Cruising Guides – St. Bride’s

For pleasure boaters, cruising guides are indispensable. Especially for those of us exploring new territory. They’re the maritime equivalent of Yelp or Trip Advisor, but so much more. They describe the best places to anchor, where dangerous rocks lie, and what to do ashore. The name Louse Harbour itself might be enough to turn you off as a suitable anchorage, following the old “Never go camping at Mosquito Lake” axiom. Except one Nova Scotia guide says beyond the tricky entrance to Louse Harbour lies “one of the quietest and prettiest anchorages in the province” complete with a pond with water warm enough to swim. A good cruising guide is like having a really smart extra crew member aboard, full of local knowledge, who you don’t have to feed. These guides also make great reading ashore in the off season. Sort of like seed catalogs thumbed by gardeners during the winter months.

Some cruising guides are the work of a single author, or authors, like the authoritative “Cruising Guide to the Maine Coast.” Known to Down East sailors simply as “Taft”, the last name of two of its three authors. Or “A Cruising Guide to Nova Scotia,” by Dr. Peter Loveridge. The feisty physician seems to have sailed into nearly every inlet in the province in his small boat. One wonders when he had time to treat his patients. His book is fun to puruse just for the no-nonsense prose. The edition I have is 20 years old but great reading still. On notorious Cape Sable, which I always want to pass as quickly as possible, Loveridge casually recommends pulling into a small cove in nearby Barrington Harbour next to a causeway where your children can swim and play in the sand dunes. Nearby, he notes, is a restaurant built by members of a religious commune “whose puritanical ways were considered too extreme, even by the standards of the locals, who at one time set a record for the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in all of Canada.” On the Honorable Billy Joe Maclean, former mayor of Port Hawkesbury on Cape Breton and the owner of a popular local bar, Loveridge notes: “He’s a rather likeable fellow, though I don’t know whether I’d want him to fill in my tax returns.”

Other guides are the collective work of sailors who contribute descriptions of places they’ve visited. These, in turn, are compiled into loose leaf volumes and updated every so often by knowledgable editors. Among the best of these are the Cruising Club of America’s guides to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Labrador and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. More than sixty years of observations by veteran voyageurs. Who doesn’t want that experience in the cockpit as you ponder how best to enter Grey River on Newfoundland’s southwest coast in dense fog.

Homeward bound, after EXIT’s maiden Newfoundland cruise, I intend to submit a few small updates of my own to my well-used CCA guide. There’s a new floating dock in Old Perlican. Be aware of the surge if you moor at the L-shaped wharf at St. Lawrence. The Revolution Restaurant in Saint-Pierre is not to be missed. In one instance, however, St. Bride’s on the southeast corner of Placentia Bay, just north of Cape St. Mary’s, I feel the guide understates the harbour’s problems. Navigation marks are newly missing. This particular guide entry needs an update. Here’s what I plan to email the editors:

St. Bride’s — As noted in the current entry, St. Bride’s is the only layover port relatively near the 90-mile straight line course between the Burin Peninsula and Trepassey, near Cape Race. As such, it’s tempting to stop here overnight to break up a long passage. The harbour entrance in fair weather is challenging, but doable, but beware approaching in foul conditions. Local fishermen say even they move their boats to another harbour when a severe storm is forecast. The memory of devastating Hurricane Gert lingers on. It destroyed the harbour and some of its fishing fleet in September, 1999. Fifteen years later, no one failed to mention this frightening storm and its 50-foot waves when asked about mooring conditions here. And that says something, given the toughness of the average Newfoundland seafarer.

