asked for the extra protection. We were not disappointed, and we found it quite comfortable for most of our stay.

Vector as seen from the machine gun emplacement aboard HMCS Sackville.

The Halifax waterfront is a popular destination for tourists of all stripes, including cruise passengers, who on some days numbered more than 6,000 -- one of the ships calling here holds more than 3,900 all by itself. Attractions include restaurants, shops, the maritime museum, and the aforementioned warship, the corvette HMCS Sackville. And, Vector, at least for a week. Lots of photographs, discussion of the motor scooters, and remarks about us being from "Bear, Delaware," which just happens to be our hailing port. We put our Textilene covers up and mostly had the blinds drawn.

Full moon over the harbor.

As soon as we arrived at the dock, we noticed police cars, lights ablaze, and a line of police tape out on the main street across from our slip. It turned out that the previous morning someone was stabbed to death in the night club across the street, ironically called "Yacht Club Social." The victim was a celebrity in the rap world, and was very clearly targeted; random violent crime is nearly unheard of here. Police cars, tape, and the occasional forensic van had the club blocked off all week, and the club was closed. Tragic, but at least we did not have a busy night club just 400' from the boat.

One or more forensic vans visited daily. The suspect was still at large.

The very next morning, Canadian flags were lowered to half staff all over town, including the pair bracketing us at the waterfront, not for this stabbing, but for the even more tragic stabbing spree in Saskatchewan that claimed ten lives. The flags have not been raised since, on account of the subsequent passing of Canada's monarch -- Canada is still a constitutional monarchy and Elizabeth II was their queen. Upon her passing we lowered our own US ensign to half staff in respect; shortly afterward, President Biden issued flag orders. Our ensign will remain lowered until her interment.

It's very informative to see the war of 1812 from the British perspective. This exhibit in the maritime museum relates the capture of USS Chesapeake, brought to Halifax as a war prize.

The weather was nearly perfect all week, and we made it ashore nightly for dinner, mostly al fresco. I did quite a bit of exploring on foot and by e-bike, and I even took the ferry across to Dartmouth for an afternoon of strolling the town and its parks. I also made excursions to two grocery stores and the Walmart, and a pilgrimage to Canadian Tire, which I'd previously never been in and which might best be described as Goodyear Tire and Auto Centers meets Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Northern Tool. I did not buy anything, but they accepted for recycling three large containers of used disposable batteries that we've been gathering for years.

This may have been my worst Walmart experience ever. I spent 90 minutes just getting essentials; these blank signs reflect the utter disorganization of the entire store.

I took time to tour the HMCS Sackville right next door, which in addition to being a museum ship, is also the Canadian Naval Memorial. These corvettes protected Atlantic shipping from U-boat attacks during World War II. I also visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, with many interesting exhibits including the local boat and shipbuilding industries, Nova Scotia's shipwrecks (numbering over 10,000), the ages of sail and steam, and the horrific explosion that leveled much of the city, killing over 1,700, when the relief ship SS Imo collided with SS Mont Blanc, laden with high explosives, in the Narrows during World War I.

A piece of (flat) hull plating mangled by the 1917 explosion.

The museum showcased many "builder's models" -- ship models made at the same time and from the same plans as their prototype ships, for marketing or other purposes. This one is unique, as it was the builder's model of the Lusitania. After she was torpedoed in 1915, the model was repainted and detailed to be her sister ship, Mauretania. 

The museum has a large number of Titanic artifacts, and lots of exhibits on Halifax's role in the tragedy. Most Americans remember from history, or maybe one of the movies on the subject, that the Carpathia steamed into New York harbor with the survivors. But the dead came here, hundreds of them, many interred in cemeteries around the area. White Star contracted the transatlantic cable-laying fleet based here to recover the bodies and whatever could be salvaged.

Decorative woodwork from the Grand Staircase, alongside a photo of it pre-sinking.

While in the museum I stumbled across a docent-led tour of the Titanic exhibit. The docent spent a good deal of time discussing why Titanic was so memorable, despite being, as shipwrecks go, just average by any measure. During his lecture I learned that the deadliest maritime accident of all time was caused by a ship named ... Vector. This oil tanker collided with the horrifically overloaded Philipine ferry Doña Paz, sending her to the bottom with over 4,300 souls. 11 of the 13 crew aboard Vector also perished.

The original Theodore Tugboat and friends, set and filmed in Halifax and now in the Maritime museum. A life-size replica of Theodore, named Theodore Too, used to be docked here, about where Vector is, but it was sold long ago and now graces Hamilton Harbour on Lake Ontario instead.

I spent an afternoon at The Halifax Citadel, the last in a long line of fortifications built atop the eponymous hill by the British. I arrived just in time for the noon gun, a 7" cannon fired daily at noon and easily heard throughout the city. I was pleasantly surprised by how extensive and complete the museum exhibits were, and I enjoyed exploring the fort. Here at the end of the season, most of the young reenactors have returned to school, and although there were a few kilted sentries (of both genders) about, the period military drills and band were not to be found.

Firing the noon gun. I was shooting one-handed, doing the best I could to cover both ears with my other arm, and the shock wave actually pushed the camera back.

