Log #50j A treacherous passage St. Pierre to Cape Breton

September 14, 2010 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 50, The Logs

Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Sept. 14, 2010

Hi Folks,

This is a disturbing log about a horrendous passage we had from St. Pierre to Cape Breton Island. We are fine but the boat suffered some damage. It is out of sequence and I will finish my logs of the beautiful fjords of Newfoundland later. We are fine, alongside the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club, and will be here for a few more days while completing repairs and replacements, then into the Bras D’or Lakes.

I don’t like the weather in this part of the world.

Met map showing frequent storm conditions around Newfoundland and the Maritimes

I have attached six photos, two of the angry seas, which I managed to take under very adverse conditions (lashing rain, 35 knot winds and 15 foot seas). Note in Angry seas 1 the wave breaking on the horizon, just left of centre. If Judy had been at the wheel I possibly could have captured a few of the steeper waves, but we were rather busy at the time.

All the best,


Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Sept. 14, 2010

Log #50j A treacherous passage St. Pierre to Cape Breton

This log is out of sequence, but I wanted to get it off while the effects of the horrendous passage and the resulting insurance claims are in the works. This 180 mile passage from St. Pierre to Sydney, N.S. has to rate as the worst of our 12 years of cruising in terms of weather and damage to the boat. I am putting in an insurance claim for about $5000.00 and it will be interesting to see how suitably it is dealt with. I have not had a claim since we broke our forestay in the Mediterranean in 2001, and it was whittled down to the extent it was not worth continuing with it. We’ll see how this one works out.

But I get ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning in St. Pierre. We were alongside the Club Nautique for the passing of Hurricane Earl, with no problems as we were on the leeward side of a large dock, through sustained winds of 35 knots gusting to 40. We were suitably battened down with doubled up lines, and no damage whatever. Two days after Earl, another storm came through. This time however there was driving rain, and the howling wind at 30 to 35 knots, was blowing us onto the dock, grinding us into the timbers, displacing our fenders as the tide rose or fell. We were able to fend off with the help of Roger, our neighbour astern of us, to put down a fender board over the fenders. However Wave Dancer was in the water astern of us, as Judy had just completed a dinghy cover for it, and we had repaired both an air leak in the tubes and a water leak in the join between the tubes and the fibreglass hull. The wind bashed the dinghy against the dock all night, ripping off one of the clamps and wearing the fabric where the stern was pounding against the slimy wooden dock structure. The surging of Veleda fore and aft put fantastic strain on the bow and stern lines as the tide rose and fell three cycles during the storm. The stern fairlead was torn out from the pressure of the wind on the stern line as Veleda surged back and forth at low tide. The forward line snapped off the port navigation light on the bow pulpit. The wind and rain lasted for about 18 hours, worse than Earl. The extent of the storm was not predicted to be above 25 knot winds.

The next day forecasts were not good, but we saw an opening across the Cabot Strait, actually passing through three weather areas, Newfoundland Southwest Coast, Banquereau, and Cabot Strait, with no winds higher than 20 knots, and no winds directly opposing our course lines. The morning of Sept. 10 was relatively quiet as we left at 0915 under overcast skies. We had put a double reef in the main sail before leaving the dock, and hoisted it in the outer harbour before going into open water.

The seas were still lumpy from the storm the previous day as we went around St. Pierre and southwest onto our long leg towards Cape Breton. The wind was from the southwest, allowing us to motor sail, as our course was southeast. The wind was a force 5, between 18 to 20 knots, but the sloppy seas got to both of us. Judy was seasick, and so was I for the first time in many years. That first afternoon and night were torture and we hunkered down in a survival mode trying to stay warm and horizontal to minimize the nausea. Even the visit by a pod of dolphins in the late afternoon was not enough to cheer us up. We ate nothing but a few crusts of baguette for the first 24 hours of the passage. We kept the engine on, motor sailing to reduce the length of time we would be out in this agonizing situation.

Judy let me get a few hours sleep below during her middle watch, and when I got up around 0500 to relieve her, I felt a bit better. The wind was blowing a more moderate force four, about 15 knots, and I actually enjoyed watching the cold clear sunrise, with mostly blue sky. Fortunately I had my sea legs, but Judy was still tenuous. By noon the wind had dropped to a light force two, about 5 knots, and was veering west. The wave pattern was changing, and now coming from our starboard bow, long low rollers.

