Des­o­late, charm­ing, remote: New­found­land is for the in­trepid ex­plorer.

Passage Maker - - Contents - Story by Ch­eryl Barr

Wild New­found­land Ch­eryl Barr

Long be­fore it was “dis­cov­ered” by John Cabot in 1497, New­found­land, with its vast quan­ti­ties of over­size cod­fish and thou­sands of whales, was the well-kept se­cret of Basque fishermen. But there’s an­other se­cret about New­found­land be­ing kept from most mod­ern-day mariners: It’s an ideal sum­mer cruis­ing ground.

Boaters who have gone down east to New­found­land typ­i­cally down­play the ease of get­ting there, pre­fer­ring to tell tales of lousy pas­sages, fog-en­shrouded wa­ters, and dan­ger­ous ice. Yet New­found­land’s im­pres­sive south­ern fjord coast­line is just 65 miles, or a day’s hop, from Cape Bre­ton, Nova Sco­tia. The cross­ing of Cabot Strait is within sight of land the en­tire way be­cause both shores are moun­tain­ous.

For those who know lit­tle of New­found­land, the time has come to en­lighten you about her won­drous sights and the kindly na­ture of her peo­ple, both of which make it an ex­cel­lent cruis­ing des­ti­na­tion. As the largest is­land on the east­ern se­aboard of North Amer­ica, it sim­ply begs to be ex­plored. But first, let’s touch upon the weather, an­other well-kept se­cret.

Sur­pris­ingly Tem­per­ate

The best weather window falls be­tween Au­gust and early Septem­ber when day­time tem­per­a­tures range from 68° to 85°F and the fog moves off­shore to the Grand Banks. Shorts, T-shirts, hats, and sun­screen are the uni­form of choice. July can be pleas­ant but it is a tran­si­tion month: Be pre­pared for the pos­si­bil­ity of cool, damp days. Sum­mer winds are lighter from the south­west, but by late Septem­ber ex­pect the breeze to kick up and shift to pre­dom­i­nant north­west­er­lies.

Winds of Change

New­found­land’s coastal vil­lages, known as out­ports, are not just unique; they’ve ac­tu­ally be­come en­dan­gered. Prior to the gov­ern­ment’s re-pop­u­la­tion pro­gram that was started soon af­ter New­found­land joined Canada in 1949, there were thou­sands of small, iso­lated fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties. But the gov­ern­ment pro­gram (ac­tive be­tween 1954 to 1975) set in mo­tion a shift in the out­ward face of the is­land. Out­port peo­ple were re­lo­cated by the thou­sands to large ports that had road ac­cess. Shut­downs due to cut­backs in ferry ser­vice, the cod fish­ery mora­to­rium, and gen­eral de­pop­u­la­tion still threaten the hand­ful of re­main­ing out­ports, pri­mar­ily lo­cated on the south­ern fjord coast. Th­ese ports are La Poile, Ramea, Fran­cois, Gray River, Gaultois, and McCallum.

Lit­tle re­mains of the com­mu­ni­ties that were closed down long ago. When cruis­ing through the fjords and “tick­les” (nar­row channels) on the spec­tac­u­lar south coast, you’ll pass ceme­ter­ies on grassy hill­sides pop­u­lated with tilt­ing white headstones—an eerie sen­sa­tion. A walk­a­bout may un­cover ar­ti­facts, such as rusted iron rings fas­tened to bedrock. Tie-downs such as th­ese were needed to en­sure that fish houses and homes didn’t blow away dur­ing wild win­ter storms. Dur­ing re­set­tle­ment, homes were un­lashed and floated to new sites, leav­ing only th­ese eye­bolts as a re­minder of a once-thriv­ing fish­ing vil­lage.

Sub­lime Cruis­ing, Some Chal­lenges

For cruis­ing boats, there are few mari­nas in New­found­land. In most places, you can sim­ply tie at the town dock. (Yel­low paint in­di­cates that the berth is pub­lic.) When ex­plor­ing deep within the wild fjords, though, an­chor­ing can be a chal­lenge. The wa­ters run deep, so come pre­pared with ex­cess an­chor chain and line. Look to the head of a fjord where depths are more suit­able. New­found­land’s fjords are nar­row, some are less than a quar­ter­mile wide, with sheer rock walls that tower 1,000 feet above you. Be­ware of “blow-me-downs,” strong nightly winds that fall off the table­land and fun­nel through the fjords. Al­ways en­sure a well-set an­chor be­fore turn­ing in for the night, or keep a watch-stander if you’re at all uneasy.


A more ex­ten­sive cruise can take you be­yond the south­ern fjords to places like Pla­cen­tia Bay and Notre Dame Bay. En route, your pri­mary stop is St. John’s, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal. Lo­cated on the Avalon Penin­sula, this 500-yearold city (the old­est city in North Amer­ica) re­tains much of its his­toric charm and char­ac­ter while of­fer­ing the ameni­ties and cul­ture of a con­tem­po­rary city.

The tightly packed wooden row houses with quaint, old-fash­ioned chim­ney pots (think Mary Pop­pins) line the hilly streets that rise from the har­bor­front. They are painted bright col­ors, which led to the nick­name Jelly­bean Rows. A walk around the har­bor brings you to The Bat­tery where a jum­ble of houses clings to the cliffs. Fol­low the trail that winds up Sig­nal Hill to Cabot Tower. This fortress-like stone build­ing marks the en­trance to

St. John’s Har­bour and is vis­i­ble from well off­shore. It was here that Guglielmo Mar­coni re­ceived the first transat­lantic wire­less mes­sage in 1901. The view over the har­bor is im­pres­sive, and you may even spot whales feed­ing just off the en­trance.

