We’re smashing through the waves toward shore in our Zodiac. Heads lowered, shoulders braced against the wind, salt air stings the nostrils. The beach lies just ahead. We’re ready for any action.
Golf action, in this case. We’re the shock troops of One Ocean Expeditions hitting the beach on Cape Breton Island in what can only be described as a unique trip for the golf aficionado.
Yes, we’re a little old to be a SEAL team, but the excitement and drama of transferring from an icebreaker to the shore via Zodiacs every day to play some of the most renowned golf courses in Canada is thrilling. Really, there’s no other word for it as you cut through the morning air to make landfall.
One Ocean Expeditions of Squamish, B.C., has come up with a unique concept, sailing through and around the Gulf of St. Lawrence to take players to Cabot Cliffs, Cabot Links, the Links at Crowbush Cove and Highland Links.
Just the mention of those courses thrills the avid player. And One Ocean has gathered the four of them into a one-week sojourn aboard the Akademik Ioffe, designed and built as a scientific research vessel that typically plies the Arctic and Antarctic.
As we prepare to come ashore, there’s a real sense of how special this inaugural voyage is for the assembled golfers from across Canada.
Cleverly called Fiddles and Sticks, the tour is a seven-day excursion that combines golf, kayaking, cycling and paddle boarding with gourmet meals and cultural events (a fiddler and mandolinist followed us everywhere). The cruise embarked in the shadow of Louisburg, the historic fortress south of Sydney, N.S., finding its way to Cape Breton, Île de la Madeleine, P.E.I.’s north shore and back to Cape Breton.
(The cruise’s final stop has no golf course, but being one of the few people to visit remote, untamed Sable Island is worth a day off from golf.)
As this was the first such golf voyage for One Ocean Expeditions (they’ve been doing other expeditions since 2008), there was a sense of wonder and surprise in both crew and the hundred-or-so passengers. Where they’re usually ferrying passengers to see puffins or penguins in Antarctica, conveying golfers and their gear to a sandy beach is a new experience.
Even pelting rain or howling wind can’t deter the people in their Zodiacs from their appointed rounds. And the games at the acclaimed Cabot Links and Cliffs prove to be worth the anticipation.
For One Ocean, a company that stresses education and sustainable tourism, the new venture into golf represents a bridge between their work in the northern and southern hemispheres. When the two sailings of the summer are done, the ship heads north to Labrador and Baffin Island and then on to Spitsbergen, Norway, in the high Arctic.
Andrew Prossin is the founder and CEO of One Ocean and he grew up dreaming of the sea in Cape Breton. Later, he was winning races across the Atlantic in a 30-foot sailboat and sailing around Cape Horn in a 70-knot Southern Ocean gale. The Queen’s University grad notes that he’s worked in the “coldest, highest, darkest, windiest, loneliest places on Earth.” In 2014, he was part of the team that discovered HMS Erebus, one of Sir John Franklin’s ships wrecked more than 170 years ago in an expedition to the ice-choked Northwest Passage.
He says that, while they’re not formal in the approach, expedition cruising meshes perfectly with taking care of the planet. “From whatever walk of life, I think we realize we have to protect the oceans. Whether it’s resources or food or travel, we need to understand them. And that’s why I used the name One Ocean. The complexities, the issues belong to us all. We’ll never use luxury in our message.”
Is he afraid that the country-club image of golf might be a mixed message for his usual market?
“We are marketing it differently, for sure. But a lot of our Arctic clients are also golfers. A lot of them. We’re already getting lots of requests from them. And the golf product we’re developing in the Maritimes fits perfectly with the Fins and Fiddles program, which goes to Sable Island and other cultural place of significance in the region. So no, I don’t think we’re getting away from our niche.”
Next season, the tour will be on a larger ship more suited to tourism, not research, as they introduce the RCGS Resolute. Plans also include a golf trip around the waters of the sport’s home: Scotland, England and Ireland. They will also continue to have naturalists and scientists mixing with the passengers to help educate.
And hold on tight as your Zodiac hits the shore.
Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.