Monday, October 31, 2011

Where once they stood.

I awoke at the crack of 11h00. An unhealthy serving of pancakes covered in homemade jam; washed down with a couple cups of trans fat free coffee. A mere 8 hours after sunrise (which lay hidden under a mix of fog wind and rain.) I paddled.

Small rolling waves increased into nice swells as they approached the shore. The unseen shoreline stretched like opened hands; grasping deep out into the sea pushed waves up to meet the cliff. Waves rumbled and exploded as the shoreline seemed to edge it`s shoulder towards the onslaught. Closing it's eyes it took yet another hit.

As I paddled toward Topsail beach practicing strokes around rocks; a hole in a cliff of white rock commanded attention and exploration. This is honestly what I live for. The landing was looking like a anti gelcoat rally; however with some good timing I landed unscathed from the wave rock combination.  

The cliff lay just below the towering Topsail head. The stone wall appeared to my untrained eye (and a bit of google-fu afterwards) to be Pyrophyllite. The cave which turned out to be a quarry stopped 15 feet into the rock face. I have yet to find any records of this specific site; however it's likely that it was a small quarry from the 1902-1910 time frame. The same mining era that began the Quarry at the "Talc mine" just down the coast. 


Some kids had added some wood to sit on and professed love in spray paint. I`ve never seen a cliff like this in my travels; and certainly never seen such a inviting cave to live in! I imagined what a tarp and a few personal effects could do to spruce this place up a little. Cot in the corner, radio on a drift wood shelf...I truly could call this place home! And for those who know me`s not a far stretch in the realm of things I do! (I've lived in worse!)

Just another example of things one will never find in brochures or tourist information. A place when men toiled to dig with hopes and prayers. Weeks perhaps months of someones existence carved this place into nothing more than maybe some family verbal history somewhere. Like a inukshuk of our islands history. Showing that someone was here. Yet leaving no sign of who they had been.

I began roaming the beach searching the flotsam and jetsam for gold bullion, messages in a bottle, bags with dollar signs on them, and the like. Finding a few foam net buoys I put them in my kayak for my father who carves trouting bobbers out of them.. As I passed over other garbage I wondered that if we all had a use for something in this garbage;just how clean this place would be. I had found someones trash which I knew my father would be happy to get. Yet I passed by plastic bottles; a free currency.

Had I lost touch with my heritage where the sea and land provided all? A broken but easily fixable lobster pot lay intertwined within twisted branches of a dead evergreen tree. With little work I could place this back into the sea and reap the benefits of my work. Yet I walked past it all.

It's sickening how ideals change once immersed into a culture of waste for so long. What had happened to the long haired kid full of ideals; and who had I become? Was I too "wealthy" to pick up a few plastic bottles to return for a refund? Why did I not get excited to find free money? Would I pass by dimes and nickles strewn across a city sidewalk? Would I be too proud to pick up coins on a busy parking lot?  As heavy rain danced on my drysuit hood; I had much to contemplate.

I paddled my empty boat back to St. Philips where I met an older gentleman who helped me load up my kayak. We chatted for a good 15 minutes in the cool winter rain. He happened to be the harbour master and was a great guy to chat with. We talked about just about everything in general from the new homes going up, oil money in the province, to issues within the harbour. Smells of wood smoke and deep fryer food from the local restaurant filled the air as our conversation danced with ease.  I stowed the last of my gear away and bid him a great evening as he retreated to the harbour authority building to warm up.

As I drove back into the city lights my heater pumped out loud over some barely audible tones of the oldie station. Condensation forming on the windsheid where my cap pressed against the cool glass.

I wondered how much free money I leave on those beaches.

 Maybe I still have the thoughts of my ancestors; with the ability to expressed them in conversation with ease.

Now to work on my actions.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The hidden channel of Undisclosed bay

"Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each"
-Henry David Thoreau

 I dreamt of leaving home and trying to survive at age 5. I had over a few days built a solid lean-to next to a small boggy stream a few kilometers behind my house; room for me and my dog I figured. I then took on the task of convincing my mom to let me and my dog go try to live off the land (she did say I could do anything which was key in my defence case ). Letters stood in for words. I tossed them over the banister from upstairs, others I left in the breadbox and other places they would look. At the time I figured a letter would command more attention. I also decided that all 45 lbs of me would ask for a 12 gauge shotgun. Attached  with copious amounts of brown Alymer glue was a collage of black and white drawings cut from a S&R catalogue; of course with ordering information..... I was denied. I compromised for a packed lunch and a BB gun and all day to explore my little piece of paradise. That spark of childhood.