The one red and two green channel buoys, important guides on the published charts, were gone when we arrived in August, 2014. Disappeared in a storm and not replaced. The harbour approach is now unmarked, except for three navigation lights on shore, unhelpful during daylight. On approach, stay close to the bold eastern shore to avoid the unmarked rocks awash just west of the breakwater entrance. These rocks have claimed more than one visiting boat. Unfortunately, the safe course is parallel and close to the breakwater, making it impossible to see the narrow harbour entrance, which is alarmingly close to the shoreline, until you’re on top of it. For a first-time visitor, this can be disconcerting in a fresh southwesterly with the sea pushing you from behind and waves breaking on the shore just beyond your bow. Still, it’s important to keep sufficient boat speed in order to make a last-minute, starboard U-turn around the breakwater when the entrance suddenly appears. It’s a tight turn. (Unlike almost all of the helpful Cruising Guide photos, the aerial photo of St. Bride’s gives a clinical view of the harbour that significantly underestimates the difficulty of the approach, in my opinion.)

Once inside, there’s a long wharf to starboard for off-loading fish which likely will be empty since local boats moor further back in the small harbour. There’s a significant surge at this wharf when it’s blowing southwest outside. At night, flashing red and green lights mark the ends of the breakwater. I would not attempt this entrance after dark without prior knowledge.

There’s a clean and inviting shower-bathroom in the harbour supervisor’s building. The supervisor has the key. She charged a modest $10 for a one-night stay on the wharf. We received friendly and useful advice from several local fishermen and citizens, plus a freshly caught cod, cleaned and filleted. A welcome gift from the captain of a boat on the fourth day of the three-week commercial inshore fishing season. A convenience store is at the top of the hill, a 15-minute walk from the boat basin. The town library, with wi-fi, is five minutes further on.

Bell Island

If you had been in Long Pond on the morning of September 4, 1942, on the spot where the clubhouse of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club now sits, and you were looking across Conception Bay toward Bell Island, less than four miles away, you would have witnessed Nazi Germany bringing World War II to the shore of North America with devastating effect. The previous night, a German submarine, the U-513, had stealthy followed an ore carrier to the strategic anchorage at Lance Cove. The sub then submerged and spent the night on the bottom. The next morning, it rose to periscope depth and torpedoed SS SAGANAGA, an anchored ship full of iron ore. The ship went straight to the bottom. Next, it torpedoed and sank a second ore ship, the SS STRATHCONA. Twenty nine seamen died in the attack. The U-boat surfaced and escaped.

Two months later, it happened again at the same Bell Island location. At 3 a.m., another German U-boat sank the SS ROSE CASTLE and a French vessel, the PLM 27. It fired torpedoes at a third ship. The torpedoes missed but exploded at the ore loading dock on shore. It was over in minutes. This sub, too, escaped on the surface. Forty men were killed in the second attack.

Bell Island was a strategic wartime site. Ore from the island’s mines supplied steel mills on Cape Breton, a major component of Canada’s wartime steel output. The Germans knew that interrupting this raw material flow would be a blow to Canada’s war output. There were also targets of opportunity for German U-boats. In October, the ferry SS CARIBOU, on its route across the Cabot Strait from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port-aux-Basques, was torpedoed with 136 passengers and crew lost. The Battle of the Atlantic had arrived in Newfoundland.

Flash forward about 70 years. Rick Stanley runs a scuba diving company called OceanQuest Inc. in Long Pond. He takes people to the Bell Island site where the ore carriers lie on the shallow bottom. The wrecks, in about 100 feet of water, are visible from the surface. Some people dive on the wreck sites. At a scuba diving trade show in England, Stanley struck up a conversation with a stranger named Barry Collings. He told Stanley that the father of his German wife, Marita, had been a submarine commander in the German navy during the war and had made a battle patrol to eastern Canada. His father-in-law was, in fact, Kapitän-Leutnant Rolf Rüggeberg, commanding officer of the U-513 that made the first attack on Bell Island.

While EXIT was moored in Long Pond waiting for crew to arrive, I rented a car and took the short ferry ride to Bell Island to see the site of the ore carrier sinkings. On the road near Lance Cove, a small sign saying “Seaman’s Memorial” pointed to the beach. Down a steep hill, not far from a row of RV trailers parked along the shore, is a stone tablet enclosed by a low wall. On the stone is a brief description of the attacks in 1942 and the names of the seaman lost. There’s a simple iron gate with the words “Lest We Forget” at the top. A Canadian flag flies nearby. As war memorials go, the one at Lance Cove seems understated and unloved.

