Friday, 11 AUGUST 2017
We say our goodbyes to the Jooleys and wish them a safe journey. They are headed eastward to drop off their crew in Placentia and then back to Miquelon to store the boat for the winter. We leave too, but in the opposite direction, to the fjords of Newfoundland’s Southwest coast. Originally we were thinking to go east and north to the city of St. John’s (the easternmost point in North America!), a place I’ve always wanted to see, but since we’ve spent a lot of time in cities so far we change course and head for more barren lands.
The sail northwest across Fortune Bay is calm. We travel on a slow broad reach moving at a snail-y pace of 3-5kts on light, westerly winds. Luckily we don’t have far to go and I have a book going. It’s a pleasant ride. We anchor in Jersey Harbour, a large bay with high walls tucked into the side of a much longer fjord. We pick a spot just in front of a gravel spit and in the shadow of a hillside, nineteenth century cemetery. Jersey Harbour is a former outport, a village set up for fishing and exporting. A lot of outports didn’t have roads leading in or out and so the only way to gain access to them was by boat. Today, some of these outports still have some remaining fishing operations, but all seem to be in severe decline because of both the thinning of the fishing industry and the reduction/migration of population. Jersey Harbour’s fishing, is long gone. The few houses (five or six) that are here are newer and seem more like weekend getaway homes than permanent or working houses. One guy is trimming his “lawn” with a weed whacker and one guy is standing on his deck shoutalking curses into his cell phone. Ah, seclusion!
Saturday, 12 AUGUST 2017
This is a slow, lazy day. Sometime in the afternoon we take out Svetlana (the dinghy) and inflate her. We go exploring the two large wrecks in the bay, the shoreline, and the cemetery. We return to a blaring Canadian country music concert courtesy of Mr. Shoutalker!
Sunday, 12 AUGUST 2017
We leave Jersey Harbour and motor into the “Northwest Arm,” the fjord that runs five miles north. This short trip takes us an hour. Unbelievably, our motoring is slower than our sailing. But the scenery is gorges. The water is flat and mirrored. The tall fjord walls made of stone, trees, and fog get doubled below us and we float forward on sky and clouds. On the way we see no houses or boats, but there are tiny signs of people everywhere in the debris on the shores, the small buoys, and distant motor sounds. As we drift, I can’t help but wonder if those people are tucked into the trees. In this moment we easily could have slipped into the scene in Fitzcarraldo where the protagonists are moving on the muddy Amazon and the tribes of invisible indigenous people stare down at them, spears in hand, from the edges.
As we creep forward, to free up my mind of cannibalistic thoughts, I do the entire Bikram yoga standing series on the deck of the boat. Netzah is so steady I can even do the poses on which I have to balance on one foot. It’s freeing and my body feels so good afterwards.
To find shallow, muddy ground which we need in order to anchor, we must go to the very end of the fjord. Almost there, we pass through a space that is more enclosed, like a tall flooded room. Unfortunately, this spot, though spectacular, is just a little too deep. When we anchor and conditions are normal, Glenn likes to put out a conservative 5 to1 amount of chain. That is, if we want to anchor in 10 feet of water (high tide) we will put out 50 feet of anchor chain. Because we have 150 feet of chain total we can technically anchor in 30 feet, but we never do because we will want a higher ratio of 7 to 1 if the wind picks up. And, we always play it safe. Except once… and it was a disaster. We were coming into Ponce, Puerto Rico and we could not find the dock to check in to the country. We called the officials but due to a language barrier, wound up in the wrong place. We decided to anchor in their bay to try and figure out what to do. It was a pretty deep harbor of about thirty feet and every other boat was on a mooring. I went to the bow of the boat and on Glenn’s signal I started letting out the anchor. We thought we would need all 150 feet, so I was letting the chain run. Usually, the chain slows down after a while, but not in this case. It just kept going really fast. And then, abruptly, the chain ended and I watched the last link slip into the bay below us. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Just like that, we lost a very expensive and good anchor. I turned around and told Glenn and for a few seconds both of us bobbed with the boat staring at the black water in disbelief. It turns out that the last owner (or was it us?) had never secured the anchor chain to the boat inside the anchor locker. Because no one ever lets out all of their chain, this had never been a problem. We learned a tough lesson that day, but now we never, ever go to the bitter end even though our new anchor is firmly secured.
This time we anchor in a spot that is very far north, almost on land. It has excellent holding and, of course, it’s not very deep.
Monday, 14 AUGUST 2017
We stay put. Winds are high. We are very isolated. Glenn makes crepes.
Tuesday, 15 AUGUST 2017
We motor back out of the fjord to Harbour Breton, just across from Jerseyman’s. We have to tie up to an industrial dock as there is no room at the municipal dock. The fee is $10 CAD. For that price we get no showers, no water or power, and a very loud white noise machine in the form of an air handling unit that is approximately ten feet away. Fortunately, it seems the human brain can tune out humming sounds even at extreme decibel levels!
