Excursion Around the Bay June 2006

June 4

After the breakfast special at Zachary’s, requisite stops at Whitbourne and Gobbies, and a long drive down the dirt highway, we arrived at Monkstown. Now a small community of just 22 at the head of Paradise Sound, Monkstown would be the launching pad for our Placentia Bay adventure. We drove around town looking for a launch spot and met a local woman who said it was fine to park behind buddy’s boat. The beach was pitched shallow and allowed for one of the shortest carries to load a boat ever. The wind blew lightly up the Sound and we were ready to set off in no time with 11 days of supplies fitting easily in our two boats. I paddled my red Necky Looksha IV named the Lucky Rickshaw and Karen paddled Antony’s as of yet nameless yellow P&H Capella. The Sound was a lovely green tunnel hemmed in by brown cliffs rising from either side. Small pocket beaches could be found frequently. We stopped to stretch out legs at a delightful spot then paddled down to Channel’s Harbour. We began our daily habit of seeing eagles soar over the cliffs.

As we paddled into the harbour, we passed by a few cabins. We then made our way through some out flowing current into the back bay of the harbour and made camp on a neck that opened back onto Paradise Sound. The black flies performed a welcome ritual that sent us diving for our head nets. Beach flotsam provided the makings of a kitchen and we soon dined on Karen’s fine three course dinner. The weather for the next day predicted a big southwestern blow so we headed to bed with the intention of an “alpine” start to beat the storm.
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June 5

An alpine start is a mountaineering technique for starting up a mountain in the wee hours of the night to ensure there is enough light to get up and down the mountain. In our case, our alpine start started at 5:08 am in a light drizzle. Dressed in my paddling suit, I cooked a fine feed of Red River cereal and we were soon on our way to South East Bight. It was typical capelin weather including rain, drizzle and fog. We paddled into the harbour at South East Bight and did our best to have a conversation with a fisherman who was heading out. I suspect accents seemed thick on both ends and several sentences had to be repeated before we understood a storm was headed our way. We’d already planned to camp so we made our way closer to the wharf to check out the options. We paddled by the wharf where a group of women were readying it for the ferry’s arrival. They took one look at us in our small boats, labeled us “stunned,” and kept on working. We asked them about camping in a small meadow at the end of the harbour-they looked at us kinda funny and said, “sure, no problem.”

They got brave and asked, “Do you belong to Monkstown?” I replied, “No, I belong to town and Karen’s from the US.” They then asked if we had a bigger boat with us-we shook our heads to indicate that it was just the two of us and they began to shake their heads incredulously again. As the rain was getting heavier, we paddled off towards our “meadow.” It turned out to be someone’s front lawn but they were no longer living there. With the rain turning to torrential, we took up residence in the shell of a shack that had a roof and wall framing.

Our open air home out of the storm seemed like the best of Home and Gardens and we settled in for the rest of the day. Karen ventured into town and got more local beta from some fishers. With the storm coming through, it wouldn’t make sense to move around the corner into the full fetch until midday when the swell would have had time to settle. Cribbage, rest, and reading were the order of the day.
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June 6

I roused myself out of bed and went for a run along some of the trails that led south from the village. The old road meandered through lovely barrens, over hills and around several ponds. I saw bear scat on several occasions and hoped I didn’t meet its maker or mine while out running. A post run breakfast and nap was truly wonderful. We pried ourselves away from our luxurious accommodations, packed the boats, and headed out towards Red Head. It was easy to see why it had been named that-the rocks were blood red granite. We paddled into Great Paradise for lunch and could easily see why, in the lee of Marticott Island, it was so named. Post lunch, we passed by the mouth of Little Paradise and began to cross to Eastern Head via the Gulls Islands.

From afar, it looked like one of the islands was slashed into two. As we paddled closer, we struggled to make sense of what we were seeing.

