Bonnie James and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to the Bahamas
Sailing the Coast of Newfoundland – Part 4
I will take over from Bonnie and continue the account of our trip on the Hinckley 59’ Sloop “Remedios” along the south coast of Newfoundland. I have traveled the coast extensively over the past thirty years from Terranceville to Port aux Basques. These trips were on the coastal boats, small aircraft and more recently by the various road connections. This time we had the opportunity to poke our noses into the many fiords and harbours on the coast. Nature has left us with breathtaking vistas. Deep fiords with towering mountains, waterfalls and wildlife abound. There is nothing quite like seeing the sounder show 400 feet beneath your keel just a boat length from shore. Then of course you have to study the chart closely to find shallow enough water to anchor for the night.
It was good to meet some old friends along the way and catch up on all the local news. In Burgeo, Bonnie caught the bus back home and we had a day to restock the boat and do laundry. The local food store happily provided free delivery back to the boat. Talking to the store owner Gordon Ingram about the changes in Burgeo, he indicated what has happened since the fish plant closed and both fishermen and plant workers were out of work. As with other areas along the coast, many of the adults have changed the trips to sea for airplane trips out west, but maintain their homes in Burgeo and spend the bulk of their income locally. Several residents have opened up tourist related facilities. We passed a number of kayakers along the coast that came to the province to experience trips of a lifetime. A number of the businesses have connected together so that tourists can arrange one-way kayak trips up the coast and take the ferry back to their starting point.
We leave Burgeo by the well-buoyed western channel and head for Grand Bruit. The weather has changed to low cloud, fog, some rain squalls and a lumpy sea. It is said that there are 365 islands in the Burgeo archipelago, one for each day of the year. Modern navigation has greatly improved navigation in the area. The Sand Banks are along this section of coast, miles of golden sand incorporated into a Provincial Park. This is quite the change from further east where mountains raise straight out of the sea. The land here is much lower, and there are many shoal areas to avoid.
Our arrival into Grand Bruit, French for `Big Noise`, is shrouded in fog. As we tie up to the government wharf, the fog lifts to reveal the prime attraction. The big falls split the town in half. Grand Bruit was settled in the 1700`s, and is a well protected harbour close to the fishery. There are about 35 full-time residents and an equal number of part-timers that return for the summer season. Unfortunately, the school closed this past fall, so the students must now spend the school year with so relatives in a larger town. The only access to Grand Bruit is by sea or air. We discovered a vibrant community, with everything we needed. The CAP site (Community Access Program) in the school provided our computer connection, local stores supplied treats, and a unique spot, the Cram-a-Lot Inn, had all the local gossip in the evenings. Anyone that has ever been here knows what I am talking about; the rest of you will have to visit to discover this gathering place.
We were storm bound for the next day, so the boat owners and I took a hike down the coast. A few miles along the shoreline on a sand spit, we find a large navigation buoy that had washed up. As you can see from the photo, the buoy is massive. It was a not-so-gentle reminder of the power of the sea. We are struck by the remoteness of the area on this hike. The ocean disappears into the horizon, and no houses are to be seen. To the east, Hope Brook was the site of a gold mine, now defunct. All that remains is the pollution caused by mining company and the cleanup left to the province.
The weather clears, and we head west. The route takes us past Petites, a community of 13, now resettled, a combination of the fishery downturn, population loss and the high cost of power. Houses and wharf structures remain as some still use it as a seasonal fishery base and for summer homes. The 450 foot Cunard liner Ascania was wrecked nearby in 1918.
Onward to the west is Rose Blanche, with a stone lighthouse first built in 1904 and recently restored. This light is one of very few stone structures built to aid shipping coming into the Gulf and headed for mainland Canada. There are several B&B’s in the area, which makes it an attractive tourist destination. A short distance from here in Isle aux Morts, local diver Wayne Mushrow discovered two astrolabes, early navigational instruments used to measure latitude. The vessel from which they came was wrecked here sometime in the 1600’s. Visitors to the museum in Port aux Basques can see one of these instruments and make the comparison to modern GPS systems.
Entry into Port aux Basques is straightforward. It is advisable to check with Harbour Traffic who will supply the Marine Atlantic ferry schedules and other vessel traffic. We tied up to the floating docks. I showed the skipper the reason for choosing the outside section of wharf. On the opposite side of our dock there is a rock ledge with only a few feet of water over it at low water. I tried using my own boat to move the rock on an earlier visit and lost the competition. We are waiting for extra crew to arrive for the ninety mile trip across the Cabot Strait to Cape Breton so we have a day or so to visit local sites.
We time our departure for after lunch so our arrival at the entrance to the Bras d’or Lake will coincide with slack tide. This will be at first light. The crossing is typical, wind on the nose, with about a five foot chop. We choose to motor-sail and the miles flow by. This is the same route that the ferries use, and we know that schedule. There are not a lot of fishing vessels in sight, but we do cross tracks with several container ships coming and leaving the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The night watch ensures that there are two of us on deck at all times. This allows for company, safety and confirmation of navigation aids. After all, a container ship only takes about twenty minutes to travel from horizon to horizon. It takes about ten minutes to boil water for a cup of tea, so if you go below, you will need to come up frequently to see what is out there. Our night time rule also dictates all people on deck wear PFD’s and safety harness. We use the CO-2 inflatable type with the built-in harness.
We pick up the channel headed for the Bras d’or Lakes just at daybreak. The leading marks assist us at the narrow entry and the tide is cooperating with us. We have a spectacular view as we sail under the tall Seal Island suspension bridge and motor on towards Badeck. On the way in, we pass the Alexander Graham Bell Estate, and enjoy the early morning calm of the great scenery here. We arrange dock space at Badeck Marine, and my colleague Trinav broker, Osborne Burke, is there to meet me. Remedios has been overwintering at Dundee for the past several years, while Frans & Mary travel home to Virginia. The trip has been a great experience with new friends and lots of memories.
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Jim Miller – Vagrant Sea
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