August 16, 2014, LaPoile Bay, Kenny
We’re currently anchored about 9 nautical miles up LaPoile Bay, sitting out some nasty weather. We were heading for Rose Blanche but diverted to an anchorage we’d been to earlier in our trip. The sail up the fjord was a welcome respite from the building seas and squally weather.
LaPoile Bay, like most of the other fjords along the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland has incredible depths sometimes to 1,000 feet, and often has cliffs just as high. Just about every fjord had or still has, a small community nestled into a beautiful, very protected, although remote, harbor. People have lived in these places for centuries, relying on fishing in the warm months and hunting moose and caribou in the off-season. The only way to get to these outports is by boat. Small ferries make daily runs from village to village carrying people and supplies. Populations are usually between 100 and 200 people.
Most of the outports had their hey-day 40, 50 or more years ago when cod fishing was big business. However as the cod started to disappear, so did the fish processing plants. As the plants closed, the fishermen were out of work. People started leaving the towns looking for work elsewhere. As the population decreased, the Newfoundland government started offering buyouts to outport people so they could be relocated and the towns could be shut down. The expense of supplying schools, medical facilities, utilities, ferry service, etc. was not justified by the number of people served. Currently, the buyouts have to be approved by 90% of the year-round residents.
Our travels have taken us to outports in various stages of life. LaPoile is alive but seems to be in decline. Ramea is doing well. Rencontre West was resettled in the 1970s but a handful of houses are maintained as hunting or fishing cabins. McCallum was recently up for a resettlement vote and the residents chose to stay. Gaultois has a new lease on life with the advent of aquaculture (fish farming). Grey River is alive and well and Francois seems to be hanging in there, too, but I’m not sure why. There have been a number of homes sold as vacation homes but most people are year-round residents and their school is well attended by outport standards.
Two days ago, we visited Grand Bruit—an outport we had visited back in 2009. Back then, it was a living town. The next year however, the residents voted to resettle. Our visit there this time was to a ghost town. Although we had heard from other cruisers that villagers still used some of the houses as summer cabins, not a soul was around when we arrived. I imagine Chernobyl must have looked the same, a few years after the nuclear power plant accident—houses and fishing stages all in good shape but the only sign of recent use was the Newfoundland flag flying proudly over the “Cramalott Inn” and some deflated party balloons tied to a porch handrail.
We made our way along the walkway reminiscing about our first visit when the friendliest dog in Newfoundland greeted us and acted as tour guide throughout the day. As we started up the trail to the pond above town, it was obvious many others had been there this summer as the grass was well trampled. We took in the glorious view of the ponds, bogs, and highlands, wishing we had more time to follow the trails farther.
On our way down the hill we noticed a bountiful supply of wild blueberries. The next morning we went back with baggies to restock our fresh fruit supply, and then shoved off for Rose Blanche. It was a rather heart breaking experience to see this cutest of outports looking so deserted. In a matter of years, the dock will decay along with the bridges over the waterfalls. The fishing stages will wash away and the houses will collapse—a sad chain of events that has occurred again and again along this grand coast.
Aside from outports, the fjords of the Southwest coast afford the cruising sailor shelter from the wind and seas and, in many cases, beautiful swimming holes. Generally speaking, if you sail up to the head of any of these fjords, you’ll find a tannin colored brook or river flowing over a waterfall. For sailors in need of a bath, these pools are a precious gift. Our favorites were both in Hare Bay. One, up Morgan’s Arm, had multiple pools to choose from and the other, in the Sandy Point Arm, was the most convenient to access by inflatable boat. You simply pulled up to the natural stone dock and climbed out and in to a pool that looked like something created artificially for a five-star tropical resort hotel.
The best part about all these fjords is that you are pretty much all alone in the anchorage. There have been only two occasions where we’ve had to share an anchorage with one other boat. Both times, the other boats kept very respectful distances. This is in high contrast to a typical New England or Chesapeake anchorage that can be packed to the gills during the summer months. There may be a small hunting cabin or two tucked away nearby but we’ve rarely seen anyone use them. These cabins are usually owned by residents of a nearby outport who use the cabins as a get-away from the hustle and bustle of the village. Or, as John, the proprietor of the grocery store in Grey River informed us, folks in the town live in houses that are very close together and when you just want to sit on your porch or have a barbecue, you have to talk with all the neighbors who happen by. So, as odd as it may sound that a person from a town of 150 people needs to “get away” it’s understandable when you consider the close proximity in which the villagers live.