Was it a big patch of snow? A large discoloration on the rock? A tunnel? Turns out it was the later-a tunnel through the whole island and Karen said she was going to “Take a look.” I didn’t know this was code for “I’m going to go try to paddle through it unless it’s really not wise.” Due to my misunderstanding, I wasn’t ready for her big move and I failed to capture her in full action as she timed her passage through the slit with perfect precision. There was a large sunker in the middle of the way and I hoped to have the same good timing as Karen when I elected to follow her through.

The wind continued to build and we had a long slog over to Eastern Head. Rounding the head, we were met with very confused seas and an even bigger slog up towards Toslow. I looked at the chart and hoped that Butter Cove might provide a respite and opportunity to get off the water but was disappointed. We would have to pull off a monumental haul-out to get off and the camping was marginal at best. So, despite intense fatigue from battling against the wind and building seas, we chose to continue on after some rest, a snack and water. We needed to make 4 more kilometers up the shore to Sand Cove or Toslow. We passed by the White Sail and again could understand why it was named such because of the white rock cliffs.

Sand Cove presented the most wonderful beach to land on and shared a neck of land with Toslow. We pitched the tent up high where we could look into Toslow and found lots more bear scat. A celebration of a hard fought 20 kilometers and our arrival in Placentia Bay ensued with Storm Beer and Ringalos. The evening light massaged the surrounding hills with its gentleness and soon the tent beckoned.
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June 7

The next morning we had a slower start and we hoped to be able to paddle to St. Leonard’s. As if often the case in sea kayaking, the ocean had a different idea. A building headwind and resulting confused seas convinced us to pull into the abandoned community of St. Anne’s to reconsider our options. We decided to head to St. Kryan’s at the head of the harbour for our layover. Its location would be protected from the next predicted storm and would allow us to hike to St. Leonard’s. We wanted to fulfill the song…”Off from St. Leonard’s and off from Toslow.” As we paddled north around the shore, the immense shell of the church at St. Kyran’s came into view. It beckoned us closer and invited us to stay. Presque Harbour, which holds several resettled communities, is so beautiful. The green hills surround its mirror blue surface and I longed to stay there for several months. Walking on the footpaths from community to community filled with my heart with curiosity and longing. I wanted to know more about the people who had lived there. Passing the graveyard on the way to St. Leonard’s, I was overcome with a deep sense of the land holding so many memories. We made camp on the edge of a gravel beach and watched the evening light dance along the confines of the harbour.
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June 8

Sun and wind greeted us on this day, a lovely day to spend exploring and walking and napping and reading. I walked over to the far reaches of St. Kyran’s and explored an old fishing stage. Time and the mice were slowly dismantling it but I wondered how many men had spent time within its walls. Karen picked rhubarb from the patches in St. Leonard’s when she walked over there and made an amazing cobbler. She also watched a young beaver swimming back and forth over one of the ponds. We had a small fire on the beach and remarked that Presque Harbour would be world-class property if it wasn’t so remote. Then we toasted its remoteness! Then we toasted the Peeps Karen had saved since Easter for such an occasion.
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June 9

Another alpine start awaited us because we hoped to make great progress along our route today. A brisk tailwind pushed us back to St. Anne’s and then we had to push against it as we paddled north again towards Isle Valen. We made a few valiant pee stops along the way on rockweed-smothered ledges and pulled out on Isle Valen for lunch. The weather seemed to be inviting us to cross so we decided to go for it and began to paddle up to our crossing point. We took a bearing and began to cross towards the Green Islands. We looked both ways before crossing the straight and made good progress across the Western Channel of Placentia Bay. After 33 kilometers of paddling, we made camp on Jean De Gaunt Island amid lobster traps and spongy bog. Another celebration was in order with an English chocolate brown porter and Ringalos followed by TA’s famous Mexican casserole. Bed called early that night.
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June 10

