Tag Archives: 150 Sailing Challenge

Confessing to a Cardinal Sin

100_0038For the last couple of years I have been helping to teach the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron boating essentials course during the winter. One of the segments that I have taken on is the “Aids to Navigation” as I like the way there is a logical system to identifying marks. Of particular delight to me is the cardinal buoy system with north, east, south and west marks with their associated colours, topmarks and flashing lights. There are tricks to aid the sorting out of these marks and helping to remember the key characteristics.  The only problem is that until two weeks ago I had never actually seen a cardinal buoy. Of course I had poured over the charts and could (with great authority) tell students where they might be encountered and what they looked like. There are a few in Northumberland Strait – East end of Pictou Island and East Point, for example. Speaking with my mind unblemished by fact I was sure to be an expert. [For the uninitiated it is necessary to know only that each of the four points of the compass has its own buoy which tells where the safe water is. At an east cardinal buoy one should keep to the east.]

On the race through Northumberland Strait around Pictou Island and up into the Gulph of St. Lawrence to the Magdalen Islands I had a chance to remedy the gap in my knowledge but as we passed the east end of Pictou Island I was busy plotting a course and wondering  when the spinnaker would be hauled up on the heaving deck and set free of its bag and so I hardly took note of the buoy as we passed it.  After more than five hours of an almost dead downwind spinnaker run East Point was in sight and with a slight correction in course we swept by it at about 10 knots. I had my little video camera and took a bit of footage as we passed – to  the possible irritation of at  least one crew member.  And sure enough, about three miles from the lighthouse hooting in the sunset was NDN an east cardinal buoy with its characteristic top marks, its unique colour scheme and its distinctive light flashes.  Except….. with the sun behind the mark I couldn’t make out the colour scheme.  It was supposed to be black-yellow-black but there seemed to be a stripe of yellow at the bottom so perhaps it was yellow-black-yellow…. And there seemed to be no topmark with its points opposed as illustrated in many a diagram … And the sun was still so bright as to make the light inoperable.  Well, I knew it was an east cardinal buoy but had I come upon it unexpectedly instead of expecting it I would have been (forgive the expression) “at sea”.

100_0036On our return leg two days later, passing with the sun still a little above the horizon things were a more certain. The hooting was still there.  It was clear that there was no topmark at all. It was equally clear that one could be easily confused by the colour scheme. It was black-yellow-black but the coast guard in their infinite wisdom had decided to use yellow paint for 100_0037the hull of the buoy so really it was black-yellow-black-yellow. It was also clear that the light flashes could be in any sequence at all but I wasn’t going to be able to see them until the sun set and we were far away.

All in all, a reminder that it is easy to talk about things that one knows little about. Perhaps my next class in the basic boating course will at least have the benefit of  a little “show and tell” about how one shouldn’t rely too much on one’s expectations of how things on the chart will look on the sea.


Sailing season kicks off with disappointing Halifax Boat Show (as usual)

The best thing you can say is that it happens at the right time of the year.  Just when you’ve had about enough of winter and think that the sailing season is too far off along comes the Boat Show.  For some obscure reason this annual feature of the mid-February calendar is styled as the Halifax International Boat Show. International? it’s barely interprovincial!


As you enter the show you discover it’s a great place to buy sheets and pillowcases, hot sauce and popcorn, leather belts. a hot tub and a few other items that have nothing to do with boating.  There are lots and lots of powerboats on display but pretty well all the sail on displays can be seen in the photo above.

It’s nice that the Yacht Shop and The Binnacle use the show as a reason for a number of sale items although it seems to be the same items on sale year after year and I had a hard time finding anything new at the show.  There were few new exhibitors and some of the old ones didn’t seem to show up this year.  What was missing was any sense that there was anything innovative or unusual new at the show. In earlier years I have been captured by demonstrations of Personal Locator Beacons and some neat new gear which resulted in sales, either at the show or once I got back home.  This year I picked up my usual discounted bottom paint, year-old flares and a new floating winch handle and not much else.

IMG_0998One new booth was for the Souris Harbour Authority which has organized the 150 Sailing Challenge Race from Charlottetown to the Magdelene Islands and then back to Souris.  Brother Al was manning the booth when I came through after running the gauntlet of Search and Rescue fund-raising volunteers next door. This group makes the Moonies looks shy and most folks seemed to be putting their heads down to avoid harassment. Unfortunately some didn’t look up again until well past the Souris display.   Al mentioned a new promotion to attract early entrants – any boat entering before 15 May would have their name in a hat for a draw for a refund of the $200 entry fee. Since there are fewer than a dozen boats meeting the early entry criteria the odds of a refund look pretty good.  Now that the notice of race has been published I’ll give some details in an upcoming blog.  Because this is a one-time-only event that’s one booth that will not be back next year.   A little further along was a crew promoting Race the Cape, a concept for sail racing that I really like with one race between destination ports over the course of a week – a sort of cruising with competition.

IMG_1006Another Island connection at the booths was Ellen McPhail of Waveskills  Sailing School  which operates out of the Charlottetown Yacht Club. Ellen was in Halifax helping her buddy Derek Hatfield in his booth for the Spirit of Canada Sailing Challenges and Derek’s participation in the upcoming Velux 5 Oceans Race. As is common with Ellen she was vibrating with so much enthusiasm that it was impossible to get a photo where she was in focus.

With the big powerboat and floating dock sellers taking up so much of the exhibition space the show looks big but for someone interested in sailing it shrinks considerably.   Certainly nice to see Michelle Stevens and the folks from Doyle Sails. I also had a good chat with Steve Barthel of Victory products who has a nice line of fairly inexpensive fittings. I am hoping that one of his stern ladders will be just the thing for the Halman 20.

So, all in all, a typical Halifax Boat Show.  A chance for a road trip, to do some errands and visit the wine store.  Would I go again next year?  Probably. It’s a chance to see some folks and shake out the cobwebs and it helps keep the sailing dreams alive.