Seaman’s Memorial, Lance Cove

Seaman’s Memorial, Lance Cove

Bell Island is trying to promote visitors but curiously, there’s no mention in the island’s tourist literature of this wartime tragedy. What Bell Island does heavily advertise is a miners museum. I drove there from Lance Cove. The building has exhibits of mining industry gear and a series of black and white photos of local miners by the great Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh. Museum visitors can also descend underground for a look at a mining tunnel.

Almost lost among the museum’s mining history exhibits, placed along one wall with nothing to call attention to them, are photos and some astonishing artifacts of the Lance Cove ship sinkings. Rick Stanley’s chance meeting in England led to correspondence with Marita Collings, Captain Rüggeberg’s daughter in Germany. What followed was an emotional visit by Ms. Collings to Bell Island in 2010 and the gift to the island of some of her father’s wartime memorabilia. Included are photographs taken by her father aboard the U-513, including one photo of a Newfoundland iceberg. There’s an English translation of the captain’s precise log at the time of the Lance Cove attack. And in a separate glass case, six wartime medals, including German submarine officer insignias and an Iron Cross medal with a small swastika in the middle.

A printed two-page biography of Captain Rüggeberg notes that he was hospitalized after his third wartime submarine patrol, then transferred to Norway where he was in charge of a U-boat flotilla. After the war, he served a brief time as a POW but was judged a non-Nazi sympathiser and eventually recalled to duty in the downsized German navy. In an example of post war reconciliation, Captain Rolf Rüggeberg’s last active duty post was as naval attache in the German embassy in London. He died in 1979, age 72, leaving a wife and three children.

Kapitän-Leutnant Rolf Rüggeberg, commanding officer of U-513

Kapitän-Leutnant Rolf Rüggeberg, commanding officer of U-513

Iron Cross with swastika and other medals of Rolf Rüggeberg

Iron Cross with swastika and other medals of Rolf Rüggeberg

Long Pond – Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club

With St. John’s Harbour ruled out as more than a quickie moorage, EXIT sailed north, made a U-turn around Cape St. Francis, and then south 30 miles in Conception Bay to Long Pond. And why not. Long Pond is home to the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club and a more hospitable and fun-loving boating crowd would be hard to find. The initial view is inauspicious. Enter a channel off Conception Bay marked by oil storage tanks and loading silos belonging to a nearby talc mine. Turn 90 degrees to port and proceed a quarter mile up a narrow dredged channel bordered by a natural breakwater covered at the entrance by a few hundred nesting gulls.

A quiet morning at Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club

A quiet morning at Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club

The club house, when you find it, is utilitarian, the fixed docks excellent but crowded. What’s “royal” at this club is the hospitality. Because of an unanticipated crew shortage, EXIT spent more time than planned at the RNYC. As it turned out, it was an excellent place to be becalmed. From day one, I was stunned by the offers of help and freely-given advice. Phone numbers volunteered, usually with the words: “This is good 24-7. Don’t hesitate to call.” A new pickup truck loaned for the weekend, no questions asked. Invitations for rides to the city, 15 miles away, and to the airport. Day sails in lovely local boats and a lively weekend club rendezvous and party at Brigus, a two-hour sail across the bay. With few empty slips, club manager Jim Eastman found one where EXIT could just squeeze in. Newfoundland is known for friendliness to outsiders. RNYC members shift this trait into overdrive.

