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July 1st: Cape Race to St John's

What is it about birds and people that attract each other? Just like the Canada Geese who seemed to have taken up permanent residency - safe from hunters - on Toronto Island only two minutes flying time from Toronto's downtown mayhem, so have the terns and puffins of this world from Newfoundland's capital.

From Cape Race to St. John's harbour, I have been continually buzzed by squadrons of low flying ducts, and the noise the gulls made from their cliff top perches around Whitless Bay and the Bay of Bulls was almost deafening.

En route, I have also seen humpback whales roaring out of the water and pilot whales 'nose to tail' so to speak swimming by me on almost an hourly basis. The caplin are running ashore, and everywhere you turn there's some bird, fish, seal or whale chasing the bait.

As a footnote; summer has arrived on the 'ROCK'. The man upstairs has finally given me three days on the trot of clear blue windless skies. I am now burnt to a crisp. Today, I am now tucked into St. John's harbour under the Battery with friends. I slept in this morning and no doubt will do the same tomorrow. I am now at the half way stage. I am as fit as a fiddle. I now have got a feel for the conditions I am paddling in, and feel like I deserve to get drunk and abuse my body for once.

Cheers Bernie


June 26th: Whatever happened to the Lighthouses?

Now the lighthouse at Cape Pine; that's a lighthouse. It stands out from the Cape like a huge erection. They're not only landmarks for my eyes to rest-on during those moments when the weather seems to throw everything it has against me, and their 'fog horns' beacons of sound to guide me in, but seeing them and knowing they are 'manned' is enough to raise anyone's spirits.

Where have they all gone? I am tired of turning corners only to see some excuse for a lighthouse. These new high tech wonders are like oversized crystal balls on stilts: fully automated, gutless and neither use nor ornament to me. It is as if the old structures had been castrated and circumcised. Still they are a few of the old ones knocking about. Take for instance Joe Drake in English Harbour. Now he's a character. Every other Saturday (when he is not the lighthouse keeper) you can chune into his three hour Musical Request Show. You can find it on channel 16 if you have a C.B. and it helps if you live in Fortune Bay. He plays the guitar, and if you can hum the chune, he can sing it.

Then there was the day I attempted to cross Trepassey Bay. A sudden squall blew me ashore under the shadow of Powells Head Lighthouse. Lucky for me good old Tom Corrigan spotted my yellow kayak from his kitchen window. He met me on the beach; transported me back to the lighthouse on his ATV; his wife fed me freshly caught salmon and he insisted I take a catnap on his couch until the wind died. Two days later at Cape Race the whole crew of its lighthouse came out - cameras and all - to record my passing, and their waves of encouragement made my day.

I am from a different time - a time when you could burp and fart in public and when smoking was neither politically incorrect or a disease, but a vice. And we all need a vice or two - so what do I know about today's technology.

BRING BACK THE OLD MANNED LIGHTHOUSES...........what do you think?

Cheers, Bernie

 


June 24th: Crossing St Mary's Bay

Any beer on the go mate? I never thought I would be thankful to see three men on a drinking binge.

I had started my paddle across the bay from Branch to St. Vincent's seven hours before. I had been fog bound for two days in Branch. That morning I had woken to a cloudless sky, but the sea was full of lop. There was a strong south westerly funneling down the bay and although the sun was out it would have been just plain stupid to have attempted the fifteen open sea crossing.

At 5:00 p.m. the wind dropped, changed direction and became a tail wind. By 6:30 p.m. I was in the water and paddling. By 8:30 p.m. I was half way across the bay, but by 9:00 p.m. I was already in trouble.

It was not the first time I had attempted a bay crossing at night. Normally the wind dies as the sun sets. Navigation becomes easy. Lights dot the coast and traffic is almost none existent. It's not unusual to see shoals of fish - illuminated by plankton, shooting under the kayak like torpedoes and whales rising to the surface in mushrooms of light. In fact I prefer kayaking at night, but this night everything went terribly wrong.

