Newfoundland and Labrador, Caledonia 2009
2015: Editors note: Sadly, this company only lasted a short time, and no longer operates. The ship was last reported in Toronto. She was expensively refitted to serve as a tall ship, but had some challenges. The deck felt incomplete, and needed to be more passenger-friendly. There were LOTS of life-raft barrels stacked in the middle of the deck. Also, the sails were square sails, which required the crew to climb into the rigging to adjust them. But the Canadian crew and the trip was wonderful! I really enjoyed sailing with Captain Kim and his wife Jill.
Trip report… Caledonia in Newfoundland and Labrador
Dean and Karen
Saturday… What to expect?
This is a 2 week trip on Caledonia to Newfound and Labrador. This obviously won’t be the Caribbean, but rather a more fall-like trip. We really don’t know what to pack, but do plan on leaving the swimsuits and snorkel gear at home. We have been following the weather, and expect highs in the upper 60’s and lows in the 50’s. Rain, showers and dampness are expected to be the norm, but we shall see. While some might be sun seekers, we are also scenery seekers, and this trip may prove to be just the ticket. And, as for the rain???? We went to Panama 3 times in the rainy season, and lived in the Pacific Northwest, so this will be a snap. We hope.
We expect to see picturesque villages, whales, seabirds and, hopefully, icebergs. It is late in the season for them, but a check of www.icebergfinder.com shows there are at least 14 in the areas near where we will be sailing. The Newfoundland Tourism office has a great website, and will send you an excellent map and booklet on request from the website.
Captain Kim Smith has made boats and dories for many movies in his shop in Lunenburg (which he recently sold), including Pirates of the Caribbean and the upcoming Moby Dick. He is also the best ship handler I have ever seen. Dave Evans, is one of the owners of CSE, and the Caledonia is the ship he built. He loves the ship, and this trip was something he really wanted to do.
There were days of great weather, and we wore t-shirts and shorts. There were days that were cooler also. There was rain during the two weeks, but nothing that we hadn’t seen before. Rain/wind pants, a good waterproof coat, light gloves and a cap covering the ears were good additions for sitting on deck under sail on some cooler days as we sailed through these northern seas. We the exception of one afternoon, seas were calm, actually smoother than sailing between islands in the Caribbean. This is a wonderful place for sailing and sightseeing!
Saturday, August 8
As usual, there was an early morning drive to the airport, a 2-hour drive from our home. It was cloudy and cool, about what we expect to find in Canada.
We got to the terminal at 7:20 am, and had to wait for the agent to return to the counter from the gate. There was no one in line. The BWI International terminal is spacious, uncrowded and quiet and very nice. The domestic terminals were packed, with lines extending out the doors! But for once, our trip is starting on a very relaxed note.
We first flew to Toronto, where we cleared Canadian Customs. We left the plane at a remote, little used terminal, which had a walkway that reminded me of the outside walkway in Barbados. Then we boarded a bus for the ride to the main building (St. Martin). The customs area is the size of Miami —- but with few people. There were 25 lanes manned, and only 34 people on our plane… Even with that speed, we cleared customs and went to baggage claim – again Miami size with few people, and our bags were already there! This is the way to do it!!!
Halifax– no problem there, either. But I have to look at a map; the airport seems to be a long way from town! The airport was fine.
The one hour flight from Halifax went quickly. There were lots of clouds, but also lots of remote coastline to look at. As we flew over Newfoundland, what stood out was the flatness of the green forested land and the thousands of lakes. Deer Lake was huge, but we could see lakes down to the size of cars. One interesting thing about the Deer Lake airport, which was bigger than expected, was that public could come right in an greet the arriving passengers at the gate. There was no security checkpoint to exit around as you left the gate. The way it should be everywhere.
After picking up our bags, we took a taxi to the 1960’s style Deer Lake Motel. It has an attached coffee shop, and the cab driver said if I like fish, I should try the Cod tongue or Cod cheeks. I passed.
Tomorrow, we board the ship in Norris Point. I expect to be off-line for the next two weeks.
After breakfast, we walked around the motel for a while, and made arrangements with Yellow Cab to pick us up at 12:30. The driver was on time, and we were off to Norris Point. The road was also to the Gros Morne National Park, and there was a bit of traffic. It took us an hour to get there. We had to go around a large bay, Bonne Bay, and were able to see the Caledonia 20 minutes before we rounded the tip of the bay.
The cab driver was quite interesting to talk to. Among the recurring themes we heard from him (and others along the trip) was that Newfies seem to work off-island but always try to return, and yearn to. Many don’t make it back until retirement. People started leaving in mass after the cod fishing industry was closed in 1992.
