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Newfoundland Challenge

Updated: Jan 13

It has been nearly four months since my last update from Lunenburg - our port of arrival in Canada, Nova Scotia late in May. My challenge now is how to summarise it well,and not to bore you with the details. There is a lot I wish to tell, and consequently, I did not manage to cut it short.


The prospects of a desolate and hostile North had some appeal despite its reputed bad weather. I was not looking forward to the prevailing strong winds, rain and fog, expecting it to be cold and wet most of the time. I was asking myself: “Why am I doing this?”. So did many of you in your messages: “Why on earth are you going there”. However I was resolved to endure it all, no matter what, as Pete was particularly keen to go there. The reality could not have been more different.


Sailing


We approached and eventually left Lunenburg in fog. We sailed, in moderate winds and poor visibility, our world wrapped up in suffocating fog, having to dodge between hundreds and hundreds of lobster pots strewn along the way to Halifax. I already had had enough. We only had occasional glimpses of the coast but at least we could smell an intense fragrance of Canadian pine, it was encouraging enough.


In Dover Cove we anchored and were totally encircled by densely packed forest, its close outskirts subdued in mist. Kokchin lay still on the glassy water of our ‘pond’ only an occasional bird to breaked up the stillness. This cocooned universe was as purifying as its crystal clear still waters. The following morning, like a butterfly, Kokachin spread her sails to effortlessly slide through the narrow Dover Run into the open sea. In Bras d’Or Lake we encountered more of this insular magic, fully savoured in Maskells Harbour. In Otter Harbour, rowing ashore in the dinghy was like entering nature’s crypt, a secret and sacred place. Its’ dark brown waters petered out to shallow white sand at the inner cove’s entry. The wide crowns of the towering trees overarching above the water left a Pantheon like circular opening through which the light crept in. Once in, there seemed to be no visible way in or out. We were captured, enchanted. I began to learn how to appreciate this world hidden in the mist. The little I could see once the fog cleared was plenty.


None of this prepared me for the Cabot Strait! This channel between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, at the mouth of the St Lawrence river, is notorious for its rough seas, strong currents and thick fog. Even hardened Newfoundland ferry passengers dread this 100 mile passage.


We set off from Ingonish with first light at 4:35am, in strong winds and thick fog patches. We had 1 reef in each sail but were still sailing fast on a broad reach. I spent 3 interminable hours of my watch, alone on deck (while Neptune was resting asleep below) hating every minute of it. The wind was howling and the seas were boiling, while we charged along at 8 knots in claustrophobically dark fog. My inability to see anything past Kokachin’s bows brought visions of us hitting something / anything any minute. The fact that we have AIS* did not assuage my irrational fears. When the fog thickened further, there was no end to my agony and my spirits would lift with every minor difference in its intensity. With my heart in my boots, I held my breath in terror, struggling with an almost irresistible temptation to wake up Neptune to relieve me from my suffering. I succeeded in appeasing myself with the thought that the faster we sail the sooner this ordeal would be over. So it did, 13 hours later and 90 miles on we anchored in charming Codroy, just before the sunset, averaging 7 knots. I was surprised to read it in the logbook that the passage was a daysail and not an overnight one as per my recollection! As Neptune teased me: “Instead of living the dream this was a living nightmare for you!” Well put.


Needless to say, I thought that the Cabot Strait gave me a taste of things to come. And so it did. Fog, and an occasional strong blow, nearly along all of the Western Newfoundland coast prevailed. Past Cape Baude we sailed in light headwinds struggling to move along towards St Anthony. White misty fog surrounded us. Partially visible ghostly apparitions slowly crept towards us, just about visible above the fog line. With the fogy curtain slightly ajar, under a weak light, some of these shapes would become more clear. The top sail of a tall ship or the stern of a fishing boat slowly revealed itself into the icey glory of an iceberg. Just as well there was not much wind so we did not smash into them. We were sailing in an area known as “Iceberg alley”.


Under clear skies and in balmy sunshine light winds pushed us along the breathtaking and deserted Newfoundland coastline. We drifted amongst icy mis-shapen giants while numerous whales frequently surfaced around us, their languid and long disappearing act fully absorbing us. It felt like we spent an eternity in an isolated bubble of nature and nothing much else. From then on, more or less the sun shone for us, the winds very light, the seas relatively flat, not much fog, and it was warm. What more can one want?


Coastlines


As if the two regions could have not been more different and at the same time so similar. Nova Scotia despite its rocky coast full of tiny islands felt more docile probably due to its low lying lands, richly forested hills and occasional grassy fields. Being more accessible and populated it felt ‘normal’. While desolated Newfoundland with its stoney majestic fjords, strong sea currents and inaccessible coast felt truly wild, harsh and remote. The place was not for the faint hearted.

