Newfoundland

     Newfoundland

Deciding to cruise to Newfoundland was the best thing we could have done. If we wanted to get away from it all, this was certainly the right place to come... in our travels, we saw less than ten other sailboats along hundreds of miles of the southern coast! The people and culture were the icing on the cake, impressing us with their good humor and hospitality. Enjoy the photos and stories below for a taste of what we’ve been enjoying up here on “The Rock.”

Whales!

Ever since passing Cape Cod, we’ve been on the lookout for whales. Whale-watching boats loaded with tourists zoomed by us regularly off Massachusetts, Maine, and Nova Scotia, but we looked forward to a private show from our own deck. Sighting the whale off Casco Bay in Maine only served to whet our appetite for more, and to be honest, it was kind of disappointing. Why? When we think of whales, we want to see flukes! The problem with minkes is that they don’t show their flukes when they dive. We saw several pilot whales around Cape Breton, but they’re not much more than over-sized dolphins (yeah, we know… a bit of whale snobbery here).

You want FLUKES?!

That explains Suzanne’s spastic reaction while sailing from Newfoundland to the island of Miquelon. She was at the helm, lulled by the sun and motion of the waves, when she looked up and could only manage to wave her arms wildly over her head and sputter, “Flukes! Flukes! FLUKES!!!” A mad scramble for binoculars and cameras ensued, while steering the boat toward the spot where the unmistakable outline had been spotted. This was it! A REAL whale!

 “Where was it?” Ty asked excitedly, just as a plume of water spouted into the air half a mile ahead. We’d been motor-sailing, so we gave the engine a few more RPMs and picked up speed. Suddenly, there it was! A humpback! Ty trained his zoom lens on the surfacing monster while Suzanne peered through the binoculars. Like a huge submarine, the black body seemed to go on forever as it rose wave-like out of the water. Suddenly he arched, and we knew he was preparing to dive. Like a kid on a roller coaster, Suzanne squealed, her voice reaching a crescendo as the flukes lifted out of the water and the whale slipped below, sounding, into a deep dive. Our engine must have scared him off, but the short show had been enough. We stared at each other and laughed, smiling from ear to ear. A humpback!

                         A Fin Whale’s Feeding Frenzy                          (This guy is bigger than our boat!)

We resumed our course, still high from the excitement.

 “I want more whales,” Ty announced, now getting greedy.

 We enjoyed lunch and were reveling in the rare blue sky and sunshine, when suddenly Suzanne pulled back on the throttle.

 “What’s the matter?” Ty asked.

 “A spout!” she announced, pointing to port. “Let’s go, ok?”

 Ty agreed, but recommended we turn off the engine this time.

We continued to see the spout about a mile away, and headed for it, but suddenly we were joined by an escort of excited Atlantic dolphins with their distinctive light and dark markings. Until then, we’d seen lots of porpoises, but had been disappointed by their lack of playfulness. Most had been strangely standoffish, never coming too near the boat. Not this day! Suddenly they surrounded us, zipping back and forth under the keel and bounding along in front of the bow as if to say, “Come on! The show’s up ahead!”

And indeed it was! Suddenly there were two huge whales a half-mile away. Sea gulls flew overhead, and dozens more porpoises churned up the water. They must have found a school of fish, because the ensuing feeding frenzy put us smack dab in the middle of a scene straight out of Jacques Cousteau. We watched in awe as dolphins shot straight up out of the water, their entire bodies airborne as they spun around and did flips before diving back in. The whales spouted and surfaced repeatedly, their long, black bodies looking like they would go on forever as they rolled lazily a quarter-mile away. We got out our whale books and identified them as fin whales – the second largest in the world after the blue whale! These guys were bigger than our boat, topping out at 60-70 feet!!!

Trying to judge which way they were going, we silently altered course. Suzanne sat on the bow perch while Ty hung onto the shrouds with his camera. We both knew the whales and Liberty were on converging paths. We could see the dolphins just under the surface, and exchanged wary glances, wondering just when and where the whales would surface again.

 “There, to starboard!” Ty shouted, and pointed about a hundred yards away. God, it was huge! Our eyes were trained on this monster, when suddenly, a huge “WHOOSH!” behind us made Suzanne scream. Both of us jumped and spun around as the other whale announced his presence by spouting and surfacing a mere whale-length away! So close!