I've never really lost that spark. It still resides inside. At 12 I attempted to join the army via mail; and was rejected. My parents still have the rejection letter that came in a brown government envelope with my name on it; which she opened in a panic. At 17 I got her signature and finally joined the army and left home; taking me around the world for over a decade. Then here. A decade gone, I was in front of a beautiful waterfall in a undisclosed cove. Home.

 I edged my kayak in under the fall for a picture; and was surprised as my bow kept moving forward. I stowed my paddle and grasping the slimy cool rocks; I pulled myself inside. The roar of fresh clean water on gelcoat, thumping over the hatch then the louder rumble and pressure of falling water on my drysuit hood. 

(A shaky video of inside the cave)

Like a fairy tale come to life I was behind a waterfall in a cave!! A large rock blocked the water access so I climbed out of my kayak scaling the cave walls; perching myself upon the rock sentry. Using my paddle I checked the depth inside to see if I could walk inside. My paddle and the lenght of my arm submerged failed to touch the seabed. Hauling out my flashlight I could see the cave going back 30 m and then make a hard left turn into another channel. Spark turned to fire inside me. This is why I kayak.

The sound of gelcoat rubbing on sharp rocks in the minute swell of the cave forced me back inside my boat. I paddled out slowly still trying to soak in the beauty of this one grid mark on the planet.

Still in shock that I was officially in Wonderland; I pulled into a tidy low tide beach nestled in between sheer cliff; adorned with barren windswept shrubs. It was here I debated if I should tell a soul between bites of granola bar. Should I keep it in the small circle of people I paddle with? Did I have enough of a look to really do it justice in a post?
And what lay further inside that cave?

I couldn't help remember a huge Iron treasure box now on display at the Winterton boat museum.  Found in a cave halfway up a sheer cliff near the town only within the last generation. What could lay out here so far away from everything?

My mind rambled around planning my next visit to this place. Plastic valley boat, larger spotlight a must. I sat drinking coffee imagining pirate's sails on the horizon; a reality not that long ago along this shoreline. 
The wind pitched as the fog banks began to roll in; adding to the mystic feel of this place. Like something out of a fiction plot; I seemed to be the lead character. Which left me wondering if the story was at a climax or merely a exposition as I surfed the small waves back to the take out.

As I paddled into my undisclosed port out of the rising wind and fog I thanked my lucky stars that somehow I was here.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Cripple rock; A fighter ace, and 4 dead men

27 September 1942, flying Hurricane BAO 1364 (No.125 Squadron), reported:

"While flying over Conception Bay near Bauline, aircraft developed glycol leak, smoke appearing in cockpit. I climbed to 1,100 feet and attempted to make the airport but found that by this time the smoke had so filled the cockpit that I could not see forward so I rolled over and bailed out, landing in the water and after about 35 minutes I was picked up by fishermen from Bauline."

Mere sunsets ago in the big picture of time. Excitement and fear filled that day in 1942. A Canadian pilot bobbing in the North Atlantic. A reality. Fishermen rushing to their boats to rescue. Aside from the thousands of kilometers of coast line on the Avalon to explore lies thousands of years of moments. Bauline; nestled among towering mountains looming over the small protected Hr. I was welcomed by people at the wharf with great conversation in a strong preserved English accent. Greeted like a long lost neighbour; a memory of the Newfoundland I left years ago.

 I passed the last saltbox house of this beautiful community; heading for Cripple cove along a unspoiled shoreline.

My day was near perfect. The last of a passing front rolled off into the Atlantic to reveal a warm summer like day. The smell of warm blackberry bushes; a roar of swell on the mountain's. Eagles soared ahead on the updrafts. Seagulls laughing. Chasing and fighting each other for a lone mussel.

My neck gasket warm and uncomfortable; relieved by the cool mist of rolling water inside the cave. Legs popped out over the sides of my kayak using small strokes to remain just out of reach of a small crashing swell.

Would be minute creeks transformed into crashing waterfalls. Tumbling to the sea; along whats known as " The Scrape". Just beyond I would find what I'd come to see.

Cripple rock.

