My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
Fall comes fast the farther north you go in Canada. And the weather changed dramatically right after Hurrican Earl (post-tropical storm Earl) passed through while I was alonghside the wharf in La Tabatiere, on the North Shore of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence in Quebec. After Earl, the summer weather was gone and the fall weather was arriving. Instead of 5 nice days and 2 days of rains or high winds, the pattern was reversed and it was necessary to wait out the gales and wind warnings every couple of days.
The winds were cold, even on sunny days, as I sailed north-east as quickly as possible towwards the Strait of Belle Isle. This Strait separates the island of Newfoundland from the coast of Labrador. It’s almost 89 miles long and approximately 15-20 miles wide. The strait is known for its fogs, very high SW winds and fogs, which tend to hug the northern (Labrador) shore.
My first stop in Labrador was the charming cove of L’Anse au Clair. I arrived in the early evening after a close-hauled sail all day. It was exhilerating to have reached Labrador at last. Though i was not able to go north this year, at leats i’d finally reached close to my starting point.
L’anse au Clair is a small village just east of the border with Quebec. Gales force winds were forecast to begin on the afternoon after I arrived so, on the advice of a local trawler skipper, I moved “Kuan Yin” to point the bow into the expected NE winds, doubled all the lines, put out a tyre as a heavy-duty fender and gathered firewood along the shore in order to keep warm.
The gale lasted two days. Sleeping, cooking and reading on the boat was like living on a water bed with a five year old leaping up and down all the time. I eventually took refuge during the day in the local hotel so that I read and work on the computer.
Everywhere I’ve been, the welcome and help has been wonderful. And L’Anse au Clair was no different. As I was preparing to depart a fisherman handed me two cod for my dinner. “What do I owe you?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he replied, “just make sure you enjoy the fish.”
And I did.
Next stop was Red Bay – where up to a 1000 Basque whalers came each summer in the 16th century to hunt and process whales for their oil – as essential in Europe at the time as petroleum is for us today. One year, a Basque whaling ship sank in a fall gale inside the harbour and the story of archaeological search and dig for artifacts is explained in a great interpretation centre.
I had been hoping to reach Battle Harbour, at the eastern end of the Strait of Belle Isle before heading south to Newfoundland to find a haulout place for the winter. Battle Harbour was the former “capital” of Labrador where the schooners coming north for the summer cod-fishery along the Labrador coast would congregate to wait for the ice to clear farther nortth. The village is now a historic site, with the old stores, wharf, hospital etc. maintained.
Unfortunately with the delays due to bad weather, I missed the fall closing deadline of September 14th by just a couple of days. So instead of reaching Battle Harbour, I turned south to reach Newfoundland.
Crossing the Strait of Belle Isle is best accomplished on a day with settled weather, good visibility (no fog) and preferably no icebergs. I radioed the Belle Isle Vessel Traffic Service to get permission to cross the two shiping lanes and made the 15 mile crossing from Green Bay to Cook’s Harbour in about five hours.
From there it was “exciting” day’s run to a small cove near to where the Vikings landed in North America. I say exciting because although there was not much wind, the wind was blowing on the nose and the route took “Kuan Yin” between many islands, islets, rocks awash and shoals. The way may be straightforward when you know the waters, but alone and finding the way for the first time, it was quite stressful and therefore a tiring experience. The scenery was magnificient.