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 (8) So far so good – Kuan Yin reaches “base camp” ready for spring 2011

Key places visited towards end of 2010 passage

The sailing season is over for this year, at least for Kuan Yin and myself.

After getting delayed in May in Rimouski, Quebec, I had a great summer sailing along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and finally reached Labrador soon after “post-tropical storm” Earl passed our way.  No damage but a night to remember.  (Please see Voyage to Ungava (7) for that story.)

After crossed the Strait of Belle Isle to Cook’s Harbour, on the north-east tip of Newfoundland, the priority was looking for a place to haul “Kuan Yin” safely out of the water for the winter.

It’s too cold for me to stay on board during the winter in these northern latitudes.  Although the new “Sardine” woodstove could probably keep the boat snug all winter, the difference in temperatures inside and outside would produce an enormous amount of condensation, which is not great inside a steel boat. (Rust never sleeps and boats rust from the inside out!)

Better to get off the boat for a few months, go somewhere warm and pleasant where I can read, research and write to my heart’s content.  My quest in sailing to Ungava next summer is to retrace the voyage in 1811 of the Inuit sea captain Jonathan and his wife Sybilla and two Moravian missionaries.  There’s a lot of historical research to do, documents to read, notes to make, leads to follow up.  These are best done where I’m not worried about condensation dripping on the computer.

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Surprisingly, considering how many fishing boats are still operating in these waters, there are not many places to haul out a boat from the winter.  Blanc Sablon, Port Saunders, and Englee were the only options covering the whole of the Strait of Belle Isle and the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland.

I had hoped to reach Battle Harbour before the end of the season there, and certainly had to be through the Strait this fall to avoid being delayed by ice in the Strait next spring.  So I opted to go to the Atlantic Coast and the tiny village of Englee (see map – sorry it’s not brilliant, this is my first attmpt at mapmaking using QGIS.)

From Cook’s Harbour, on the northern tip of Newfoundland, I sailed over to Straitsview.  The day brought wind on the nose, calms and fog and I was very glad to reach the little cove tucked down an inlet and tie up to the wharf.

People were extremely friendly and I was soon showing a small boy and his grandfather the cabin of “Kuan Yin”.  The boy came to look as soon as I tied up and said, “I’ve never been on a boat like yours.”  So of course, he had to come aboard.

Later, I asked about a public phone and was taken by a local fisherman to his home to use his phone.  Afterwards, his wife sat me down for a cup of tea. and when she heard I hadn’t yet had supper, then out came fried cod and potato salad.  It was a great welcome, thank you!

Parks Guide explains the Viking settlement in the fog

Next day, I walked to L’Anse aux Meadow, where the Vikings landed in North America about 1000 years ago.  The location is now a national park, with an interpretation centre and a recreated Viking village.  All very well done.  The day was foggy and I was very glad I’d sailed between the islands and reefs offshore the day before.

The following day I was invited to a night of Newfoundland music in a local bar and got “screeched in”.  This right of passage in which visitors to Newfoundland become honourary citizens involves dressing in fishermen’s clothes, reciting typical Newfie brogue, kissing a cod fish and downing a shot of Screech (brandy).  All good fun.

After that, I sailed on to St. Anthony.  The weather was windy and the seas a bit boisterous.  There’s a narrow passage between islands that avoids going around the very northern cape of the island, but it was a somewhat nervous three hours.  I motored all the way because the winds were on the bow and I didn’t want to tack and tack in the relatively narrow channel as well as navigate between the rocks.  It wasn’t until I was clear of the rocks and finally out into the Atlantic Ocean at last that I realized I’d been panting with trepidation all the way.

Small beer once you’ve done it, but the first time, and alone on a windy day with the bowsprit plunging into the waves, it was an experience.

Sailing from there down to St. Anthony was straight forward – with a good wind from the north-east, I was able to cover the 15 miles in 3 hours.