Norris Point is a small town, with a small Marine Science Station, and boat tours. There is some fishing, but it isn’t’ overly obvious. We walked up a hill to get a nice view of the dock and the Caledonia, and then around town. We felt the water, and it was surprisingly warm, maybe in the upper 60’s.. There were a few kids around jumping into it. The water was also clear, with at least 10 foot visibility, and we saw some divers go out. After we had walked the town, we stopped by a small bar and grill next to the dock, The Cat Stop, and sat on the outside deck until boarding time. Lots of tourist came by to check out the ship. We also watched a wild black mink hunt around the dock. Not native to NF, it was a descendant of escaped animals from mink farms on the island.
We boarded at 4 pm, and were please to find ourselves in the same cabin, 313, which we were in during our March trip. We then went back to the aft deck for vodka punch drinks, which were delicious. We met the other passengers, a total of 9 this week.
As we sat on the aft deck talking, we saw a small sei whale about 400 yards away. We watched it as is swam down bay. This was a good sign, having nt even left the dock yet!
Finally about 5 pm, we cast off and were away. We sailed up-bay toward Gros Morne, and the highway we came in on. Cars began stopping on the road to watch us, and soon over a dozen cars were stopped. We came about, and headed down-bay. We saw another whale! We passed Norris Point, passed through the Tickles, and crossed the wide inlet to Woody Point, where we tied up to a very small 30-foot dock; mind you, Caledonia is 275 feet. Again we stopped traffic as we maneuvered in. We stayed overnight in this small, picturesque fishing village.
Dinner was at 7:30. After dinner, two local singers came aboard from Norris point, and sang mostly traditional and local songs for over an hour.
The evening passed quickly.
Monday began cloud free! We were set to sail around 7, so Karen and I got up early to take pictures of the town. It was a pretty view from the aft deck. We then set sail down-bay and up the west coast for Port Au Choix, an all-day 10-hour sail downwind. The weather was very warm, and sunny, and it was a great way to spend a fantastic day on deck, watching the sea go by. We were all in shorts and t-shirts, which I had not really expected.
At one point, we passed a schooner, the Bowdin, a 90’ sister ship to the one the famous Newfoudlander, Bob Bartlett took Admiral Peary to the North Pole on. This is the centennial of that voyage, and Canada has issued a stamp in honor of the voyage.
Lunch was served and then we went back put on deck to enjoy the afternoon sun as we continued to sail north, The wind was behind us, and we had the square sails out, The ship ran very well in the 3 foot swells, and 20 mile per hour winds. The ship doesn’t seem to roll, just pitch, which makes for a nice ride.
When it was about time for the safety drill, First Mate Kathryn asked Karen and I to NOT report for muster, and to give the crew a challenge. Karen went below to our head, and I just stayed on the lee deck next to the deck cabin. As it happened, the “fire” was in the spaces next to where I was standing. So as the suited-up firefighting crew came by, I just stood out-of-way by the deckhouse ladder, taking pictures, as they went through the motions of fighting the fire. I acted like I belonged there. Finally, Kathryn asked the team if there was anything around that shouldn’t be there. Finally, one of the guys said, “There is a passenger standing there”….”Should he be?” … “Uh, no”. At that point I was escorted to the muster station. Karen had already been found and brought up. . It was good training for both teams!
We sailed through the afternoon, making over 9 knots and came in through the narrow channel to Port Au Choix. As at other places, locals streamed by the dock, looking and taking pictures. Karen talked to one woman who was cooking dinner when her husband called and said “Drop everything, grab a camera and get to the docks.” We imagined that there were a lot of dinners burned in town that night.
The weather was turning to what we thought was normal. A cold wind and occasional rain droplets, we went below for dinner of salmon or chicken. After dinner, we spent a short time on deck watching the people watching us, then went below. Dave decided to start a poker game in the salon.
We slept well, tied up to the dock.
The day started looking a lot like the previous evening, cloudy, cool and windy. We got up and walked up on deck. It was still cool, but the wind had died down some.
The ship had arranged a couple of tours and activities. It turns out that Port Au Choix has a long history, going back over 5000 years. Parks Canada has set up a national park because of the richness of the native history. It has been alternately settled by paleo-Indians (5000 years ago) paleo- Eskimos (2800 years go, ) and early maritime Indians (1000 years ago.) These changes were caused by changing climates. Dave arranged for us to travel to the Parks interpretive center, where they have nice displays of the various habitation periods, Then, on the other side of the island, a park ranger took us on a tour of the winter habitation area, called Phillip’s Garden, where the Eskimos had stayed for 800 years or longer, built houses in the same meadow, and hunted seals. The depressions of their huts are still seen, and are still being excavated. It may not look striking, but it is a significant site. The views of the coast were striking along the kilometer walk in and out of the site. The sky was clearing, and it became warm, too warm for the clothes I chose for the day.
The guide from Parks Canada pointed out pointed out the beach terraces. These are like steps up from the beach to the hills, caused by the land lifting up, rebounding upward after the glaciers melted 10000 years ago. While earthquakes are rare, the areas show quick changes, most likely by strong, infrequent earthquakes – or at least my geology professor would have said.