A yacht club in a subarctic region means a short boating season. RNYC is shut down and snowbound much of the winter and ice in Long Pond can last well into spring. No surprise then that club members use the summer months to the hilt. Unsurpassed cruising territory is 24 hours away. There’s a popular club racing season, a well-attended junior sailing school, and weekend gatherings in nearby harbours. The club’s Easter Seal regatta, a 24-year-old tradition, gets handicapped children and their families on the water for a day. The event has raised more than a half-million dollars over the years for medical research. And parties, of course. The Saturday night party at the end of the annual August race week was going strong at 3 a.m., judging from boistrous singing on the dock near EXIT’s slip. A gender observation: A member of EXIT’s crew who’s raced sailboats the world over and is used to the hard-boiled, boy’s club atmosphere in a lot of yacht clubs, commented favorably on the high percentage of women in the RNYC racing fleet. For the record, the club’s current commodore is Donna Marie Humphries.

Skipper Ray Rhinelander and the crew of BELLA J at race week awards ceremony

Skipper Ray Rhinelander and the crew of BELLA J at race week awards ceremony

No description of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club would be complete without a tip of the hat to Jerry Veitch. A freelance jack-of-all-boat trades, Jerry seems to be single-handedly keeping the club’s 150 or so boats in running order. EXIT arrived with a couple of puzzling mechanical and rigging issues. Jerry put them right with ingenuity and a running commentary of verbal contempt for boat owners in general and boat yard mechanics of lesser skill than himself. “Yard monkeys!” he spat. All of this delivered in a mostly understandable Irish-Newfoundland accent. We took a short sea trial to test a mainsail fitting he’d produced overnight in his shop. This involved Jerry climbing a good way up EXIT’s 63-foot mast on his own. Mind you, he’s in his early 70s. When asked why he didn’t want me to haul him up the mast in a bosun’s chair with the mainsail winch, he looked me square in the eye. “The biggest danger in going up the mast is the idiot controlling the halyard on deck,” he said. I can take that. A small price to pay for setting EXIT’s issues right while watching a master at work and joshing with a prince of a fellow.

Jerry Veitch, RNYC’s boat yard wizard

Jerry Veitch, RNYC’s boat yard wizard

Footnote: I was delighted to be accepted as a non-resident RNYC member on the day of departure. I’ll lay odds it’s the only yacht club anywhere with a burgee that bears the likeness of a carnivorous plant; to wit, the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia Purpurea), the official flower of Newfoundland & Labrador. Found in bogs and swamps, the blossoms of the pitcher plant fill with water. This attracts insects, which drown in the water and the plant eats them. No doubt this is a metaphor for Newfoundland politics, or other dark portions of provincial history. More study is required, In the meantime, I look forward to flying that burgee.

St. John’s

St. John’s is a fascinating city, well worth visiting, but my advice is to think twice before arriving by small boat. The city has an excellent harbour, well protected from bad weather. Entry is through a slim channel called The Narrows, bordered on either side by steep cliffs. The problem for the recreational boater is that the harbour is surprisingly small and chock-a-block full of a variety of commercial vessels. A long strand of the city’s waterfront is home to ships that service drilling platforms in the Hibernia offshore oil fields about 200 miles east, These are big, serious looking vessels with cranes and helicopter platforms. There are a half-dozen of these ships tied to the waterfront quay on a given day. In addition, there’s a busy container port at the end of the harbour. Also, two or three Canadian Coast Guard ships at their own wharf. And fishing vessels. And since St. John’s attracts lots of tourists in summer, the inevitable whale watching boat.

Offshore oil rig service vessels, St. John’s harbour

Offshore oil rig service vessels, St. John’s harbour

In a small nod to the visiting yacht, there are two small floating docks installed at right angles to the shoreline directly opposite the harbour entrance. They have an impressive sounding location, Queens Wharf, but in fact are short with limited space to tie up. Three or four boats can fill them up. Worse, wind or waves that funnel through the Narrows hit these docks head on, turning the moorage into a rock and roll experience. The floating docks were filled when EXIT arrived. Fortunately for us, as it turned out. We phoned the harbourmaster. He helpfully suggested we look for room at the end of the harbour, on a dock opposite a sports bar and restaurant called Jack Astor’s.