 For half an hour we watched the amazing scene, and just as quickly as we came upon it, the show was over, leaving us drained from the intense adrenaline rush.

Wilderness Woes

The only problem with cruising in such remote areas is, well, the remoteness, should anything go wrong. We were anchored 3 miles up a fjord in Grey River, not a soul in sight as we spent the night surrounded by thousand-foot high cliffs. Around midnight, Suzanne awoke with abdominal pains, and within an hour she was writhing and moaning on the floor as Ty anxiously looked for answers in our “Advanced First Aid Afloat” book. This was pain like she had never felt before, and there we were, in a pitch black fjord with no navigational aids to guide us out. It was do-able, but not desirable. Reassured by the book that

Another Crowded Anchorage...

she had nothing that couldn’t wait until morning, she hung in there until the sun came up. At 0800 we motored past the tiny outport of Grey River, near the mouth of the fjord. No more than thirty houses and buildings were pasted onto the side of a mountain with no room for growth. Not a soul was in sight at this early hour, but hoping they might have a doctor, Ty made a call on the VHF for “Any Station in Grey River.” No one responded, but the Coast Guard in Port aux Basques amazingly picked up our signal from behind the cliffs and asked if they could be of assistance. Upon hearing our problem, they asked us to stand by. They came back a few minutes later to inform us there were no medical personnel in Grey River, but there were two nurses in Ramia, two hours away, and a doctor at a small hospital in Burgeo, 3 hours back on our previous day’s track. We opted for Burgeo, and while Ty drove, the Coast Guard kindly patched us through to a doctor in St. John’s on the VHF (our cell phone provider has no service up here). After describing her symptoms on Channel 26 for anyone who had nothing better to do than listen in on our public radio conversation, the doctor haughtily announced, “I suggest you turn your little boat around and head for Burgeo.” Unable to choke him through the VHF, Suzanne curtly informed him through politely gritted teeth that that was exactly what we were doing, thank you very much.” Of course, we couldn’t expect a doctor to diagnose a problem over the phone, but Suzanne couldn’t help but ask the Coast Guardsman if all the doctors up here were that condescending. (Answer: “No, Ma’am”).

 We arrived in Burgeo three hours later and tied up to the wharf at the old fish plant that closed down in 1992 when the Canadian fisheries industry collapsed (costing 600 jobs alone in this one small town). We were met by a Coastguardsman who had been alerted by his Port aux Basques colleague about our arrival, and he kindly drove us the short distance to the hospital. (True professionals!) There Suzanne had difficulty explaining to her Libyan doctor that she lived on a boat, that her eating habits had not changed, because she was not on vacation – this is how she actually lived – that she had to walk to the pharmacy because she did not own a car, and that he would not be able to contact her if he needed to. The doctor tapped here and listened there while the nurse, who had lived her whole life in this small town, ran some tests. The doctor asked if Suzanne was nauseous, and the nurse leaned down and whispered, “I’d be nauseous all the time if I lived on a boat!”

The doctor handed Suzanne a prescription and told her she was free to go. Um. Er. “Hey, Doc, you wanna tell me what’s wrong with me?” The diagnosis was “acute cystitis,” curable with antibiotics, and far better than needing surgery for appendicitis (if Suzanne thought the haircut she got in Port aux Basques was bad, do you really think she wanted other parts of her body cut on here?). With prescription in hand, we departed the fish plant wharf for a more scenic overnight anchorage. Doctor Harbour, a mere 6 miles away, was the best prescription of all: beautiful and secluded, yet close enough to zip back to Burgeo should there be any more problems.

 On the way to the anchorage, Suzanne reviewed the Advanced First Aid Afloat book (highly recommended for any cruisers) and learned that cystitis can be caused by “exposure, dehydration due to poor drinking conditions (no, that nightly sundowner had nothing to do with it!), and knocking about on a boat.” Ayup. We met all three of those conditions out here. Luckily, we were only three hours from help (imagine driving from Washington to Norfolk just to see a doctor!), but we do carry a supply of antibiotics and pain meds should we ever find ourselves completely away from prompt assistance again (knock on wood that we don’t). So, lesson learned for both of us: Drink lots more water while cruising!