Harbour Breton turns out to be a good little town. A few folks come out to visit us at the dock and they are all very friendly. There are two grocery stores, a drug store, a liquor store, and at least two restaurants. The first thing we do when we get off the boat is take a hike to the top of Gun Hill. From the 700’ perch we can see a broad panoramic vista of the places we had just been and a bit into where we are headed. Later, after we come down, we all go to the grocery and get some fresh indulgences, including some pork chops and asparagus for dinner.
Wednesday, 16 AUGUST 2017
The day starts with a great sail to McCallum. We have 15 kts of ESE winds. Since we are going northwest, we are wing on wing with an average speed of 6kts the whole way. It’s excellent. And we make very good time. Not too far from the entry to the fjord, our wind dies somewhat and Glenn turns on the engine. Immediately, the oil pressure light/alarm goes on. He shuts it off and back on again. Still buzzing. And again. I can see Glenn’s level of frustration rise. This is a brand new engine that we bought and Glenn installed specifically so that that would be one sure thing about which we would not have to worry. Somewhere between pissed and worried, Glenn shuts off the engine for good and by a stroke of luck our wind picks up and carries us almost all the way to the dock in McCallum. Glenn only has to turn the engine on for one quick burst and we are docked. Damn, he’s good!
Thursday, 17 AUGUST 2017
I wake up… or maybe I don’t.
When I poke my head out of the boat for the first time and really look at place where we have landed, I see we have sailed into a dreamy poem about an impossible place. Imagine a village of about 70 houses, some only tiny sheds, burrowed into the side of a steep and rocky hillside. The little, wooden box homes are scattered in a loose way from high up to down at the curved bay’s shore. I look closer. Half of these houses, the ones along the water’s edge, rise directly out of the water on rough, wooden stilts. Many of them have extending wooden platforms (stages, they’re called here) and railings that lead to rocks below and then to tied up boats. On the platforms are lives caught in the middle of living. Some have containers of fresh vegetables growing, others have piles of logs waiting to be cut into winter’s firewood, others have the traps and buoys of the fishing season now ended, and still others haven’t been touched in a long time. Almost unbelievably, between all of the built activity, there is a fine, wooden thread that strings the boxes together and tacks them to the tall mossy wall behind. This is the boardwalk that the residents use to move in and out of their houses and also across the whole town. Constructed of plank lumber and supported from below, it has the feel of those draped wooden bridges that cross the deep gorges of long ago places. Not frequently a body comes out of one box, moves on the thread, and then disappears into another box. But this is very, very rare. And the effect is surreal. On the one hand, the precariousness of the construction and the painterly composition of the small buildings makes this place staggeringly picturesque. On the other, this is an almost empty place, a ghost town in the making. McCallum is an outport in sharp decline. Today there are only about 30 to 35 people left. In 2010, we hear anecdotally, there was double that. At its peak there were 190 people. Because of this, there is an accompanying sadness that drapes across the town in the certainty that soon, very soon actually, it will be gone.
In the early evening we meet two Newfoundlanders. Colin comes over first and strikes up a conversation with Glenn who is sitting in the cockpit. They talk about the boat. I join them and then Henry, Colin’s brother comes over. Trying to understand each other’s accents the four of us have to repeat sentences, but we get a chat going. The brothers live in Hermitage, but are originally from Francois, an outport twenty miles to the west. They are on their way there now to see their parents who still live there. (Coincidentally, this is also where Martin and Lydia are now and where we may go next.) After a beer at our place they invite us over to their boat for a drink where we meet Colin’s wife, Maisey. The brothers work on boats, but are not fishermen and they tell us a bit about their jobs and their family. But eventually, we get to talking politics. It is, I suppose, a natural subject while traveling. Plus, the extreme nature of the present political situation in the U.S. tends to make people curious about where we stand. I am hesitant. I like Colin and Henry and I don’t want to be insensitive to the difficult situation this part of Canada is facing. In my mind I assume that Colin and Henry might have a different opinion, so I talk about my reservations about the present administration back home. They hear me out. Then, rather than criticize, Henry asks more questions about the structure of our government, our social services, and our voting regulations. Luckily, Ava helps fill in the blanks about which I am less knowledgeable No, mom, what you’re describing as the House of Representatives is actually called the Congress, and vice versa! Finally, when we ask Henry what he thinks, he says he doesn’t have an opinion on American politics because, well, he’s Canadian. I am pleasantly surprised. Everyone we have met on this trip has had an opinion, but Henry is the first person who just wants to learn about it. And I get it. While I’m drawn to the Canadian Prime Minister, I don’t really understand enough about the present Canadian political situation to know if I support him. So many people respond to style. I end up leaving that evening thinking we all should be listening a little more…