Thursday, October 19, 2017

Expedition Reports 2015

0930, Sunday, September 6

Yesterday, mid-day, we developed a significant diesel leak on the engine. A few hours of work did not find a solution to stemming the flow of diesel, so the engine could not be used and the batteries could not be charged. We sat becalmed, waiting for a breeze in the Gulf of Maine.

Thankfully, as night came on, the predicted southwester began to build. we rode the breeze on in, reaching Manchester's outer harbor at a little after 0800. Then the breeze went light and it took another hour to sail slowly in against the current and dock at the Manchester Yacht Club float where we are now awaiting Customs and Border Protection to clear back into the United States.

Tazzarin is back home! I will try to get more photos of Sable posted in the next couple of days.

1000, Saturday, September 5

Tazzarin is off the southern end of Cashes Ledge with about 90 miles to go to Manchester.

1700, Friday, September 4

Tazzarin has passed the halfway point to Manchester. They have had great sailing with some northerlies but the wind has gone light and they are now motorsailing.

1230, Thursday, September 3


Fog and sun. Progress is slow with a 15 knot headwind. We hope to get a good northeast breeze by midnight.


Tazzarin feels spacious and comfortable with the crew back down to just two people. We are making our way along the Nova Scotia coast through patches of fog.

1015, Thursday, September 3

We are just passing Chebucto Head on our way out of Halifax. Hoping for fair winds.

0730, Tuesday, September 1

Shortly, Dave Schylling and I will cast off lines and head to see for the 360 mile run back to Manchester. The next land we will see will likely be Gloucester on Cape Ann. This weekend is the Gloucester Schooner Festival and races. Curiously, about ten days ago I was aboard the replica of the Gloucester fishing schooner Columbia, 141-feet on deck. She was laying in Lunenburg Harbor in Nova Scotia, home of the schooner Bluenose. These were considered the two best fishing schooner ever produced, one in the US, the other in Canada.

The original Columbia was built in Essex Mass at the Story shipyard in 1923. In 1927 she was lost at Sable Island in the Great Gale of 1927, a hurricane by today's standards. Thus she was added to the long list of vessels claimed by the infamous island. A week ago, the new Columbia diverted to Sable on her way to Gloucester to lay a wreath on the waters in honor of the crew of the first Columbia.

2145, Monday, August 31

We arrived in Halifax at about 2145 and tied up at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. The crew is tired after a 180 nautical miles close hauled run in up to 25 knots of wind, sometimes with a double reef in both the main and genoa. After rounding the last of Sable's shoals, we were just able to lay the approach buoy off of Halifax Harbor.

I am left with many memories of Sable. The horses always stand our for their boldness, grace and beauty. They are a symbol of Sable's timelessness combined with rebirth as you see a young foal beside its mare and stallion, standing firm amid marram grass.

Another image in my head are to massive, round poles protruding at an angle from the top of a Dune near the original site of the first lifesaving station on Sable. These are probably the flag poles used to signal ships and communicate between lifesaving stations more than a century ago. A symbol of the many lives that were either lost or saved at Sable when a ship would wreck.

So many images, so many thoughts all inspired by this island perched on the edge of the continental shelf, poised at the edge of the shipping lanes between the old world and the new world.

Will I ever be back here again?

1445, Monday, August 31


A brilliant moon rose shortly after sunset and kept our night filled with a silver light. We have been fairly close hauled since leaving the last, long tentacles of Sable's shoals astern.

This morning a large pod of Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins played in our bow wave. Since then, the wind has been slowly building. We are now 25 miles from the Halifax sea buoy with 20-25 knots of wind and roaring along at 6.5 to 7 knots.  We should be in before midnight and before strong northwest winds arrive.

Tazzarin has been the only private vessel to visit Sable Island this year. No others are expected. Truly a unique voyage with more detail and photos to follow.