At Port Au Choix, there are no taxis. So the ship arranged with a local woman, Loraine, to bring out her extended cab pickup, which served as our taxi. Some of us sat in the cab, and some in the bed of the truck for the short rides around town.
That afternoon it was getting warm, and we dressed in shorts, and T-shirts. Loraine took a group of 7 to the Point Richie light house, which is at the far end of the peninsula. The plan was to walk back to Peters Garden, then cross the middle of the island to the interpretive center, estimated at 4.5 km. We walked along a coastline unlike any I had ever seen. Everything was bare rock up to about 40 feet above sea level. After about 1 km, we saw a caribou feeding just off the trail. It let us approach within maybe 75 feet.
We continued on to Phillip’s Garden, then cut across the peninsula. We chose the wrong trail, and ended up going by the burial caves, which were used by the paleo-Eskimos. Our final total was about 8 km.
Back to the ship, we relaxed at Happy Hour until dinner at 7; I had the scallops. After dinner, a couple of local singers came in and sang some local standards.
It was very cool on deck. We went below. Tomorrow we sail to Red Bay, Labrador. None of the Canadian crew has ever been to Labrador and everyone is excited.
We set sail from Port AU Choix about 8:30, on a mostly sunny day. The seas were calm, with only a small wind-blown chop. Everyone was marveling at that good weather. We sailed north, as the Captain added more and more sail. Finally, by lunchtime, every sail on the ship was set. This was only the second time the Captain had unfurled all the sails. After lunch, the wind was beginning to blow more. The Captain had considered a photo-launch, but we were behind schedule, and the wind was making it rough. However, he wanted pictures. He asked me if I would be willing to go over the side and take some. Of course, I agreed.
It was decided that we would go out in the rescue launch, a 10-foot zodiac-type inflatable. I got on a work vest life jacket, and climbed in as we were winched from the deck to the water. Cory drove the boat as we moved about 200 yards off the ship. I set my camera to automatic, and shot as fast as I could. W e went up one side of the ship, backed off, the sent up the other. We spent about 30 minutes taking pictures, in the end perhaps 300. I wouldn’t have such an opportunity again. It was rough, and I got beat around, but it was worth it. At the end, we were hoisted aboard in the zodiac, and it was an amazing trip.
We continued sailing north, and it got colder as it got later in the day. It was a fitting welcome to Labrador.
We entered the snug harbor of Red Bay, named for the red cliffs at the entrance We docked at a small commercial fishing dock, and as usual, the dock became busy as a stream of locals came by to see the ship up close. Karen and I went to the dock after dinner to talk to them, and they had an accent that was very difficult to pick up. Finally, the cold got to us and we went below.
A story came to us from one of the dock visitors. It seems the 3-year old grandson of a local woman on seeing us enter the harbor, ran screaming to his grandmother , yelling “ Grandma, Grandma, A Pirate ship is coming, a Pirate Ship is coming!!!”
We are docked in Red Bay. The town has been here since the 1540’s, when the Basque set up a whaling summer camp here, which continued until about 1588. As many as 1000 men came here to hunt and process whales into oil. They left a remarkable array of artifacts here, but the settlement wasn’t known until the 1970’s due to research in Europe. Since then, the site has become a national park, and archeology is ongoing. They have found and recovered some of the only 1500’s sailor clothing, and sailing artifacts anywhere, including a whale boat and a galleon, housed in two interpretive centers in town.
Red Bay was a fishing village, but there are only 2 fishermen left in the town of 160, at the end of the paved road north. . There are a total of 30 kids in the K-12 school. However, there are an increasing number of summer tourists who come in busses, campers and the occasional cruise, including some liners with 1600 people, who must overrun the town. The cruise ships hover offshore.
The wind is blowing at the starboard side, pushing us against the dock..If the wind weren’t blowing, it would be OK. But with the wind-chill, it is cold on deck, and the forecast is for higher winds in the afternoon.
Dave decided to switch the tours scheduled.
The morning tour became a hike to the top of Tracie Hill, at the entrance to Red Bay. We took the zodiac to a beach near the base of the hill. The hill is 500 feet high, and there is now a nice new boardwalk to the top, with hundreds of steps along the mile walk to the top. From there, aside from a reliable wind-blasting, is a spectacular view of the town and bay and so I took many pictures. There are no trees in the area, just a spongy low-growing mixture of plants over a 6 inch peat base. The current season is bakeapple (cloudberry) season, and people wander all over the terrain. Many people routinely wear net outer garments to prevent the 1/8 inch biting black fly from covering you when the wind stops. Karen had 5 bites on the back of her neck before we realized it. We put on bug repellent, which worked well. For some reason, I wasn’t troubled by them, but applied the Off! just in case.