5 men from Northern bay took to the ice in search of seals. The ice pack moved further and further from shore as the men hunted. Nightfall came. The 5 men walked all night to stay warm. To remain alive. Come Saturday as the sun rose; three of the group (two Hogans and a Fahey) could go no further. A Mr March and Hogan made it to cripple rock and rested before making the final cross on slob ice to solid land. Mr March could go no further; and succumb to the cold. Somehow Mr Hogan beyond all odds made it to Cape St. Francis lighthouse. The SS Hercules was dispatched finding two of the bodies; which were returned across Conception bay to their port of call.

 I stopped for supper just before nautical twilight. The cool fall night setting in; my stove glowing brightly reflecting off the gelcoat of my kayak. My shadow silouetted here onto a screen of piled boulders dancing as the the fames of my stove battled a light bay breeze at my feet. I couldn't help but imagine the stories that had unfolded in this little cove. Small snippets of the past never recorded.

My cadence lighting "fire on the water".  Millions of stars in the sky seemed to reflect the bioluminescence.

Two ol' skippers came down to see how my day went; and to pick up our conversation where we had left off earlier. From atop they hill they had seen my glow sticks bobbing outside the harbour on my approach and wanted to hear what it was like outside the bay.

A moment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Message in a bottle

A evolution of man. A demonstration of wonder. The beginning of ocean science. A cry for help. Things that were far from my mind with no nexus to my day as I launched from Isligton Trinity bay. Instead my mind was occupied with shattering slate cliffs crumbing into points; making impromptu caverns and perfect chairs in its disorganised beauty.

Last year my long time paddling buddy and me had paddled from our hometown to Isligton as a short day trip. Having a fully booked weekend due to the holiday; I decided to make a short trip along the coast down to Hearts desire and Hearts delight before turkey supper.

I mused of the naming of such places. The names most likely contrived to appeal to new immigrants. New workers to come from the English shores to happy sounding names. Romance quickly flattened as new comers stepped off ships onto the rocky shores faced with hard work and a long winter and frequent Native and French attacks. Hearts Desire. Hearts Delight. Hearts Content.

I landed at Gannet point just outside Hearts Desire to have a coffee. There's been topographical map's of this area for hundreds of years. Yet here lies places so close to roads and dwellings that have rarely ever been visited by humans. Fossils walked past without an acknowledgement of their existence. Treasure left behind by pirates. Things written history fails to mention. Things in the walking distance of people; who never even see the beauty right under their noses.

I first gave the plastic trash a soccer kick as I walked along the pristine beach. What I had thought at first was just a torn brand wrapper stuffed inside; looked kind of odd and seemed to rattle around as it bounced over boulders. I picked it up to see a message wrapped in a ziplock bag inside. I couldn’t help but laugh. In a world where my message can get across the world in mere seconds; a message lies on a beach waiting to be read. It isn't a "Like" or "Share" so easily discarded in a scanning glimpse. It commands to be acknowledged. As my fingers reached inside to grab the corner of the message I wondered where it could be from. I was like a child on Christmas morning!

I opened the letter to find it originating from a place where I was once offered water and conversation. A place which government decided was too far outside of the new provinces major centers to allow to exist. Ivanhoe; a small cove on the Island of Irelands eye on the opposite side of trinity bay. Seeing a familiar place name was far from a disappointment. It brought back some great memories of a simpler time a mere 3 years back. Where three friends who grew up together came back together to enjoy the outdoors (where we lived as children) and explore; pushed by desire to do as we once did.

I slipped the message into my kayak still smiling. I had planned on going a little further down the coast but the beaches had provided me enough story for my mental monologue for the day. An electric excitement of ideas in my head. I took my time scouring the shore; walking through blackberry bushes peeking into the tangled wind stunted evergreens. Peeling back shrubs to see what was in hiding as I passed.

"Messages in a bottle" that carried people to this land have evolved to pleasure craft today. These would once bring word from the old country, bring war and death, bring much needed supplies at a critical time. Much like a message in a bottle; some disappeared off the face of the earth. My family come from a long line of schooner builders here. Bottle builders for the sea of humanity. 

The wind increased and I wondered what the message in a bottle response would be as I paddled back to my car. I would surely be surprised by the commonality Mrs Smith and I share. So many things in our life intertwined; yet until today were perfect strangers. The sun buring through the clouds quickly descended into the evening sky; a perfect unfolding story.

