Hunting icebergs off the coast of Newfoundland
Up-close boating encounters with prehistoric formations solidify province as a go-to
NEAR ST. JOHN’S, N. L. — It wasn’t exactly a jaw-dropper — in fact it looked like a row of teeth from an actual jaw — but it was my first iceberg and I’ll remember its grotty beauty forever.
Cpt. Derek Stapleton pulled the Capo de Espera up pretty close since the iceberg had grounded itself to the bottom of the ocean and wasn’t likely to tip.
He circled ever so slowly around it three times so people on the starboard side of the boat could take selfies and videos, and then did a wide U-turn so those of us on the port side could do the same.
The toothy side was glorious in its shades of grey, white and even blue. Picture an X-ray of your teeth, or your teeth viewed from inside your mouth looking out, not the toothy grin.
The other side of the berg was flat and sloped, looking like a tempting icy slide into a frigid ocean.
Maybe it’s because I just took my family on a berg-hunting vacation for Mother’s Day, but it feels like Newfoundland is coming into its own as one of the world’s best iceberg destinations.
The island made global headlines in April when a giant berg parked itself off shore from Ferryland, just an hour south of St. John’s. That one was a real stunner, some called it sexy, and caused all kinds of traffic jams.
You can luck into seeing icebergs from shore, but most people take boat tours for a closer view or even kayak. Keep your distance — the length of the berg or twice its height, whatever is greater — since chunks can break off, submerged bits can surface and icebergs can capsize.
The sexy berg was gone by the time we showed up in May. Then our twonight stay in Twillingate, in what’s known as Iceberg Alley, was a bust because there was so much unseasonal pack ice the tour boats couldn’t get out of the harbour. (Note to self: Keep tabs on Newfoundland Iceberg Reports.) That’s how we wound up on a two-hour Iceberg Quest trip out of St. John’s.
Every spring and early summer, icebergs float through the North Atlantic from Greenland down to Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond.
They’re thousands of years old and come in all shapes and sizes and all those shades from white to blue. They move and melt. So far this year, there have been more than 670 of them along these shores. April and May are usually prime time.
“Not a lot of folks actually get a chance to see icebergs,” our captain said when we left St. John’s Harbour and declared the bar officially open.
We grabbed bottles of Iceberg Beer, made locally by Quidi Vidi Brewery with 25,000-year-old iceberg water, and it wasn’t long until we got to the sole iceberg we would see.
“Well now folks, this is our inflatable iceberg,” the captain joked. “It landed in here almost two weeks ago and, as I mentioned, it is actually grounded on the bottom in 75 feet of water. Remember, you’re only seeing 10 per cent of the iceberg. Ninety per cent is under the water — you know that ‘tip of the iceberg’ cliché.”
We took time to admire the prehistoric ice, said to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old.
“Very likely, this iceberg will finish its life here,” Cpt. Dave said solemnly. “It has lost at least half its size already and changed shape half a dozen times.”
I chatted up a family from India. The husband and wife didn’t speak English, so their daughter and her friend, both nurses in St. John’s, did the talking.
It was their first time berg hunting, although they’ve lived here for almost two years.
“Beautiful,” enthused the daughter Rav Kaur.
“Can’t define its beauty,” mused the friend Karan Kaur. “You think and you dream about this, but when you see it, you can’t find words.”
After iceberg spotting, we cruised along close to shore looking at caves and sea birds. It was too early in the year for puffins and whales.
“Ahead of us is nothing but water,” the captain finally declared. “We may have enough fuel, but we don’t have enough beer.”
Iceberg Beers in hand, we headed for shore. firstname.lastname@example.org