Wilderness Wows

We came here for the scenery, and it has exceeded our expectations. The southern coast of Newfoundland is full of fjords... long, deep, narrow inlets, one after the other. Often we had to motor miles to the head of one of these high-sided waterways to find water shallow enough to drop our anchor. Once there, we were surrounded by waterfalls perfect for exploring, or velvety-green mountains waiting to provide the perfect overviews after an energizing climb..

Ty Picks Out a Path Alongside a Waterfall

We rode our dinghy ashore in one cove looking for clams, and instead found large mussel beds, ours for the taking. Within minutes we had gathered close to a hundred for a delicious dinner feast.

This area also provided us the chance to see birds and other wildlife we’d never seen outside of a zoo. Kittiwakes, guillemots, sheerwaters, gannets and puffins were regular airborne guests flying beside Liberty.

Puffins are Cool!

The Outport Experience

Newfoundland has been defined by its fishing history, and nowhere is this more in evidence than along the southern coast, where entire villages are dedicated to the fishing industry. A look at a roadmap shows just how dependent these towns, called “outports,” are on the sea -- names of towns dot the map every twenty or thirty miles along the southern coast, but there are no roads leading to them... just miles and miles of wilderness around them! Access is strictly by boat. Imagine a town with no cars, and hence, no roads, parking lots, driveways, gas stations... cement or dirt paths and boardwalks connect the buildings and houses. ATVs are the only motorized vehicles. With the closing of many of the fisheries in the early ‘90’s, many of these outports have also closed. All are feeling the effects of the downsizing. The smallest outport we visited, aptly named “Petites,” has a population of 13. They were recently notified that the government is shutting off the electricity this coming October. Most of the place was like a ghost-town. Those who were still there had lived there all their all their lives, and were now sadly forced to move.

These outports aren’t what you would call quaint or pretty. They’re very basic, really, but tidy and interesting. The people and their culture are what made visits to these little villages unforgettable. We arrived in the outport of Francois (pronounced “France-way” by the locals) right in the middle of “France-way Days!” With no room at the wharf, we were invited to tie up alongside a fishing boat and to join all104 inhabitants of this close-knit community for the dory races, talent show, pot-luck supper and dance. (Now that dance, that was fun! The one-man band was quite

Liberty, Looking Rather Large, in “Petites”

talented, but it seems everyone there had heard his tunes a time or two before, as evidenced by their singing along while dancing. When a song finished, the floor immediately cleared -- no lingering like back home. There would be a lull for a few minutes while the “band” searched through his music, then when he started up the next foot-stompin’ tune, whoosh, everyone rushed back onto the dance floor -- no wallflowers in this crowd). The whole experience was wonderfully reminiscent of a much simpler time.

Newfie Culture

Newfoundlanders are known for their hospitality and quiet good humor. When tied up to a free town wharf, we had many visitors stop by. Most would stand silently and look, not speaking until spoken to. They

Like All Outports, Francois Has No Roads, Just Well-Cared-For Paths and Boardwalks. The Town Has 4 Schoolteachers, a Couple of Shopkeepers, 2 Men Run the Powerplant, and the Rest Are Fishermen

would even stand there in the rain! (Speaking of rain, even if the skies were cloudy and threatening, Newfies would pass us on the street with a big smile and say, “Beautiful day!” (Compared to the winters here, we suppose any day in August is a beautiful day!)

While anchored in a secluded cove one day we were visited by a boat full of curious fishermen. We chatted for a few minutes (mostly about the beautiful day), then they asked if we wanted some fish. You bet we did! The captain maneuvered the boat alongside Liberty and handed over a grocery bag full of mackerel, already filleted! When asked if they’d accept some money, they all shook their hands and smiled.

Shaking our heads and smiling was often the only response we could manage when we couldn’t understand what the Newfies were saying. We would later ask each other, “Were they really speaking English?”  Along with a delightful sing-songy accent, they definitely have their own way of pronouncing things. Newfoundland is not “NEW-fund-land,” but “New-fund-LAND” (heavy stress on the “LAND.” The French would have a fit with the local town names. We already mentioned “Francois/France-way,” but how about “Bay D’Espoir?” It’s known by those who live nearby as “Bay Despair.” The town of “Rencontre” is pronounced “Round Counter.”