Ge­orge Street is renowned through­out Canada. The short al­ley-like street is lined with pubs and ale­houses—a good place to try Ice­berg beer. This light brew (made with ice­berg melt­wa­ter) comes in an iconic blue bot­tle and is only sold in New­found­land. Don’t stay too long or you’ll end up be­ing “screeched in,” an ageold ini­ti­a­tion whereby new­com­ers must kiss a cod to be­come an hon­orary New­found­lan­der.

On Pla­cen­tia Bay stands the Old World town of Trin­ity. It is one of the is­land’s more strik­ing coastal vil­lages—a beau­ti­ful re­minder of a by­gone era. Trin­ity has a nice lit­tle ma­rina with a fuel dock. Get­ting fuel in New­found­land is not dif­fi­cult, but in most lo­ca­tions ex­pect to have it trucked to the town dock. Ar­rang­ing a fuel de­liv­ery is easy once you find the right per­son to ask, namely the friendly har­bor­mas­ter.

Ice­berg Al­ley

Notre Dame Bay, on the north coast of New­found­land, is on Ice­berg Al­ley. Ice­berg sea­son in New­found­land runs from spring to early sum­mer, with the height of the sea­son be­ing April to late May (some­what later as you move far­ther north). The 2017 sea­son was a busy one, con­tin­u­ing well into July. By the time we ar­rived more than 1,000 bergs had been counted drift­ing south.

Th­ese ice­bergs are gi­gan­tic hunks of pre­his­toric ice that broke free from Green­land’s western glaciers. Once caught by wind and cur­rent they are driven south past Labrador and New­found­land, a jour­ney that takes two to three years. Though some bergs get pushed into the Strait of Belle Isle and melt in the warmer Gulf of St. Lawrence, the ma­jor­ity drift through Ice­berg Al­ley and melt in the Gulf Stream wa­ters south­east of New­found­land. It must be noted that ice­bergs are rarely seen on the south coast.

Ice­bergs can weigh hun­dreds of thou­sands of tons, dis­play an ar­ray of shapes and sizes, and range in color from the whitest white to the bluest aqua­ma­rine. They of­ten run aground well off the shore, leav­ing in­shore wa­ters gen­er­ally clear for traf­fic. If you en­counter one, though, you’ll find even the small­est ice­berg so fan­tas­tic and in­trigu­ing that it’s hard to look away.

An In­ter­na­tional Ice Pa­trol, which in­cludes the use of sur­veil­lance flights, was set up af­ter the sink­ing of RMS Ti­tanic in April 1912. It tracks ice­bergs and pro­vides mariners with im­por­tant data, and the web­site is up­dated fre­quently dur­ing peak ice sea­son ( www.ec.gc.ca/glaces-ice). Click on the East Coast link to get a list of re­ports and scroll down to “Daily Ice­berg Anal­y­sis Chart.” The pa­trols also watch for po­lar bears that oc­ca­sion­ally hitch a ride across the strait to New­found­land. When spot­ted, they are quickly and hu­manely trans­ported back to Labrador.

Un­der clear skies, ice­bergs are vis­i­ble from a great dis­tance. Should you, how­ever, find your­self nav­i­gat­ing near an ice­berg, safety is a pri­or­ity. Keep in mind that only the top 10 per­cent is vis­i­ble above the wa­ter, leav­ing a sig­nif­i­cantly larger area of sub­merged dan­ger. In ad­di­tion, ice­bergs are un­sta­ble and un­pre­dictable, as they roll fre­quently, and there is risk of fall­ing ice that can cre­ate large waves. Ice that falls off an ice­berg is known as “brash ice” (small crushed pieces of ice) or “bergy bits” (larger ice chunks). Brash ice and bergy bits can drift away from the ice­berg, but they, too, are highly vis­i­ble and usu­ally eas­ily avoided. One can dip-net brash ice and use it in evening cock­tails. Lis­ten for the pop and fizz as the melt­ing ice re­leases an­cient air bub­bles.

Wildlife Rules

Not far from Cape Bon­av­ista, with its beau­ti­ful red/white light­house and views over Ice­berg Al­ley, is El­lis­ton, home to a note­wor­thy At­lantic puf­fin nest­ing site. New­found­land has a num­ber of im­pres­sive and very ac­ces­si­ble seabird colonies. At Cape St. Mary’s Eco­log­i­cal Re­serve on the south coast, a trail leads to within 30 feet of the rocky stack (is­land) where an es­ti­mated 24,000 gan­nets nest. When in flight, the gan­nets cre­ate a dense bliz­zard of bright white, and the thou­sands of birds that re­main on their nests con­tinue the loud ca­coph­ony. At El­lis­ton, puffins dom­i­nate the rook­ery but seag­ulls stand by for a free lunch. This is why puffins lay eggs in­side bur­rows on steep, grassy stacks.

In the clear blue wa­ter around New­found­land’s coast, seabirds feed on schools of capelin and other small fish. Whales feed on the same food source and of­ten come near shore in late spring and sum­mer. New­found­land is on their an­nual mi­gra­tion route to the Arc­tic. More than a dozen whale species fre­quent th­ese wa­ters with hump­backs, fin, and minke be­ing the most com­mon. Dur­ing the an­nual capelin run (with the fish spawn­ing on the beaches), whales will ex­e­cute amaz­ing ac­ro­bat­ics while chas­ing their prey. Dur­ing poor capelin years, such as 2017, hump­backs will feed just one wave away from the steep beaches al­low­ing view­ers an up-close show. All this, of course, is just the tip of the ice­berg.

An ice­berg in­vades a small port.

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