The High Capes
The tallest sea cliffs in the maritime provinces can only be fully appreciated from the water.
Money Point got its name from the old-timers who used to live around here, more than 100 years ago. They used to say that you could stick a piece of tar on the bottom of a long stick, and pick up gold and silver coins along the shoreline!"
We were just leaving the snug little harbour in Bay St. Lawrence, and Ray MacKinnon was pointing out the massive headland off to our immediate right. A fisherman, with more than 30 years experience in the often stormy waters off northern Cape Breton, he explained that at least 200 ships have been wrecked off Money Point over the last three centuries.
As we entered the broad expanse of the Cabot Strait (separating Cape Breton Island from Newfoundland), Captain Ray went on to explain that Money Point is located at the northern tip of Cape North Mountain. Perhaps the most impressive promontory in Nova Scotia, this precipitous headland towers over the surrounding countryside, and reaches heights easily more than 1,000 feet!
The tides and currents that swirl around Cape North have the potential to make this a very dangerous spot, especially under adverse weather conditions. Nor'easters can sweep in from the North Atlantic, while vicious fall and winter storms can quickly develop over the vast open expanse of the Gulf of St. Lawrence-not to mention thick fogs, especially in the spring and summer months.
On this particular Sunday, however, conditions were just about perfect. It was early September, the day was sunny and warm, and a light southerly breeze created a gentle swell that only added to the seagoing experience. We were eagerly looking forward to spending this day on the water. After all, how often do you get a chance to catch a few mackerel or cod, and sail under the highest ocean cliffs in the Maritime provinces?
Our boat was the Mercator 2, a 42-foot fishing vessel with a 275-horsepower Volvo Diesel engine. Built in Port Hood, on the west coast of Cape Breton, she has been based in Bay St. Lawrence for most of the last 25 years, and easily survived more than her fair share of rough weather conditions.
In addition to Captain Ray MacKinnon and his friend Wanda Fraser, our complement consisted of six individuals, all from the Sydney area. With the exception of Ray and Wanda, none had any previous experience on a working fishing boat.
Ann MacLean was a retired flight attendant, who had returned to Cape Breton after a 25-year career in the United States. Her brother Allan, a retired plumber and steamfitter, and his lovely wife Mae, had also returned home after more than 30 years in Hamilton, Ontario. Rounding out the crew were my brother Malcolm, and his friend Rick McCready, who are both planners with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
Our plan was to follow the coast, in a northwesterly direction, from Bay St. Lawrence to Capstick, and on to Meat Cove. Here we would try our hands at "jigging" for mackerel, or perhaps a few cod. Then we would continue on to Cape St. Lawrence, the northwestern tip of Cape Breton Island, and the spot that marks the end of the Cabot Strait and the beginning of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
We would then head south, for Lowland Cove, Sailor Cove, and Pollet's Cove. Along the way we would pass under the "High Capes", at more than 1,400 feet the highest sea cliffs in the Maritime Provinces. This wild and remote region, one of the few truly wilderness areas left in the province, would be the highlight of our day on the water. Our return trip would take about five or six hours.
Of the eight people on board, only Ray MacKinnon and Wanda Fraser, both from northern Cape Breton, had any experience with in-shore fishing or "jigging" for mackerel. The rest of us, however, were more than willing to learn.