Morning dawned to mist and it threatened drizzle. After a day of hiking & biking on Sunday the three of us were headed to the Cape North area to rent a couple boats from Mike Fitzgerald's Eagle North (Canoe & Kayak, Rentals & Tours). Originally we would have liked to paddle East to White Point but with the weather leaning towards a bit of a blow (estimated 20 knot winds that day at times) we got the skinny on a more sheltered tour of South and North Harbors ending with a pull out at Dingwall Harbor. This worked out just great, allowing us a taste of the open Atlantic swells before the wind kicked up and sheltered "lake-like" paddling once the wind did pick up.
Listening to Mike and his wife Jen describe the wildlife viewing in South Harbor and describing the conditions in the channel to open water plus the landmarks we would need to recognize, we were all struck by the quiet competence of this guide and the tranquility evidenced by their family. Their young son frolicked about while we were organizing the boats, camera gear, marine radio, maps and drybags. Mike graciously allowed us the use of his personal boat, a Capella, since he was not accompanying us on this trip.
Once we were all in the water Kurt and Shannon lead the way from the grassy launch on the shore of Duggan's Cove opposite Eagle North's building, almost directly east, across South Harbor. It was a bit of a shame as Mike had said there were owls & eagles along the North shore - I stuck closer to the north trying to spot some of theses birds and finally, out of the corner of my eye, I did catch a flash of large brown wings as one of these birds of prey glided in to perch amongst the conifers. I couldn't tell from the quick glimpse which type it was and Kurt & Shannon were rapidly out pacing me soÂ… I turned towards the harbor mouth and lit the afterburners to catch up. The water was quite shallow and as warm as a bathtub!
Reaching the beginning of the channel through the natural sandspit barrier we noticed that the tide was coming in. Bucking the increasing current we made our way through the shallows (Shannon actually got beached and wound up pulling his boat through the shallows) to the swifter flowing main channel that serpentined it's way to the open water of Aspy Bay. Electing to scout the way ahead, we pulled up a hundred yards or so from the breakers that were converging around the exit to open water. Rather than expend energy on the swift water here we lined our boats to the exit and pulled across a few yards of sandy beach to seal launch into the one & a half foot surf. Once through the surf zone it was easy 2 foot swells and little or no wind so far - a calm day on the Atlantic!
Heading north up the coast towards Dingwall Harbor and North Harbor we were astounded at the large numbers of Lion's Mane jellyfish. At times we were surrounded by literally dozens and their sting from the long tentacles can be very painful. We threaded our way amongst the buoys of the lobster pots and kept a watchful eye out for the lobster boats as they dashed hither & yon pulling up their catch and dropping the pots again. The season was in its final stretch and due to end July 15th. Since the Atlantic was cooperating, we chose not to enter Dingwall Harbor, instead playing around a bit and then pushing on to the entrance to North Harbor and sneaking through the channel on the flooding tide. This was a straightforward bit of Class 1 water although the refracting wavelets from the sides of the channel required us to throw a quick brace now and again. We pulled out on Donald's Island to break for lunch. We knew the winds were expected to pick up and as lunch ended we launched into whitecaps but only a foot to a foot & a half waves. Still, quartering through these, the occasional one would slop over the cockpit and hull making us glad for the spray skirts that any respectable paddler is never without.
We wanted to get to the mouth of the North Aspy River, as one of the local guides (Mike Crimp -
see South Ingonish Harbor here on Trailpeak) had said there was a tree lined tunnel-like paddle up it for several kilometers that was quite rewarding. We found ourselves in a blind channel and some idyllic mirror smooth water - good photo ops but not where we wanted to beÂ… then a quick look at the watches confirmed we didn't have time to look any further. We headed back towards Dingwall Harbor. A large white cliff face provided a landmark as we wound our way eastward through the islands near the Aspy River estuary. As we neared the cliffs we saw little caves hollowed out at the base and stopped to marvel at this outcropping of gypsum. It looked like quartz but pieces would crumble in your hands as you gripped them. Heading on across the mouth of a small cove we found ourselves downwind of a bird colony on one of the small islands - whewÂ… guano stinks of ammonia! Rounding Cornelius Head where we saw some interesting undercuts in the rock we pulled up on a pea gravel beach opposite the Dingwall Harbor government docks across the road. Having been rained on and splashed we changed into dry cloths and got into the shuttle vehicle to get back to Eagle North.
This is a great beginner/intermediate trip if the Atlantic is cooperating as it did for us that day. As always, to enhance your enjoyment and learn more of the local history and color, we recommend taking a guided tour. In this instance, Mike & Jen, though they weren't out on the water with us, provided wonderful stories of local events and happenings such as the alleged salvage of the Augusta treasure the summer before by a dive operation.
Dave Falkins, Paddling Editor, BC
Directions: Head north on the Cabot Trail Hwy to Cape North. There are signs about 500m to one km in advance of the turnoff to Eagle North's location saying "next right" and from the Cheticamp side of the Cabot Trail this is true in reverse. After turning off the Cabot Trail Hwy the Eagle North building will be to your left after approximately 5-6 kms.
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