Thursday, 29 October 2009

Question: Why are Newfoundlanders happy to die and go to heaven?

                              Answer: ‘cos they’re going home...

And here we are back at Shelburne in the home of the wonderful and generous Forbes and Yola, having had the best summer cruising ever. So much to enthuse about, so many photos to share..

We did say that we were off to the Azores and as we left Trepassey, with its wonderful librarian Patsy, made our way around Cape Race and onto the east coast of Newfie that was certainly our intention. We met up with some Dutch friends in Ferryland, waved them goodbye as they left for St Johns and a day or so later we headed out to sea en route for the Azores. Beset by doubts.... Were we doing the right thing? Should we continue with the plan or use the opportunity to explore more of this wonderful coastline. Luckily the wind was light, we were hardly moving and faced with a first night at sea drifting around we opted to head back to harbour and set off again the following day. But we didn’t leave the next day for the Azores but chose to stay in Newfoundland. A great choice as it happens, and no regrets at all.

                                                                                                                                                                      Up the east coast we sailed toward St Johns. Now we had no interest in the town but felt we needed to check in with the authorities as we’d last assured them we were only here for a couple of weeks.

Through the fog we sailed, marvelling at the hundreds of thousands of auks and puffins we encountered. At times it seemed like the marine equivalent of Trafalgar Square, with pigeons replaced with sea birds. There are a couple breeding grounds, islands that are now nature reserves and here birds rule and humans are spectators to their antics.

With the fog around we didn’t see as much as we’d hoped but even so were a little startled to hear us being hailed on the VHF; a nearby tourist whale watching boat asking if we’d spotted any whales in our travels, as he needed to show his punters. We had of course, though several miles back, though they could be anywhere by now. It’s the fine mist the whale exhales that alerts the watchers to their presence, that and the strong fishy smell that accompanies said breathing, but in the fog the mist breath is invisible.  I can tell you that having one of these huge creatures surface about 5metres/15 feet from Hannah and breathing out gives you an enormous shock and certainly stops any day dreaming.

Approaching St Johns we called Coastguard Traffic to warn them of our presence, casually slipping in that we do not have radar.
  Listening to their broadcasts to inbound/outbound ships we pondered on the fact that whilst they warned them of our existence they didn’t feel it necessary to let them know we were blind. About a mile from the harbour the reason became very clear. Literally, as the fog had disappeared and bright sunshine prevailed.

The entrance to this fine harbour is known as “The Narrows” for obvious reasons, very photogenic but it looked at bit crowded as a Canadian CG vessel came out and we opted to hang about outside until they rang us to gently inform us that we were hove to on their route...

St Johns. Well, like Stornaway in the Hebrides, it worked its spell on us. Tied up to a pontoon with our Dutch friends, the town is within walking distance and whilst the charging structure for boats is innovative ($5.99 a day with a minimum of 5 days levied) it represents great value. OK there is no water or electric available but a matter of metres away from the dock head we were entertained by bands and Shakespearean plays. The harbour authorities came down whilst we were visiting Customs, who were happy to let us remain in the country but unable to provide an answer to our question of whether we would be liable to pay tax on any home brewed booze we brought in on board Hannah the next time around, claiming that no one had ever asked that before. I can’t think why.

We spent 5 days in St John’s and made several new friends. There is a tiny harbour to the north called Quidi Vidi which, amongst its attributes is a fine brewery. Chatting to a local tour boat ended up with us meeting Patric and Karin who live aboard a boat at the brewery and they, in turn introduced us to Steve. Sailors all and fine folks. Other visitors included a press photographer, a variety of Brits either on holiday or living there and the husband of Clio Smeeten who is, of course the daughter of Miles and Beryl. And then one afternoon we were below decks when we heard someone fall against one of the lines and went up on deck. Some yards away 3 guys in their early twenties were trying to get photos of themselves with Hannah as a backdrop. They came over to apologise as their enthusiasm or drunkenness had persuaded them that getting on deck would be a neat thing. They turned out to be some of Canada’s finest, serving aboard a recently docked warship. As they were leaving to traverse the North West Passage in a few days and the ship was throwing a party for invited guests they were insistent that we should come on the grounds that if we’d crossed oceans in Hannah we must be proper sailors and they felt sure their captain would/should meet us and “learn how its done.....”  It coincided with a meal we’d arranged for Patric and Karin so we doubted whether we would make it. They took this on board, as only the very drunk can, and duly reappeared several hours later clutching invites meant for some of the nubile women of the city. Alas for all concerned our get together on Hannah went on longer than that of the warship Toronto and we never got to give the long suffering captain the dubious benefits of our experience.