It took some searching. We eventually found the space — it’s called Pier 7 if you’re looking — but truck tires hanging on the side of the wharf as fenders were a clue that bigger boats than ours used this space regularly. We tied there briefly and thought about the situation. Directly ahead of us were two tour boats, tied side by side, that looked as if they hadn’t moved in months. Following the maritime custom that tying alongside a larger vessel is acceptable in a pinch, we moved off the wharf and tied ourselves to the outermost of the two. Within minutes, our former space on the dock was grabbed by a big trawler. Our new location meant we had to crawl over the two tour boats each time we went ashore. This was no problem. We spent two nights there, no questions asked. One added advantage: a three-minute walk from the boat to Second Cup, a fine coffee shop on Water Street. With Wi-Fi, naturally.

There are two alternative mooring options to St. John’s Harbour. Just north of The Narrows is a small, and I mean small, slit in the tall shoreline cliff. It’s called Quidi Vidi Tickle. (Pronounce: Kiddy Viddy. A “tickle” is a small strait of inlet.) It’s about 1/4 mile long and looks to be just wide enough for EXIT to squeeze through between the rocks. At the end, there’s a basin, wide enough for a boat to turn around. And most important, the Quidi Vidi brewery’s wharf. The option of tying up next to a brewery seems too good to miss. I’m calling ahead next time to see if the wharf is empty. (Note to brewmaster: Quidi Vidi is Newfoundland’s best beer, hands down!)

The second mooring option is the one where EXIT ended up: Long Pond on Conception Bay, home of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club. More on this in an upcoming blog post.

One note on shore life in St. John’s. No visitor should miss The Rooms, the combination art gallery-history museum-provincial archives building on the crest of the hill overlooking the harbour. It opened in 2005. It’s starkly modern design evokes the fishing houses in the outports of Newfoundland and Labrador. The exhibits are fascinating, top quality. And you can have coffee or a fine lunch with one of the best views from any museum anywhere.

St. John’s harbour view from The Rooms

St. John’s harbour view from The Rooms

Icebergs & Bergy Bits

It’s been a big year for ice in Newfoundland but EXIT was late to the party. Sailing up the South Shore, Pete spotted a small white blob on the horizon and snapped the camera. A close look at the photo confirmed to everyone’s satisfaction that this was, in fact, a real berg. Our only iceberg sighting of the summer.

(For the record, the South Shore is actually the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula. It’s the coastline running north from Cape Race but everyone calls it the South Shore, even though it’s the east coast, because it’s the coastline south of St. John’s. Got that?)

Icebergs that drift down the Newfoundland coast in spring and early summer originate in Greenland. They’re pieces of glacier that fall into the sea and over the following two or three years, drift west until they merge with the Labrador Current, and then are carried south along the Newfoundland shore until they melt away in the warmish Grand Banks. (Not soon enough for the Titanic, but that’s a different story.) “Iceberg Alley” they call this coastline. In an average year, something like 250 giant icebergs float down the coast. Some years the number can be over 1,000. (No doubt there’s a climate change connection here. That, too, is a different story.)

Some of these mountains of ice drift into harbours where they run aground, hanging around until enough ice grinds off the bottom to set them free. The town of Twillingate on the northeast coast, lures tourists with photos of iceberg sightings from the shoreline. A huge berg went aground this year just outside the narrow entrance to St. John’s busy commercial harbour. Not close enough to block the entrance, like a cork in a bottle, but close enough to rate a page one photo in The Telegram.

Had we arrived a couple of weeks earlier, and had we sailed a day north of St. John’s to Bonavista Bay, we would have seen these giants up close and personal. A missed opportunity since an iceberg photo with your boat in the foreground is irresistible to any cruising sailor. A photo taken from a prudent distance, of course. The occasional moron has been known to bring his boat alongside an iceberg and climb aboard but this is idiotic in the extreme. An iceberg is constantly melting as it moves south. It becomes unstable and can roll without warning. Imagine your average five-story building suddenly turning upside down. Something like that.

