Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

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.

* Voyage to Ungava (7) – reaching Labrador at last

View of “Kuan Yin” from the top of the main mast.

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.

5 comments on “* Voyage to Ungava (7) – reaching Labrador at last

  1. Ellis Chubbs
    October 4, 2010

    Will it’s nice to no you are this much closer to your goal and in good hand’s for the winter hope you have a good winter ..and safe passage on the rest of your voyage next year .By the way we chatted in Tabatiere local name for LaTabatiere .


    • Dennison
      October 5, 2010


      thanks for your good wishes. I really enjoyed being in Tabatiere – and was especially grateful for the concern and care you and others showed as Earl came and went.

      Hope you have a winter with decent frost and can travel about more freely than last year.


  2. Bob Deschene
    October 11, 2010

    Hi Dennison:

    You must be psychic as I was thinking about you and your journey your email appeared. I have enjoyed reading all the posts and can safely say that this landlubber has no envy in his heart. I had to laugh about your comment related to photographing whales, I also gave up trying along the Australian coasts-lots of water and spray but no good shots of the whales. We are off 28.10.10 for 6 months in southeast asia and cannot wait to be on the road again.

    Peace and Love Bob


  3. Brian Lumley
    October 12, 2010

    Tell us about the gear you took along with you in case you met this type of heavy weather. Did you have any trouble with overnight passages or moorings?


  4. Aida
    October 12, 2010

    Hi Dennison,
    Congratulations on reaching Labrador. I just read all your Ungava entries — I know you told us all about the 2009 ones when you were here but I hadn’t read them and they are all gripping. For the last one I followed along with a map to know where you were. Just amazing! A couple of questions: did you cross from Red Bay to Cook’s Harbour? It says Green Bay in Ungava 7. Are you in Cook’s Harbour now? Is that where Kuan Yin will sleep for the winter? (That question is from Nuno!) Looking forward to the next epistle.


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This entry was posted on October 4, 2010 by in Kuan Yin, Labrador, Sailing and tagged , , , , .
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