The Ultimate Cruising Destination


“A basin ringed by indigo hills laced with marble. Islands within a sea inside an island.” is how Silver Donald Cameron—yachtsman and author of Wind, Whales and Whiskey; Sniffing the Coast; and Sailing Away from Winter—described Cape Breton Island's inland sea comprising the Bras d'Or Lakes. While it's not “Canada's Largest Inland Sea”—as some would have you believe—this shining jewel should be on every cruiser's Bucket List. With almost 700 nautical miles of shoreline and 425 square miles of deep, protected, well‑marked water, friendly people, hundreds of uncrowded anchorages and outstanding scenery, the Bras d'Or Lakes are the "ultimate cruising destination" for many cruisers from the Eastern Seaboard, the St Lawrence River, and Great Lakes system. As East Coast sailors know only too well, summer and fog are synonymous. Yet, while the east coast of the island is often fogbound, fog only occasionally penetrates inland to the lakes. When it does, it usually burns off by mid‑morning.

Boats in Maskells Harbour
Cruising boats in Maskells Harbour

Canadian Hydrographic Service charts lack the detail cruisers need. So, volunteers at the Dobson YC, with the help of others in the cruising community, maintain this website. The aim is to give those venturing to our island valuable up‑to‑date information. Information such as detailed chartlets of harbours, coves, and anchorages; information on weather forecasts, tides and currents, supplies and services, and links to anything else cruisers need to know. All this information is downloadable as an app (The "Electronic Cruising Guide"), and as eBooks for printing or viewing on a laptop or tablet. The app and eBooks need no Internet connection. See our Downloads page.

It is hard to recommend to visiting cruisers where to visit. There are so many coves and harbours in which to anchor; many still unspoiled by human habitation. Cruisers have their own favourite anchorages. There are several 'must‑see' places such as Little Harbour; an almost circular cove with an entrance less than 200 feet wide, and one of the few anchorages boasting a waterside restaurant with a dock. Another interesting place is the 'secret cove' in Big Harbour on the Great Bras d'Or Channel. For those seeking company, there are the popular anchorages of Maskells Harbour, the cove at Marble Mountain, and Cape George Harbour. For those seeking solitude, in most other anchorages you may never see another cruising boat. There are anchorages to suit all personalities!

Neils Harbour
Neils Harbour

Cape Breton cruising is more than simply 'The Lakes'. The Isle Madame and Lennox Passage area is a gunkholer's paradise. You'll find secluded anchorages in Haddock Harbour and Inhabitants Bay. The small fishing harbours of Janvrin and West Arichat, or the larger harbours of D'Escousse, Petit‑de‑Grat and Arichat, are well worth a visit. For those seeking a little more challenge, coastal Cape Breton and the many small, and not‑so‑small, fishing harbours beckon. Many cruisers prefer the coastal ports. They offer interesting visits ashore to get to know the local people who earn their living off the sea and a chance to stretch one's legs walking the beaches and cliffs. Please remember that lobster fishing season around the island runs from late April to mid‑July. Except for emergencies, cruisers should avoid the small fishing harbours during this busy period; at any other time, you'll be warmly welcomed.

Our island offers too much to appreciate in a two‑week or even month‑long visit. As many have found, a multiyear visit is the best way to appreciate our island and is a real possibility for sailing and motor‑cruisers alike. So, take an unhurried cruise here one summer. Lay up each winter and cruise each summer. When you finally must leave, make a relaxing trip home. Some cruisers plan it; others passing through are waylaid by all the island has to offer, and decide to stay a while.

Some with small trailerable boats bring them here season after season. Owners with larger boats and enough leisure time come each year by water. But for many, with boats in the 26 to 35‑foot range, getting here can be challenging. Some owners have their boats delivered by boat hauler, cruise for several summers, and have them hauled home again. Well worth considering, and less expensive if two boats are hauled as a single load or arranged with a back‑haul. Or, you can use the services of a professional delivery skipper for a one-way or two-way relocation of your boat.

Local full‑service providers offer ‘Concierge Service’. They'll deliver your boat to the island, have it provisioned, furnished with charts, and cruise‑ready on your arrival. When you're finished for the season, leave it at the dock. They'll take it back home for you or store and maintain it for next season. For concierge service, boat transportation, and delivery skippers, see our Marine Services Providers page.

Like the other yacht clubs and marinas on the island, the Dobson Yacht Club in Sydney, hosts boats from all over the world. It permits do‑it‑yourself or contractor repairs and servicing. It's had boats from as far away as Michigan and Virginia stay for four or five years. You will find as they have found, that keeping a boat at a Cape Breton Island facility is an affordable option, compared to what you might have to pay ‘back home’.

Cruisers from the St Lawrence River and Great Lakes system bound for the Bahamas or beyond for the winter should consider taking this spectacular detour, before finally heading south in late August or September. No need to un-step and re-step your mast and all that that entails when taking this route.

Why come to our island? In 2011, Travel & Leisure magazine readers voted Cape Breton Island as the best island to visit in North America and third in the world after Bali and the Galapagos Islands. We invite you to experience what our island has to offer. Come stay a while, or longer.

[Adapted from an Atlantic Boating 2014 article by Colin Jackson, a member of the Dobson Yacht Club, Sydney, NS]

Revised: 2021-02-08