Even at 300 metres from the stone ramparts, the Akademik Ioffe is well within the range of the Fortress of Louisbourg’s cannons. It is from the port of Louisbourg, on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, that we begin our seven-day voyage of discovery to four islands—not only to learn about the history and culture along Canada’s East Coast, but also to experience some of the region’s best golf courses.
The crew hoists our golf gear onto the Akademik Ioffe’s starboard deck, masterfully avoiding brightly coloured kayaks and paddleboards. Our goods are now resting next to a flotilla of jet-black Zodiacs, our ship-to-shore transport during this journey.
This is the inaugural Fiddle and Sticks voyage for One Ocean Expeditions; a privately owned Canadian company that specializes in exploration cruising. Its fleet of three Finnish-built ships provide specialized, small-group experiences in culture, history and wildlife. Our journey’s name is apt, as music and golf are two of the principal ingredients on this adventure.
Weighing anchor, we sail past the French-built 74-foot-tall white tower of Canada’s oldest lighthouse, completed in 1734. The beam from its cod-liver-oil-fed wicks—which used to be seen from 16 kilometres away—was once a welcome beacon for merchant and naval brigantines navigating the dangerous waters along the Cape Breton coast.
As we enter the open waters of the Atlantic, and begin our journey around the northern coast of Cape Breton, I take time to explore this long-range polar research ship. My cabin is located on Deck 5, near the uppermost part of the Akademik Ioffe. Spartan, yet comfortable, it is furnished with a sofa, writing desk and two single beds. The head—a.k.a. bathroom—is compact and functional.
The Akademik Ioffe is a research ship, so simplicity is the style in the dining room. Meals are designed with a touch of international flavours to appeal to every palette—our contingent includes a mix of tourists, explorers and scientists from around the world. From the lounge and bar, which will become the hub of storytelling and Maritime music, to the well-stocked library of nature and exploration, this vessel is designed for conversation, education and memorable experiences.
Over breakfast, the sense of excitement is infectious among the golfers as we are about to experience two of Nova Scotia’s most beautiful courses, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs. The sound from our ship’s anchors lowering into the sheltered waters of Inverness’ harbour signals it is time to “suit up.” Sporting our bright-red waterproof jackets and calf-high rubber boots, we are fitted with personal flotation devices and approach the gangway. A quick jerk from a crewmember on our life vest, a thumbs up, and we are given the okay to descend the ship’s steep-sloped metal ladder to our 12-passenger Zodiacs.
Our approach to the dockside pier is uneventful—though the local lobster fishermen’s weather-etched faces show a sense of bemusement at our unique mode of arrival. Disrobing from our foul-weather gear produces added smirks upon the reveal of multihued golf attire. We gather our gear and board the bus for our short ride to the Rod Whitman-designed Cabot Links. Red-capped caddies welcome us, and we tee off with strong winds blowing off the always-in-sight Atlantic Ocean.
Cape Breton was once a prosperous coal-mining centre, but the last mine closed in 2001. Cabot Cliffs Golf Course, located on the site of former mine shafts, is consistently ranked among the best—and most beautiful—courses in the world, and is a must-play for any golfer. The region is blessed with a topography that has attracted some of the world’s most accomplished course architects. One of the finest is Canadian Stanley Thompson, who designed Highlands Links, on the island’s northeastern shore, more than 75 years ago. From rocky outcrops to ocean views, his ability to incorporate the natural beauty of the land produced fairways and greens that are wonderful to observe.
Our voyage also takes us to Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island. Our invading crafts literally “hit the beach” by the clubhouse of the Tom McBroom-designed The Links at Crowbush Cove. The course is inspiring with its wind-formed sand dunes and emerald-green fairways next to the Gulf of St. Lawrence’s cerulean waters.
It’s not just the uniqueness of our transportation—and the golf courses—but the chance to visit two out-of-the-way islands that makes this a vacation like no other. After sailing waters where dolphin and whale sightings are frequent, we anchor off Îles de la Madeleine, an archipelago composed of a dozen narrow islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Our Zodiacs create a spectacle when they arrive on the sandy shores of Millerand on the southern coast of L’Île-du-Havre-Aubert.
Over the next two hours, our small group paddles kayaks along the coastline past Bird Rock, a migratory bird sanctuary where the tiniest of cliff fissures become nesting sites for 300 varieties of birds. Returning to the beach, we dig into our lunch of local craft beer, seafood and rich cheeses while listening to the upbeat Acadian sounds of our fiddler and mandolin musicians.
The final leg of our adventure sees our ship head southeast into open Atlantic waters. The fog is thick, and the air smells of seals and salt as we approach the remote shores of Sable Island, a protected 42-km-long strip of sand about 290 km from Halifax—this secluded place sees less than 500 visitors a year.
We anchor a kilometre offshore of this island, known by many as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. To prepare for our landing, we spray and scrub our footwear with a disinfectant and inspect our clothes for any seeds and invertebrates—such as spiders and ticks—to avoid importing foreign particles to this sensitive land. Once completed, we descend the narrow gangway and board our Zodiacs for our 15-minute voyage.
We’re greeted by representatives of Parks Canada, the custodians of the island. Breaking into small groups, we spend the next three hours exploring mountainous sand dunes, discovering the wild horses who have lived here for more than 250 years, and marvelling at the largest colony of grey seals in the world.
Back on board the Akademik Ioffe, the crew prepares our ship for an early morning arrival in Sydney, N.S. It is our group’s last evening together; we share many laughter-filled moments reminiscing on the special memories we experienced on this voyage of discovery—and golf.
One Ocean Expeditions organizes trips in Central America, Scotland, Ireland and along Canada’s East Coast. The 2019 Fiddle and Sticks voyage will be on the RCGS Resolute. The seven-night and eight-day trip begins and ends in Louisbourg.www.oneoceanexpeditions.com