We headed north, tried to anchor in a small cove called Heartbreak before plugging onto a harbour. The fisherman we chatted to as we tied up alongside smiled as he told us that these places have a reason for their names..... His wife gave us a fresh home baked loaf and we headed out the following day for Irelands Eye. Newfoundland abounds with great anchorages, the majority of which are deserted, not just of boats but very often houses as well. Sometimes a smattering of cabins can be seen, small single storey buildings for summer use, often neglected but still usable and all a reminder of an earlier life. Each anchorage had its own characteristic but joined together by this feeling of solitude.

We moved slowly up the east coast, crossing Trinity, Bonavista  and Notra Dame Bays. We by passed Twillingate, apparently known as the Iceberg Capital of the world to anchor in, yet another, Deadmans Cove. It was a warm, sunny August day and to sea could be seen the billowing white sail of a huge ship....but it wasn’t of course just a lonely and large iceberg drifting around gradually melting into the sea. Sadly the only one we were to see this trip.

As we made our way west and north we ventured close to the town of Lewisport and were shaken to see 3 other yachts at the same time which was as many as we’d seen since leaving the French Islands.... An anchorage we slid into had another boat already there and the next day another boat followed us into our choice for the night. In both these spots the Lewisport Yacht Club had felt it necessary put down mooring buoys for visitors...Time to move further north!

One of the major advantages we’ve had on this trip is the American VHF our mate Cary gave us, as this gives access to local weather on very frequent basis. It was on one of these broadcasts that we heard the news that we were soon to experience 40 knot winds, our first warning that Hurricane Bill was on its way. We made our way into a small harbour called Fleur de Lys for a few days until it passed (with a whimper for us, thankfully) and then moved onto the final coast, a long, pointing neck of land that heads up SE toward Greenland and once rounded would set us south and mark the end of this particular bit of the cruise. Firstly though we sailed over to Fourchou, a long, steep sided fiord that house the remains of Newfoundlands last whaling station. We anchored off the old settlement, gravestones reflecting in the setting sun and ate a contemplative meal surrounded by silence. The anchorage is exposed to a slight swell and we’d had to anchor in deepish water to avoid drifting back onto a clearly visible rock garden. Bee, feeling that we stood a chance of seeing the Northern Lights, opted to read after we went to bed whilst I settled down to sleep. A strange bang alerted us and we got up to investigate what we believed to be the chain snagging on an underwater rock. By torch nothing could be seen off the bow and the chain showed no sign of snatching. Stranger still Toots, who had been on deck sleeping under the dinghy had not come out to investigate with us. I wandered back and shone the torch over the stern to see a very frightened Toots, eyes like chapel hat pegs, clinging desperately to the rudder blade of our self-steerer. Her front legs were wrapped in a death squeeze around that slim bit of wood and she was not letting go. Neither of us know how it happened but my call of alarm had Bee from one end of the boat to the other and over the side clinging to the self-steering struts as she made a grab for one very wet, skinny, clearly terrified Toots who showed no resistance to being bundled into a towel and dried off. That water is cold and Bee’s idea that we should have some form of line she can attach to herself so she can fling herself overboard was not met with approval. The only saving grace to this whole episode, aside from Toots still being with us, is the effect upon her coat which is shiny and smooth. Like me her fur had become slightly “dreadlocky” so she hasn’t been at her best!

Further north we sailed to roughly the same latitude as London although much cooler and when, in late August, a local warned us that autumn was arriving we swallowed and thought we should make plans to head south soon. We decided to head in Griquet (pronounced Gricket) to wait out some northerlies that were coming through. The only chart for this place seems to be an old French one that we don’t have. The electronic ones we have show no soundings at all and the only reason we attempted it was the new guide to Newfoundland has a copy of the chart and a line indicating the best way in. It involves rounding an island before picking up the channel. The weather was lumpy outside  and we doused sail at the entrance and made our way intending to leave the island to starb’d. But some memory made me question my decision and we rounded up into the wind whilst Bee went below and found the relevant page and found we should actually leave it to port. The following day a figure appeared on the jetty and entertained us with his story of how, from the veranda of their summer house they had watched with shock as a boat had actually come in from the sea (the waves were pretty impressive from the shore) and their shock had turned to horror as the boat had begun to go the wrong way and then suddenly turned. Their first thought had been we’d lost power; followed very closely by the picking up the phone and about to ring the coastguard.......