First the wind picked up, changed back to the southwest and started to broadside the kayak. I was getting swamped and by midnight. I was now wet, very tired and cold. I still hadn't got a foothold on the other side.

Conditions went from bad to worse as I entered Holyrood Bay. I couldn't find the bridge people had told me about and the entrance to the sheltered Pond behind it. It was now after 1:00 am. I had been paddling for over seven hours none stop and my hands were raw and my eyes stung from the sea spray. Twice I approached the beach, but both times the pounding surf and the tell tale sound of water rushing over pebbles - denoting a steep beach, forced me back. I even had on my head lamp, but could not see how steep the beach was or if it was littered with rocks.

It was now or never. I could feel the beginnings of panic, and the longer I stayed where I was, I knew the worser the feelings would get. Once again, I kayaked as close to beach as possible. This time I saw I saw something that raised my spirits. House lights. I took out my whistle and started blowing like crazy, then I started to shout for help.

Yes.........A door opened and a truck raced down to the beach, Then an ATV. I knew now the worse that could happen was if my kayak broke, but I knew I would be OK. I surfed in on a wave. They grabbed the front of the kayak and dragged me up the steep beach. I was home and dry, and more importantly in one piece.


June 23rd : Any beer on the Go Boy?

Once again I am stuck. I am neither stormbound by wind or by fog. This time it's from an hangover. I am in Branch - a small fishing community in St. Mary's Bay on the Avalon Peninsula. I arrived yesterday and before I tucked myself in for the night, I had taken a compass reading across the twelve mile bay to St. Vincent's. I did start off across the bay in the morning fog, but about one mile out, I turned tail and came back. I can put up with many things that Newfoundland can throw at me, but fog makes me claustrophobic. Well that's my excuse.

That was yesterday, today is a different story. The foundation for my present state started around ten o'clock last night. I was trying to sleep when a crab boat came into the harbor. I had camped opposite the wharf, and the noise they made unloading their catch was just too much to take. Eventually curiosity got the better of me. I went to see what all the fuss was about. "Where's you from boy?"It was as easy as that. I didn't really need to reply. My accent gave me away and the rest so they say is history. I was in.

First, I was given the guided tour treatment of the boat, then we checked the 24 hour weather station, then it was down to the serious business of drinking. I have all ready said, 'a good lie is better than the boring truth' and you better believe me when I say, I can tell a good story. It was nearly 3:00 am before I turned in for the night. Needless to say, I missed the morning train. I slept in.

Cheers Bernie


June 21st : What comes around goes around

What would Joey say if he could come back and see the new resettlement program? To date, I have called in four settlements that were to speak part of Joey Smallwood's resettlement program in the early sixties. Whatever your views - and there are many on the Rock' - one doesn't have to look far to see that traffic is heading back to the one time deserted outports.

I have stayed in and visited Point Rose in Fortune Bay, and Odenin, Great Paradise and Merasheen in Placentia Bay. These outports, their land and their views are up for grabs. I have seen and been in homes more fitted for city life, than roughing it. Long gone are the lantern lights of old. Today diesel generators are the norm and many have all the luxuries of home and then some. It is true that most are still inhabited by lobster and crab fishermen who prefer to be close to their fishing grounds and are rustic at best, but many more are being renovated or rebuilt to be home-away-from-homes for the rich, or for the ones who want to return to their roots abet just for those lazy long weekends during summer.

I came to Newfoundland with an open mind. I have travelled enough over the years not to believe all one reads in the newspapers and never to base one's views on political hearsay. Crab fishermen are the new rich of the Newfoundland fisheries, and those lucky enough to have been granted licenses and got into the industry before it boomed have now a license to print money. All those who put their eggs into one basket called the cod, and didn't diversify into crab, shrimp and what was once called bi-products' got hit the hardest when the fish moratorium hammer fell. The fishermen I have spoken to all enjoy their work. Not the cold reality of waking up at the break of dawn, or the sometimes back breaking twenty hour none stop work schedules they sometimes have between storms, but enjoy the independence of being your own boss.