After coming down, we took the Boney Point beach walk, which used to be known for the whalebone left on the beaches. Before the area became a park, truckloads were carted away for sale. IT is said the bottom of the bay is still covered with whalebone, remnants of the Basque.
In the afternoon, Dave took us up to the National parks interpretive center, and a town whale museum. All were very well done. In one was a recovered whale boat from about 1550, called a chulupa. The other museum has a fantastic array of artifacts from the Basque station including whaling equipment, navigation instruments and even clothing. Nowhere else can you find some of the items that are on display. This was one of the earliest European habitations in North America.
After returning to the ship, we had drinks in the warm lee of the deckhouse, then Happy Hour below in the library.
Dinner was roast duck or a local delicacy of cod tongue and cod cheeks. After dinner a lady and her father came to sing traditional local songs. The lady was the Park Ranger whom had talked to us in the afternoon.
It is cold topside, so we stayed below and read. Tomorrow we sail north.
Friday, August 14, 2009
This will be a day I will always remember!!!
We set sail from Red Bay around 7:30 am. We motored out of the harbor under grey sky. There were places along the shore where fog was forming. The swell built a bit as we headed to sea. We turned north with a following sea, and sailing was comfortable.
It remained cloudy with the sun trying to break out. Then, we saw a sea fog ahead.
Suddenly, dolphins appeared everywhere. Groups were jumping clear of the water, and others came close to the ship, and some rode the bow wave. Everyone was looking at them and taking pictures.
The sea began to change and the fog got thicker. It was eerie. It almost looked like we were running up on shallow water through the fog. Then it turned about 10 degrees colder. We realized that we had entered the arctic Labrador Current. This very cold current was interacting with the “warmer”, moist air and water we were leaving, causing the low fog and the strange waves. We were about 650 miles from the tip of Greenland.
We continued on north in the Belle Island Strait. After a time, we cleared the fog area, and could see the mainland 2 miles away and Belle Island, 5 miles away. Karen spotted the first iceberg, a small chunk, grounded on a beach. Off in the distance to the north, it looked like another. As we moved closer, it became larger. At this time, we saw whales spouting also, large puffs of steam. There were at least 2 whales in this group.
We came up slowly and approached the iceberg, a dock-shaped chunk about 300 feet long. It also started raining. Dave decided he wanted pictures, and a chunk of clear ice. We lowered a zodiac, and I was invited along to shoot pictures. We went around behind the saddle –shaped berg, and I snapped away, getting Caledonia in the middle of the saddle. Then Dave told Nick to head in. We butted against the iceberg, as Dave began whacking it with a fire ax. Chips came off, but each blow drove us away. At that point better sense finally struck, and I decided I wasn’t comfortable there under the wall of ice, and we headed back to the ship. I took more pictures as we rounded the iceberg, and came back to the ship. I climbed the Jacobs ladder to deck. Dave decided that Nick and he would make another attempt at getting ice, and went back. They didn’t have any better luck when they got there, except for some small chips.
We bid farewell to our iceberg, and then headed on to Battle Harbour. It was a perfect day for sailing, although it was overcast, the winds were calm, and the rain was not too heavy. Along the way, we saw more whale spouts, portending things to come.
Just as we came to the north entrance to Battle Harbour, we saw a large iceberg, grounded off-shore. We passed between it and the entrance.
The water was very calm as we rounded the headland. We saw another dolphin working the bay. We anchored in the bay, while Dave and the Captain went in to check the dock and water depth. The Captain decided to back the ship into the dock, so we began in reverse over ½ mile from the dock. The Captain used the main engine and the bow thruster to maneuver the ship through the narrow 150 foot wide passage and to the dock. It was masterful.
We tied up to the Battle Harbour dock, the largest ship that had been in there in many years.
Saturday, August 15
Battle Harbour is actually on an island off the coast of Labrador, reachable by boat from Mary’s Harbor. It was one of many cod fishing ports, and has a long, rich history. The village is run by a historic trust, and is tourist destination in summer. It has B&B room for up to 44, and a number of reconstructed historic buildings.
The morning was clear and calm. It was still early, and we spotted whale spouts just outside the anchorage. We decided to walk out to the point for a better view and pictures. The whales were behind a small island, but we could hear them surface and blow from a quarter mile away. We could also hear the manager’s dog, Lucky, barking at the whales from Mike’s boat, and the sled dogs howling on another island. Then we saw one of the zodiacs heading out. We weren’t aboard. Darn!
We listened to the whales a while longer, then when we saw the boat returning we hurried back to the ship. By this time, the days planned activities & tour were forgotten, and the crew was making ready both zodiacs. We made it back in time, and boarded one with Dave and Duncan. We raced the half mile back out, and killed the engine. The water was very calm, and then they appeared. Dolphins lead the way and at least 4 humpback whales surfaced, a few hundred feet away. They were feeding on the school of capelin below us. We drifted and motored closer, and then moved even closer. They were all around us. We watched for over an hour as they moved about the small area, spouting and diving, seemingly ignoring us. They were often within 100 feet, sparking real worries of collision, but that never happened. The view was fantastic, and the encounter was incredible.
