Friday, November 02, 2007

Paddling Around Bell Island

Paddling around Bell Island is a classic day paddle near St. John's. Once you've done it, you can safely call yourself an intermediate sea kayaker. It tends to be a popular paddle for groups and the local crowd usually does it a couple times a summer. For some reason, I had never been around Bell Island before. The photo above shows the high seacliffs that characterize the island. There are few good landing spots, the swell from the north can be huge, and Bell Island Tickle has a nasty reputation for sudden rough water when the wind opposes the tide.

The weather gods smiled on us on 22 Septemeber 2007. David Carroll organized the trip and a dozen people jumped aboard.

The map shows the route of 25 km. We loaded our vehicles and kayaks aboard the Bell Island ferry at 8:30am.

The crew were a little puzzled by the sudden invasion of kayakers.

Since the sun was out, we headed for the observation deck. Here's the gang with David and his father Joe Carroll in the front.

Here's the put-in not far from the ferry dock on the island. There was almost no swell on this side.

We headed north along the towering cliffs.

After a few minutes of paddling, we came to this 100 metre tunnel through the cliff. The swell was bigger here and crashing inside the tunnel. So we debated and then decided to give it a pass.

Ralph is paddling strongly through the increasing swell on the north side of the island. The lighthouse is on top of the cliff in the background.

Here's the swell breaking on the shoals and seacliffs.

We started south down the back side of the island. Here is David with some nice waves behind him.

More swell breaking on shoals. Below the seabed here are tunnels from the large iron ore mines that operated on Bell Island for decades. During the Second World War, these were the largest iron ore mines in the British Empire.

Here's Stan MacKenzie taking photos near the Grebes Nest.
Continuing south, we came to the Bell which gives the island its name. The folks in the distance are sprinting for the lunch beach.

The channel between the Bell and the main island offered some interesting swell, which Alison took advantage of.

David at the lunch beach. Little Bell is behind him. I should probably title this photo "Spot the Knob", but I don't want to get David cranky with me.

Here's Little Bell, the Bell, and the lunch beach. Spectacular spot!

Continuing on around the south end of the island, we came to the Clapper.

Here's Stan paddling by Lance Cove. This is where a German U-boat sank four ships during World War II. One of the U-boat's torpedos exploded on the beach in Lance Cove. Things were not quite as exciting the day we were there. But the sun was great!

We finished up around 2:30pm. A bunch of us set off in search of an ice cream cone to celebrate the day, before heading back on the ferry. A great trip with a great bunch of friends!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dream trip around Cape St. Mary's

One of the most popular ecotourism destinations in all of Newfoundland & Labrador is the gannet colony at Cape St. Mary's. Thousands of people take the short hike every summer to overlook the tens of thousands of breeding gannets. The sights, sounds and smells of Bird Rock are simply overwhelming.

Far fewer people have visited Bird Rock by boat. Many fisherman and the odd group of kayakers have marvelled at the panorama of a sky filled with northern gannets and the overpowering noise of all their squawking. I won't even try to descibe the odor!

Paddling around Cape St. Mary's has been a goal of mine for many years. The headland juts out from the south coast of the Avalon into the northwest Atlantic. It is usually battered by winds and huge swells ... but if you pick your day, you can enjoy brilliant sunny weather, calm seas and no more than a gentle breeze.

September 18, 2007 presented just such a day. I contacted several experienced paddling buddies, and Ian Fong of St. John's and Jonathan Walsh of Placentia were interested. The forecast looked excellent.

We decided to start from St. Bride's and finish at Point Lance, 25 kms in all (click on map and photos to enlarge).

Here are Jonathan (aka pastey white guy on left) and Ian Fong (aka the Fongman) getting ready to go in St. Bride's. We began at 11:30am.

Almost the whole coast along our route was seacliffs (200 - 300 feet high). Here we are approaching Island Head, south of St. Bride's.

Here's the narrow passage through Island Head. We were lucky to have ideal conditions. The swell was less than 1 metre, the winds were very light, and the sun was splitting the rocks.

We carried on to Norther Head and played in the swell running through the rocks and stacks. In the distance you can spot the Cape St. Mary's lighthouse on the cliff top. We stopped for a quick lunch just inside Lears Cove.

