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International ‘sailors for science’ warmed by Eastern Shore hospitality

  • October 25 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — When Igor Shkvorets and his wife, Iryna, were planning their Sail for Science voyage aboard their aged Gulf 40 sloop, down the St. Lawrence River, along the Atlantic coast and, eventually, into the deep, blue sea, they were intrigued by stories and images from Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore.

“We found ourselves captivated,” says the Ukrainian-Canadian oceanographer Igor.

That was two years ago, as the couple prepared to embark on the journey of a lifetime, from their home base near Ottawa, collecting marine data from the world’s coastal regions to help scientists better understand the real-time impacts of climate change. Late last month, they got a chance to see first-hand if the local reality lived up to its billing. Spoiler alert: It did.

Says Shkvorets: “Our exploration of Nova Scotia began at Cape North, winding through the scenic beauty of Lake Bras d’Or, where we found shelter from the tempestuous Hurricane Lee in Baddeck. Subsequently, our route guided us through Canso and along the shores of Guysborough County, which led us to several distinct places, each unique in its way, yet all sharing a common thread: the affable and warm-hearted people inhabiting these small coastal villages, always ready to extend a helping hand.”

It was an auspicious beginning to what promised to be a long, sometimes arduous, but always fascinating trek. “The concept of Sail for Science was conceived long ago, during our years as oceanology students at the Odesa Hydrometeorological Institute (Ukraine),” Shkvorets says. “My future wife, Iryna, and I would often dream with our classmates about the wonders of sailing our own yacht, exploring different countries and unravelling the mysteries of the oceans.”

Indeed, he says, “At that time, Ukraine was part of the USSR, and the Iron Curtain stood between our dreams and reality. Though our chosen profession eventually opened doors to the world, allowing us to participate in oceanographic expeditions, it wasn’t until we emigrated to Canada, over 20 years ago, that we could begin to turn these dreams into a tangible voyage.”

In June, the newly retired couple put those plans into high gear. “As a parting gesture, our [former employers] bestowed upon us a remarkable gift – a cutting-edge oceanographic measurement system that would enable us to assess the physical and chemical characteristics of seawater with utmost precision... Our project has also garnered the endorsement of the UN Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030), providing us with invaluable momentum in understanding the significance of our project within the global citizen science movement.”

Under the circumstances, finding that broad sense of community on the Eastern Shore seemed appropriate. “Our journey took us through Canso, Port Felix, Whitehead, Queensport and the Liscomb River Wilderness Area. [In] Canso, we anchored at the fishing wharf and [then] explored the excellent waterfront trail. The most striking panorama unfolds from the summit of a hill where the Star of the Sea church stands sentinel over the sea.

“We embarked on explorations through the small villages surrounding Port Felix. In Whitehead, we were deeply impressed by the oyster farm, and we admired the historical Whitehead canal, constructed in the 1800s. [Later], we hiked the Liscomb River Trail... We unexpectedly encountered a salmon ladder, symbolizing the harmonious coexistence of humanity and wildlife.”

The couple has since moved on to pursue their passionate commitment to science on the high seas. But, to the people of Canso and others, they say, “We wholeheartedly stand behind their pursuit of a peaceful and secure future.”

Readers can follow the couple’s adventures at www.sailforscience.com.