Friday, 10 July 2009

Lost and Found in our idea of heaven...

Greetings from the SE corner of Newfoundland, a cruising ground worth travelling miles for as indeed you must in order to get here! We left from the Bras D’Or Lakes some 700 miles and 6 weeks ago and have spent most of that time alternating between thick fog or brilliant sunshine. Sometimes both at the same time...
We left a small anchorage, Kelly’s Cove, on the east side of the lakes and headed through the narrow channel back into the ocean. The "forecasted" wind didn’t arrive and we spent a restless few hours trying to work Hannah toward a 90 mile distant Newfie. Half way through the morning we heard a voice calling us on the radio. Calling US not the boat and we heard Rick from WanderBird asking where we were. We had suggested we might meet them in Mickle’s Tickle, a favourite anchorage, but weather had not worked for us and we found ourselves with another day to go. What was amazing about this call was that they were in the Tickle and so 90 miles away and yet we were able to speak via VHF. Normally we would expect 15 mile or so. We agreed to meet up along the way and slowly drifted toward Ingonish for the night. The sail to Burgeo the following day worked well although we ended up sailing through the night and got into Burgeo to find a disappointing anchorage and hearing that WB were in nearby Rameo decided to head over to catch up. 

We spent the next few days in their company before we moved in different directions. From there we wandered into Hoon and Aviron where we were lucky enough to see an otter. Actually we didn’t move much at all as the fog descended and the chart we were using carried the cautionary note that positions from a GPS needed to be moved x  in order to agree. It then went onto to say that even doing this would leave the navigator out by as much as 1/3 mile.... We stayed put. ...
Interestingly, well for me at any rate, I was reading David Lewis’s book Ice Bird where he took his boat down to Antarctica in the early ‘70’s. After days in fog and gales he managed to snatch a sun sight which placed 50 miles north of where he believed himself to be and here was I worrying about 1/3 mile. How times have changed. Another change, for us, is we have found ourselves having to use the electronic charts on the lap-top as we don’t have anything that covers this area in enough detail and can now understand why CMap is so popular. We know cruisers who no longer bother with paper at all but use this free system to get themselves about.

Eventually, tiring of the fog and running short of wine we headed for the French Islands of St Pierre & Miquelon – accurate charts! Some 12 miles off the nearest Canadian coast these two islands are part of France and have a long history of booze smuggling. Not now of course but... We arrived in Miquelon having failed to see the 500’ cliffs until ½ mile off the coast because of the fog and worked our way into the anchorage. Into the dinghy the following day to book in and then a rapid wander around town to find wine and cheese. But with the wind due to blow in hard from the east in a few days we had to leave the anchorage as it offered no protection and so headed down to St Pierre. Different again from its other half; more of a town to a hamlet I guess, St P offered bigger shops, more tourism, and a lot more shelter. We anchored off the French Sailing School, spoke with another yacht (the first we’d seen on this coast) who provided us with the code to unlock the showers and settled down for a few days to await the passing of the weather. We stocked up on wine, wandered the streets and read. One day offered a slight break in the weather we hoisted anchor and motored out of the harbour. Some 3 miles out and still working our way clear we shipped a sea over the bow that hung, malevolently it seemed to me, in the air for several seconds before coming down on top of me.... at that point I thought “Now hold on we don’t need this we’ll end up in a harbour we don’t want to be in ‘cos we need to book back into Canada...” so we turned and ran back in to St P at twice the speed we’d come out at. Anchored off the Customs building and stayed there until the winds were favourable.

This time we chose to head for Argentia in Placentia Bay. However as the distance from St P to Argentia was about 180 miles and the wind usually drops in the late evening we thought we’d break it up by anchoring. We found a couple of small places that certainly whetted the appetite for what was to come. Burin, for example, is very reminiscent of parts of Scotland but is now a shadow of what it used to be. As with so many of these places the collapse of the fishing industry has left many communities without work and consequently populations have moved to areas that could support them.

To Argentia, a forsaken outpost that once was a US Navy base but now seems to be little more than a ferry and container terminal. We spoke to Placentia Traffic, the CG who controls the movement of ships around the bay and they tried to put us through to Customs. Apparently the Customs like 2 hours notice of your arrival so the can meet you. As we couldn’t phone them a connection was provided via the VHF but it didn’t. Connect that is so we had the CG asking us the questions and relaying our answers to Customs. Wish that it was always that simple!. In the end we were cleared in without having to land, given a recommended anchorage and headed to it for the night. To be joined, soon after, by an American boat, considerably smarter and bigger than us. Placentia Sound, where we were anchored is a long, deep, winding fjord that’s easy to enter but ends in depths comfortable enough to anchor in. 

