In no particular order, here are first impressions of our time so far in Nova Scotia.
Foremost in my mind, everyone is so friendly!
My first encounter with a native was when I landed on the Bluenose II wharf in Lunenburg the morning after the crossing. In typical up tight, Type A fashion, I was bent on finding the Customs phone allegedly fixed to the dock. It was pretty early in the morning, and a portly lady dressed in a Bluenose II crew t-shirt was just about the only person around. She greeted me and, noticing I was clueless, asked if she could help. I explained what I was looking for and she said she knew of no such phone. But, she offered cheerfully, I could borrow her phone if that would help. I told her it would and called 888-CANPASS, the Canadian Customs report line.
The Custom agent in Ontario who answered asked where the boat was. I told her it was at anchor in Lunenburg harbor. She then said I would have to tie up at a dock and call her back to check in. I said I would, hung up, thanked the nice Bluenose lady, and proceeded to look up and down the many docks and wharves for the Customs phone I knew had to be somewhere. After all, the pilot book referred to it and we had found such a phone easily when checking in to Canada in Victoria in 2008.
Several docks later, and still no phone. I bumped into another friendly Lunenburger, Peter, a kindly elder pottering about his double ender lying alongside a floating dock. When he learned of my plight he said, “I know of no such phone, but just pull up at the end of this dock and I’ll loan you my phone.” Off I went to move the boat. Customs check-in then proceeded without a hitch.
Since these first encounters, with virtually no exception, everyone has been pleasant and cheerful here. On our last morning in Lunenburg, a fellow named Doug came down from the “Boat Locker” store on the street well above the docks and declared we owed him $40 a night docking fees. When I expressed shock at this surprise, he claimed he had been “waiting patiently” for me to come up and register. I explained that I had no idea he had anything to do with the docks, his shop not being in obvious proximity, to wit he responded that a sign stating his authority was about to be put up for the season. I pointed out that a sign that wasn’t there yet could not be heeded and asked if he had any latitude with his bill. He suddenly reversed engines and started inquiring as a fellow cruiser would about our itinerary past and present. After chatting a bit, he announced he would waive the dock fee if I would just come up and fill out a registration form.
And so it went. Time and again, the natives have proven friendly and easy going. Last evening, we attended a show Jocelyn learned about at the Mahone Bay Community Center called “Glimpses,” billed as a home spun collection of skits and songs rendering the historical facts and fictions of the area, from the early days in the mid-18th century when the area was settled by German, Swiss, & Dutch Protestants, to the more recent days of the Bluenose II fishing era and the incidents with the Shag Harbour UFO sighting and Oak Island Money Pit pirate treasure. During the introduction, the MC asked for visitors to identify themselves. Only a few hands went up as most in the audience were locals. There was a couple from Ottawa and a man from Toronto. When Jocelyn announced we were from Colorado, the crowd burst into applause! Friendly, indeed!
Even the insects are friendly. Meaning, there are none, so far…. One hears of the fierce mosquitos, black flies, midges, and “no-see-ums” in this neck of the woods. If you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time without proper defenses, these buggers (pun intended) can make your life miserable. But, happily, our first impression here is pest-less. Perhaps it is too early in the season, but we’re not complaining.
Which, despite their friendliness, I can’t say totally about the locals. If there were one theme of complaint among them it is the weather. More than once we’ve heard natives here complain that the weather is downright rotten, saying things like, “When’s summer going to come?” and “This weather is so cold; it’s dreadful.” From our point of view, the weather on the whole has been marvelous, if perhaps a bit on the cool side. There have been a few cloudy days, even some “soft rain,” but no washout storms or bone chilling cold, certainly nothing a Codfish New England Yankee would comment on. Perhaps they’re used to June weather warming more quickly, which might explain the lack of boaters on Mahone Bay.
Equally brilliant is the feeling of safety and security here, and not because of a police presence, which is scarce. Rather, it’s the general sense one gets in many rural areas that there is nothing to be afraid of in Nova Scotia. In the Caribbean, we heard stories of thieves and malingerers at every turn, so much so that we invested in a strong lock and cable to secure our dinghy to the dock when on shore. Well, that cable and lock have remained in the hold. No one locks their dinghy here. No need, apparently.
As we meet more people here, visit the museums, and learn about the history, we can’t help but get a sense of the place’s British heritage. Indeed, the museum exhibits explain that the first German, Dutch, and Swiss settlers of Lunenburg County were shepherded here under a program organized by the British in Halifax to bring industrious souls to the province. When the American Revolution erupted, British loyalists fled to Nova Scotia and found sanctuary in the towns along this coast, only to be later ravaged by Boston “privateers” who sacked Lunenburg. Today, the local accent, while distinctly Canadian, has a twinge of Britishness to it, to my ear. And the currency has an image of Queen Elizabeth on it. We may well be in North America, but it feels part of the British Empire.
Speaking of currency, I had expected the strong U.S. dollar to rule the day here, yielding a purchasing bargain at every turn. After all, it only takes about 80 cents to buy a “loonie” as the Canadian dollars are called. But prices here are greater than at home, meaning it takes more loonies to buy a loaf of bread, a liter of gasoline, a pint of beer, whatever. So in the end, it seems, you spend about the same, perhaps even a bit more, to buy things here as you do in Colorado. The sales taxes are twice what they are at home here as well, which probably explains some of it.
As far as boating services go, we have not needed much so have not had to seek them out. It appears yachting facilities are available, if a bit infrequent and pricey. More obvious are fishing vessel and tourist boat wharves. Fueling docks are around but not obvious. Many appear unattended. Despite our good fortune with docking and mooring fees in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay, the going rate to tie up to a dock is $2.00 to $2.50 per foot per night (that’s $80-100/nt. for us), and one marina priced a mooring ball at $55/night. I guess we’re going to anchor out a fair bit this season, as I deem these prices pretty steep. Grocery stores are adequate, with decent but not urbane selections. On the plus side, wifi is easy to get, so far, at pubs and libraries, and we filled up with water at the town dock this morning. Let’s hope the ease of obtaining wifi and water continues.
Another big plus is the marvelous rails to trails system here. Most of the provinces’ railroads were abandoned about 50 years ago. Since then, a concerted effort has been made to convert the rail right of way for use by pedestrians and bicyclists. The network extends all around the Maritime Provinces and rivals any I have seen. We rode our Brompton folders from Lunenburg to Mahone Bay to Gold River to Bridgewater, all without cars whooshing by and only railroad grade hills to contend with. Each town takes care of their section, so there is some variability to the crushed rock surface, but all are serviceable. For us, this amenity increases the area’s attractiveness significantly.
On the whole, our first impressions are very, very positive. Special thanks go out to Mike Knock, our new friend from Lunenburg, who we met on the docks there. I helped him secure his 27 foot sailboat just behind mine and watched it for him. In return, he offered us his mooring for the weekend in Mahone Bay. From him and everyone else here, we have had a delightful reception.