From Griquet we headed north into a lumpy and very uncomfortable sea for a narrow tickle called Quirpon (Carpoon). As so often with these situations the shelter of land changes the nature of the seas and we experienced wonderfully calm water. An outgoing fisherman assured us we could pass either side of the buoy and we entered into a tranquil and lovely area. Unfortunately we needed to push on as the next tropical storm was heading our way and we wanted to use the easterlies to get down the infamous Belle Isle Strait. And so it was. This was to be our first long, serious trip for some time and coupled with a forecasted 30 knots plus had a quite unnecessary effect of turning my bowels to water. But once we got going and settled into our routine it is surprising how calm and clear we become. The journey turned out to be easier than we’d imagined and as each day came along we kept pushing south knowing that soon the wind would switch to the SW, the direction we were heading, and we’d need to seek shelter. We chose to do so in Beach Point, a small summer community that was deserted and arrived about 8am one morning.
 The entrance is narrow, perhaps 15-20 metres and the swell was beginning to run into the entrance. A bar across the harbour cuts down the swell entering but also gave me a bit of a turn as we swept in with wind and following sea and the depth beneath the keel began dropping rapidly to 3 feet (don’t you just love this mixture of imperial and metric we fling about!) Once in we were faced with turning the boat in a very confined space with a gusting wind in order to tie alongside a fishing boat. Took several attempts but we were safe in and we headed for some much needed kip. Only to woken a few hours later by voices – the crew for the fishing boat.....luckily they weren’t going out as the wind and seas had risen but were simply doing a bit of maintenance. We went back to bed.
We spent a day or so there and then headed out to make it down to Nova Scotia or as much as possible before the next wind shift. Opting to by-pass the Bras D’Or Lakes we made decent progress passing Cape Breton and onto Nova Scotia. As the wind turned against us we made a rapid decision to pull into a nearby anchorage to wait a more favourable slant. The following evening we headed out into a very lumpy sea left over from the gusty SW wind that had blown. We struggled to get through the channel and spent a couple of hours beating until the  wind, as forecast, switched to the north and we were away. Shelburne was a couple of nights away and the first night slipped by as kept up the speed. But with 40 miles to go the wind speed suddenly increased well beyond the 20 knots forecast and the seas seemed to come from all direction. A very uncomfortable night. Approaching Shelburne we peered anxiously up the harbour expecting/hoping to see a familiar boat but nothing. We anchored and rode ashore having been hailed by Paul Gartside with a “Welcome Home” and met up with Forbes and Yola who instantly put a large and very hot shower at our disposal. Which brings us back to where we were a couple of postings back.

 Robin and Jac, whose boat we expected to see on our arrival, we find are now behind us having to deal with a family problem back in Europe

 So there it is, 3 months and a couple of thousand miles in a few thousand words. Newfoundland is an island of contrasts held together by the people

 It’s been several weeks since I wrote this up and we are now back in Belfast and soon to be heading back down to Portsmouth, Virginia. The trip across from Shelburne proved uneventful although the prospect of strong SE winds had us sliding into a better protected harbour before Belfast. A quick radio call to Kathy, Belfast’s Harbourmaster, had her alerting the Customs and they duly cleared us in without a problem. In fact after he listened to our story about the difficulties of leaving the US in March he granted us an 8 month stay rather than a 6 month one thereby removing one enormous worry about our departure date for next year.

The trip across also gave us a wonderful opportunity with a wind battered kestrel that had been blown out to sea. It alighted on the mizzen sheet and balanced precariously there, inches from my head. Whilst attempting to seek better shelter it was blown backwards and fell into the sea, recovered and flew back onto the sheet but closer to the furled sail where it recovered for several minutes, watching us closely through bright eyes. At some point it must have felt sufficiently recovered to make another attempt at leaving but soon realised its mistake, wheeled and appeared to dive into the side of the boat. We couldn’t see any sign of it in the water and felt it must have hit the hull and gone under. Happily the following morning it hopped out from under the dinghy and flew off having spent a quiet, sheltered night getting its breath back. Thankfully for all concerned Attila the Claw was not on duty that night so the kestrel was left in peace.

And then a few days ok I was below when I heard the murmur of voices followed by a hefty “ Anyone on board” and came up to find Mike and Eilean stood on the jetty with big grins on their faces! We’d last seen them thousands of miles away on another continent – I mean C’mon how many times in your life are you going to be able say - "We haven’t seen you since Senegal"!!