Backtracking now to our visit to McCallum… Our trip from Rencontre to McCallum was completely in the fog. We couldn’t see the town until we were about three hundred feet from the dock. Thankful for the accuracy of our chart plotter and radar, we tided up at the town dock and had a chat with a couple of fellows who gave us some direction as to what was where. In need of exercise, we proceeded to hike one of the coastal trails. We’re sure that the view must have been breathtaking as we knew we had climbed several hundred feet, but we couldn’t see too far due to the fog.
The next day brought somewhat improved weather that afforded us better views than the day before. Along the way we passed a house with a large variety of yard art—whirlly gigs, wooden plaques, etc. As Amy started taking some photos, the owner came out to greet us. Amy explained how impressed we were with the collection of lawn baubles and before you know it, we were invited in for a cup of coffee.
Mary and George Chapman treated us like long-lost friends, telling us stories of their past and feeding us delicious “molasses buns,” which were much like scones. Mary wanted us to have lunch but we had already ordered a pizza from Marion, the baker. I had wanted to decline the initial invitation, but was glad we had the experience of meeting Mary and George. Mary kept saying, “We’re just simple people.” They were so sweet to us it almost made Amy cry.
We departed McCallum after Marion, a expat from Germany, delivered the best pizza we’ve ever had in Newfoundland. The fog was still thicker than pea soup so we just motored around the corner to lovely Great Jervis Harbour. Our guide book mentioned an anchorage in a corner of the harbour that looked like a good place to wait out the oncoming days of heavy rain. However, as we slowly motored in to this nook, the depths remained way too deep for anchoring. We lucked out again as we had in Rencontre West—a vacant mooring ball appeared in just the right spot. The mooring looked to be well maintained and was in a very sheltered cove. After pulling on it a few times to test it’s integrity, we decided to stay until someone came and asked us to leave. Two days passed and no one ever did.
We enjoy our foggy days at anchor baking and reading and working on our latest cruising video – a mockumentary called “101 Cruising Tips.”
Our next destination was to the town of St. Alban’s up at the top of Bay d’Espoir (pronounced locally as Bay Despair). The foggy, rainy weather we had for the past week or so, had given way to a gloriously sunny day. The best thing about fog is how it sets you up to doubly appreciate clear conditions.
We sailed via the Lampidoes Passage—a narrow fjord with several waterfalls along the way. Sailing in a fjord is usually a beat or a run no matter what direction the wind may be blowing offshore. This is due to the funnel effect of the high, steep cliffs. Along the way, we started seeing more and more fish farms. These areas are marked by large yellow buoys and unfortunately for cruisers, they take up some of the best anchorages. As we learned, the Bay d’Espoir region is a hotbed of aquaculture as it is very protected and accessible by the road to St. Alban’s.
Unlike all the towns we’d been to thus far, save for Port aux Basques, St. Alban’s is large and prosperous. It’s spread out among low-lying hills and aquaculture is the economic driver. We anchored in the same harbor where Captain James Cook had stopped for repairs during one of his surveying voyages in the 1760s. (Some of his surveys continue to be used to this day.)
We went out to a nearby pub for dinner and chatted up a patron named Toby—a professional hunting and fishing guide. When he learned of our need for diesel fuel, he offered to give us a ride the next day to the nearest filling station. Along the way, he suggested we take his truck to go to the grocery store when it opened later in the day. Typical Newfoundlander generosity, eh? But it didn’t stop there. That afternoon, he took Amy out for a try at jigging for cod. Unfortunately the only thing Amy came back with was a severe laceration on her hand from improperly pulling out her filleting knife to show Toby.
From St. Alban’s we motor-sailed to the outport village of Gaultois (pronounced “Galltus”) on Hermitage Bay. Gaultois is very scenic, perched on several high hills as well as in a lower section called, “The Bottom.” Like many outports, the views from the top of the hills are awesome. That fact, coupled with the great lighting during the long evenings, inspired us to take way too many photos. Between the two of us and four cameras, we end up with hundreds and have difficulty picking out the best.