However in the early afternoon, the wind veered more to the north and northwest, and increased back to force four, then up to force five. The waves were increasing in size. The sky was cloudy and I put on full weather gear just before the rain started. Judy was horizontal down below as I had the afternoon watch (and kept it until we anchored in Sydney at 2145). By mid afternoon the winds were up to force six, 25 knots and more! The waves came in humungous swells, dark blue foreboding waters swallowed us between the mountainous crests, slapping us down the starboard side as the cresting waves started to break.

By 1600 we were in a full force seven near gale with winds at 30 knots. The waves were increasing even more, now reaching four to five metres (12 to 15 feet) and dangerously breaking at the crests, threatening to overwhelm Veleda. Veleda can rise up on the crests, which we were taking at an oblique angle on the starboard bow, but a breaking wave does not allow sailing over it. The white spume blows off the top of the a wave and the crashing white frothing maelstrom envelopes the bow, midships or stern depending on where the fierce power of the tons of cresting turbulence breaks. The water rapidly rampages down the upper deck, sloshing along the side deck, bashing the jerry cans of fuel strapped there, and racing aft to smash against the dodger, and around into the cockpit lashing me with buckets of salt water. By this time I was hand steering, as our Raymarine autopilot could hold the course but could not anticipate the towering waves and would risk us broaching if we did not meet or come off a wave at the right angle, or be toppled by the next wave if it crashed on our beam.

Then I heard it! An unusual clatter astern of me. The starboard Dinghy Tow bracket on Wave Dancer had fractured, and the supporting arm was tormenting the hanging stainless steel bracket, and finally snapped off the supporting pin, and flogged around the outboard.

The arm on the right hand side is off, with the left arm as the only support

The dinghy was now supported on its starboard side only by the carabiner on the block and tackle, with no rigid support. I called Judy up to help, and leaned over the stern and lashed the bracket base and the engine to Veleda’s aft stay. Then the flogging arm began ramming the other port bracket and the outboard. It forced the outboard off the dinghy transom and into the churning water at Veleda’s stern! The outboard was bashing itself violently against Veleda’s stern.

I leaned over and removed the fuel line from the motor. Then the cowling ripped off and disappeared in the violent wake of the frothing sea.

The outboard ripped off the dinghy transom, its handle seen only in the middle right 0f the picture

The winds increased even more, now blowing a full force eight gale of 35 knots, with gusts up to 39 knots which I observed. They probably exceeded 40 knots in some gusts, but I was otherwise occupied, unable to keep a watch on the wind speed indicator.

Another metallic crash! The second arm had torn itself off the bracket, and the two arms were mindlessly sawing across each other as though manipulated by an insane violinist playing a frenzied Rachmaninoff concerto.

The two arms are detached see sawing back and forth

Wave Dancer now had no solid support and flogged itself mercilessly astern of Veleda. When a cresting wave inundated the cockpit and swept astern, it would thrash Wave Dancer like a rag doll across Veleda’s port quarter, tossing her so high her stern tubes smashed against the after toe rail and up above deck level into the wind generator tower, the suspended outboard bashing into the gelcoat, beating itself to irreparable destruction. I thought of slashing the lines supporting the motor, but did not want to take responsibility for losing the motor. I just had to leave Wave Dancer thrashing around as I concentrated on dealing with the maelstrom still pounding us as we approached Cape Breton in the dark of this ferocious night.

In the twilight I was amazed at the size of the rollers, building up to walls of water which reminded me of the scene in “The Perfect Storm” in which the fishing boat was climbing directly into a wave to be smashed as the angry crest overwhelmed it in a merciless white frenzy, pitchpoling it backwards. If the waves weren’t breaking, Veleda rode up and over them almost serenely, but at the top, if the back of the wave was too steep, she would crazily heel to starboard, to be thrust back to port with the next roller. If the wave was breaking it would sometimes pitch Veleda onto her beam ends, the toe rails submerged and water streaming along the side deck on the leeward side. However, Veleda is a stable boat and at no time was I really afraid she would capsize or broach. She could handle this stuff! But she was still pounded. Down below many things flew about, books, tins, spice bottles, cushions, the gimballed stove swinging crazily, and even though we had the main hatch closed, water still ran down into the boat.