1700, Sunday, August 30

Tazzarin hoisted chain and anchor and set sail around the shoals of Sable's west end.  Now sailing under a rising full moon at 6 1/2 to 7 knots Halifax bound.

1500, Sunday, August 30

Sadly we are going to have to depart Sable this evening due to oncoming weather that is a bit strong and from a direction that is not good for the anchorage.

We are wrapping up another good day of investigations and filming. More pictures will follow in the next few days, so stay tuned and also watch our progress on the online tracker.

2130, Saturday, August 29

My apologies. We have had some communications difficulties, both from the boat and the satellite data connection here on Sable Island was also down for a time. I need to catch you up on the last couple of days. I don’t think I even thought to mention the large hawk that landed on Tazzarin on the way out; it perched in the corner of the cockpit for a couple of hours on the way to Sable.

It is now 9:30 pm on Saturday as I write this message. I find myself tired after a couple of very full days. It seems I find myself constantly on the go, hoping to accomplish as much as we can in the limited time we have at this awe inspiring place.

I have been lodging ashore here at Sable Island Main Station since our arrival. Dan, Gary and Mike are here as well. Our two other crew, David and Carl have been sleeping on the boat. Thankfully this odd anchorage, which is nothing more than a shallow spot in the Atlantic Ocean has been relatively calm, and our days have been cloudless, warm and sunny.



At 0815 each morning and 2015 each evening a weather balloon is released by the small on-island meteorological staff of three people. Between those times all six of us in the Tazzarin crew have been busy. Dan and I have made advances in the archaeology. Yesterday we spent much of the day surveying near the “Old Number 3” life saving station on the south shore. The 1801 Humane Establishment created to save shipwrecked sailors at Sable built these stations to aid shipwreck survivors. Other artifacts also showed the same site was in use far earlier, with items from as early as the late 1600s being found. Part of today was at “Old Number 2” on the north shore – it was curious to find a tea kettle just perched upon the sand beside a collapsed building and chimney.


All this work is conducted with onlookers; the horses meander about us as we work and the seals line the beaches. The wildlife is entrancing. The grey seals avoid close approach; the harbor seals let you as close as you dare. The horses sometimes approach right up for a face to face encounter – we back away to minimize their acclimatization to people. There are only three types of mammals here on Sable – seals, horses and people. All intermingle…

Gary and Mike have been capturing the archaeology, history, birds, seals and horses on video. I have no doubt the end result will be something special. Mike is always eager to go the extra yard to get any shot he can. The hiking in sand can be grueling with long days of effort.


I am thankful for a good crew and vessel, Tazzarin, that are making this expedition a reality, and one we will be able to share more of as time progresses. Meanwhile we are already evaluating weather as we try to find a good window of weather and fair breeze to sail back to Halifax.

0830, Friday, August 28

We are loading gear and people into the inflatable boats to make our way to through the surf and onto the beach. We can see the grey seals lounging in the morning sun as a welcoming committee...  More later...

2230, Thursday, August 27

Arrived. We arrived late after a 100 mile beat to windward from Sheet Harbor in Nova Scotia where we had put in briefly. The scene as we approached Sable was almost mystical. The waxing August moon slid in and out between clouds while dark billows of thunderheads produced flashes of lightening. The waters grew calmer in as we approached, the wind from the 15 to 20 knot breeze from the southeast was coming across the island.

Sable herself was invisible until we were nearly upon her in the dark evening; she hid her lonesome and sometimes treacherous shore from us as she has from shipwrecked mariners for centuries. We came in slowly with the light of moon and thunder, sensing our way by watching the depth sounder cautiously. After slowly circling to check for uncharted shoals, we dropped anchor with the chain rumbling out over the bow to the sandy bottom. Silence came. Haunting moans and howls soon drifted across the wavelets; in reality they are the calls of the colonies of grey seals that line the beaches. Haunting sounds, shrouded moon and lightening were the scene as we all turned in for a well needed rest. At Sable, at last...

