Cape Breton’s Bras d’Or Lakes


Published in Atlantic Boating 2013 – Marinas and Destinations in Atlantic Canada

DSC_0351-1525-2The Cruising Club of America (CCA) arrived in the Bras d’Or Lakes in July 2012 to celebrate their 90th Anniversary.  The CCA was founded in Baddeck and have returned to their home waters numerous times over the years.  I had a chance to spend some time with the fleet in Little Harbour, one of the many beautiful anchorages in the big lake west of the Barra Strait.  Some 45 yachts, from ultra-modern to classic design, gathered to form a sunflower raft and spend a perfect summer day, swimming, napping, and catching up with old friends.  It’s easy to go visiting on a sunflower raft for you can pass from boat to boat to boat all around the circle.  It was a great chance to get a closer look at some of the incredible yachts in the fleet.

One of the traditional events in a CCA sunflower raft is mooring the rum dinghy in the center of the circle. A call goes out over the VHF radio announcing to all the boats that “the rum dinghy has been deployed” which is followed immediately by a rush of sailors diving over the side to swim out and retrieve their ration of grog.

CCA Sunflower Raft 021Cape Breton remains a favourite cruising ground for this diverse group of sailors primarily because of its clean water, and the bountiful uncrowded anchorages framed in lush wilderness.

Another fleet of sailing vessels that comes regularly to Cape Breton is the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC).  Baddeck was chosen as their rendezvous point in 2011 in preparation for their summer cruise to Newfoundland.  35 boats moored in the tiny Baddeck harbour waiting for the right moment to depart.   Some of the boats arrived early and stayed for several weeks, some for only a few days.  The OCC is a more independent fleet with the crew of each vessel following their own interests.  But early one morning, with a light mist rising, as if answering some universal call, they hauled their anchors aboard, and the fleet departed before hardly anyone in the village was awake to see them go.

CCA Sunflower Raft 084The Bras d’Or Lakes are considered by many to be one of the best sailing venues in the world.  And the sailors of the world come here, year after year.  We see boats from Russia, Germany, Britain, Australia, and all parts of the Americas.  Cape Breton is a destination for cruise ships as well.  The Port of Sydney at the easternmost tip of the island often harbours enormous passenger ships from Europe and beyond.  But few of these big ships can enter the Bras d’Or Lakes because of the bridges and narrow passages.

It would be unfair to invite people to come for a sailing adventure on the Bras d’Or without commenting on the weather.  While many brochures and articles promise warm waters and steady breezes, it’s not unusual for a sailor to find himself with his hands full when the wind kicks up. Boaters of all classes should be reminded that Cape Breton hosts a genuine maritime climate.  It rains with some degree of regularity and fog can occur even inland. Because of the hills that surround the lakes, the winds can be gusty and unpredictable.  Over the expanse of the big lake sizeable waves can form quickly.  But these conditions are what truly add to the beauty of this stunning island.

_LAK9501-497Good winds are one of the main reasons that Regatta Week in Baddeck is such a spectacular event.  Commencing on the first Sunday of August every year and running for an entire week, racing yachts of all sizes and design gather for this century old festival.  Hosted by the Bras d’Or Yacht Club, now in its 109th year, racers can count on good winds every day, all week long, for one of the most exhilarating race weeks anywhere on the continent.

For those hardy sailors who venture to Cape Breton there are many things to do ashore to stretch your legs.  The family home of the late Dr. Alexander Graham Bell rests on Beinn Bhreagh just across the harbour from the Village of Baddeck, and the National Historic Museum in his honour is a favourite destination.  Cruisers can also take time out for a game of golf on one of the many excellent courses on the island, such as the Highland Links, and Bell Bay.  And a trip to Cape Breton would hardly be complete without a tour of the world famous Cabot Trail.

_LAK0639Cape Breton is not just for sailors.  Power cruisers, fishermen, kayakers, and canoeists all find a joyful retreat on the beautiful saltwater of the Bras d’Or Lakes, known as Canada’s Inland Sea.  Come and see for yourself.

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