Pulling into an outport was always challenging, as we never knew what to expect. The only cruising guide for the coast had entries dating back to 1950, and some write-ups hadn’t been updated since then! Most of the outports had no good place to anchor, but all offered free dockspace at tall, rugged public wharfs with ladder rungs necessary for climbing onto the pier as the tide went out. We would discuss our approach in advance, rigging fenders and lines on one side, only to find, strangely enough, that things had changed since the 50’s! The entrance to Petites, however, was exactly as described: NARROW! We had studied it on the chart, but as we rounded the final turn before the harbor entrance, we both couldn’t help but exclaim, “We’re going in THERE!?!?!?” The helpful cruising guide states, “Practically scrape the port side of your vessel on the first wharf to port, for a small but significant, ledge makes off from the shore opposite it.” That advice turned out to be quite accurate, as we could see huge rocks just off our starboard side in the crystal clear water below, and by hugging the wharf, we successfully entered the tiny harbor without losing any paint.

Unable to Find a French Courtesy Flag in Newfoundland, Suzanne Made One Herself in Preparation For Our Port Call in St. Pierre and Miquelon

A Taste of France

After deciding to visit Newfoundland, we began to study the charts. There, south of “The Rock” were St. Pierre et Miquelon. These two islands are French... not just French colonies, but actual French territory, flying the tricolor flag. Deciding to put any political animosities aside and experience the culture (not to mention the wine and cheese), we set sail for these islands which are not well known by most Americans.

Our first stop was Miquelon. With Suzanne’s rusty French and flying the small blue, white and red courtesy flag from our flag halyard (but with a much larger Stars and Stripes waving proudly off our stern rail!), we cleared

customs without even a “Do you have anything to declare?” We then headed straight for the nearest “epicerie” for some fresh produce, something that had been very hard to find in the Newfoundland outports. The grocery was well-stocked with French wine also, and we returned to the boat to toast our arrival with a delicious “Cotes du Rhone” red and some tasty camembert. With a population of only 500 on the large island, we hadn’t expected to find it crowded, but we were surprised at the lack of people on the streets. The few people around the rather industrial wharf where we were tied up paid us little attention. The next morning when we tried to rent bicycles at the tourist office, we were told the bikes would not be put out until the afternoon. Even though we appeared to be the only tourists in town, it seemed to be too much trouble to accommodate us. We happily departed this sleepy town for the “big city” atmosphere that awaited us in St. Pierre, population 6500.

Rounding the northern point of the island, we sailed past hundreds of puffins, more than we’d seen to date. The puffins, however, proved far friendlier than the residents of St. Pierre as we made our approach in 22 knots of wind. Although there were quiet a few sailors standing around the pier of the sailing center, no one bothered to walk to the end of the dock and catch our lines. This lack of what is a common courtesy in most sailing circles did not go unnoticed! Sadly, the center’s office staff was no friendlier. Rather than greeting us with a smile, we were warned to obey the rules closely. Mon dieu!

We were beginning to realize the only cultural experience we were going to have in St. Pierre et Miquelon was drinking their wine! Feeling rather bummed out, we returned to Liberty to do just that. We were sipping a glass of Bordeaux in the cockpit, when a man wandered by and stopped to look at the boat. Wow! A visitor! We smiled and exchanged “bonjours,” and he stood around a few more seconds. Disregarding the language difference, Ty asked, “Are you a sailor?” Well, that one question changed the whole tone of our visit to St. Pierre et Miquelon! Jean-Pierre Latinie had sold his boat years before, but still enjoyed coming down to the dock to check out any visiting boats. He shyly accepted our offer to come aboard and share a glass of wine. The next thing we knew, he had invited us for a driving tour of the island, a rare treat for us in our car-less state. Before leaving the down-town area, he stopped by his computer shop and asked us to wait a moment while he ran to his home over the shop. He came back a minute later and announced, “You will join me and my wife, Jacqueline, for dinner this evening.” Ooh-la-la!

