Irene fought her way back across the Davis Strait to North America. The strait in late September was cold, dark, plagued with icebergs, and nasty rough. A couple of gales hammered us, but they were expected given the time and place. The unpleasant surprise was the constant rough sea of Irene’s least favorite wave length. Even between gales using the motor was out of the question because the propeller was out of the water almost as much as it was in the water! Progress was slow. Our Raymarine radar really came through for us here, as the color display helped us spot the difference – life and death important – between waves and ice. We became fatigued partly due to the motion and partly because we needed to shorten watches to two hours because of the cold. And of course with only two of us aboard, we could only sleep in two hour increments. So when we approached Labrador, we were hyper aware of the extra care we needed to take to safely work Irene through the coastal islands to the town of Nain. Exhaustion and rough conditions, an imminent gale, and a tricky approach to an unfamiliar coastline. What else could go wrong here? Oh, it was very, very, dark also. The kind of dark found in wild lonely unpopulated terrain on a cloudy moonless fall night. Two factors were in our favor – the approach was well marked with lighted buoys, and the crew of Irene has some good techniques to work in high risk/high fatigue situations. We double check each other’s work, talk through each plan and decision, keep fed and hydrated, and keep on task. Amazingly, the gale held off, charting and buoyage were spot on, radar performed perfectly, and we were able to tie up to the Nain wharf at dawn just a few hours before the wind hit. What a good feeling it was to be safe and snug. We cleared back into Canada, enjoyed a dinner at The Restaurant (there is only one) and waited for a Monday morning fuel appointment. We followed via AIS on our plotter as an adventure cruise ship, the Ocean Endeavor, came into the bay later that night. We saw her struggle and eventually fail with anchoring and seemed to be blown out of the bay.
The blow eventually blew itself out and the cruise ship re-entered the bay and re-anchored. We refueled and headed down the Labrador coast riding the tail end of the gale, trying to get as far as we could before the next gale.
The charts were good – which is a good thing because the coast is complex and rocky. We learned a new word for an inlet – tickle – and found ourselves at a place called Smokey Tickle just in time to avoid the next blow.
We tied up to a dilapidated pier that jutted out from a tiny rocky island. The place had been a fishing outpost before the collapse of the cod fishery, and ruins were visible on the island and surrounding area. It was a beautiful but spooky place, and we paused there to allow a major weather system to move on by.
As soon as the wind let up, we sprinted south – making it to the north tip of Newfoundland at Cooks Harbor before needing shelter again.
We couldn’t believe our luck. At Cooks, there was a fisherman’s lounge available to us, with laundry machines, heat (!) and a coffeepot for the using. We spent hours reading and watching movies, and did several loads of laundry. We really enjoyed waiting out this storm in the quiet of the lounge. On board Irene during a storm like this, even though we are tied to a pier and safe, life is not completely comfortable. It’s too noisy to converse over the shriek of wind in the rigging and the sudden heel of the boat in a gust can upset one’s cup of coffee or glass of wine. So yes, we enjoyed our lounge!
Our next dash took us down the west coast of Newfoundland to another harbor, then another – it seemed like it was taking forever to make our way south. We only had two or three days of sailing between storm systems, and each storm pinned us down for two or three days. Each new harbor brought more trees, houses and people. When we could get ashore, we enjoyed chatting with the people who live here.
Finally, we had a break in the weather that allowed us to cross Cabot Strait and reach Nova Scotia, where we found a civilized and protected little bay, Ingonish, with beautiful deciduous trees everywhere, in full fall colors. Irene tied up to wooden wall at the foot of a defunct ski hill. We hiked up and down the hill, enjoying the overgrown ski slopes, the colors and crisp fall air, and only when we were back on board did it suddenly strike us. (Thanks for the reminder, Mom.) What about Lymes? Much examination of skin and clothes for ticks followed this thought. We think we are OK, but our land explorations were much more subdued after that. Land can be a dangerous place!
Another hop or two and we reached Halifax. It was the middle of the night when we arrived, but for once we are armed with local knowledge and feel quite confident heading in. It’s a busy commercial port and the VHF radio and AIS receiver kept us notified of the constant traffic. We motored up an arm that reaches northwest from the main channel and anchored in a basin at the end. The source of our local knowledge was email correspondence from Catherine, who had been following us our blog. She is a friend of Roger, the captain of Abel Tasman, and she and her family were wonderful hosts. The Tremblays even made a Northwest Passage commemorative tile, framed it and installed it in Irene’s saloon.
And just by chance, we had a reunion with Betty and Louis on “Ave Del Mar” who we had first met early on our circumnavigation years ago on the US west coast. We also literally crossed paths at sea in Chile while underway in 2009. They had wintered over in Halifax the previous winter and were planning to spend yet another winter before resuming sailing. Small world!
Peter replaced the zinc on the prop, which had disappeared for the third time in six months. It seems to be a regular chore, done in Nome, redone in Tuktoyaktuk, and not a fun job in chilly water.
So with the weather looking good, we went back to sea and headed to Maine.