These signal masts in the Citadel used to communicate to the other coastal defenses in the harbor. Not the anchor day shape flying from the spreader -- the Citadel can not maneuver!

With a full week in town, I managed to get an appointment for a much-needed massage, and the spa was right next door to the Halifax Gardens, which are lovely. In fact, all the parks and gardens here are well-kept and very popular in the summer. We had not planned on a full week, of course, but we only had a single one-day window mid-week, and we opted to be pinned down in Halifax for a few more days rather than someplace else.

Halifax Gardens.

Gazebo in Halifax Gardens.

Signs say don't feed the ducks. The ducks can't read.

Fountain and flowers in Halifax Gardens.

It was so lovely, with so much to see and do, that I did not make much progress on the project list. Two of our reverse-cycle units are tripping their circuit breakers, so I did clean the strainers (to no real effect), and I also took apart the dryer and its ducts for a much overdue cleaning.

Shop on the main street in downtown Dartmouth. Close to chocolate and wine shops.

Finally, I've been trying to list out all our restaurant venues, for the inevitable time when I come back to these posts on a future visit, or perhaps for anyone else following in our footsteps. We had dinner a couple of times on the pedestrian mall at Argyle Street, including Antojo Tacos (so-so), Loose Cannon (decent for bar food), and Durty Nelly's, an Irish pub which was surprisingly good, even though we usually eschew such places and ended up there by default.

I passed through Dalhousie University, where Vector was tank-tested before final build to see if a bulbous bow would be beneficial (it wasn't). I also passed through St. Mary's College right next door.

We were treated to the start of an overnight sailing race right from our deck; the transom of the Sackville was the starting line. That's the committee boat between us and the participants flying toward the starting line.

Closer to the waterfront we dined at aMano (tasty Italian), Piatto (sister to the one in Charlottetown with the same menu), Black Sheep in the A. Keith brewery building (rooftop patio), and McKelvies seafood (just OK). We also had one breakfast out, at the Summit Cafe right by the waterfront (don't bother). We could easily have stayed two more weeks and not eaten at the same place twice.

Just before we left, the Bluenose II arrived. Normally berthed in Lunenberg, she is on one of her educational tours.

Someone got word that we were leaving the harbor, and we had a fireworks display on our final evening, visible over the corvette.

Our window finally arrived and yesterday morning we dropped lines before 8am for the eight hour cruise to Lunenburg. We wanted to get an early start in case we decided to push another dozen miles and try to make Shelburne in two days. In the end we decided the risk of being pinned down in a remote harbor without enough protection was too great, and we stuck to the Lunenburg plan.

We left well before the Zaandam arrived and were able to slip between Georges Island and the cruise berths. We cleared in to Halifax Traffic when we dropped lines, and talked to the Zaandam on our way out.

We arrived to the picturesque harbor around 3:30 and dropped the hook outside of the mooring field (map). This is another tourist town, with the bulk of them being bused in by the hundreds from the cruise port in Hallifax (Peggy's Cove, which we passed en route but is too shallow for us, is another cruise passenger destination). That makes the town something of a caricature of itself, but it does have lots of restaurants, some historic vessels, and numerous well-preserved Victorians painted bright colors. We strolled the town in the evening and had dinner at the Dockside Inn, which was mediocre but had the most comfortable patio seating in the whole town.

The picturesque Lunenburg waterfront from our anchorage. Our old friend Picton Castle is in her berth.

This morning we weighed anchor and left the harbor, only to find that what was was supposed to be easterly two-foot rollers on nine seconds was, instead, confused 2.5-footers of random period that made for a very uncomfortable ride. Forecasts here are unreliable. We soldiered through it and it's settled down just a tad here in the afternoon. We should be anchored or moored in the harbor before 3, and we'll be here until conditions improve for the next leg to Shelburne. That will be no sooner than Thursday, but might well be into the weekend.

The kinetic sculpture Tidal Beacon, whose grand opening was just days before we arrived. It puts on this show for 12 minutes at each change of the tide. The steps leading to it serve as bleachers for performances in the park.

Update: I had to stop working on the post when we turned up the Mersey toward Liverpool (really). We're now anchored just east of Liverpool Harbor (map). We're comfortable for now, but if more swell starts coming up the bay we may have to move over to a mooring at the Brooklyn marina across the river. We had pizza and beer in downtown Liverpool for dinner; no sign of Ringo or Paul. My next post will be under way to Shelburne, whenever we escape from here.


  1. Just started following. We will be circumnavigating New England 2 years from now in our Ranger Tug... getting lots of good tips and ideas from your posts. We're in Newburyport MA so if you find yourself in our neighborhood, give me a shout. Metals@gmail.com

    1. Thank you. I have family in Chester, NH, and we always end up stopping in Portsmouth to see them, even though Newburyport is actually a bit closer, and every time we pass we say maybe this is the time we'll stop there. It's always a challenge playing those currents, but it's usually the fact that we have no choice there other than to take a very pricey dock that gets in the way. I'll try to remember to look you up if we ever make it in.

  2. Thanks again, Sean for such interesting reporting, just enough details to bring is into your scene even as you keep moving slong.


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