Friday, September 28, 2007

An Excursion Around The Bay

Saturday morning - up early, load the dog and bags of food and clothes into the Zuk, and hit the Trans-Canada for Clarenville. Coffee at Tim's, then out thru Shoal Harbour, and off down the Bonavista Peninsula, bound for Upper Amherst Cove, population 40, plus younger daughter and her faithful canine companion Kahlua for the past few months.

Located on the north side of the Bonavista peninsula, the tiny community clings to the side of a steep hill overlooking the bay. Below, waves roll across the waters, and mackeral create 'boils' on the surface as they school around just off the rocks. Earlier, whales regularly appeared just below the house, feeding and breaching in the cold waters.

After lunch, we decide to literally take a hike - there's a short walking trail that leads to a lighthouse a few communities away. Two cameras and two dogs are loaded, and we set out for Kings Cove - Knights Cove. Park near the church, and then start out on the short but scenic trail.

The view across the bay is spectacular - deep blue water, dark green hills, explosions of white surf fringing the points, despite the fact that there's virtually no wind. It reminds one that this is indeed Bonavista Bay - exposed to the North Atlantic, and the swells that roll in relentlessly from the open ocean.

Seen from here, Upper Amherst Cove is just a sprinkle of white cubes dotting the hillside, a tiny splash of humanity imposed on the otherwise empty landscape.

A few minutes along the trail, the unmanned lighthouse is perched atop a rocky little cliff, it's riveted curved iron panels unlike anything we've seen before.

As we gaze upward at the light's lens, an osprey soars along high above. When you look down, the breakers along the shoreline show you exactly what hazards the lighthouse signals for night-time mariners.

The trail circles back thru the woods, rejoining the original path just a few hundred meters before the church parking lot. Nice short walk, beautiful scenery, a unique lighthouse, and a lovely view coming back...definitely worth the hour it's taken us.

Then it's back to the Zuk, and off to see one of the most magical places I've ever seen - Keels, Bonavista Bay. Stay tuned for story and photos.

Friday, September 14, 2007

You Never Know Whoo's Watching You


Forecast - light winds, going SW 20 gusting 30 in the afternoon. A group of nine boats assembles at Colinet, St. Mary's Bay, launches around 10:45a.m., and proceeds over glass-smooth waters the seven kms. to and thru Pinchgut Tickle. The Tickle lies between the main shore and Pinchgut Island - quite sheltered for its three-kilometer length, and very shallow for the most part. At the far end, the remains of a single house still stand, tho the barn alongside has fallen in.

Along the other side of the Tickle, grassy clearings mark where other families once lived, close to the fishing grounds that sustained all of coastal Newfoundland in those years.We land, and head out to the barachoix beach for lunch and the naming ceremony for a brand spanking new Current Designs FG single, complete with champagne! I manage to miss most of that, since I'd ambled along the beach's steeply-raked seaward tide-line collecting bric-a-brac - heavily coralled mussel shells, bits of driftwood and the like. We head back to the old house, which proves less uninhabited than it seemed.

Sharp eyes spot something perching on the frame of one of the long-gone windows - a bird, a big bird, a great horned owl in fact, in broad daylight! As we gather to view it, it moves to a side window, then back again, watchful but not unduly alarmed. People ooh! and ahh!, cameras click, and the owl just swivels its head to keep an eye on the lot of us, until we've had our fill and grow tired of watching it.

Before we launch to head back, some folks go swimming, a feat that in Newfoundland salt water usually ranks right up there with walking on the stuff. But the Tickle is sheltered and shallow, and its early September, so it's doable and by all reports pleasant. (I, like a true Newfoundlander, risked peeling my drysuit off to waist-level, and letting a warm gentle wind dry my damp thermal undershirt!)

Just as we get rolling again, the promised tailwind wind starts, and quickly settles into a good shove along - about 20-25 kms., just enough to raise a few whitecaps as we scoot back thru the Tickle. Back out in the harbour, the waves are a little bigger, perhaps 18", just enough to get under the stern and promote the occasional short surge forward. By 4:30p.m., we're back ashore, have the boats loaded, and are heading home, our faith on Mother Nature's inherent kindness to paddlers restored.

Sunday - an early a.m. start, this time with two friends in their VOLKSKAYAKs, as my wife had things to do to get ready for the first week of school. Launched at a little slipway in Harbour Main, crossed the harbour, then proceeded seaward over glass-smooth water along one of the most geologically convoluted coastlines I've ever seen.

Sediment layers are jumbled together at all sorts of angles - some straight up and down, some sloped 45 degrees, some folded or fractured, older sediment layers atop newer ones; I wouldn't have wanted to be here when whatever produced this layout was happening! Visiting geologists who get to see this area look like they've entered the Rapture...
Saw birds, too - an osprey who kept skimming back and forth along the cliffs, a kingfisher, gulls, and lots of ducks, one of whom exploded out of the water and took wing right beside my 'yak - hard to tell who got the biggest fright! We went on out about 3 kms., turned the Point, and had a look into Red Rock Cove. Bobbing on a gentle swell, another set of sharp eyes spots a whale feeding off in the distance - too far to ID it, but close enough to see its blow, the dorsal fin and a length of back that makes me glad enough to have lots of searoom.