Neptune got his thrills by sailing through some very narrow ‘tickles’ or close to the ‘sinkers’ ( apt local names for nerve tickling narrow passages or well disguised reefs that can sink you in no time ) while I hardly could bear it, wishing he would switch on an engine or would take a different route round these obstacles (none of which often existed!). It dawned on me that he did not hone his sailing mastery by motoring or turning away from a challenge. I held my breath while admiring his skills, trust and calm confidence in himself, the boat, the sails, the sea, the wind, the charts, the technology and the universe for holding up while we got through it! To bear it, the easiest thing for me sometimes was not to look at the chart, coast, swell, wash, menacingly sharp spiky rocks strewn everywhere. Of course I was thrilled by the ‘adventure’ once it was over. To Neptune’s credit also, we never came to any real danger.


Despite the harsh environment with challenging approaches and complex navigation, every anchorage we stopped at had some form of loveliness to it. I invariably exclaimed: “This is the best one so far”. The intense beauty of the desolate North left me speechless. Be it in strong winds, or in maddeningly confused lumpy seas or in just gentle drifting along I gazed at the coastline with wonderment and in amazement. How many different forms, permutations, shapes, colours the rocks, hills, islands and bays can they have? What is hiding behind yet another cliff, headland or inside the bay? There was no end to the variety and the potential to explore seemed infinite.



People


Everywhere we went friendly local people would greet us, invariably asking if we needed any help and what they could do for us. There was no end to their kindness, generosity and warmth. It left us feeling humbled and enriched. A refreshing and different experience from a world we generally encountered elsewhere. I am mentioning at least the main ones.


We headed North, not only to escape the Southern crowds, but mainly to visit Pete’s step daughter Irene, who relocated from South Africa to Corner Brook, on the west coast. We enjoyed the luxury of their home, appreciating their attentive care and warm hospitality. They took us on tours, showing us the magnificence of Bay of Islands, Gros Morne National Park and Trout River. It was worth making the journey just for this.

  • In Baddeck, Cape Breton, Henry, who Pete knew from years ago, offered us a free berth at his Cape Breton Boatyard, which we thoroughly enjoyed for a week. He dropped everything to drive us 300 km around the impressive Cabot Trail, and did so many other things for us.

  • Tim drove for miles to bring us a couple of lobsters!

  • In La Scie Valery prepared a delicious birthday meal while Larry sang and played guitar just for us.

  • Dave drove around St John’s for miles to find a fuel station that sold diesel.

  • Fishermen in Fogo and Fleur de Lilly brough filleted fish.

  • Jim, in Halifax, transported a new 6 metre alloy tube on the roof of his car.

  • Ralf in Burin, took us food shopping, and offered us a mooring buoy for Kokachin to use any time.

  • All of this culminated when Don and Ethel from Burin welcomed us with open arms and strong hugs (literally) to their home for a three course family meal. Freshly home baked bread by Don, cod and scallops (caught by Ralf) were given to us for the journey! When they came to visit us in Halifax and stayed on Kokachin, some weeks later, we rejoiced. New found friends reunited.


We leave these shores with joyous hearts mainly because of these wonderful people we got to know, full of hope that our paths will cross again sometime. The way of getting to them was not easy, but every second of it was worth it. To feel the true warmth of the human heart is priceless.


A plus tard Nova Scotia and Newfoundland! Truly a unique place on Earth. May mass tourism never come close to your shores to preserve your wonderful world.



I said nothing about:

  • Enchanting beauty of Lunenburg (UNESCO town) and its numerous schooners

  • Charming outport harbours

  • Commercial fishing boats, non commercial fishing laws and fishermans permits

  • Farley Mowat books we read: “The Boat Who Would Not Float” and “Bay of Spirits” with sobering thoughts on devastated NF nature

  • Kokachin clocking 2400 miles since my last update + we only ever saw 5 (five) sailing boats at sea around NF and not many more in harbours!

  • The whales encounters

  • My very special birthday presents and events

  • Or how we languished in deeply secluded fjord anchorages in absolutely amazing wilderness. Looking at the sky above us Neptune observed: “Only eagles to keep us company”.


We are heading towards the USA in October: Boston, New York, Chesapeake Bay, Philadelphia to visit and discover more friends on our way.


I long to hear from you my friends. It seems that nobody has any more time or desire to write, or with my departure you (understandably?) cast me away. The WhatsApp message will do. Please SMS me so that we can stay in touch. Mobile signals and our new data plan should work well in the USA.


Fair winds to you all



Linda & Neptune (AKA Pete!)


PS:

*AIS - Automatic Identification System - which enables us to see the boats around us on the chart, and other boats can see us too. In my ‘defence’ we saw 100s of fishing boats along the NS coast, none of them ever showing on our AIS, as if they wanted to hide their whereabouts.




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