What is acceptable behaviour is to scoop up bits of floating ice that have drifted away from a mother burg. Many local sailors carry pieces of fish net big enough to haul these little floaters aboard. “Bergy bits” they’re called. Not to be confused with “growlers”, which are really big pieces of broken-off iceberg with just a bit of the berg visible on the surface. They are hard to see, and invisible on radar. Running into a growler can ruin a great cruise.

We don’t have an EXIT-with-iceberg photo but we have the next big thing. Tom and Paula Armstrong collected some bergy bits when they were sailing ADIOS in Bonavista Bay in July. They brought them home to St. John’s and put them in the freezer. Before our departure, Tom slipped two Ziploc bags of this ancient ice into EXIT’s freezer. This is the ultimate cocktail hour trophy. Iceberg ice looks different than your average ice cube — it’s creamy white, not transparent — and melts super slowly in your drink glass. I’m told this is because excess air has been squeezed out of the ice during the centuries it lived as a glacier. Or something like that. I’ll admit it. There’s a small devil-may-care feeling that comes from dropping a piece of 10,000-year-old ice into your rum and tonic after a long day’s sail. Thanks for that ancient ice, Tom. Cheers!

Bergy bit and glass

A “bergy bit” awaits its fate.

For a look at the amazing Greenland landscape where Newfoundland’s floating icebergs begin, see these remarkable photos by my friend Peter Murray.

Trepassey to St. John’s

Visitors to Witless Bay in midsummer are promised the sight of a bazillion birds plus a whale or two. Witless Bay delivered as advertised. For starters, this protected ecologic reserve of four small islands 20 miles south of St. John’s, is home to the largest colony of Atlantic Puffins, with roughly 225,000 nesting pairs. I believe we saw them all as we sailed downwind past the nesting islands. The Atlantic Puffin is the official bird of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. With a pointy orange beak, it looks not much bigger than the average bathtub rubber ducky. Thousands of little floating parrots, bobbing on the waves. The Witless Bay bird inventory says 620,000 pairs of Leach’s storm petrel also nest here plus tens of thousands of black-legged kittiwake and common murre. Since this is breeding season, you can imagine the excitement and noise in the air and on the nesting rocks as EXIT sailed past. A million birds in heat. We kept our distance.

Did I mention the leaping whale? It seemed smallish for a whale, smaller than the one in the TV life insurance commercial, but when a whale leaps totally out of the water 100 yards from your boat, you take what you get.

There were three notable landmarks at the start and end of EXIT’s two-day sail from Trepassey to Newfoundland’s capital city. Cape Race, at the southeastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula, is known to anyone familiar with the Titanic disaster. This was the wireless station that received the signal from the Titanic’s radio operator when the liner hit the iceberg 400 miles to the west. Approaching St. John’s, we rounded Cape Spear, (landmark #2), the easternmost point in North America. No one on the continent was closer to Ireland than we were for those few minutes. (OK, a bit of geographic license here. We weren’t actually standing on North America. We were a quarter mile offshore.) A half hour after rounding Cape Spear, we passed Signal Hill, (landmark #3), the spectacular sentinel at the St. John’s Harbour entrance. Here, on December 12, 1901, Guglielmo Marconi heard three faint clicks — Morse Code for the letter “S” — sent from Cornwall, England. The first transatlantic wireless transmission.

Footnote: The wind freshened as we rounded Cape Spear and the following half-hour, a port tack beat to the entrance to St. John’s Harbour — sunshine, genoa strapped in, eight-plus knots on the speedo, and a landfall on the bow — was one of those moments sailors live for.

Saint-Pierre to Trepassey

Blue sky and sunshine as we waved adieu to Tom and left Saint-Pierre. This time we can actually see the harbour that EXIT crept into in the thickest of fog two days earlier. The immediate chore is officially reentering Canada. To do this, we’re faced with sailing to the entry port of Fortune, on Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. This means backtracking from our planned route and losing a day in the process. To get around this, Gene called Canada’s Border Protection Service and asked if we could forgo Fortune and request clearance instead at the town of St. Lawrence, almost directly on our route east. “Not a problem,” said the helpful immigration official on the phone. Thank you, Canada! And thanks to Doug and Dale Bruce, editors of the authoritative Cruising Guide to Newfoundland, for that time-saving suggestion.

