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Getting to Sable Island is not easy. Prior to Adventure Canada's first public cruise to Sable island in June 2014, the majority of visitors arrived by chartered flights from Halifax with Maritime Air. The seven-passenger Britten-Norman Islander planes were often delayed for days or even weeks due to fog, high winds or a too-wet or too-dry beach landing strip.

Map of Sable Island on Adventure Canada ship
Map of Sable Island on Adventure Canada ship
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

How long does it take to cruise to Sable Island? We boarded our Adventure Canada ship in St. John's, Newfoundland, and cruised southwest for 33 hours until we reached the Nova Scotia island. The map in the ship's lobby showed the GPS coordinates of our Sable Island anchoring spot as 43° 57' latitude and 59° 53' W longitude.

Sustainable way to get there

Why travel to Sable Island by ship rather than by air? Cruising allowed us to visit several areas of the island, much more than day visitors see. (We had three shore excursions and two Zodiac tours over three days.)

Parks Canada invited Adventure Canada to be the first public cruise to Sable Island National Park because it was a sustainable, low-impact way to visit the island.

The 100 passengers on our ship were well-traveled. We met couples who had cruised with Adventure Canada five, 12 and 17 times. For many of them, Sable island was a dream destination which had been on their bucket lists for a long time.

Learning expedition

"This is a learning cruise, not a lounging cruise," said one passenger. Knowledgeable visitors have a greater appreciation of the many habitats and species on Sable Island, including the untamed horses that run free.

In addition to the extensive reading list provided to passengers prior to the cruise, and a library stocked with reference books, we enjoyed pre-shore excursion briefings, post-tour re-caps and a variety of lectures. All interesting, they spanned the spectrum from photography to information about the gulls, terns, petrels and endemic Ipswich sparrows on Sable Island.

Jay Ingram talks with passenger by railing
Jay Ingram talks with passenger by railing
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Experts in their fields

On our cruise, resource staff included marine biologist Ree Brennin and her husband, John Houston, the Halifax-based filmmaker and Houston North Gallery owner. Author, TV and radio show host and chair of the Banff Centre for Science Communications Program, Jay Ingram, enlightened us with his presentations, including one about collaborative creativity.

Marine researcher Sarah Wong informed us about whales, while seabird biologist Mark Mallory helped us identify birds. Several of the lecturers had traveled here before, such as ecologist Bill Freedman, who studied Sable Island's plants and grassland habitats.

What made our eight-day cruise so interesting was not only the opportunity to learn from these experts, but also to get to know them as we chatted at deck railings, during meals and while walking along Sable Island beaches.

Shore excursions

Zodiacs (sturdy inflatable rubber boats) brought us ashore for tours of Sable Island. Safety was a priority for expedition leader, Stefan Kindberg, who explained that ocean swells could be high.

Expedition team members steadied the Zodiacs and assisted us as we swung our rubber boot-clad feet over the sides for wet landings in the surf. With their expertise, we disembarked and launched quickly with no problems.

Jonathan Sheppard guides shore excursion
Jonathan Sheppard guides shore excursion
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

On shore, we met more Sable Island experts including Parks Canada manager Jonathan Sheppard, grey seal biologist Don Bowen and resident researcher Zoe Lucas, who answered our questions about wild horses.

Adventure Canada staff always had a Plan B, in case weather prevented us from going ashore. On our fourth day, high swells meant that we couldn't land. Kindberg announced, to our great pleasure, that the alternate activity was a two-hour cruise to The Gully Marine Protected Area for whale-watching.

Onboard life

A daily schedule, posted throughout the ship, gave us times for shore excursions, lectures, meals and entertainment. Meals were open seating, so most of us rotated from table-to-table to meet as many passengers as possible.

Breakfasts were served buffet style, with a daily special, such as Eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce.

Lunches and dinners were served by the ship's friendly staff. Each meal began with an appetizer, such as smoked salmon latkes, followed by soup, salad and a choice of entrees.

In addition to a meat dish, such as rosemary rack of lamb, and a seafood selection, e.g., Arctic char, the menu included vegetarian dishes and heart-healthy options.

Truffles on chocolate buffet
Truffles on chocolate buffet
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Dining treats

There were plenty of opportunities to socialize, ranging from the captain's welcome cocktail party to the make-your-own-ice-cream-sundae get-together. The delicious cookies served during morning and afternoon coffee breaks prompted one passenger to quip: "I ate so many that I'm good ballast for our next Zodiac ride!"

A culinary highlight was undoubtedly the chocolate buffet, featuring decadent chocolate mousse, tortes, cream puffs and truffles. (The ship's gym was extra busy the following day.)

Kitchen parties

Adventure Canada cruises don't have after-dinner dancing or casinos. The dress code is informal. So is the entertainment. One night featured a Canadian Geographic quiz. Other evenings featured a humorous whisky label writing contest, a passenger variety show and a wacky marine creature costume party.

Onboard musician Daniel Payne, drew passengers onto decks and into lounges for kitchen parties. One evening, Jay Ingram played the fiddle and expedition team member, Jason Edmunds, strummed his guitar to accompany Payne's lively accordion tunes. Everyone had a rollicking good time.

"This cruise is like summer camp for adults," said one passenger, "except the food and accommodations are better."

Daniel Payne plays accordion on deck
Daniel Payne plays accordion on deck
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Cruise dates

Dates for the next Adventure Canada cruise to Sable Island are June 27 to July 8, 2024 on the 198-passenger Ocean Endeavour.

According to Julie Tompa, who helped Parks Canada establish the park, these cruises are ideal opportunities to test their management policies for no-interference with wildlife and no-impact on the island's ecology.

Researcher Zoe Lucas agrees that an Adventure Canada cruise is a good way for visitors to tour Sable Island. "Having a lot of experienced people travel with the visitors is good, because the passengers who come ashore are very aware of the island's vulnerabilities, sensitivities and history."

People have been coming to Sable island since the 15th century — explorers, colonizers, shipwreck survivors, whalers, seal hunters, lighthouse-keepers, life-saving station crews, weather technicians, researchers and more recently, Parks Canada staff. Celebrity visitors have included Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre Trudeau, Mordecai Richler and Jacques Cousteau.

Passengers view Sable Island sunset from Adventure Canada ship
Passengers view Sable Island sunset from Adventure Canada ship
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

As we photographed the sunset over the island from the ship's deck, before returning to St. John's, we understood the full impact of a momentous statement made by Bill Freedman during one of his lectures: "Cruise passengers will write the next chapter of Sable Island's human history."


Adventure Canada

Sable Island National Park Reserve