Bonnie James and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the ICW to the Bahamas.
Sailing the South Coast of New Foundland – Part 1
In August 2006, we had the good fortune to cruise along Newfoundland’s South Coast on a visiting 59-foot sailboat. The boat had arrived on the Burin Peninsula after participating in the Route Halifax – St. Pierre Race. The racing crew flew home and owners Frans and Mary now planned to return via the scenic route, taking three weeks to cruise from Fortune Bay to Port aux Basques and then across to Cape Breton. The boat’s home port is in Chesapeake Bay, but it has been based in the Bras d’Or Lakes for the last several years.
Jim (Miller) was one of several people the skipper contacted in his search for crew. We had long wanted to sail the South Coast, but lacked the vacation time to sail there and back from Conception Bay in a single season. Oh, and did I mention we would be sailing on a Hinkley 59? Here was a chance to learn how the other half sails. We scrapped our plans to cruise to Trinity Bay in our own boat and presented ourselves at the Fortune Marina on a damp evening in early August.
Next morning we set a course northeast into Fortune Bay. We had our first taste of hoisting and trimming sails electronically. It saves on major muscle strain, but pushing those buttons can be tiring on your thumbs! We anchored for the night in the fine harbour at St. Jacques and enjoyed a stroll ashore, taking advantage of the plentiful raspberry bushes. Our hosts shook their heads in disbelief as the local kids took advantage of the sunny day to jump off the wharf and splash in the ocean. “But the water is barely above freezing!” they said. Ah, we Newfoundlanders are a hardy lot.
Our departure the following day was delayed when we could not retrieve the anchor. The electric windlass groaned, the engine tugged, but the anchor remained firmly attached to the bottom. A very helpful man named Aubrey came out in his boat to assist. He rightly surmised that we had latched on to an old schooner anchor lost on the bottom many years ago – just like one we had seen displayed on a lawn when we had walked through the community the night before. After some tricky work with lines, boathooks and Aubrey’s boat, we were free to go. I expect that if you visit the town this year, you will note two old schooner anchors on local lawns.
From St. Jacques we continued further up Fortune Bay and into Long Harbour, the first of several magnificent fiords that we visited in the coming weeks. At the entry to the fiord, we passed by Crant’s Cove and Stone’s Cove, both now abandoned. Just inside the long inlet, Anderson’s Cove lay to port. The community was resettled in the 1960s but has since been revived as a summer destination, with many new cabins. We anchored in Grundy’s Cove, about two or three kilometers from the open bay, just inside a narrow neck. The biggest challenge, one which would be repeated several times on this trip, was finding water that was shallow enough for anchoring. Even with the boat’s labour-saving equipment, nobody wants to drop anchor in 100 feet of water.
Our anchorage had a lot to offer – blueberries and raspberries, plus a mussel bed. Just around a point of land was a tourist operation where visitors experience wilderness camping. Guests sleep in big white canvas tents set up on a plateau underneath a high cliff. They spend their days hiking and kayaking. We are told that at the far end of the Long Harbour inlet there is a fly-in hunting and fishing camp that has received many famous visitors, including a former American president.
A couple of days later, we stopped for the night at our largest port of call, Harbour Breton. The harbour is huge, leading far inland and surrounded by impressive mountains. We were accommodated on a long floating dock ($1.00 per meter per night), with water, groceries and hardware available on the spot. In spite of the fish plant remaining closed for the year, the town looked tidy and busy. A heritage project to restore the Elliott Premises across the harbour was well underway.
Harbour Breton was on the receiving end for many of those resettled from tiny surrounding communities. Several of the residents told us of their abandoned home communities (Pushthrough, Miller’s Passage, Sagona Island) which never had a road link, but can still be reached by our preferred means of travel. The Sunny Cottage Heritage House, situated in an old mansion, provided a history of resettlement, international trade and Newman’s Port. The young people employed as guides spoke of their post-secondary education plans and the likelihood that they will be moving away to find work. It was a quiet afternoon, so they let me climb on to the roof and out on to the widow’s walk. What a view!
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Bonnie James – Vagrant Sea
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