After an hour of constant feeding, 3 of the whales stopped feeding, and just lolled at the surface together. We approached, and came within 5 feet of the trio. We even paddled backwards to keep from drifting over them. We could have touched them, but didn’t. It was beautiful. As we watched, we realized the middle whale was not well. The middle whale, the largest, would sink down and only surface to breathe. Its skin was grey and cracked, not the normal shiny black. Mike, the Battle Harbour manager, who was a once a cod fisherman, was of the opinion that the whale would not live long. We stayed next to the 3 whales for a long time, an experience of a lifetime.
After 2 hours, we finally decided we were whaled out, and the whales finished their nap and began moving further away for more feeding. Rather than following them out of the protection of the small islands, we went back to the ship for lunch.
Humpbacks– and Lucky.. Taken a month before before we were there
After lunch the whales were not close, so we all decided to return to the morning plan, which was a guided tour of the Battle Harbour village with Mike, and his dog lucky. He gave a personal history of the cod fishery, which was abruptly closed by the Canadian government in 1992. This had been the major industry in Labrador, and much of Newfoundland. The cause was the collapse of the cod stocks, due to overfishing. The causes of the collapse are likely complex, but one of the things that Mike felt was the issue of foreign offshore trawlers. Whatever the reasons, the cod fishery is not coming back.
Mike took us into the historic buildings, some restored originals over 200 years old. Battle Harbour was a central supplier of goods and services for a large section of coast, and the amount of material, including salt for preserving the fish was tremendous. Salmon were also caught, packed in ice and shipped south.
All supplies had to be brought in by ship, and the waters around the harbor were iced in November – May. Since some people remained year-around, enough had to be on hand to keep them alive.
Battle harbor was a company town, and most of the fisherman returned or stayed year after year, because they could never get out of debt to the merchants. It was not an easy life.
Battle Harbour also played another role in history. Admiral Peary made a number of expeditions to the arctic, and would stop in Battle Harbour for supplies. In his 1909 expedition to the pole and his “discovery” of the North Pole, the ship’s Captain was the most famous Canadian Arctic explorer, the Newfoundlander, Bob Bartlett. His role is being celebrated in these waters this year.
When Peary returned for the polar region after his “discovery”, he stopped in Battle Harbour and summoned the press for the announcement. Battle Harbour was the place furthest north with a telegraph, and the press came from all over. The press conference took 3 days, as Peary sat in the loft of the Salt House, reading from his journal. The reporter from the New York Times wrote extensive articles, and there is a picture of Perry sitting in front of a window in the loft. That loft is preserved today exactly as it was then. It was a special unexpected treat to see it.
Since it had begun raining the afternoon hike was cancelled. We stayed aboard and some walked in town. The rain was not really heavy, but gave a good feel for Labrador weather. It got foggy also.
About this time, Captain Kim, and Dave decided they wanted to try again to get iceberg ice. There was still a small one in the larger part of the harbor, and they headed out in the zodiac. They were gone a couple of hours, and came back with perhaps 500 pounds! The berg had hit bottom, and large chunks were in the water, which they fished out. According to the story, at one point Dave even got up on the iceberg, chasing a seal off it, a story I totally believe. That evening we had cocktails with iceberg ice. And it is true, the ice melts VERY slowly!
That evening, Mike joined us for dinner, with tales of his fishing career. Rather than sailing in the morning, the passengers voted to stay in Battle Harbour the next morning and either go whale watching or for a hike across the inlet on a large island. That evening, Mike invited everyone, including those staying in the town, to the Salmon building loft for an evening of socializing and music.
Sunday, August 16
The day was sunny and chilly in the morning. The great string of good weather was continuing!!
The whales had scattered into the ocean side of the island, and the wind was kicking up, so it wouldn’t have been a good trip to try and get close. We decided instead to take a hike. We crossed the narrow inlet in a zodiac, and climbed the steep bank to the crest of the hill, which was slightly higher than the masts. We struck out cross country. The landscape was covered with spongy moss with a plant covering. There were also granite outcrops all over, which gave a firm pathway in many areas. There were many small ponds, lakes and potholes full of tea-colored water. The scenery was fantastic. We walked out to one headland, and scanned our surroundings. There were a couple of other people scattered in the distance collecting bakeapple (cloudberry) berries. This is a low growing plant that produces a reddish, raspberry-type berry. While full of seeds, it is used on jams and all kinds of preparations.
There was no trail here. We made our way north, through a broad valley with many lakes. One of the lakes was against a small rock face, and in the pond were water lilies blooming! This was a surprise.
We continued up another headland, then decided to cut across the interior of the island to make it back just in time for lunch. Another 4.5 Km!