But lets get back to the outports. There is a new buzz word - well it is to me - COME HOME' parties. Paradise had one recently and over 1000 people attended their week long get together. And for a place with just twenty or so houses it boggles the mind where all these visitors stayed. People, I had been told came from as far away as Europe and the States. They had all either been born there, or had been related in some way or another to a person who had. This year it's Merasheen's crack at the whip, and they are expecting over a thousand visitors also.

Cheers Bernie


June 19th: Cape St Mary's

If Dantzic Point is Placentia Bay's western gateway, then Cape St. Mary's is its eastern counterpart. I had paddled like crazy from Argentia to Patrick's Cove some thirty miles down the coast to be within shooting distance of the Cape. I had heard many things about Cape St. Mary's, and outside of its world famous bird sanctuary none had been good. A quick look at my sea chart was enough to give me a sleepless night.

The Cape fragments into three jagged edges. I was told it had tidal rips; dangerous shoal waters; was a place where the Labrador current and Atlantic collided, and because of its unlimited southerly exposure, that when the sea was on' that it wasn't worth trying to round unless you gave it a three mile berth. In fact I was that worried, I even called in St. Bride's harbor - five miles from the cape - to get a second opinion on the weather before trying to round it, but all was fine.

Holy Shit! Before today the closest I had even got to a duck was when they had been served up to me on a plate, but that was yesterday. Today what I saw rounding the Cape was incredible. I saw thousands of them. I had never seen so many ducts in one place. I saw scoters, murres, puffins, guillemots, eider and high above me a lone bald eagle getting the hell pestered out of him. At one point, I sat back and drifted through a huge flock of eider ducts. It was like watching a wildlife Discovery Channel' program in stereo. Some came right up to the kayak, while others none to interested in my presence didn't even bother giving me a second glance.

Above me the scene was something akin to Toronto's 401 highway in rush hour. Birds and ducts were flying everywhere. Who ever is entrusted with air traffic control round here must have a mega headache, but the best was yet to come; for it wasn't until I had rounded the Cape, passed under its lighthouse and saw the False Cape' ahead , that I saw the main event. The whole cliff looked like a pin cushion of thousands of white dots. I now recognized the famous picture postcard scene that that bird lovers from around the world come to see. The noise was deafening, and no sooner was I spotted when it got even worse. Literally hundreds of gannets pealed off the cliff face and started to swarm over my head. I have no idea if they were just pissed-off that I was too close to their nesting ground, or saw the mars bar I was eating as a free meal ticket. It was a fabulous experience. I was the center piece of the action, and for fifteen minutes had a front row seat to the events above and around me as they unfolded.

I have my own theory why thousands of gannets choose this spot year in and year out to nest. First you can't beat the view, but more importantly to the gannet; if you miss your breakfast in the Labrador Current, you can always catch it in the Atlantic one just around the corner at lunch time.

The experience was up there with the best of them. I am not a bird lover at the best of times, but I could not help but be amazed with what I saw. It will be a moment to savor long after the trip is finished. The only drawback to the day was leaving.

 

Cheers Bernie


 

June 19th: Placentia Bay from Dantzic Point to Argentia

So far, I have had a love hate relationship with Placentia Bay. It is a proper little seductress. It has pleasing curves; enough character to keep me honest and plenty of passionate currents running through its veins.

From Dantzic Point to Lawn Bay it is as if someone had taken a rolling pin to the land. In places it is as flat as a pancake, then just before St. Lawrence it picks up again. In fact, for the novice kayaker, I would say this section from St. Lawrence to Jude Island is the most kayaking friendly waters I had paddled in so far. It has a little of every thing; inviting coves; impressive cliffs; islands dot the landscape; enough shoal water to keep you on your toes, and plenty of escape routes en route to take if the weather turned ugly. Bald eagles are a common sight, whales and seals are everywhere, and there are always plenty of lobster fishermen to past the time of day with if you wish.

