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.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Notre Dame Bay, Day 5

Day 5 of our 6-day paddling trip was outstanding. We started from our magical campsite at Julies Harbour (no sign of the rumoured ghost) and ended at Triton East after paddling 33 kms.

Here is our Julies Harbour camp. A great spot (sheltered, level and lots of freshwater) with lots of history to explore.

This is the view paddling out of Julies Harbour and into Badger Bay. We paddled south by Gull Island and into Wild Bight.

On the southeast side of Wild Bight, we found Pissamare Falls (above), a dramatic waterfall on Badger Bay Brook. This was the scenic highlight of our trip. We decided to stop and hike up the falls for lunch.

The view was breath-taking.

We continued paddling north up the east side of Badger Bay under ideal conditions. We found several good beaches suitable for breaks. We stopped at Locks Harbour, which was another good camping spot (but lacking a stream). The photo above shows Isabelle at the mouth of Badger Bay, with White Point on the right and Triton Island on the left. We paddled north to Triton Island and took a short break on a cobble beach on the north side of Great Denier Island. We paddled on across Grand Dismal Cove (no place to land). When we came around Ragged Point and turned west, we found half a dozen huge icebergs directly in our path.

The icebergs were sculpted into wild spires and drydocks. They were slowly breaking up and in places the water was full of frazzle ice, crackling and fizzing as it melted.

We kept a safe distance from the unstable bergs.

As we passed this berg, a loud crack rang out. The berg wobbled slowly in the water, sending off big waves. A huge bergy bit floated to the surface, broken off underwater. We paddled hard in the opposite direction, half expecting the iceberg to roll.
We paddled by Big Triton Island and into Little Triton Harbour. The old community of Triton East offered a sheltered landing spot and good camping behind the cabins. A brief rain shower started just as we finished pitching our tent.
What a memorable day! A huge waterfall, awesome icebergs, sun, rain ... a bit of everything. After all the paddling, we gobbled down supper and slept like logs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Day 4, Notre Dame Bay

On Day 4 of our trip (4 July 07) we started out from Stag Cove, just south of Sunday Cove Island, and we paddled 21 kms to Julies Harbour in Badger Bay (click on map & photos to enlarge).

We packed up our tent on the wharf and headed out.

Here's Isabelle paddling towards Haywards Head in ideal conditions.

We entered Charley's Cove (2 kms northeast of Robert's Arm), and I heard the high-pitched call of a bald eagle. After scanning the cliff in the cove, we spotted the eagle nest in the photo.

We then crossed to Hayward Gull Island and onwards through Flat Rock Tickle (which separates Pilley's Island from the mainland). A moderate head wind came up late in the morning, just to keep things interesting. We stopped for lunch on Raft Island (next to Pretty Island). As with many of the afternoons on our trip, the clouds darkened and we could see isolated showers nearby.
We crossed Sops Arm and paddled around Burton's Head, passed south of Duck Island, and entered Badger Bay.

We headed southwest along the shoreline in Badger Bay. Crossing the first cove, we discovered this osprey nest. An adult osprey flew in, carrying a fish in its talons.

We arrived at our campsite in Julies Harbour in mid-afternoon. This spot was recommended to us by several paddlers. What a memorable spot! A long gravel spit (shown above) protects the harbour. The wreck of an old Bombardier snow machine sat rusting in the sun. Two streams provided an abundance of freshwater. There were dozens of houses here a hundred years ago, as this was once a bustling fishing community. An old road led into the forest, past an abandoned cemetary. One cabin was set back in the woods. The siding had been ripped off it in several places by black bears. We found fresh bear scat in a couple of spots closeby. We quickly decided to pitch our tent across the harbour on the spit. Taking advantage of the afternoon sun, we had a quick bath beside a stream, filled our water bottles, and feasted on supper. A day to savour.