After lunch we set sail for our next destination, Henley Harbour. As we left Battle Harbour, we saw the iceberg the Captain and Dave got the ice from, and Dave had stood on. It had rolled over.
The Captain decided to try something unique. There is an island near Battle Harbour called Double Island. The island is about a half-mile in diameter, with 150-foot wide gash through the middle. The walls were also about 150 feet high. Up here, a narrow spot is called a Tickle, and the Double Tickle is a local landmark. The captain decided to sail through the Double Tickle. I got on top of the deck house to take pictures, all the time thinking it was crazy, something out of a movie. We passed slowly through, with 50 feet under us, and a 2 knot current pushing us along. We even stopped long enough for pictures. It was fun, and a little scary to be in the tight confines of the Tickle!!
We turned south but soon had to slow down, even stop. Those pesky whales were all around and crossing our path. It took about an hour to clear the area.
We continued south along the coast, with a northwest wind, ideal for this segment. We saw whale blows and dolphins everywhere as we sailed along. Most of the whales were closer to shore, but there were constantly some in sight. The dolphin were nearer, and we could see them jumping clear of the water at times.
We also saw the iceberg we had approached. It was grounded, and there was ice all around it. A good portion of the face where we had tried to chip it had fallen off.
We pulled into Henley Harbour before sunset. There is an abandoned fishing village at the base of a sharp-edged mesa, Devils Table, one of two, which are out-of-place compared to the glacier-rounded landscape elsewhere. The mesa has vertical columns that reminded me of the Devils Tower in South Dakota.
The village is a ghost town. There is still bedding in place, clothes hanging in the closets, plates on the table. It is as if everyone just walked away in 1994. We are not sure about the reasons, but it isn’t staged. Very creepy!
That evening after dark the crew went ashore in a little cove and built a bonfire from the driftwood. We went ashore, roasted marshmallows, hot dogs and s’mores, and drank hot chocolate as the Caledonia rode quietly at anchor.
Monday, August 17
We set sail for L’Anse aux Meadows. Once again, the sail was beautiful with a following wind. We crossed the Belle Island Straits, continuing to see whales. At one point, we actually slowed to watch them. We passed an area where there were constant blows. At any one time, there were 12-18 whales on the surface. They were actively feeding, and we estimated there were at least 50 total whales in the small area. It was breathtaking to see so many humpback whales in one place!!
The Captain had planned to anchor near L’Anse aux Meadows, and take us ashore in the zodiacs. However, the wind was blowing hard, so he had to find another anchorage. He turned down one small inlet that looked like a good place to anchor, and saw a likely-looking dock at the head of the bay. Dave launched a zodiac and raced in to ask permission and to sound the water depth. It turned out that the depth was fine, and the Captain again did a masterful job of easing the ship alongside in the village of Quirpon. I talked to one elderly local who had come down to see the ship (as most locals and tourists seem to do). He had lived there all his life, as had his father and grandfather. He told me that not since his grandfather’s time had a ship of our size, and certainly not a sailing ship, visited the village.
Dave arranged with a couple of local people with vans to serve as drivers and take us to the site. A 10-minute drive took us to the visitors’ center at L’Anse aux Meadows.
This is the site of the first documented Viking settlement in the Americas, about 1000 AD. It is one of those remote places I had read about, but always thought so remote I would never see it. Yet, here I was!
The Visitors center had a very nice introductory film and displays of some of the artifacts they had found. There was then a path down to the beach where the buildings were.
The houses were made with thick peat walls, cut into bricks. This must have provided excellent insulation. The buildings were built on a terrace about 5 feet above sea level, along a creek and freshwater marsh. This provided them with water and marsh iron ore to smelt. Just outside of the area is a Parks Canada recreation of what the houses would have looked like, including some rangers dressed as Norse and demonstrating the activities.
To the modern eye, it looks like the site is exposed to the wind. But it does have an open shelving beach, water and likely game, so these might have appealed the Vikings more. What is even more amazing is that the traces of the walls could be seen. One has to wonder where else such structures might remain, given all the local legends about the Norse.
Nearby is a private recreation of a Norse settlement, with costumed actors playing the role of the Vikings going about daily activities. The setting is a little later, about 1066, but is supposed to be what L’Anse aux Meadows would have looked like had it succeeded. In some ways it was a better recreation than what Parks Canada is doing.
On this trip we also got to see our first moose, which were near the visitors’ center. Newfoundland is known for its large moose population, and I can believe it.
This was also Captains Dinner night. Tim and Paul provided a fantastic meal!
Tuesday, August 18
We left the dock at Quirpon at first light, around 5 am. The day was cloudy with a chilly wind blowing. We stayed mostly below. We sailed around Cape Bald, which has a north latitude the same as the south latitude of Cape Horn! We then turned south for a run to St. Anthony, where we dropped off 3 passengers.