Another easy going start led to a sea cave on Jean De Gaunt and lovely passage through the Ragged Islands. As Merasheen had been somewhat of a grail, we opted for lunch on a small beach near Merry’s Harbour. If we had know what awaited us, we might not have had lunch. We paddled into Best’s Harbour and we greeted by Viola and Ern Penney. They invited us in for tea. Tea led to bottled moose. Moose led to jigs dinner. Dinner to an invitation to stay for the night. The invitation to a lovely evening of visiting and live music. The lovely evening led to several amazing days in Best’s Harbour/Tack’s Beach where were welcomed and treated as family. When it poured that night, we grinned at our good fortune to be sleeping inside.
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June 11

Ern and Viola headed back to town leaving us the keys to their cabin and the invitation to stay as long as we wished. Wow. We thanked our lucky stars. We paddled out along the Long Reach and over to Broad Cove to collect mussels. We played more cribbage-I had to avenge the previous night’s three losses and we watched Hockeyville 2006 on the TV-never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would watch hockey in the middle of Placentia Bay.
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June 12

This was a day of exploring Tack’s Beach and Best’s Harbour by foot instead of boat. As one of the locals said, “It’s important to get the sea out from under ya once in awhile.” More cribbage, naps, and a fine feed of lobster awaited. We cheered on the Oilers that night.
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June 13

We awoke early hoping to beat the winds and paddle to our takeout at Davis Cove. Once again, Placentia Bay reminded us we were on her schedule. The winds were already brisk so we decided for the predicted late afternoon drop in the wind. It’s always hard to wait when you want to get somewhere but since we faced a 13 kilometer crossing-we had to sit and hope and wait. About 3:00 pm, we carried the boats over the neck from Best’s Harbour to Tack’s Beach, loaded them under the watchful eye of Freeman and thought the wind was dropping. We decided to launch hoped we were seeing the drop in wind that signaled a wind shift.

We took a bearing for Greens Island and set off. The wind shifted rapidly to the southwest and the seas began to build. Whitecaps built quickly and we faced the reality of needing to get off the water-we were halfway across to Greens Island on a good heading to paddle into the wind so we elected to keep paddling rather than turn back. Once we reached the safety of the lee of Greens Island, we breathed easier and looked for a place to land. We thought we’d have supper and see if the wind was going to continue to build or drop. We were rapidly losing the day.

Soon it became clear that we weren’t going anywhere for the rest of the day and so set up camp. For an emergency pull-out, we felt like we lucked out quite well. We found freshwater in small pockets, a reasonably level tent site and an amazing view of the bay. I called Viola on the cell phone so no one in Arnold’s Cove or Tack’s Beach would worry about us. The clouds began to drop and a gentle rain lulled us to sleep.
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June 14

The alarm awoke us at 4:30. Surrounded in a thick fog, the sea had laid down and we would be able to cross. We entered the bearing to Davis Cove on our compass and GPS and paddled off into the blank slate of Placentia Bay. Paddling in such a thick fog is challenging because of the visual dislocation-it’s hard to use your senses to tell if you are paddling in a straight line-you must trust your compass even though your mind is telling you not to…the morning was so still broken only by our paddle blades. At one point we heard a big whoosh and a Minke whale surfaced nearby. We paddled along with it for a while until it dove to go feed.

We also paddled up beside a startled and perhaps lost puffin…A few hours later we paddled right up into Davis Cove-our bearing had worked perfectly and the end of the trip was near. We hauled out near the wharf and I exchanged paddle for running shoes in order to run back to Monkstown to fetch the Omamobile. Karen readied the boats for the trip home while I tried to remember how to move by leg power instead of arm power. We loaded up the boats, stopped in Gobbies for treats, Arnold’s Cove to return the cabin keys, Whitbourne for gas, and made it to town in time to get lots of errands done before dinner.

I’ve fallen in love with Placentia Bay. I’m eager to return to her finicky waters to drink in more of her beauty, explore her historic routes and learn more life lessons from the sea. Traveling by sea kayak always teaches me patience, gratitude, and surrender. This trip allowed me to more fully integrate the lessons and skills I learned in March in British Columbia. Please check out my column in the Express this week-I talk in greater depth about our experiences in Best’s Harbour. I’ll also write one or two other columns about the experience in the coming weeks. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

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