We had a great tour of the island, followed by a total immersion in the French experience. We enjoyed cocktails while tasting cod-liver spread on toast with butter (thankfully, it was delicious!) We learned that the French eat their main meal at mid-day, when all businesses and schools close so the family can return home and eat together. The evening meal is much lighter and not served until 8 pm or so. Our supper consisted of several pungent French cheeses, baguettes, small pickles and cherry tomatoes, and long, thin, spicy sausages grilled on the barbecue (and of course, MORE wine!) We laughed and shared experiences until almost midnight. Before leaving, Jean-Pierre made another announcement:  “Tomorrow I will fly you around the islands in my airplane.” Wee-oh! Thank you, Ty, for asking that fateful question!

The next day we enjoyed shopping in a full-sized French supermarche’, buying cheese and goodies for the following days, but also buying things to serve Jean-Pierre and Jacqueline aboard Liberty that evening.

At 1:00, Jean-Pierre picked us up and took us to the airport, where we took off in his four-seater, the smallest plane either of us had ever flown in. Our personal pilot flew us at low level over both islands in a smooth and unforgettable flight.

The next morning, after our second breakfast of freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolate (the French definitely do some things very well), we departed this little corner of France on a happy note with great memories, thanks to our new friends and their wonderful hospitality.

Time To Head South

After leaving St. Pierre and Miquelon, we cleared back into Canada with the Customs folks in Fortune, then started working our way back (westward) along the south coast of Newfoundland. Our goal all along had been to head for Nova Scotia by the end of August. We knew the weather would start to change quickly. Sure enough, the final week of the month ushered in noticeably stronger winds than we’d experienced, keeping us at anchor several nights and slowing down our progress. Feeling pressured to put some miles under the keel, we sadly declined the invitation of some friendly folks in the outport of McCallum to stay an extra day and join them for the traditional Newfie “Jigg’s Dinner,” (salt beef, cabbage, potatoes and peas). Perhaps it was one fisherman’s comment of “You’re kind of late in the season, aren’t ya?” that gave us pause... So instead of sticking around, we headed out in the first fog since we’d arrived in the province weeks earlier. Luckily, we’d learned that some of the local charts were off by up to half a mile. If you look at the photo of the chart, below, you’ll see that much of the coast is one fjord after another. Imagine this:  the coastline is mile after mile of high cliffs interspersed with narrow openings into these bays and fjords, some no more than

three hundred yards wide! And imagine that your GPS position on the electronic chart shows you half a mile to the left or right of that opening as you’re heading into! (At the entrance to Gray River, the

electronic chart showed us sailing right on the wall). Had we not learned this valuable lesson in good visibility, imagine trusting those charts in the fog! Instead, on that particular foggy morning, we used our GPS to get us a couple of miles off the opening, then used our RADAR to show us exactly where the opening was. This is when we look at each other, take a deep breath, and say, “Here we go!” We got into the fjord entrance just fine, keeping the boat well centered between the blobs of land showing up on both sides of the radar screen. Only once inside did the fog clear, revealing spectacular thousand-foot high cliffs and dramatic waterfalls.

The next day, 29 August, with three more days of travel to go to our “jumping off point” in Port aux Basques, we headed out into some eye-opening waves. We decided to press on, because the weather forecast was for winds to drop from 25 to 15 by the afternoon. Until then, the Canadians had been pretty accurate with their forecasts. This day, however, they blew it. The winds did NOT diminish. The waves did NOT decrease. Instead, we had a quite tense six hour beat to windward, averaging little more than 4 knots of speed as the wind steadily increased to the mid-to-upper thirties, taunting us with two gusts into the low forties. Alright already! We said we were leaving! We ducked into the Ramea Islands to medicate our tense nerves with some tonic (gin and tonic, that is) and a “fisherman’s platter” at the local grill (the only show in town). The next morning we rose before the sun and ducked out into a red sky-- pretty, but not what sailors want to see in the morning! (You know, “Red sky at night...”) to make the day’s run before the forecasted winds picked up to 30 in the afternoon. The air temperature had dropped to the low 50’s and the water temperature was down to 43, 18 degrees less than the week before.

We love Newfoundland, but it’s time to go!