By the time I reached Great Paradise - half way down the bay, I was begging to feel a little cocky with myself. For the first time since starting the trip, I was waking up biting at the bit. Summer had finally arrived and my body at last had turned into that clean mean paddling machine' of old. My earlier aches and pains that had marked my mornings had gone. I now felt like I could paddle all day no matter what the circumstances and today I wanted to put in some big mileage.

I was now about to start my slow traverse of Placentia Bay. My initial plan was to island hop. First from Jude Island to Great Paradise, then to Merasheen Island, Red Island and finally Argentia on Placentia Bay's eastern shoreline. It was already noon. The sun was out and I had just left the settlement of Great Paradise with a stomach full of Sunday dinner. My guests had forewarned me about the tidal currents ahead, but there was hardly a cloud in the sky; the sea swells were smooth, and there was only a hint of a ripple where the tidal rip should have been. In fact, I was so confident, I had altered my plans to visit take in Merasheen Island, and set a diagonal course to Red Island instead - some sixteen miles of open ocean away, but two miles into my paddle I had a quick change of plan.

I found myself in a tidal rip. The tide had changed and was now in conflict with the wind. Waves were starting to raft and crest. I had heard that the tides were as strong as a river's current, and now I knew they weren't joking. At first I wasn't worried. Normally these tidal rips are a couple thousand meters wide at best, but this one went on for ever, and to make matters worse it took me over White Sail Bank' (a place where the sea bottom rises from over a hundred fathoms to less than twenty). It's not that I haven't experienced waters like these before, but I had never been caught out in them for such a long time. It took me three hours to pull free and another two to get to Merasheen Island.

I was all done in, not physically, but mentally, and you better believe I gave into the first invite for coffee that come my way. And so ended another day at the office; slightly more humbler than I had started it.


June 13th: Climbing a mountain called Dantzic Point

 

Dantzic Point must come a close second to Portage and Main St. in Winnipeg as the windiest place in Canada. My 'Marine Weather Guide' dedicates a whole page to the point. I quote;'Strong southerlies are funneled between the Miquelon Islands and the southwestern tip of the Burin Peninsular. This effect is enhanced by cornering near Dantzic Point, which creates stronger winds in this area.'

I should have stayed in bed. I had woken at the crack of dawn to beat these winds. The night before I had camped just outside Fortune. The last spot I could find before the long twelve mile paddle to the point. All night the gulls had kept me awake. The caplin were coming ashore to spawn and the gulls must have been having a rare old feast. I wasn't rarely in a fit state to do anything let alone paddle. I had probably four hours sleep if that. It was 4:30 am and freezing cold. It was still dark outside, but Fortune Bay was glass calm. I was in the water and paddling by 6:00 am, but no sooner had I turned the corner at Fortune Head when a stiff breeze picked up, then the tide also turned against me.

Getting to Dantzic Point was like climbing a mountain full of false peaks. The point just wouldn't come towards me. The head wind were brutal and relentless. I only stopped once for a coffee break, but the site of land reversing itself at a jogging speed made for a quick pit stop.For eight hours I dug my heals-in and refused to stop. The whole day went by in slow motion. The wind wore me down like a soap stone and the tide took care of the rest, and when I eventually turned the corner into Placentia Bay and rounded the point, I was spent. I had been on automatic pilot for the last two hours, and when I rounded Point May, I threw in the towel at the first signs of life.

I was that tired I got swamped surfing ashore, then one foot trip up over the other exiting the kayak on the beach and I fell. I was now not only tired, but cold and wet. It's at these moments that life shows me its silver lining. I had been spotted further up the shore, and no sooner had I picked myself up when I came face to face with Mike on his ATV. Thirty minutes later I was stripped and changed. I was given coffee and sandwiches, then later that evening treated to a three course meal at his cousins. Needless to say that evening found me tucked away between clean sheets. Once again, Newfoundland hospitality had picked me up after the elements had flattened me.

Cheers Bernie


 

 

 

 

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