Overtaking wave on the starboard quarter                   Breaking wave to starboard

The centrifugal force of heeling while blasting thtough the water at six or seven knots coming down a wave can throw me off balance, and if I can’t grab a support quickly, I’ll be badly injured when I crash into a bulkhead or winch. I got a couple of bruises when caught off guard. Standing at the helm when a wave crashes into the cockpit was a soaking experience; the water stung the eyes, tasted salty, and at times seemed warmer than the 12 degree C (about 50 F) air. The water that crashed into the cockpit was frothing spume and spray to irritate, not solid walls of water to overpower me. Veleda has never been pooped, as she rides above the waves quite well. Similarly she does not bury her bow into a wave, but rides over it. However, breaking waves will inundate her until she shakes the foaming water down her sides ready for the next one. Water soaked down my neck and I had Judy hand me up a scarf to wrap inside my foul weather gear. I was chilled, but not cold, yet.

We were getting near the entrance. I hoped the waves would not be increased by their proximity to shore as we turned down wind to enter Sydney Harbour with 35 knots at our back, and rolling overtaking waves surfing us down them at crazy speeds of over 10 knots. Our GPS worked well, and I had the radar on in case other ships were around. There were none. In we went in the mist and inky blackness, unable to identify where exactly the shore was, as we could see only shore lights, no coast or land. Here we are doing another night entry into a strange harbour for the first time. We planned to go to a marina, but no one answered our VHF call, and we did not have a good image of the layout of the marina entrance. I did not like the idea of trying to enter a narrow marina opening, and going alongside unaided in 30 knot winds. We chickened out and went down the South Arm to anchor in 30 feet of water, the wind still blowing 35 knots. Needless to say, we let out a lot of chain. Once it grabbed we knew we were safe. The winds of 30 knots and over lasted from 1400 and were still blowing when we anchored at 2145, over seven hours of unpredicted storm hell. We had arrived after the worst passage yet, of only 36 hours and 180 nautical miles, but we were glad it was over.

Other Damages
In addition to the damage to the motor, the Dinghy Tow, and Veleda’s stern, there was some other damage, from the inconvenient to the trivial.

– The waves bashed the jury rigged port bow navigation light off and short circuited our nav lights. We had to use the masthead sailing lights instead.

– The vee berth where we sleep was soaked from water pounded through the bow and especially the port toe rail soaking my side of the bed. Fortunately most of the clothes stored above the bed were in plastic bags and stayed dry.

– The gimballed stove was lifted off its supports and the stud on the aft side which supports it was sheared off. (Actually it just unscrewed itself and collapsed the stove on that side.)

– A prong of the towel holder was sheared off by the tossing stove.

– The dodger was ripped from the bimini, but only after we were at anchor.

– A dry mustard bottle was pitched out of the spice rack and opened up, spilling the dry mustard across the wet cabin sole.

– The bow dinghy strap was torn off.

– The gas jerry can for the dinghy motor was swept overboard from the side deck.

– A genoa sheet frayed from rubbing against a stanchion when the genoa was partially furled.

– The towel in the heads was soaked as when Veleda came down on a wave, a spurt of water came up the heads sink, spraying the entire compartment.

It was unpredicted weather, we were seasick, but Veleda handled it well, damage can be repaired or replaced, and we got in safely.

PS: The insurance took time to settle what we were covered, delaying us in our southward voyage to the extent we left the boat in Baddeck to be repaired over the winter, and rejoin her in the spring. The settlement was OK, but did not cover a full paint job, only the stern. It covered replacement value of the engine and some of the minor repairs needed. As we hoped to continue sailing south initially, we bought a new four stroke Mercury 9.9, the only engine available on Cape Breton. It has proven a poor investment as it is too sensitive and too heavy for our dinghy. We have spent over 50 % 0f its new value ($2200 CDN) in repairs to its sensitive carburetor. I hate Mercury engines!