1745 Wednesday, August 26

On starboard tack, sailing close hauled along the Nova Scotia coast.

1300, Wednesday, August 26

Yesterday afternoon, one of the crew, Gary, took ill with a condition requiring medical attention.  A quick decision was made to alter course and get to the closest hospital as soon as possible.  We turned toward Sheet Harbor, Nova Scotia, which has a hospital. Careful attention was required by the crew navigating the winding channel into the town.  We had contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who arranged transport to take Gary to the hospital.

Today, with the kind assistance of the Canadians, all is well.  Gary is back aboard and, at just after noon, we have all departed for Sable again with a healthy crew.  The island lies 120 nautical miles to the southeast.

1700, Tuesday August 25

Hoping to optimize progress under power, we stopped the boat and Bill dove down to the propeller.  A coating of barnacles had formed on the propeller blades while the boat was waiting in Halifax.  A scraping with a knife has removed them and our speed under power has increased by a half a knot.

Remember to check the "Tracking" link at the top of the page to see Tazzarin's current position in real time.

1600, Tuesday August 25

Sailing this morning with a lovely northerly breeze boosting along towards Sable at over 6 knots.  By mid afternoon the good northerly wind died away behind the low pressure system that has passed to the north east.  Now a light headwind directly from Sable has us motoring and making good 4.5 knots into the wind and swells.  We have 120 miles to go to Sable as gannets soar in the blue sky above.

0600, Tuesday, August 25

40 Hampton Road 

Southampton, NY

We sail from Halifax this morning shortly after 0800. Our departure has been delayed by 12 hours due in part to a gale warning and unpleasant sea state at Sable, as well as a brief crew member illness, now resolved.

All crew shared a dinner at the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron last evening, with a chance to pose with all of us in one room together for the first time. It is a good crew to put to sea with!

Winds are strong from the north at the moment, so we should make good time on our course that is a little south of east towards Sable.


1200, Monday, August 17

Overall, it was a fantastic and fast voyage up for Carl and myself. Early on we had the kind of sailing you hope for on a passage from New England to Nova Scotia. Sun, southwest breezes, gentle seas, almost no fog. We kept pushing and did use the engine in the final stretch. In the end the total time was about 60 hours for about 380 miles.

We made our way into Halifax Harbor in darkness, checking in with Halifax traffic on the VHF radio to see if there were any freighter or container ships traversing the area. All was clear. We left the major commercial port of Halifax to starboard with its derricks, piers and ferries. Instead we proceeded up the Northwest Arm of the harbor to the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, arriving at first light around 0500 local time and easily clearing customs. We had about two hours sleep tied to the fuel dock until it opened. We topped up fuel and proceeded on to a slip where Tazzarin will be berthed until next Monday when we depart with the full crew for Sable Island. Check back along the way. It will only get better!  Bill Barton






1915, Sunday, August 16

The wind is dead aft and we are motorsailing to keep speed. The Nova Scotia cows is visible towards the sunset.  The sky has scattered high cirrus clouds of mixed grey, pink, purple and orange as the sun drops away.

I am on deck alone. Carl is sleeping off watch in his berth. We are making good time and should be in Halifax for breakfast. Halifax is a busy port with lots of commercial shipping. We will be alert as we approach the port's shipping lanes.

Arriving early will allow us to devote part of the day to further preparing the boat for a safe passage out to Sable a week from now.

Bill Barton


1200, Sunday, August 16

The first two days of the passage were fantastic sailing with the boat making good speed sailing under clear skies with the rail down and the bow parting the smooth seas with an easy grace.

Nights have been starlit. Last night was colder as we met 55 degree waters flowing out of the Bay of Fundy. The strong currents gave us a welcome boost in sped around the tip of Nova Scotia.

We are now heading down the coast of Nova Scotia. The breeze has died and we are motoring through foggy patches. We have just under 100 miles to our berth in Halifax, hoping to be in by mid morning tomorrow.