Not far from St. Lawrence, EXIT passes a prominent point on shore called Lawn Head. This was the scene of an horrific shipwreck of two U.S. Navy vessels during a blinding snowstorm and gale in February, 1942. Bound for the naval base at Argentia, (where FDR and Churchill met six months earlier in a top secret meeting to discuss the war in the North Atlantic), and steering a zig-zag pattern to evade German U-boats, the supply ship USS POLLUX and the destroyer USS TRUXTUN wandered badly off course and went aground on the rocky ledges off Lawn Head. Within hours, the two ships were ripped apart by the rocks and roaring sea. Lifeboats were smashed and most of the two crews were lost trying to reach shore in the freezing water. A handful that succeeded found themselves perched on a rocky ledge below a sheer cliff, near death from exposure, and the tide rising at their feet. Meanwhile, a small group of men from the town of Lawn learned of the ship wreck, drove horses dragging wooden sleds through waist-deep snow in the middle of the night to the top of the cliffs, and managed to pull most of the survivors off the rocks with long ropes. There are several accounts of this mix of tragedy and heroism. Two especially riveting recollections — one by a quartermaster on the POLLUX and the other by one of the Newfoundland rescuers — are in George Whiteley’s book of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador sailing memories, “Northern Seas, Hardy Sailors”. A stunning story you absolutely will not forget.

No drama for EXIT this day. Approved for Canadian entry, and taking advantage of a benign weather forecast and a helpful 15-knot westerly on the stern, the crew elects to keep sailing east. We cross Placentia Bay, watching the comforting flash every five seconds from Cape St. Mary’s light through most of the night. In the morning, we lay over in Trepassey, at Newfoundland’s southeastern tip. A well-protected harbour with good facilities and “some of the nicest folks in the Province,” according to the cruising guide.

After a nap to recuperate from the all-night sail, we meet one of those nice folks. “This is a dying town,” says Sharon Topping, Trepassey’s friendly, efficient, and surprisingly candid, town clerk. A fish processing plant, a window manufacturer and a water bottling plant have all closed as economic activity, and the town’s young people, increasingly get sucked into St. John’s, the booming provincial capital, two hours away. A high school that had 800 students is down to 50. A floating dock at the public wharf has vanished. The mayor quit two weeks ago and the town council is down to two members. Sharon Topping seems to be barely holding things together.

The downward spiral, however, has produced one promising side effect — amazingly cheap real estate that just might attract an influx of new residents. Like Sharon, a Newfoundland native, and her husband, Fred. They left a home in northern Manitoba, moved to Trepassey four years ago, and bought a well-built, fully-furnished house for less than $40,000. A young family from Bowen Island, British Columbia, next to Vancouver, did the same thing. Lorne Warr, Genevieve McCorquodale and their two and one-half year old daughter arrived a month ago. They were driven east by, among other things, skyrocketing ferry fares from their island to Vancouver, which has just surpassed Toronto as Canada’s most expensive city. In Trepassey, they found an affordable house on an acre and a quarter of harbour waterfront. Lorne, a Newfoundland native and a musician with a growing reputation, was also lured by Newfoundland’s vibrant folk music scene. Before the day was done, EXIT’s crew was sitting on the deck outside Lorne and Genevieve’s house. Jamie Snider, a veteran of Canada’s legendary Wonderful Grand Band, was also visiting. Pete brought his mandolin from the boat and the group, alternating between guitars, fiddle, mandolin, button accordion and bodhran, played until dusk. Sharon Topping quietly recorded it all on her camera. The next morning, before we shoved off, she presented each of EXIT’s crew with a video of the previous nights music. It goes without saying that we’re rooting for Trepassey.

Left to right: Lorne, Jamie, Pete, and Genevieve