CAPE BRETON ISLAND: One of yachting’s best-kept secrets

Apr 12, 2022 by Adam Langley
Credit: Photos courtesy Destination Cape Breton

Extending from the northeastern end of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia is Cape Breton Island, an enchanting destination that lies surprisingly under the yachting world’s radar, especially given its rave reviews from some of the world’s most influential travel authorities. While the island is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Canso — the deepest natural harbor in North America, with an average depth of 60 meters — it’s connected by the deepest causeway in the world, the Canso Causeway of the Trans-Canada Highway. Although most visitors arrive via road or air travel, the best way to experience the island is by sea.

This is no ordinary island. Its shores are awash by the Atlantic Ocean on the northeast and both the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Northumberland Strait on the west, creating a seascape as diverse as the adjacent landscape. The island’s coastline reveals a rugged yet approachable terrain, from towering highland cliffs to pristine beaches bathed in the warm waters of its western shores. Complementing the intriguing landscape are its many colorful cultures, from the deep roots of its first people, the Mi’kmaq, to well-established French Acadian, Scottish and Gaelic communities. For yachts exploring or transiting through Eastern Canada, Cape Breton Island is an itinerary must.

The exterior coast of Cape Breton Island is unforgettably beautiful — but for the yachting visitor, the island has a special secret to reveal: an inland sea. At the heart of Cape Breton Island, you will find the Bras d’Or Lake, Canada’s inland sea. The lake, a UNESCO-designated biosphere, boasts over 600 miles (1,000km) of pristine coastline with hundreds of coves, inlets, harbors and hidden anchorages. The lake is said to run as deep as the surrounding mountains are high, its warm, brackish waters a swimmer’s delight, and its swirling winds and quiet coves a sailor’s dream. Arguably, the most popular — and famous — anchorage on the lakes is Maskell’s Harbour, where in 1922 the Cruising Club of America was founded, giving this destination some serious street cred. Visitors are likely to share this special place with friendly locals, including resident American bald eagles. 

Cape Breton Island has been rated the No. 1 island in North America in Condé Nast Traveler’s “Readers’ Choice Awards” for the past two years, and the No. 1 island in Canada in Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” for three years running. It was also recently included by CNN Travel in “Where to travel 2022: The best destinations to visit.”

Centrally nestled on the shores of the Bras d’Or Lake is the picturesque village of Baddeck, the largest community on the lake and a strategic destination for exploring inland, including the world-famous Cabot Trail. Baddeck recently upgraded its main docking facility to accommodate large yachts with 240 feet of floating docks with 23-inch freeboard, power, water, WiFi and direct access by foot to explore the village, with its many shops, restaurants and the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Bell visited here in 1885, quickly falling in love with the surroundings as they reminded him of Scotland, his place of birth. Returning the following year, he bought land and began to build an estate he named Beinn Bhreagh (“beautiful mountain” in Gaelic), which became his family’s cherished vacation home.

Known as the beginning and end of the Cabot Trail, Baddeck is the baseline for exploration into the heart of the island. Leaving the village and heading north by car, visitors soon find themselves hugging the coastline again as they begin their ascent through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where lush boreal-forested river canyons carve into the ancient plateau, edged by rust-colored cliffs. The Cabot Trail gives you a front-row seat to Nova Scotia’s  highest mountains, dropping almost straight to the sea and bestowing Cape Breton Island with some of Canada’s most beautiful coastal scenery.

“I have travelled around the globe. I have seen the Canadian and American Rockies, the Andes, the Alps and the Highlands of Scotland, but for simple beauty, Cape Breton outrivals them all!”

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922)

But there is much more to this area than the dramatic landscapes and endless Instagram-worthy photo ops. Some islands call for sarongs and swimsuits, while others for hiking boots and trekking poles — Cape Breton Island has it all. Whether it’s quaint fishing villages with the finest of all things seafood, moose and whale sightings, world-class golf courses, or North America’s oldest single malt whiskey, Cape Breton won’t cease to surprise and reward you.

Perhaps the rest of the yachting world is just catching on to the island that has already captured the hearts of many, but one visit here and you will know that you have found one of the world’s best-kept secrets.

For more information on yachting along Canada’s East Coast, visit or follow them on social media @superyachteastcoast.