Maybe we all need a message in a bottle to remind us just how much we all have in common with each other. Toss your message out. Say hi to the old gentleman on the bus or the lady behind you at the check out. Maybe your message will not get read; but maybe... just maybe someone out there will respond. 

Thanks Marie!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gale force winds = A day to practice

Issued 03:30 PM NDT 06 October 2011

East Coast - north of Cape St. Francis

Tonight and Friday Gale warning in effect.
Wind southwest 35 knots veering to northwest 35 before morning then diminishing to 25 Friday morning.

Today Tonight and Friday Seas 3 to 5 metres building to 5 to 7 early this evening then subsiding to 3 to 5 Friday evening.

Walls of water obscuring the wind between it's wave length. We set out from St.Philips into the biggest crashing water I've yet the pleasure to paddle.

 The wind and waves madefor some great surfing and made short return time back into the protected harbour.

And as clouds and waves rushed past; we headed back out into the bay.

A fantastic day of rolling and paddling in some great conditions.

As darkness fell we made another run before calling it a day.

Just a very quick post tonight folks. Ran out of  time to post getting ready for a weekend away from the city to celebrate Thanksgiving. I've got a ton to be thankful for on this earth; and a weekend of kayaking and family is a perfect way to reflect on that.

I wish everyone around the world a happy Canadian Thanksgiving/ Jour de l'Action de grĂ¢ce !!

I'll be back online next week with some more trip reports to share.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Maiden voyage along the carvings of water

Easterly wind 25 knots. My usual paddling haunt of the southern shore along the exposed coast seemed out of the question. None the less I poked my head into Petty Hr to confirm the marine forecast..... unfortunately I verified it's validity. A quick map check (ask my wife I do carry all my maps in the car most days) I decided I would head to St Philips and use the high topography along the eastern side of Conception bay to tuck away from the eastern wind. Soon enough my new Legend slipped into the clement brine for her maiden voyage.

Having a good look at my map I decided to check out Big freshwater cove. A blue line extended over a cascading headland; my mind pictured it's beauty. The ferry's MV Flanders and MV Beaumont Hamel (named after WW1 Battle honours of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment) plow the same waters U-513 and U 518 did. U-boats that attacked and sunk ships at Scotia Pier killing many mariners during during WW2. The ferrys floating monuments of now distant wars; that left no family untouched in the small country of Newfoundland.

Small caves dot the rugged coastline. Cliff's plunge deep into awaiting sea. While most of these tiny crevasses would be inaccessible in less than perfect conditions; I had a great opportunity to explore and relax in the carvings of the sea.

What was once a outport family garden where root vegetables flourished;  homes of downtown St. johns style and colour now dominate Wester point in Portugal cove. While voted the best coastal destination by National Geographic last year; the society cautioned that city growth was akin to a invasive species. The species has taken up shop here in Portugal cove; a outport just outside the city limits. Timing the crossings of the constant ferry traffic I made best speed across the mouth of Portugal cove harbour; and onto a coast where due to geography lies void of human signs.

Smooth granite polished by the roar and trickle of the seasons. Descending into 5 fathoms of deep cold North Atlantic. Displaying a bare stone path where forests cling in a communal effort against the elements on it's edges. Above sits Brock's head pond; a basin of cool fresh water. A docile tarn's power over the landscape is truly inspiring. 

Civil twilight changed landmarks into hues of blue. I contemplated a night crossing to Bell Island on my return leg. However the slow swell rocking me into a near trance of relaxation all day and a empty stomach changed my thoughts. I decided to shoot for Goats cove; one of the few easy takeouts carved into the shoreline. 

Landing just as darkness enshrouded the last signs of light; I brewed up some coffee and had a quick bite to eat. The fall chill crept into my bones as I sat; held at bay only by the warm infusion of supper. Snapping a few shots I was unsure if they would turnout. 

My new yak carefully placed (as a new kayak usually is) on the cobblestone. The treble of a small stream and bass of a large sea slowly shifting into the rock was a soundtrack to end my day.

Pulling in to St Philips the smell of wood burning stoves danced in wisps across my noise in the cool fall night. A town silent as evening news filled tepid living rooms. A silence broken only by the cadence of my paddle and trickle of wake from my bow. The flashing green channel marker displayed the end of my travels; a great relaxing day on the water. Another day on the edge of North America.  Another day to enjoy; and share.

(Track of today's journey)