We had to anchor out in the bay at St. Anthony, since there wasn’t dock space available. There are lots of fishing boats and a commercial barge and tug taking up all dock space. But we were anchored off a museum, with a good dock to land on.
At this point, 3 of the passengers departed, and we were expecting 3 more the following day. This was a turnover day for the crew. We were allowed run of the ship, with a launch schedule set up. Meals were along with the crew “family style”. If you wanted a drink, sodas and such were free as usual, and adult beverages were on the honor system, just make a mark by your name.
After lunch we toured the museum, which is devoted to Dr. Grenville, who founded a charity to bring medical care to Labrador and northern Newfoundland, and is a local hero. He ran hospital ships to the coast, then founded hospitals and clinics. He founded one of the first at Battle Harbour, where eventually he was forced to leave because the merchants didn’t like him stirring up the people. He eventually founded a major hospital in St. Anthony, just ashore of where we anchored.
We then went up to his original 1910 house, toured there and took a walk over the top of the hills along a trail through the spruce forest. It offered some beautiful views of the harbor. We kept an eye out for moose, since their droppings were everywhere, but didn’t see them.
We returned to the ship as the day grew colder.
Wednesday August 19
The day dawned cloudy and foggy. There was also a persistent drizzle. We used the opportunity to read and catch up sorting pictures and write. It was very relaxing!
About mid-day, the Captain moved the ship to a commercial dock so we could take on water. The captain can parallel park this ship better than I can a car. As usual, a parade of locals came by to check out the ship.
We waited until the new passengers arrived, then set sail in the late afternoon back to Quirpon. The seas were running 6-8 feet, the highest we had seen this trip. The ship pitches but doesn’t roll, so the ride was fine, although several people were feeling the motion. The wind made it very chilly on deck, but we stuck it out. We sailed along the rocky coast, and watched the waves crash ashore. At one point we spotted a humpback whale breeching at least 5 times, which I had never imagined seeing. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture.
After we rounded Cape Bald, the sea became much calmer. There was still fog, and it was eerie seeing the lighthouse and hearing the foghorn from sea. The Captain sounded his horn for a group of hiker friends ashore, and then as we approached Quirpon, in order the get local help to handle lines.
We tied up to the small Quirpon dock for the night. Dave once again found a singer for us, and he was by far the best we have heard. He sang the Newfoundland playlist, plus a few of his favorite county western songs. He stayed past 10, and I think sang every song he knew. He even sang Happy Birthday for Harvey, one of the new passengers. Harvey is a tall ship sailing enthusiast, and came up to spend his 80th birthday aboard.
Thursday August 20
Today dawned much as yesterday. It was foggy and cool, with an intermittent light rain. Some are going to L’Anse aux Meadows, and some are considering a hike with Dave. As it got closer to 9, when the tours were to leave, the rain picked up more, yet they left. Because of the weather, Karen and I decided to stay below and read, in the library or the cabin. The saloon also was comfortable. There is always coffee, tea , hot chocolate and soft drinks available, along with some fruit and other snacks, so it was nice and comfortable.
About 10:30, the rain stopped and the fog lifted. Karen and I decided to take a walk along the bay. It was very nice seeing the local color and buildings. We walked a couple of miles (4 km) around, and up over a small hill. Saying the area is picturesque is too weak a word to describe the scenery!
We got back to the ship around noon, knowing we were scheduled to sail at 1, and lunch was at 12:30. We got word that Dave’s hike was taking longer than expected, and they would be back an hour late. They had gone across the bay to explore an island, and it turned out harder than expected. As we had at Battle Harbour, they headed out to a headland that could be seen from the ship. They then walked along the coast away from the ship, and then cut across the interior back to the starting point. Sort of a large triangle. At Battle Harbour this worked well and it was easy to walk on the tundra. But this time they encountered 2 steep slopes with lots of tangled head-high bushes and trees. They ended up sliding down the hill, breaking through the brush, in the rain, on their rears. When they all came back to the ship, they all had smiles as wide as their faces. In the old WJ days, we would talk of Louise’s Death Marches on up the hill on Los Testigos. The marches now have a new leader, and a new name, “Dave’s Only 4.5 Km Hikes”.
We set sail under cloudy skies for Red Bay. We found comfortable places behind the deck cabin for watching the sea go by. It was chilly, but OK. We saw a few whales in the distance, and a few dolphins. Around 5PM we all went below for Happy Hour in the Library, since it was a little windy, and potentially rainy on deck.
