It is 5 AM; sunrise is still an hour away but it is already starting to lighten in the east. A schooner has joined us in Kelly Cove; it arrived after dark and anchored a short distance away. We prepare Tivoli for a crossing; it’s 95 miles to Port aux Basque on the west end of the southern coast of Newfoundland. We hope to make it across by nightfall; should be easy with 17 hours of daylight at this latitude this time of year. I remove the stack cap and check the security of all items on the boat deck. Back into the pilothouse to fire up all the electronics and start the trusty Lugger; then out to the anchor to bring in 150 feet of chain and our 125-pound Rocna. As usual the anchor comes up with 100 pounds of mud and takes a bit of time to clean. Soon we are out in the inlet heading offshore. Current here can exceed 5 knots; it is running at 3 knots on the nose. There is significant turbulence in the water; whirlpools here and there that tug at Tivoli. I am steering manually to power through this maelstrom. Once clear of the narrow entrance the turbulence subsides and we slowly pick up speed as we escape the current. I engage the autopilot and we are on our way!
Bird Islands pass to our port; we toured these on our road trip. Though we saw hundreds of puffins and a minke whale on that trip today we see neither. The puffins head out to sea to spend the year; returning in the spring to nest. I guess they’ve flown the coop.
The Cabot Straights have a notorious reputation for being rough with frequent weather changes. I am a bit nervous but based on our weather data we expect relatively calm conditions and that is what we experienced. I even left the stabilizers off for the first 30 miles or so. We encounter a couple ferries and a single ship; no other pleasure boats in sight. As the day progressed the seas subsided even further. By the time we hail Port aux Basque Traffic on the VHF the sea is calm.
While enroute I notice the amp meter indicating 12VDC alternator load is reading zero. I take a handheld clamp-on amp meter down to the engine room and, sure enough, the alternator is not putting out any current even though the batteries are down. I start the genset to provide 12VDC to run our electronics and charge the batteries. We can wait and diagnose the alternator problem when we get in port.
As we near the coast Roam calls on the VHF and points out we are in a new time zone and should move our clocks ahead 30 minutes. 30 minutes? Usually time zones encompass a full hour. Sure enough, we are over 400 miles east of Bermuda and for some reason the Newfoundlanders opted for a 30 minute adjustment based on their latitude. Go figure.
We arrived well before before sunset at the Port aux Basque Town Wharf and tied up alongside. The wharf is mostly used by fishing boats and is rough. We have to contend with truck tire fenders and cleats big enough to moor a ship; but we are soon secure. The friendly locals helped us tie up and soon dozens more came down to the docks to see these unusual vessels visiting their home. Port aux Basque is a fishing town; not too picturesque by any means, but the inhabitants are very friendly. We enjoy chatting with the locals although understanding their dialect can be a bit challenging; a mixture of english and french it seems.
We spend a calm night at the dock and I get up early to diagnose and repair my alternator problem. I use the Balmar regulator troubleshooting guide and find that the regulator appears to pass muster while the alternator appears to be dead. I get out the tools and dig into this maintenance opportunity. In a couple hours the old alternator is replaced with a rebuilt spare. I do a brief test run at the dock and the replacement is putting out power; all is good. I then walk down the road to a marine supply place looking for another spare alternator; no joy. I walk to an automotive parts place; no joy. I’m thinking this isn’t fun but such is cruising; a mixture of incredible travel experiences and repairing one’s boat in exotic places.
Port aux Basque to Little Garia
We depart Port aux Basque around 10 AM. No need for an early start as we’ve chosen to anchor in Little Garia Bay, only 24 miles or so east along the coast. The choice was simply a matter of convenience; we opted not to run a full day and this stop was convenient. We arrive by mid-afternoon. Crossing the bar at the inlet’s entrance was a roller coaster ride. Tivoli seemed to point straight up one second and straight down the next. Of course a review of the pitch and roll data reveals a modest 5 degrees pitch up and down; sure seems worse when looking out the pilothouse windows. Thankfully the turbulence is brief and we enter a flat calm protected inlet maybe 5 miles long. We motor to the end and drop anchor. We are surrounded by verdant green hills and a rocky shoreline. Three small unoccupied fishing huts flank the bay; otherwise no sign of humanity We are alone here. Located at the end of a short inlet it is surrounded by forested hills. We anchor in clear water and enjoy a pleasant evening; pizza aboard Roam.