We departed Gaultois after a short hike to “The Bottom” and headed to North Bay back in Bay d’Espoir. Yet another gorgeous fjord with still more impressive cliffs and waterfalls. We went to the head of the bay to anchor and looked for yet another bathing opportunity. We found the freshwater brook as shown on the chart but due to thick vegetation on the shores and the shallow, boulder-strewn stream bed, we were hard pressed to figure out how to exit the dinghy without breaking our ankles on the slippery rocks. It was a funny scene which we’re glad nobody saw but us. We rowed hither and yon arguing as to the best place to toss out the anchor and climb overboard. We eventually agreed to the middle of the wide brook where it was about 2 feet deep and squatted down to bathe while slipping all over the rocks. We’re happy to report there were no injuries.
The weather continued sunny and clear allowing us to move along the next day to our favorite fjord —Hare Bay. We’d been here five years ago but had only spent time in one part. This time we went up Morgan’s Arm to see one of the more popular waterfalls in the Southwest coast. It did not disappoint. We hiked alongside the falls and then up one of the more accessible hills. If there is one complaint we have about the Southwest coast it’s that these hills and mountains look somewhat easy to climb when you’re on the water. But once you set foot on shore you find that what looked like a pleasant, rolling meadow is really a mushy bog with thigh-high vegetation that is often impenetrable. If there is another complaint we have, it’s the biting flies and mosquitos, which seem to devour us on every hike. You’re out there having a wonderful trek thinking, “Isn’t this all so grand.” And then minutes later they are upon you. We prepare for them with long pants and long-sleeved shirts and plenty of bug spray, but sometimes that’s just not enough.
After two days at Morgan’s Arm, we motored the three miles to nearby Sandy Point Arm of Hare Bay and enjoyed another day of hiking and freshwater bathing. Then, it was off to Francois (pronounced “Fransway”). As we were heading out of Hare Bay we saw another sailboat about six miles in the distance at the mouth. When they made their turn towards the east, we recognized it as the gaff-rigged schooner, Heart’s Desire whom we met back in Nova Scotia. Amy hailed them on the VHF radio and found out they had changed their plans from going on the west side of Newfoundland to doing the Southwest coast. They informed us that it was “Francois Days” in Francois—the homecoming celebration they have every five years. What a coincidence that we had been there for the last one in 2009.
We arrived in the steep-cliffed harbor to a bustling town full of returnees from all over Canada who came back for the week-long celebration. We were extremely lucky to find an open space at the public floating dock. This spot gave us front row seats to the dory race, too. We were greeted by George, one of the volunteers for the celebration, who invited us to all the events of that evening—talent show, cold-plate supper, and dance.
After the dory race we headed for the talent show which was mostly two very good local musicians with a couple of other less notable singing duos. Everyone was having a great time. We hadn’t planned on staying for the “cold plate” supper having been forewarned by the Ontario born and bred wife of a native, that it was not the most healthy of menus. But, the atmosphere was entirely too festive to leave, so we joined a jolly group at a table and had a feast of cold cuts, various potato salads, jello molds, and other Newfoundland fare.
Amy went to the grocery store afterwards while I retreated to the boat. At the store, Amy met Greg, who extended an invitation to a pre-dance party at his fishing shed. Greg and his buddy, Smith, are from Halifax and together, one bought the house while the other bought the shed for a ridiculously small amount of money. They use it as a summer vacation place and have transformed the shed into an incredible party room. Since they invited everyone they bumped into that day, the place filled up with about 30 or so people—most visiting from away.
The party went on until about 11:30 p,m, when we all started moving towards the dance at the community center. This timing seems to be very typical of Newfoundland outport parties. The one we had gone to in Grey River didn’t really get started until around 11pm, so it’s best not to show up too early.
We wound our way up the walkways (there are no roads in outports since there are no cars), found the hall and joined in the celebration. I’m sure it was memorable—if I could only remember.
The following day we picked wild blueberries and did some work related to Amy’s documentary, “Red Dot on the Ocean” that is scheduled to premier October 24 for a week’s run at the Quad Cinema in NYC. Don’t miss it!
That brings us up to date here in Rose Blanche on August 19 where we’re enjoying the cozy atmosphere of the Rosesea B&B and Tearoom waiting out more bad weather. We’ve managed to fit in two good hikes between rain drops. Earlier today we trekked out to the historic lighthouse with more “to die for views.”
As soon as we get some favorable weather we’ll head back to Nova Scotia, but we’re feeling a little sad to be leaving Newfoundland.