Fast and Furious Sea Trials at the Classic Boat Festival

It’s our favourite event of the annual Mahone Bay Classic Boat Festival.  Teams of contestants are given 4 hours and limited materials to construct a boat of their own design.  The construction takes place in full view of festival-goers.  On the last day of the Festival, a crowd gathers for the “sea trials”, in which the contestants must row, then sail, then row and/or sail the boat around a course.  There are prizes for best costume, best boat (not necessarily the most seaworthy), and best “water event” – usually a spectacular sinking – as well as for speed.

I made a little video of this year’s Fast and Furious Sea Trials.  It’s in two parts.

Part 1

Part 2

Of right, privilege and freedom

I woke up this morning with my family aboard a sailboat at a peaceful anchorage in Mahone Bay just a couple of hours sail from home.  And shared my thoughts:  “We are so privileged to be doing this.  Not just having the boat, but to be able to sail where we want and drop the anchor where we deem best, want without paying a toll to anyone, and to enjoy this beautiful scenery so freely.”

Sunset at Covey Island, one of the islands protected by MICA.
Sunset at Covey Island, one of the islands protected by MICA.

The first settlers of Lunenburg must have been in awe at such freedom.  What we now call Germany was at the time an assortment of many principalities of various sizes.  Going down the “highway” of the river Rhine to Rotterdam, where they boarded the ship that would take them across the Atlantic, the emigrants would have been stopped at every border crossing and paid tolls.  Many of them had even needed to secure permission from their feudal lord to leave the land they were bonded to as peasants.  Once they reached Lunenburg in 1753, they must have been very appreciative of the freedom to profit from their own labour and build their future with their own hands.

Even some of the modern-day German immigrants to Nova Scotia that I know have expressed to me their appreciation of the freedom they have here in a society that is less regulated than the one they left behind.

The entire natural coastline of this island has been destroyed and replaced with a rock wall.
The entire natural coastline of this island has been destroyed and replaced with a rock wall.

The Mahone Islands Conservation Association (MICA) works to protect public access to the islands of Mahone Bay, as well as to preserve their natural environment.  The islands are increasingly under pressure by private owners and developers.  Natural shorelines and nesting habitats are disrupted (photo right).  Owners of some islands chase visitors off beaches that have long been used by the general public. (Some have been known to brandish guns in their efforts, something  that Canadians or at least Nova Scotians just don’t do.)

From what I understand, depending on the type of deed, the intertidal zone has legally remained public except in a few cases where water rights were transferred.  In a country where travel by boat was the norm, the right to land on a shore would have been an issue of public safety.  Nowadays, it seems that there is a trend for private property rights to be extended into the intertidal zone –  whether by deed, by custom, by complicity of the authorities or by ignorance by the public, I don’t know.  Enlighten me if you know anything more about this issue, please, by commenting below.

Meanwhile, I take pleasure in seeing the decendants of the original Lunenburg settlers, with names such as Meisner and Ernst,  involved in MICA, perserving public access to the islands of Mahone Bay for future generations of humans and seabirds.

Larinda rises again

Larinda's figurehead frog in a new coat of paint
Larinda's figurehead frog in a new coat of paint

The highlight of the Tall Ships visiting Lunenburg was seeing Larinda. She’s a replica of a 1767 schooner, built over a period of 26 years by Larry Mahan of Barnstable, Mass.  She was a labour of love, full of wood carvings and fancy and fun. Mahan sailed her in many Tall Ships events, where she was much admired. Then in 2003, having taken shelter in Halifax Harbour during Hurricane Juan, she was rammed by another ship during the storm and sank, right next to a sewerage outlet. It was a big mess, and Mahan despaired of ever being able to repair her.

Larinda's stern, reflected in the water
Larinda's stern, reflected in the water of Lunenburg Harbour

The salvaged boat was bought by a Nova Scotia couple who live on St. Margaret’s Bay, and is being carefully restored.  Larinda didn’t actually make it to the Halifax Tall Ships event, and hasn’t been fully rigged yet. But she was towed to Lunenburg and rafted up alongside the schooner Unicorn, from whose deck we could admire her. Larinda is sporting a new colour scheme of black, white and bronze instead of green and off-white (see photos of Larinda before the sinking).  Her distinctive red battened junk sails were irreparably damaged, and her new sails will be white. The frog in the tricorner hat still graces her bow, and her brasswork is shiny.

Larinda truly is a special ship.  It will be exciting to see her sail again.