In the morning we weigh anchor and depart for a 50-mile run to Ramea Island. Our goal is to get further east along the southern coast to visit the more spectacular fjords. Our time is short and we want to visit the best before our return to Nova Scotia.
An hour into our journey Deanna heads to the salon and immediately shouts “I smell smoke”! That will get your attention offshore! I immediately throttle back to idle and race down to the engine room. Something is hot and it smells electrical. I grab the IR temperature gun and “shoot” the newly installed spare 12VDC alternator; sure enough it is 220F and rising. I run back to the pilothouse and see that the alternator amp monitor is showing zero; it is not putting out any amperage yet is getting hot. I chat with Clark on Roam and we agree the best approach is to disconnect the Balmar regulator so I race back down to the engine room and pull the plug. The temperature immediately starts to drop and is soon at the normal no-load temperature.
We are now down two alternators and must again rely on the generator to charge our house bank. Should it fail we would run the wing engine and use it’s small alternator to provide 12VDC. Redundancy is your friend!
As we run east along the coast we pass several remote villages until we reach the end of the coastal road out of Port aux Basque at Rose Blanche. From here on there are no roads; only ferry service connects the few outports remaining along this coast. Ramea Island is the only inhabited island between Port aux Basque and the French Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon (not French Canadian islands but French islands).
We arrive in Ramea and find the small community wharf filled with small boats. With space for only one of us Roam ties up alongside the wharf and we raft up with Roam.
Once again I”m on a scavenger hunt for an alternator. Thankfully there is cell phone service here so I spend all morning on the phone and find an alternator in Corner Brook. The auto parts dealer there kindly put it on a bus to the small coastal town of Burgeo to one of his customers there and we can pick it up in a day. People here are most resourceful and very helpful.
We enjoy dinner at a small diner in town and retire early after a long day.
Grey River is our first fjord in Newfoundland. A scant 20 mile run from Ramea this fjord runs 10 miles inland and splits into two major branches Northeast Arm and Southeast Arm. The entrance is very small; a crack between two mountains. It is visible on radar and is well marked as a ferry runs from Ramea to the small outport of Grey River; but it would be a bit nerve-wracking in solid fog. We turn into the steep fjord and find ourselves surrounded by vertical rock walls and forested mountains. Several miles into the fjord we pass the small village. There is a ferry dock here but no other dockage for transients. We head further up the fjord. Miles pass and as we weave our way deeper inland we are awed by the raw beauty of this place. One or two summer cabins; no people, no boats. We arrive at our intended anchorage and soon have the hook down and the tender launched. I’m snapping photos like a crazy man. This very much reminds me of videos I’ve seen of cruising Alaska but without the majestic snow-capped mountains and glaciers. Still, this is an awesome unspoiled wilderness, a place of incredible beauty that has not yet been overrun by tourists. This is what we came to see.
We would love to hang around and wait for the Jamboree to begin but it would make for a very late evening and a long cold run back to our boats in the tenders. We opt to head home but come to regret not taking the opportunity to hear some Newfoundlander music.
Next day we take a tender tour of several branches on this fjord “tree”. We motor 5 miles further north into NE Arm. A few summer cabins, no people, no boats, just the sound of two tender outboards humming along the coast. We spot three grey seals sunning on rocks; they quickly slip into the sea and disappear. We also explore Northwest Arm and Southeast Arm; more spectacular rugged beauty. We expect to see a moose or caribou stroll out of the woods but, alas, no such luck.
