Mahone Bay reverie

Peter Jackson
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It’s four o’clock, and we have a choice. Find a free mooring ball at a nearby island or continue on to the Mahone Bay marina. We’re hungry, so the choice is easy. It’s back to home base.

It’s a sunny day, hot but not sweltering. I’m with a trio of white-haired women, one of them my wife, another my cousin and the third a capable mariner since childhood. She handles all things rope-related.

Earlier, further out the bay where the winds are more constant, sailboats large and small challenged each other in a friendly tournament. They tacked against the breeze to a designated buoy, then circle around and let their spinnakers fly. The sails are white, black and every colour in between.

Experienced sailors know every nook and cranny of the bay. They know exactly where the wind will pick up past the shelter of every island. It is a chess game of wind, rope and canvas.

As we glide back to shore, cormorants and other seabirds can be seen perched on rocks and buoys, taking a rest from their daily feeding. Once in a while, a seal will briefly poke its nose out of the water. Around every point of every island are shorelines of every variety, from steep and rocky to smooth and sandy. Clumps of sailboats are moored off the more popular sites.

Boating mecca

Mahone Bay is one of the most prized boating meccas in North America. Its sheltered maze of islands provides a vast playground for exploration and adventure. In a sailboat, you can hear all sounds above the hushed ambience of water lapping against the hull — voices of other boaters, the high-pitched screech of an osprey, even a lawnmower on a nearby shore.

Staring up at the sail, you contemplate the miracle of this ancient means of locomotion — from the Greeks and Persians battling for control of the Mediterranean, to the great galleons that ferried European colonialists to North America.

And you think of the mysterious pirate ship that is supposed to have deposited a great treasure on Oak Island.

The legend of Oak Island is more than 200 years old, and has blossomed into one of Nova Scotia’s biggest tourist attractions. The Oak Island Inn and Marina, located on the mainland, was expanded recently and renamed Oak Island Resort. It includes more than a hundred rooms and chalets, a spa and meeting facilities. Add a couple of roboticized pirates and you’ve got a veritable Disneyland.

The island is privately owned, but is sporadically open — via a causeway — to tourists who want to view artifacts and visit the famous “money pit.”

Many still believe the tales of a ship’s pulley hanging from an oak tree and a buried flagstone with a mysterious inscription. But the authenticity and origin of the evidence is questionable at best, and researchers have posited a much more plausible explanation for the island enigma: sinkholes and underwater channels caused by the region’s well-studied geology.

Still, the legend lives on.

Proponents who spent millions over the centuries to snag the elusive prize found it hard to let go. And even the most rigid skeptic would admit that a wisp of doubt helps keep the magic of the region alive.

It is indeed that sort of shrouded history that helps make Mahone Bay a dreamy, mystical experience for visitors and livyers alike.

Back in the harbour, I sear some scallops for dinner. I’ve never cooked in the galley of a small sailboat. It’s like cooking in a linen closet, but the challenge is happily met. The meal prepared, we dine on deck as the water turns to glass and the sky — punctuated by masts and a trio of church steeples — slowly changes colour in the retreating sun.

Another day on a bay like no other.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. He can be reached at

Organizations: Oak Island Inn, Oak Island Resort

Geographic location: Mahone Bay, North America, Oak Island Nova Scotia Disneyland.The island

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Recent comments

  • Karen Janigan
    August 19, 2010 - 19:02

    Glad you are enjoying Mahone Bay. We love the fantastic boating here and the ability to moor off an island and head to the beach for a little bit of paradise. Many islands have been preserved for traditional public use and enjoyment through the efforts of Mahone Island Conservation Association, a grass roots organization that helps fund and negotiates the return of private islands to the public domain. Feel free to join as a way of adding your voice to many others who work to preserve our beautiful natural heritage and learn more at