In Lears Cove, we found this excellent camping spot, which had 2 streams and level areas for many tents.

Nearby, we found this very narrow passage between the cliff and a tall seastack. The swell was magnified going through the passage to several metres. You can just see Ian's yellow shoulders disappearing in front of the surging wave in the photo. Exciting!

The seacliffs were amazing all along the route. Here's Jon in Brierly Cove.

This photo, looking north into Brierly Cove, shows how calm it can be on a good day.

As we pulled further south, the Cape St. Mary's lighthouse came into clear view.

The Fongman just had to celebrate the moment with a few antics!

And here we were at last, paddling around Cape St. Mary's!!!

Just under Bird Rock, we discovered these towering caves.

Here's the view looking out of the cave. The sky is full of flying gannets. It was silent in the back of the cave, except for the swell. As you paddled out of the cave, you were hit by a wall of noise from the gannet colony just above. Incredible!

Here's Jon below Bird Rock.

Here's a close-up photo of the adult gannets (white) and the large gannet chicks (brown).

From the big smile on Ian's face it's not hard to tell he was enjoying the trip.

We paddled further east and entered Golden Bay. There we found a sandy beach with gentle surf. We couldn't resist. We each got in a few runs in the surf before stopping for a break.

The beach at Golden Bay is beautiful, but not very accessible. It's a long hike from Cape St. Mary's. Unfortunately camping is not allowed here, as the beach is located within the Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve.

Paddling east out of Golden Bay with Bull Island Point in the distance.

Rounding the point and entering Lance Cove, the village of Point Lance came into view.

Luckily, there was another long sandy beach in Lance Cove, so we did some more surfing to end the paddle on a high note.

About all we could say after such a marvellous day was Wow! This paddle was definitely a highlight of the 2007 season.
If you are interested in looking at more photos from this trip look here on my buddy Tony Lee's great website
Including our stops, the paddle took six hours (11:30am - 5:30pm). There were only the 3 spots mentioned that were good for stopping. There were many other small pocket beaches that could be used as landings (only on a calm day), but the cliffs above do not provide any escape.
The sea conditions and light winds on this day were well within Level 2 conditions, but the high seacliffs with very few landing spots make this a Level 3 or 4 paddle under ideal conditions. On average, there are only one or two days each month with ideal paddling conditions at the Cape.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Notre Dame Bay

Here is a map of our entire trip. Start and finish at Pilley's Island. We paddled 136 kms over 6 days. I will post a more complete trip report, listing campsites and water sources on the KNL website later this fall.

It would be easy to paddle from this area to the west towards White Bay or to the east past Leading Tickles towards the Bay of Expoits. It would all depend on the weather.

I highly recommend a trip to the Triton area for Level 2 sea kayakers. The rewards are many.

Thanks again to Colin Hiscock and Harvey Rice for providing valuable tips beforehand on good campsites and places of interest in this area.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Notre Dame Bay, final day

Our last day began with light rain as we packed up our camp at Triton East. We were philosophical about it. We'd enjoyed good weather all week, so a little rain on the last day was tolerable. The lack of wind made it better.

We crossed Little Triton Harbour passed the fish plant and over into Brighton Tickle. We found this keyhole as the rain picked up.

Across the tickle a couple of fisherman were pulling their lobster pots.

We paddled under the Brighton Causeway and came upon this growler, floating in calm water.

With the overcast lighting, we could see down to the bottom of the growler underwater. It was a great example of an iceberg in miniature ... and small enough to approach safely.

Two icebergs had floated into Brighton Harbour. The one on the left was threatening the town wharf.
The rain let up and we turned south and paddled up Pilley's Tickle, passing Horse Chops Head and Dogfish Point. We explored the narrow channel on the south side of Big Island with its steep sides and dark passage.
Then we retraced our strokes under the Triton Island Causeway and back to our starting point in Pilley's Island Harbour. Our last day was short, only 14 kms. With mixed feelings, we packed our gear into the car and strapped the kayaks on the roof. Finishing the paddling early was a good idea, given the 6-hour drive back to St. John's.
I vowed to make time for a least one extended kayak trip each summer. Newfoundland has so many areas to explore by kayak, and trips like this are the best way to do it.