July 29, 2014, Rencontre Bay, Amy
We drift in and out of the fog, which reveals at its whim fjords of incomparable beauty. In the sunlight, massive cliff faces of multi-colored rock, some with splashes of green plunge 1000 feet into emerald green waters. When the clouds and fog roll in all turns to shades of grey.
Today is our third day on a mooring in Rencontre Bay, pronounced “wren-counter.” All French names take on an Anglo-Newfie-style pronunciation. The French were here first but the British prevailed. The village of Rencontre West is one of the many ghost towns that dot the Southwest Coast. A few residents decided to keep “cabins” here despite the lack of government services. Sometimes one needs to leave a village of 160 people and come to a less populated fjord and really get away from it all.
We are grateful to whomever in Rencontre West planted this mooring, and to whomever keeps up the hiking trails, and to the person who built the sturdy dock to which we tie our dinghy when going ashore. But there is no one to thank. The four cabins are empty at the moment. It continually amazes us that no one but us is enjoying this breathtaking piece of the planet. Today it is foggy and rainy, so we’re staying aboard Mary T reading and making granola. Soon it will be time for Yahtzee.
Our sail here was preceded by five days in the fjords up Grey River. The northwest arm provided a waterfall and pools of fresh water for bathing. One foggy day, sitting in the Southeast arm where Kenny baked chocolate chip cookies, we were surprised by some unexpected visitors. Kenny heard the sound of a boat and peeked outside. “It’s big he said. Looks like a ferry or something.” I went out into the cockpit for a look. As it got closer I saw the word Police written in bold script across the bow.
We both stood in the cockpit as the boat approached. It became clear they were coming to us as there was no one else there. Finally two figures emerged on the bow and said they’d like to ask us some questions. One was a woman who said she was from customs and border patrol. They hovered dangerously close to Mary T and asked us all the usual questions about where we’d been and where we checked in and where we were going, passport numbers, boat documentation number… They stood there in the rain taking notes, and we wondered if they had some kind of special waterproof paper and ink that didn’t run. The one question the woman kept repeating was, “So it’s just the two of you on board?” To which I always answered “yes.” It made me wonder if they were looking a fugitive. I held back the impulse to say, “Oh you mean the 18 Haitian refugees, we have on board?”
After exhausting all of the fjords up Grey River we went to visit the town of Grey River in Jerts Cove. It’s a place we’d long been curious about, because our hero, Howard Blackburn, of Gloucester, MA, was saved by the people there in 1883 when he and his dory partner lost site of their schooner in a storm. A dory is a small but sturdy rowboat that people would launch from large schooners to fish for cod and then return to the schooner with their catch. In January 1883 Howard lost sight of the schooner when a blizzard kicked up. He froze he hands to the oars and rowed for 5 days while his fishing partner froze to death in front of him.
Howard managed to row 60 miles or so to Grey River, where the people, though dirt poor, fed and cared for him and even saw to the amputation of his fingers and several toes, which they presented to him in a box when he was ready to return to Gloucester.
The people of Grey River were just as kind and generous to us as they were to Howard. Though I’m glad to say, they no longer seem impoverished. We happened to arrive on Nate’s 60th birthday. There was to be a party at the “lodge” with food, drink and music and we were invited.
It was indeed one helluva wangdangdoodle. Before the party really got started one of the lodge members took us upstairs to see the “inner sanctum.” It was a pretty bare, large, wood paneled room with a sort of alter at one end. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” We didn’t know quite what to say. Nor did we understand what kind of a lodge we were in, though he did say the name of it a few times. We found it difficult to understand most of what he said. Then Kenny said brightly, “Well we have been to an Elks lodge in Maryland.” The man laughed and said, “You mean like the Flintstones?”
We stood there for awhile listening to Nate talk about the history of the lodge and Newfoudland, but only gathering about 30% of what he was saying. During one of the awkward silences I made a move in the direction of the party and we all went back downstairs.
After playing a recording of a birthday song we’d never heard everyone moved to the smorgasbord of treats the guests had brought. John at the general store told us to be sure to try the pork buns which are biscuits with raisins made with pork fat. I tried one of those and a pork rib, some ham, a chicken wing and whatever else I could fit on my plate.
In addition to the cornucopia of pork treats there was a large sheet cake upon which was a Photoshopped image of Nate with two dark Brazilian girls in carnival garb on either side of him. They were exposing large amounts of thigh and buttocks. This image was rendered in frosting and tasted delicious.
The music started up around 10:30 and could best be described as loud. One man played the accordion and the other was on guitar and vocals. The drums and bass were canned. Newfoundland music runs the gamut from country to polkas to zydeco to rock and roll. As soon as the band struck up, the lights were turned off and the rest of the party went on in the dark. It reminded me of the grade school dances I so enjoyed. Kenny and I slow danced and I fast danced with several different people and had a grand time.
We chatted with quite a few people outside as it was too loud to talk inside. I was hoping to meet someone who could give me an account of the Howard Blackburn story, but the people I spoke to had just read books about it like me. And it seems they weren’t all that happy about the portrayal of Grey River. There was something in one of the accounts about the residents eating their dogs, because there was little else to eat. To me that just highlighted their generosity toward Blackburn, but they didn’t find it too flattering.
I have nothing but the highest admiration for people of the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland. They may not be sophisticated in the ways of city folk, but they know how to eek out a living in most forbidding place. Yes it is beautiful, but most of the time it’s freezing. They know how to build their own houses, catch their own food, maintain their boats, take care of their own trash…And on top of it they’re hospitable and generous and humble.
Weather permitting, we’ll depart Rencontre Bay tomorrow and head for the McCallum. The Cruising Guide calls it the “quintessential Newfoundland outport village.”
(Just arrived in St. Alban’s–up near the top of Bay d’Espoir. We have some updates to do along with more photos to share. Stay tuned.)