Can you spot the cruise ship "The World" outside the harbour?

St. Anthony is the largest town on the northern peninsula and a favourite with cruise ships.  Even as I arrived, preparations were being made for the arival of the second hurricane in two weeks.

By the time Hurricane Igor arrived, the St. Anthony wharfs were filled with ocean-going trawlers waiting out the bad weather.  “Kuan Yin” was third out from the wharf, beside two fishing boats.  Even the Canadian Coast Guard vessel had a large trawler alongside.

And speaking of the Canadian Coast Guard – thanks to the chief who brought over a large pot of vegetable chicken soup for me!

Igor battered southern Newfoundland, one of the worst storms in recent years.  The forecast for off-shore from St. Anthony included 11 metre swells (that’s 35 feet!!).  Fortunately inside the harbour, we did not get it so bad.  No where near as strong as Earl.  I couldn’t light the woodstove because the high winds were blowing back and filling the boat with smoke, so I used the propane-powered oven to make scones and kept a kerosene lamp lit to provide some heat.  The boat rocked in the gusts but it wasn’t as bad inside the boat as appeared to people on shore who saw “Kuan Yin” heeling over.

From St. Anthony, it was a one day sail south to Englee to haul out.  Everyone was very welcoming and within 24 hours, “Kuan Yin” was out of the water and bedded down for the winter.  Thank you to her for a great summer.

Englee is a small community with no public transport. So I had to hitch-hike 400 kms to the nearest airport.  But that was no problem.  People were very generous in giving lifts and I reached Deer Lake almost as quickly as if I’d been driving a car.  There I had a great evening with Beka and James from CouchSurf.

Englee is about 2000 miles from Toronto.  It’s been an extraordinary passage to the Atlantic Ocean.  A lot of fun, a little drama and much learning. “Kuan Yin” is now at “base camp” ready to go north as soon as the ice leaves the coast of Labrador to retrace the voyage 200 years ago of the Inuit sea captain jonathan, his wife Sybilla and two Moravian missionaries.

4 comments on “* Voyage to Ungava (8) So far so good – Kuan Yin reaches “base camp” ready for spring 2011

  1. Robert & Louise
    December 5, 2010

    Hello Dennison,
    Glad to read that you had a great summer of sailing and that you are safe as well as Kuan Yin.

    The Newfoundlanders are known for their warmth an generosity.

    I just saw that a sailor is planning to sail around Quebec starting from the James Bay and around anticlockwise. One of is goal is to provide the young inuits to experience sailing. He hopes that it will give them the opportunity to develop goals to stay in school and discover the opportunity the sea as to offer. It reminds me of your story with the inuit captain from the labrador coast.

    Here’s the link to his website http://www.tourduquebecalavoile.com/

    I’ll inform him also about your project. I met him before during the Montreal boatshow. He sells radar detector.

    I wish you well. Namaste



  2. Orland, your Supporter
    December 7, 2010

    I’m jealous!
    I NEED to visit the place where my Viking ancestors came a thousand years ago.
    Also still need to visit Labrador to complete my traverse across MY country.
    Much encouragement for what you are doing!


  3. Graham
    December 7, 2010

    Hi Den ,
    Great post ,thanks for bringing up the viking camp in this post ,As you are aware the vikings were the first across the sea to the “New World ”
    This does not get the attention it needs in the History of things .


  4. Orland, your Supporter
    August 10, 2011

    8 August 2011
    Unable to get a response from you and to know where are and if you are okay.
    Appreciated the phone call but nothing since there. Weeks and weeks later as
    I think about you and where you are, I express my concern. Were you able to
    leave Newfoundland and start your Journey?
    Several people asked about you on July 16th, during Orland’s 80th CELEBRATION.
    I will patiently wait to get word from you BEFORE I head back to Thailand.


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This entry was posted on November 2, 2010 by in Kuan Yin, Labrador, Sailing and tagged , , , , , .
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