Sailing Newfoundland Part 1
Screeching In at Rocky Harbour
We left Ile Quarry when the fog started rolling in. We felt apprehensive about the prospect of venturing into this dense mist. Little did we realize, we were about to become masterful captains navigating through countless days of sailing in maritime pea soup.
Our trip to Newfoundland from the Mingan Archipelago was about a 40-hour sail across the Bay of St. Lawrence. We timed it right to arrive in daylight. It was calm and we did a fair amount of motor sailing. It was just us and the whales for two days. No other ships were spotted by eye or radar. We were treated to a spectacularly clear night, the stars and Milky Way were incredible to behold.
Sunrise over Newfoundland
Newfoundland came into sight just as the sun rose. I thought my night shift went exceptionally fast. At one point I checked the time and it was 2:30 am. The next minute it was 4 am. I thought the book I was reading must be that good! Little did I realize we had crossed a new time zone. Newfoundland is an hour and a half earlier than Eastern time.
We pulled into Rocky Harbour, a small town located on the western coast of Newfoundland.. It is situated within Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its stunning natural beauty. Rocky Harbour serves as the gateway to the park and is a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to various attractions and outdoor activities.
The town is nestled between the Long Range Mountains and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, providing visitors with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes. The area is characterized by rugged cliffs, fjords, forests, and pristine lakes, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. Rocky Harbour is next to the mouth of Bonne Bay and a spectacular fjord.
In addition to its natural wonders, the community is known for warm hospitality and friendly locals., which we found right from the start.
The Very Busy Dock
There are no marinas in Newfoundland, just big, hefty docks (Town docks, government docks, fish factory docks). At low tide (which is when we came in), the dock was a good five feet above the boat. The only way to tie off is to throw lines to someone up top or get the boat close enough to a ladder so a crew member (me) can scurry up with a line and quickly tie off.
The dock was very full already. There was another sailboat there, two huge motor cruisers, and a plethora of small fishing boats. I wasn’t sure there was room for us. Fortunately, a local named Jerry happened to see us coming in and came down to help. He waved us over to a spot, caught the lines, and tied us on.
It was at this point we were treated to Newfie speak for the first time. Newfoundlanders have an Irishy accent, talk very quickly, and use a lot of, unknown to us, slang. It takes some real listening to figure out what they are talking about. Jerry heard a lot of “Pardons” “Could you repeat that?” “Say again, I didn’t quite catch that.”
After time, we picked up an ear for it. Our favorite expression is how they greet each other. “Whadda ya at?” Is the question. And the proper response, always, is “Dis is it.” So perfect. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing, “Dis is it.” You would think with a conversation like that they were short of words, but nothing could be farther from the truth, Newfies are extremely verbose!
The Harbour Master
The docks in Newfoundland are run by a local Harbour Master. It is the boat crew’s duty to track down the Harbour Master and let them know you are there. Even though they already know, because everyone in town already knows you are there, word travels fast. The Harbour Master sets the price for the stay. It ranged in price from $10 a night to $2 a meter (which is $24 a night for us). In Burgeo, June, the harbour master, told us the price is usually $1 per foot ($40 for us, which is an outrageously high Newfoundland price). But she gave us a deal. $20 the first night, $15 the second, and $10 the third. Very fair.
Though we had been up the whole night before sailing into Rocky Harbour, we were excited to walk around and check the place out. We were a bit giddy. It is quite a surreal feeling to sail out of our home port in Sodus Point, NY, and end up walking around a small fishing village in Newfoundland!
We decided to get breakfast at a diner in town to talk to more locals and learn more about the place. Dave wanted to know if there was any live music around. Newfoundlanders are famous for their musicality. Our waitress told us the hotel across the street had live music every night and that Tuesday nights (it was Tuesday) were the best. Another Dave, played there at something called a Kitchen Party. She told us we had to go and get “Screeched In”. And so, we did.
Dave shaking it during the Men's Dance
The Kitchen Party turned out to be an absolute blast! It is a can't-miss event if you ever find yourself in Rocky Harbour. It started out as “normal” entertainment. The musician Dave (too many Daves) came out and played his keyboard and sang a couple of standard Newfoundland songs (think Irish ballads). We were enjoying it very much. Then he put out a call for anyone in the room to come up and sing, dance, play, tell a joke or do whatever they wanted. It was, after all, “our Kitchen Party, not his”. There were no takers.
That didn’t deter him, he started passing out musical instruments to everyone in the audience. You got either a tambourine, spoons or a stick for pounding the floor (it’s a real Newfoundland instrument, look it up). I got a tambourine and Dave got the spoons. The room sounded like my old kindergarten classroom, with everyone shaking and banging their instruments at once.
The musical Dave, played Sweet Caroline, and everyone found their own rhythm with their instruments and sang at the top of their lungs.
The ice was broken.
Now when Dave put out another call for entertainers, a man came forward. It was John from Albany, NY. We hooted and hollered for our fellow New Yorker. He took the guitar and played for his wife on their 30th wedding anniversary “Ain’t No Sunshine when She’s Gone”. He was fantastic and the crowd went wild. He followed up with “Proud Mary” which got people up out of their chairs, dancing.
Dave, the musical host, wanted to know if there were any other Americans in the room. Dave and I stood up. He made us and John from Albany and his wife come up and sing “Country Roads” together. It was hilarious and really fun.
More and more performers stepped up from the crowd. The dancing continued the rest of the night.
The Screeching Hour arrived. There were about eight others getting Screeched-In with us. John from Albany (his wife sat this one out) and a crowd of Ontario people (including two other Dianes).
We had to take an oath:
“I (state your name), being only three quarters in me right mind,
Do swear upon me soul to uphold the charter of Honarary Newfoundlanders:
To drink screech regularly every Sunday for a Fartnight:
And to honor and respect me codfodders and me codmodders till the day I dies,
So Help me Lard.”
We had to do a shot of Screech rum,
dance a jig,
kiss a cod fish,
And sing a line from our favorite song.
We are official Screechers and we have the certificates to prove it!
We had arrived on the last day of lobster season, making our dock incredibly busy with fishermen. They hauled up crate after crate of lobster by the jib crane on the dock. We lightened their catch by two and enjoyed a lovely dinner on our boat.
We visited the Gros Morne National Park Center next door to the dock. We bought season passes to the park because it was cheaper than getting two Day Passes. We were excited to hike the trails in this amazing place. Turns out we never needed to show our pass since we went everywhere on foot but we were happy to support this amazing area.
Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse
Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse
We hiked out to the Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1897 and played a crucial role in guiding ships safely through the treacherous waters of the Gulf. The lighthouse has exhibits on the families who lived there and about the lumberjack days of Newfoundland. Around the lighthouse are beautiful hiking trails. These short trails lead to hidden outcrops with breathtaking vistas of wide open ocean and rocky beaches. We took one that led us down to the tide pools. We found crabs, sand dollars, urchins, and snails.
On our final night, the wind picked up to about 30 knots. Our boat was being blown hard onto the dock. The waves were pushing the boat up and down the wooden and steel dock. Mark and his friends showed up. They moved fishing boats on the other side of the dock making room for us on the calmer side. Mark told Dave exactly how to maneuver the boat to get off the dock in the howling winds and swell with a giant motor yacht behind us. We squeezed into the calm side. We were very thankful.
Mark showed up later when we moved to the next town of Norris Point and offered us his friend’s mooring ball.
We would go on to be amazed by the friendliness and giving nature of Newfoundlanders. The reputation they earned on 9/11 and showcased in the musical, Come From Away, is real. The journey continues in Norris Point, NL.