After a drink, Dave’s Mountain Climber, word spread from the bridge that they had spotted a whale breech. We all ran up on deck, and I ran to my cabin to grab my camera, then got up on deck. Sure enough, a humpback whale was jumping out of the water and crashing back with a huge splash. I snapped away as fast as possible. He made at least 10 jumps while we watched. After every jump, Karen said to me “I hope you got that!”. I did!! J And it became the weeks winning photograph! Along with it, we agreed to a new slogan for Labrador, “Where Whales Fly”
We tied up at the dock in Red Bay just before sunset. It was rainy and windy outside. Since this was a 4-day section our trip and the last day we would be sailing all day, there wasn’t a formal Captains dinner. However, there was a “Dinner with the Captain”. The chefs, Tim and Paul, wouldn’t tell anybody what was for dinner, but said it would be good. It apparently evolved over the course of the day to become a 4-course feast. And they had not let anyone know what to expect. They brought out an appetizer of duck that most of us was the whole, filling meal. Then there was a blueberry with iceberg ice palette cleanser. This was followed by the main course of beef slices, and then dessert of a delicious filled pastry concoction. I simply don’t know how to describe the meal adequately. At the end of the meal, we brought the chefs out for a standing ovation.
Friday, August 21
Morning dawned in Red Bay warmer and sunny. The Red Bay we remembered. After breakfast, we all went separate ways. Some went to walk up Tracy Hill. Others decided to learn to kayak. Yet others went to the museums.
We went with Dave to walk around Saddle Island, which is a national park and 3.5 Km of well-maintained trails. The trails circle the island, passing by the sites of various activities the Basque whalers lived, worked and rendered whales, beginning in 1540. There are also paleo-Eskimo sites there. There is a sunken galley from about 1550, and just yards away, the remains of a steel trawler from the 1960’s. The history of this pace is amazing! On the seaward side of the island the trails wanders through a seagull rookery. As we walked, we began so see the young birds, still covered in down. They seemed to ignore us, and we could approach closely. After a tame 3.5 km walk, we went back to the ship.
Sandy and Sheena went kayaking with Jimmy as instructor. As we had learned, Sandy has the knack of doing the unexpected. As he was getting into the kayak, he rolled out into the 48 degree water. He came up laughing. His sunglasses had fallen off and were sinking into the 10 foot deep water. Jimmy dove in to try and retrieve them. Now THAT is customer service!!! He didn’t get them, but Sheena rigged a boat hook and wire coat hanger and did.
Back on the ship, we left the dock at 1 pm, for a sail back to Norris point, which was about a 19 hour sail away. The water was calm, the weather warm if you were out of the wind behind the deckhouse. Again, there were occasional dolphins crossing our path, and we spotted whales in the distance. It was altogether a pleasant afternoon to sail!
Dinner was served below, and as usual, excellent. There was a nautical quiz, which the combined folks at our table, we won. We were each given a numbered print of a very nice scene from Battle Harbour, which we had been admiring for two weeks.
We went to bed to an almost unperceivable pitching in the calm seas. Overnight, I heard sounds of the wind picking up, but the motion changed only slightly.
Saturday, August 22
In the morning, it was raining heavily. The crew was soaked after being on deck. About 8am we approached the dock at Norris Point. By this time, the wind was blowing strongly, the rain was pouring and it wasn’t fun on deck. Captain Kim had to work very hard to get the ship docked in a very tricky and difficult situation, but he succeeded. He is by far the best ship handler I have ever seen.
We sadly left the ship, shaking hands with everyone. Most of us were headed to the Deer Lake airport for a 1:30 flight. It was an hour drive, and it rained heavily the whole way.
We arrived at the small airport and tried to check in. The agent didn’t see one of the flights we were supposed to take. It turns out the flight from Toronto to Chicago only flies weekdays. Despite talking to airline before we left, and saying we didn’t see the flight scheduled, Air Canada had reservations for us on a non-existent flight. At Deer Lake, they finally realized this. We flew on to Halifax, but Hurricane Bill was heading for the Maritimes. Once again, we were leaving just ahead of the storm. I don’t know how they do it, but the storms seem to chase me. We flew though Halifax in the late afternoon, and they closed the airport Sunday. Another close call. In Toronto, just as we landed they called a “Red Alert” at the airport, meaning that all ground personnel had to seek shelter from lightning. This prevented all departures, and unloading and loading of baggage. The delay was almost 1.5 hours, meaning we would have missed connections. Fortunately, at Deer Lake he had chosen an option to fly the next day from Toronto. Because of the change, Air Canada had to put us up in an airport hotel with a food allowance. We flew on to Baltimore on Sunday.
This trip is different from anything we have ever taken. It was also the most memorable cruise we have ever taken. Sure, the water and air were at times warm, cool or cold, but the scenery was photographically unique, and the numerous encounters with whales, icebergs and interesting sights and people. Having Dave Evans, one of the owners and the builder of Caledonia, was a special treat. The food was excellent, exceeding expectations, actually pushing the limits of what can be done at sea.
This type of trip is for anyone who loves the ocean, culture and sailing.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip, but one I would repeat happily at any time. I fell in love with Newfoundland and Labrador. It has made me want to see the rest of the Canadian Maritimes.