A Newfoundland summer

The view from the top of the waterfall at Morgan Arm, in Hare Bay. Photo by Jack Maull

By Jack Maull
For Points East

The Rhodes 19 was fine for camp-sailing the coast of Maine, but we needed quite an upgrade on skills and equipment for the likes of Newfoundland. Over the years we worked up to more capable cruising boats and spent weeks at a time sailing the Maine coast. In 2015, with our Bristol 40 yawl Julia, we joined a group of four boats from the Blue Water Sailing Club (BWSC) on a trip to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island. It was a terrific trip, and we learned a lot about sailing overnight, the wonders of Maritime Canada, and fixing anything that breaks on your boat along the way. And when we turned around to head home, we were 500 miles from our homeport of Portsmouth, N.H., and only 100 teasing miles from Newfoundland.

So, when the BWSC announced plans for a cruise to Newfoundland in 2017, we signed up again. I worked through the winter on more equipment installations, ordered a new set of sails from Hallett Canvas & Sails, requested a three-month leave of absence from work, and set off in July for Nova Scotia.

July 1, 2017, was shove-off day for our long-awaited sailing cruise to Newfoundland. As with the 2015 trip to Nova Scotia, we bumped up the Maine coast to Metinicus, waiting for good weather. On July 3 we stepped off across the Gulf of Maine, planning for a landfall at Cape Sable and a clearing port of Shelburne, N.S. We had a pleasant crossing: Sunrise off Cape Sable is always beautiful. Taking time to stop at several harbors up the coast to Halifax, we met the second boat in the group, Snow Cat, which used the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race as a feeder to the start of our cruise.

After a pleasant stay at the Armdale Yacht Club, on Melville Island, at the head of Halifax Harbour’s Northwest Arm, we left Halifax on July 15, bound for Cape Breton Island. We arrived in Louisburg on the 18th, where we planned to visit Fort Louisburg and prepare for setting off across the Cabot Strait.

We wanted to stop for several days at the îles Saint-Pierre et Miquelon for some French atmosphere, so setting off July 20 we reached fog-shrouded Saint-Pierre late on July 21. The staff at the marina L’Ecole de Voile were most welcoming. The French archipelago offers a lot to visitors, with restaurants, museums, local culture, and tours of the beautiful and less-inhabited Miquelon. We spent a few extra days in Saint-Pierre before turning 25 miles north to the south coast of Newfoundland, clearing back into Canada at Fortune on July 25.

We spent the next three weeks slowly working our way back west along Newfoundland’s south coast – a total of 170 miles of westing in 21 days, but we had to travel up to 20 miles north in some of the many fjords along the way. It seemed that every five to 10 miles, another gorgeous fjord would appear, lined by 400-foot cliffs. At the head of the fjord would be an anchorage with a waterfall.

If the anchorages in Nova Scotia seemed uncrowded, in Newfoundland the anchorages were unused and beckoning. With any luck, we could gather cloudberries, blueberries and raspberries on the land, and mussels, oysters and cod from the sea. We saw only five other cruising boats in three weeks, and never shared an anchorage.

Along the way, we stopped in at as many of the remote outports as we could. The outports are a special and threatened feature of the Newfoundland coast, only connected to the rest of the world by ferries to the few roads reaching the coast. The outports are fishing communities of commonly 100 to 160 souls; the largest we visited was the island of Ramea with a population of 1,000. The first was Rencontre East, “Isolated and loving it.” Other active outports were Francois, Grey River and La Poile. We also visited the outport of Grand Bruit, the most recent outport to close, in 2010. This is a complete town with a church, school, ferry dock, power-generator station, helipad and dozens of houses. Just no people. The register in the church showed that a reunion of former residents had occurred the previous week. We passed dozens of former outport sites along the way. Some still held some houses and churches; most were just a few stone foundations and cemeteries. Visiting several of the few remaining outports was a special part of the trip. The residents clearly live a life apart, and by choice. The Canadian government continues in its efforts to close the remaining outports to reduce the overhead of running ferries, schools, post offices, and providing medical care in these isolated communities. Violette Chant of La Poile had lived all of her 75 years in outports, and, with the need for more accessible medical care, was hoping the residents would soon accept the $270,000 per-family relocation allowance.

After three weeks of moving west along Newfoundland’s south coast, we began to carefully watch the weather forecasts for a good window to cross the Cabot Strait back to Cape Breton Island. This course is against the predominantly southwest winds. We stopped for two days in the charming harbor of Isle aux Morts waiting for the winds to change. Several residents came down to the dock to see us, and we enjoyed visiting the Walters House Museum, the first church and school in the Isle aux Morts community. We also availed ourselves of the seaside park with walking trails and the traditional fish dinner at the community center.

Aug. 19 promised moderate south winds, and we left Isle aux Morts at dawn, cruising out the beautiful and narrow Western Passage and joining Snow Cat and Jennless, whose owners had spent two days picking cloudberries in Squid Hole on Isle aux Morts Island. We dodged the ferries around Channel-Port aux Basques, passed St. Paul Island well to starboard with winds building to 25 knots, and made it into Dingwall Harbor on Cape Breton Island for the evening.

This is a quiet place, and they have a gem of a museum, the St. Paul Island Museum, with the cast-iron lighthouse and its 4th Order Fresnel lens. Next stop was only 23 miles down the coast to Ingonish to visit the beautiful beach and the Celtic Lodge. Another day brought us into the Bras d’Or lakes, through the Great Bras d’Or, for a visit to Baddeck and a choice of many pleasant anchorages on the lake.

After passing out of the Bras d’Or through the St. Peters Canal, we had more forecasts of the headwinds and the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, which forced us to motor into the headwinds and hide in harbors waiting for a break that would allow us to get to Halifax. Fortunately, this drove us into some beautiful remote anchorages through a series of tight inland passages; and then an overnight down the coast to Halifax before more bad stuff arrived.

We try to avoid overnights, but when the storm cleared and the moon came out, it was worth it. Another week brought us to Lunenburg, along with a plan to make two stops in Shelbourne and Yarmouth before crossing the Gulf of Maine. However, a weather report of a week of contrary winds caused us to skip both those ports and continue through the night by Cape Sable and on to Northeast Harbor, Maine, where we arrived Sept. 10. Mount Desert Island was beautiful, offering hiking right from the harbor to the Acadia trails and Penobscot Mountain. While this is always a busy harbor in August, it was almost empty in mid-September.

We were almost home – and we used to think we had gone a long way to get this far east! In a few more days, with stops in Rockland and Wiscasset, we were back in Portsmouth, where one of the biggest trials of the trip awaited us: a dead car battery and fog so thick we couldn’t find our mooring.

So, 11 weeks from New Hampshire to remote Newfoundland and back. It wasn’t hard, just a number of manageable steps. It usually takes four overnight hops, but with enough time it can all be done in daysails. In good weather, the overnight legs are fun and rewarding.

The cruising grounds in Nova Scotia are special; those in Newfoundland even more so. You just can’t find on the East Coast anchorages so pristine, with such natural beauty, and with no one there. Well, with the exception of Labrador. Now that would be an adventure.

John (Jack) Maull (maullfountain@myfairpoint.net) lives in Exeter, N.H., and has practiced internal medicine there for 28 years. He and his wife Toy have been sailing the Maine coast whenever possible, starting with such open boats as a Rhodes 19 and a Drascombe Lugger for a week at a time. Now, with a Bristol 40 yawl, they have been able to go longer and range farther Downeast. This summer, they are cruising in New Brunswick waters.