Valen Harbour
 But the following day we were anxious to be away and headed for a place called Indian Harbour which, although very photogenic, was too narrow to anchor in any comfort so headed out for Dog Harbour. Over the following days we had easy sails to places you can only dream about.
Valen Harbour is almost landlocked with a narrow, possibly 60’ wide cleft between the rock face. Inside a ledge is there to catch the unwary (not us this time) and then a pool offers a sublime anchorage. 

We crept in, waving at the few fishing families about and dropped the hook, idly watched by a leaf chewing caribou. Or was it a moose? Whatever 4 legs and a lot of antler stood showing little interest in our antics. Unlike us in him!

Western Cove, St Kieran and then onto Marystown and one of those situations that we occasionally bump into. We’d anchored off the Government wharf, decrepit and falling apart when a figure was seen rowing out to us. He told us we could use the other side of the wharf (it was in very good condition) turned and rowed back. We moored alongside and were chatting to George (the rower) when another guy turned up, beer in hand. Introducing himself as Neil he had, within 5 minutes, established we needed showers and the internet. As he was drinking, had to go and see his mother and sister that evening he pointed to his truck, then his house and suggested we make use of both to do what we needed. George offered to guide us to the house and within 30 minutes of being tied up we were in a hot shower. In set the tone for the few days we spent in the area. Neil suggested we’d be better moving to Little Bay, where he kept his fishing boat. What a lovely spot!. In a bay and well protected from most winds the small community seemed very peaceful. Visitors came down to the dock and chatted but mostly we were left alone. 

 Neil came over, collected us and our jerry cans, and took us off to a local spring for fresh water. Introduced us to his family, invited us to a wedding, and really looked after us. But and isn’t there always a “but” in these stories we were meant to be heading out to sea and hadn’t seen another “must see” place called Oderin.   We kept pronouncing it as Ohdurin whereas locally its pronounced Odarerin. And the accent sounds Irish to us although Jackie may not agree. So up to Oderin we went. Like so many of the places we have been to this had once been a settlement of fishing people who were enticed/cajoled to leave their generational homes in the 60’s after the confederation of  Canada. I’ve written, briefly, of this before and can’t begin to say I know the whys and wherefores of it all. Certainly from the privileged position of the deck of your own boat and in the height of (what passes for) summer these places are absolute gems. Looking at the settings it must have been heart-breaking for the families to have left behind everything they couldn’t carry.

Now, 50 years on, few people talk about it and the houses that are now springing up are often the sons or grandkids of those families. The homes are just for summer use but in some way seem to be an attempt to re-establish their identity amongst these wonderful islands. And Newfoundland is full of such places. Little, if any of the original settlements remain in most places but there is an air around them. Placentia Bay, I guess because it is not really on the way to anywhere else, is possibly by passed by many boats and perhaps that’s to its advantage. But if you are reading this and are planning to cruise Newfoundland we would say it has to be one of the best cruising grounds we’ve ever experienced.
From Oderin we went back to Burin, (pronounced Bjorn!) to set ourselves up for the wind direction and a good sail to Trepassey. Although Rick and Karen really like the place we have found the “softness” of the country compared to the cliffs and hills of the bit we have travelling along a bit disappointing. But the bay offers a couple of wharves to tie to and lots of anchorages to escape the wind. The entrance is easy and probably the only drawback seems to be the belief that most of the fog in Newfoundland starts its life here. But not at the moment. In fact the locals deny there has been much fog at all this year although concede that easterly winds are not common. Of course they don’t consider visibility of less than 200 yards foggy so all things are relative.

Much of the last 6 weeks have been spent on the endless discussion of what do we do next. We had a plan, which involved a lot of miles to an area that has its share of windy weather, but we’ve hummed and hahed about that. Should we winter here or somewhere else or go to the Azores and take it from there. Well today the decision is Azores but from the boat to the library is about ¼ mile so by the time this is posted we may have changed our mind. Certainly by the time this is read by anyone we’ll either be on our way or still cruising this area with a winter abode in mind.