A short hop east along the coast and one arrives at a beautiful little fjord at the end of which lies the charming outport of Francois. This harbor is simply stunning. One enters a narrow inlet and leaves the swells behind for the calm flat water of the fjord. Motor four miles past craggy cliffs, forested mountains, rocky coasts, and one arrives at the picturesque village. Perched on the edge of the sea and surrounded by 1000-foot granite peaks this outport looks as though it were located in the caldera of a volcano. Two magnificent waterfalls dominate the bay; the largest runs right through town while the second cascades down a mountainside across the bay. Small brightly colored fishing boats line the harbor, pulled up wooden ramps above the tide line. Brightly colored homes dot the hillsides. The school and church are prominent. Wooden boardwalks provide walkways for the residents and “roads” for four-wheelers. The boardwalks are everywhere including crossing the waterfall and leading to the community landfill. The remoteness of Francois doesn’t appear to have much impact on the residents. They have a diesel generator plant providing electricity, satellite TV, and internet. Of course, if you want to go anywhere its a 5-hour ferry ride to the next outport and a 12-hour drive to the largest town in Newfoundland, St. John’s. Not surprisingly the town’s young people generally leave and don’t return so eventually Francois will die like so many other fishing villages that once dotted the landscape along this barren coast. The Canadian government typically offers residents of these last remaining outports $275K to relocate. The cost to provide transport, health care, education, etc. is daunting so it’s cheaper to buy out the residents and move them to larger communities. One can find many abandoned outports along this coast. Homes, schools, banks, left empty; ghost towns. Still, 80% of the residents have to agree to relocate and Francois’s inhabitants are toughing it out. Interestingly, many of the homes are summer cabins owned by Canadians from far and wide; intent on spending a few weeks in the summer in this magnificent fjord.
I learn I can have my new alternator put on a ferry in Burgeo and shipped to Francois. It cost me $2.75 and a local resident, Darren, delivered it to our boat on his 4-wheeler. Did I mention Newfoundlanders are incredibly friendly and helpful, not to mention resourceful?
We depart Francois on another sunny day. No fog. Such luck! We turn east along the coast for our last stop along this rugged coast, Hare Bay and Morgan’s Arm. Another entry into a magnificent scene.
Clark and Michelle climb the rocks flanking Morgan’s falls and take their dogs for walks on the beach. We take hundreds of photos but find it difficult to really capture the beauty.
It is time to head back to Nova Scotia, a 200 mile overnight run to Baddeck Our time here was limited and we’ve been lucky to have excellent weather the entire 10 days we explored the coast. A pleasant crossing of Cabot Straights, sunny days, cool nights. The little fog and the rain we did get occurred at night. Couldn’t have been better.
We download satellite weather data and determine leaving a day early would make for an easy crossing. Waiting one day would make the trip miserable. So at first light we weigh anchor and get underway. Of course, Tivoli’s anchor came up with 1000 pounds of tree limbs, pine branches, kelp and mud. I didn’t anticipate needing a chainsaw on Tivoli. It took 30 minutes of heavy labor to pull, push, and wash all the muck off the chain so that the anchor can be stowed. Small price to pay for the privilege of spending time in Morgan’s Arm.
The inlet is flat calm as is the sea. We are expecting calm seas and remarkably that is what we get; couldn’t have ordered better conditions. In fact, the entire 200 mile run was in calm seas. Even the entry into the narrow current and whirlpool inlet at Big Bras d’ Or was smooth. A short 20 mile run down the lake brings us back to Baddeck.
What a remarkable journey it has been. We’ve had the good fortune to travel with Clark and Michelle Haley on N47 Roam from Palm Beach FL to Bermuda for the America’s Cup to Nova Scotia then on to Newfoundland. We’ve enjoyed every minute of their company and every minute of the journey. We’ve been privy to extraordinary sights, sounds, food and people. Newfoundland’s “Fjord Coast” is by far the most spellbinding destination we’ve encountered. It’s wild desolation, remote outports, and stunning vistas are well worth the effort needed to cruise these grounds. In our brief 10-day visit we saw maybe 2-3 other cruising vessels. There is no better way to see such remote areas of the world than by boat (and I’d recommend a Nordhavn). The long hours of planning and the months of preparation culminated in a remarkable experience.
Now then, where should we take Tivoli next?