Back around the Point, land for lunch, then back along the shoreline, pausing to reverse into a little seacave where tiny starfish cling exposed on the rocks just above the waterline, and to eyeball the small cobble beaches we've filed away for future picnic and bonfire excursions. Back to the slip, haul out, load up, and then have my wife join us for an hour's blueberry picking in back of Harbour Main, at the end of road where we lived for 20 years and raised our daughters - then back home, strong coffee while we're cooking up the fresh cod stew for supper, and a fresh-berry blueberry pie with yogourt for dessert. Beats bashing up Bellevue any time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Where We Live

Conception Bay South - certainly not the most spectacular chunk of coastal scenery in the province, but we call it home. The community, for the most part, lies on a small coastal plateau, making it look flat and dull from the water when compared to the far more scenic northern shore of the bay you can see in the background. But the panorama seen from the top of Topsail Mountain certainly shows it does have a beauty of its own.

C.B.S., as it's commonly called, runs for about 20 kms. along the shores of Conception Bay. Formerly, there were seven distinct communities - Topsail, Chamberlains, Manuals, Long Pond, Kelligrews, Upper Gullies (that's us!) and Seal Cove - but the provincial government forced amalgamation some years ago, and for the most part, it's worked out well. Most residents enjoy modern services, and the town is now expanding at a pretty fair clip. Since it's close to St. John's, which is booming under the twin influences of offshore oil development and the stagnation of much of rural Newwfoundland due to fisheries failures, most of the demand is for housing development, although plans are now afoot to develop our first "big box store" plaza. And, over the last few years, there's been an explosion of McMansion subdivisions along our shorelines, with huge homes jammed cheek and jowl against each other in a display of architectural excess that only a property developer could love.

Since we're a good few kilometers up the bay from the open ocean, we have another advantage over "Sin Jawns"! When the capital city is wreathed in fog, we're often under sunny skies, and the temperatures are usually 2-5 degrees warmer out here. Warmer temperatures, less crowding, lower taxes, even the cheapest gas on the island - I can live with somewhat bland scenery in exchange for that!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Few For The Freezer

Blueberries, that is - nice, ripe, clumps of 'em, just hanging there waiting for you to come along and harvest them. Picking by hand, a couple can harvest about a gallon an hour, which, with a few hours invested, adds up to a lot of muffins and other blueberry treats over the winter.

Besides the long-term benefits, there's also several forms of short-term gratification - some immediate, as in huge handfuls munched fresh from the bush, and the simple pleasure of being out there at all - others are very slightly delayed, like special fresh blueberry pie or crumble we'll usually have for dessert that night. Even Ramah enjoys his day on the barrens - just browse the berries, eat your fill, then lie down in the shade for a little rest...

Monday, September 3, 2007

A Bashing At Bellevue

Labour Day. Forecast - southwesterly 20 km, gusting to 40. Location - the large sheltered barachoix behind Bellevue Beach. Group - six 'yaks, experience varying from several years to several paddles. Sounds good, huh? NOT!!!

Things went fine for most of the run - pretty civil for the downwind run to the beach, about 2 kms. By the time we got there, it had gotten chippier, so we hauled the 'yaks over the beach and paddled to the barachoix entrance from the ocean side - nice flat water, in the shelter of the beach.

Back inside, the wind was still sweeping down the 3 km. length of the barachoix, creating lumpy but readily manageable conditions. We picked our way along, working from point to point to take advantage of whatever lee we could find. By now, the middle stretch of water was starting to show significant whitecaps as we rested behind the last sheltering point before the final crossing of about 1 km. Not great, but hey, as the pic below shows, definitely doable.

And that's where the real fun - if you call it that - started, and continued for the next hour. As we started the crossing, the wind continued to build, creating first continuous whitecaps, then significant waves in the 2 foot+ range, then breaking waves. The boats ahead started hobby-horsing, and waves regularly threw splash up on deck - 15 minutes later, my VOLKSKAYAK was steadily burying its bow to the forward hatch and beyond , and breaking waves were curling back along the sides of the sharply peaked deck (thank you, designer Gerry Gladwin, for that lovely wave-splitting sharp peak!) and dumping in the sides of my skirt.

I've been paddling this kayak since 2001, and that's the first time I've ever seen solid water on deck or taken waves in the skirt. Once again the old sailors adage - the boat can take more than the man can - rang true. While I know it's really hard to estimate wind speed on the water, I'd reckon we had guts hitting 70 kms or more - there were times when it took a fair bit of strength just to keep your paddle in your hands.

The worst thing was the fact that my wife, in her Cape Horn 15, kept falling back - it's just a shorter, slower boat, and I couldn't stop moving completely for her to catch up without risking getting broadside to those breaking waves and broaching. Conditions got bad enough that even trying to look aft to check her position was dicey; wait for a lull, swivel the head, sweep the eyes, there she is - and then, in a heart-stopping moment, no Cape Horn - glance ahead, deal with the oncoming waves, another lull, another look aft, no Cape Horn - just ready to turn back, and I finally, mercifully, catch a glimpse of her battering her way along slowly off to leeward and well behind. That has to be the longest 30 seconds or so I've ever spent in my entire life!

Finally, after a brutal hour of slugging it out dead to windward, we started to pick up the lee of the shore - the waves dropped, my wife caught up with me, and we were able to paddle the last few hundred meters in a relative calm. A motor boat, God bless him, had shadowed the group across much of the worst stretch, and his presence was enormously comforting.

Safely ashore, and bloody well thankful to be there, we loaded boats and gear and headed home, tired and somewhat humbled. Closer inspection at home showed about a liter of water in my forehatch, and perhaps four liters dumped in the cockpit as those boarding waves leaked down around the rear of my skirt. The Cape Horn had about 2 liters in its aft hatch. We'd come thru far rougher weather than we'd ever encountered before, and it's nice to know we can do that, but you certainly won't see us out looking for that sort of trouble in the future.