Keep in mind that you can follow our progress real time by clicking the Tracking link at the top of the page.  Bill Barton

1800, Saturday, August 15

The day has been the perfect sail. The wind remains southwest on our quarter and we carve through steely blue seas, still headed east on the first leg of the journey to Sable Island. On watch, the only friends on a now empty sea are the tiny Wilson's Storm Petrels, Greater Shearwaters and a gannet or skua scattered about.

It is magical how even bird life can tell you something about where you are. As we drew away from the New England coast we were accompanied by herring gulls and great black backed gulls. These are really coastal birds. As Carl and I find ourselves a hundred miles from any land, we can also tell we are further at sea by the storm petrels swooping and flitting about the waves as they pick bits of plankton from the surface. These are among the most numerous birds in the world; but, spend most of their life at sea. They are tiny, about 7 inches long, black with a white rump and patches of light grey on the inner portion of the wing.

The greater shearwaters are sort of a sea version of the coastal gulls, far more elegant fliers as they at and curve, dipping their wing tips to almost touch the crests of waves. The shearwaters are about the size of a full with striking white crossed with gray/brown in bold patterns and a slightly hooked bill.

Our next clue that Nova Scotia draws near will be the bird life, the reappearance of the coastal gulls. Eventually the wispy scent of pine on the breeze.

Bill Barton









0715, Saturday, August 15

The night was nothing short of spectacular. One of the joys of offshore sailing is a crystal clear night; the sky comes alive as it never does ashore. Last night the when I came off watch at 2200, the milky way rose from the southern horizon in a lustrous veil of shimmering silver and white. High overhead was the Summer Triangle formed by Altair, Vega and Deneb, prominent as its name suggests on a summer night. Deneb is also the heart of Cygnus the swan whose wings were spread as if he was fling out of the Triangle and into the Milky Way.

Pegasus, the winged horse was rising in the east; I had been steering for his shoulder. Just above the end of Pegasus' tail I could see the galaxy of Andromeda. Casseopia's chair hung north of that. The Big Dipper shown brightly to the northeast, rotating around Polaris. Dead astern, the brilliance of Arcturus shown brightly on this moonless night.

The sailing was good through the night with the wind settling into the southwest. Speeds have varied between 5.3 and 7.2 knots. Now, at 0715 we are about 95 miles out from Manchester and about 144 miles from Brazil Rock on the southwest tip of Nova Scotia. Dawn came with few clouds and the sun rising directly ahead of us as we continue making our way east, first to Halifax, then to Sable Island. Bill Barton

1100, Friday, July 10

Background historic research continues in advance of our expedition. Part of the task has included finding as many old nautical charts of the island as possible, some dating back to the 1500s with various levels of detail.

We have also been collecting aerial photographic surveys of the island done at different times over the last half century. Each one adds another piece to the puzzle and slowly fit together to form a clearer picture of Sable's past.

One intriguing aerial photo from 1972 shows evidence of remaining buildings of old Main Station. The roofs can be seen while the majority of the structures are slowly being overtaken by a migrating sand dune. Today the dunes have completely covered virtually all of Old Main Station which was originally built in 1801.



1600, Wednesday, July 8

Tazzarin will be headed back to Sable Island in late August 2015 to continue archaeological surveys of early settlements and shipwreck survivor camps on the island. It will also give our team a chance to be awed by the natural beauty of an ocean passage and the dunes, seals and horses of this remote, uninhabited island. You are encouraged to follow along with the expedition by reading this online journal. Once the expedition begins on August 14th, we will be posting updates once or twice a day, along with some photos.

This year, as we continue the archaeology, renowned sailor Gary Jobson cinematographer Mike Audick will be filming a documentary movie about our sailing and investigations as we explore the island known as "The Graveyard of the Atlantic." Sable has had shipwrecks and settlers dating from the early 1500s through the 1900s. As we look for evidence of those peoples and events, the film will capture our work as well as Sable's beautiful wildlife.

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