Larinda's deck, with graceful carvings, is being restored.
Larinda's deck, with graceful carvings, is being restored.

Tall Ships in Lunenburg

Abord the tall ship Unicorn, on the Lunenburg waterfront
Abord the tall ship Unicorn, on the Lunenburg waterfront

After their triumphant sailpast in the sun in Halifax, several tall ships came to Lunenburg for a mini version of the big event. The Unicorn, in this picture, takes teenaged girls on excursions of several weeks with an all-female crew for life-changing experiences. I heard its captain explain to some astonished men that no, in fact, there aren’t spats among the crew, and in fact they all get along very well. And the ship is clean, particularly the bathrooms, not something you can expect on many ships. I was ready to sign up.

“Rockbound” musical a jaw-dropping production

Since we live and sail on Mahone Bay and have come to know most of its islands by sight, I read Frank Parker Day’s 1928 novel Rockbound with great interest.  I wasn’t the only one.  Thanks to CBC’s Canada Reads program, the previously obscure novel has been lionized by the Canadian literary establishment and the public.

One of the book’s biggest fans is my mother.  She has read it several times.  When I took her sailing around East Ironbound Island, the setting for the novel, the binoculars and cameras were in constant use.

If Day’s characters were as thinly disguised as his settings, it’s no wonder that the locals he met on Ironbound felt betrayed by his portrayal of hard-drinking, feuding fishing families eking out a hardscrabble living on a small island.  But they are long gone now, and new generations of readers marvel at the dramatic sweep of his story, his vivid characterizations and the detailed portrayal of pre-industrial fishing.  For me, Rockbound has made the outer islands of Mahone Bay come alive with the ghosts of those who have gone before.  Imagine rowing from Tancook to Ironbound, from Ironbound to Pearl (“Barren Island” in the novel) – well, I can’t, really, but characters that I have come to care for do just that in the novel, so I believe it is possible.

Poster for Rockbound, the musical. Click picture to visit Two Planks website.

When I heard that Two Planks and a Passion Theatre Company was developing Rockbound as a musical, I was astonished and very curious.  Written by Allen Cole and under development since 2006, it is now playing “off the grid” (outdoors) at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, half an hour north of Wolfville.  My mother and I, both very excited, went last Wednesday.

From the opening song, my questions and doubts about how a musical format would serve the story were laid to rest.  My ears were awash in delicious sound and my jaw remained in my lap for much of the performance.  Harmonically and rhythmically complex and expressive, the music transcends genres and beautifully evokes the epic story and the setting.   The acting and singing were wonderful.  How else could this play have been done?  The music elevates the story, poeticizes it, universalizes it.

I hope to see Rockbound again when it comes to Chester Playhouse August 13-16.  Meanwhile it is playing until August 9 at Ross Creek.  Not to be missed.

Pond meets ocean at Queensland

Two solitudes?
Two solitudes?

Beyond the waves rolling into one of Queensland’s beaches on St. Margaret’s Bay, a windsurfer in a full-body wetsuit spent the afternoon learning to master his board. Meanwhile, an afternoon party rolled on at a cottage on a sheltered pond separated from the ocean by a bar of rocks and sand. Some of the guests enjoyed taking turns in a rowboat. Others swam in the warm pond.

Ruby Throated Hummingbirds have arrived

Dennis writes, from the Valley: “The first one arrived yesterday, buzzed right up to my face and looked in the window as if to say, ‘Where is the feeder?’   Within 10 minutes it was prepped and hanging outside the door. By 6 p.m. one male was giving another a feisty seminar on real estate law.  Hours of entertainment to follow….

Ruby Throated Hummingbird
Ruby Throated Hummingbird. Photo by Dennis Robinson

Post your hummingbird sightings here, from year to year, for the record!

Sailing from Halifax to Canso in a dinghy!

Rob Dunbar about to leave Shearwater Yacht Club on tiny Celtic Kiss.
Rob Dunbar about to leave Shearwater Yacht Club on tiny Celtic Kiss.
Here’s a lovely account of Rob Dunbar’s adventure, in 2006, of sailing solo along the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in a sailing dinghy. Took him 8 days. He was going in the right direction; coming the other way you could expect it to be harder with prevailing winds against you. The story is well illustrated and described. I’ve sailed there in a larger keelboat and paddled near Tangier in a canoe, and look forward to going back. Recommended for hardcore sailors, armchair adventurers and sea kayakers!