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Thursday, August 17, 2017

A tale of two humpbacks


Its been a while since I attended Wednesday evening practice at St. Philips.  Early in the year the turnout had been very thin and I honestly lost interest.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find two newcomers last evening.  Wednesday evenings for me are all about a safe environment for newer paddlers to build on their skills.  As such then, if there is even one new paddler showing up its an incentive to keep it going.


As it was flat calm we decided to go for a relaxed paddle.


I really like the colour scheme on Jenns kayak, after the orange of mine *lol*.


Paul, one of the newer paddlers.  He spent a lot of time in the pool last winter which indicates to me he wants to learn.

I generally want to paddle with people with good kayak skills, especially when conditions dictate.  But, I also want to give people who want to learn an avenue to paddle.  I'm certain Paul will get invites when the conditions are right.


Also new to the Wednesday evening group is Mark.  Another reason to keep these sessions going.


And then we got the surprise of the evening.  Paddling slowly along the shore we spotted two humpbacks out in the bay.  We paddled out to where they were feeding and waited or them to surface which ...


... they did with regular frequency.  I hoped for a tail shot but they were too busy feeding near the surface so this is pretty much all we saw of them except the occasional spout.


After sending some time with the whales we paddled back to St. Philips as the sun was setting totally thrilled with the close, unexpected encounter with the two humpbacks.

So, I'm reinvigorated for Wednesday evening practices.  They will continue into October.

Jenn sent me a couple of video clips she recorded of the whales surfacing:

video

Thursday, August 3, 2017

One whiff of a whale


Wednesday was a municipal holiday in St. John's.  Five of us decided to go for a paddle rather than take in the festivities at the annual Royal St. John's Regatta.  Clyde, Dean, Hazen, Ron and I drove to Tors Cove with the hopes of seeing some humpback whales around the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve.


We left the beach in Tors Cove and paddled through the Gut between Fox Island and the mainland.  There was a bit of swell running creating clapotis, rebounding waves, off of the island.


There didn't seem to be a plan but we just headed for Great Island in the distance.  Away from Fox Island the confused sea settled down.


We arrived at Great Island at the ...


... Cribby Rocks which we ...


... paddled around.


The intention was then to paddle along the exposed eastern side of Great Island where it got rather large.  It was a good spot to practice a rescue before we decided to return to ...


... and paddle through the Cribby Rocks.


Along the east shore of Great Island it was calm under the guano covered cliffs of sandstone.  It was along here that we spotted the one and only indication of a whale and that was only a solitary spout in the distance.


The seabirds are nesting at this time of year.  The sky seemed full of puffins and hundreds floated on the water, though, to get the idea, you will need to click on the picture to enlarge.


We arrived at the south end of the island.  I decided to paddle out far enough to catch sight of the great leaning slot.


That was pretty much the day.  We left Great Island for Ship Island where the other guys stopped for a break whereas I carried on back to Tors Cove with other plans for the remainder of the day.

The whales are about but its often a hit or miss situation.  This day was a miss but still a good day in the kayaks.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Isle Valen: A summary


Blogger lets you put in labels for each post but if the same label is used for a series then the posts come up in reverse order.  Therefore, I'm posting a summary of my four day solo trip to Isle Valen with links to each day so the posts can be viewed in sequential order.

Day 1; July 17: Garden Cove to Ship Island - 24.7 kms.

Day 2; July 18: Ship Island to Isle Valen - 32.1 kms.
                          A look around Isle Valen

Day 3; July 19: Isle Valen to Browns Cove, Bar Haven Island - 41.3 kms.

Day 4; July 20: Browns Cove to Garden Cove - 16.9 kms.

Four day total of 115 kms.

Totally awesome trip and experience!!!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Isle Valen: Journey complete


Wednesday I landed a Browns Cove on Bar Haven Island.  As I set about making supper it began to drizzle lightly.  It eventually stopped and I had my campfire.  During the night I was awaken by rain beating on the tent.  Oh well, I thought, I'm 17 kms from completing the trip and rain wasn't going to put a damper on it.

Morning came and I must have paid my dues because I woke to sunshine.


The tent was in shadow but south of the cove the sun was making its mark.


I was only 17 kms from the take out and I had only one stop to make on the way.  I had lots of time to have a leisurely breakfast and take my time breaking camp.  I put-in and left the cove heading back to the mainland on the Burin Peninsula.


I was back at LaPlante Cove where I stopped for lunch four days earlier on my way south to Isle Valen.  This time I didn't stop but paddled inside of a small island claimed by a cabin owner.


To starboard the tip of Bar Haven Island was left behind and Little Woody Island floated on the horizon.


As I made my way north I kept an eye on the map to make sure I identified Soldiers Cove.  Here it was, not much of a cove but people made an attempt to settle here in 1911.  It was a small "community" as the census for 1921 listed 18 individuals in 3 families.  I didn't see much room for expansion and maybe it wasn't such a good idea in the first place as the cove was abandoned in 1945.


And so I arrived at Rattling Brook Falls.  I was stopping here for a dip, for, if you only checked this out from the seat of your kayak you missed the best part.


In 2009 I was here with Allison, Peter and Stan.  I was newish but Allison and Peter knew about the swimming hole above the falls.  Then I didn't have swim gear so I had a dip in my drysuit.  This time I came prepared with swim trunks.  I got out of my paddling gear, put on my trunks and light footwear and walked up around to ..


... what is a natural infinity pool.


I had a sweet swim and a most enjoyable treat on the last day of my solo expedition to Isle Valen.


I was sped along the last four kms by a tail wind that created small surfable waves.  The end of the trip was close at hand at the north end of Sound Island.  I turned around the point and made for ...


... Garden Cove.


Like all good things, they have to come to an end.  I had four super days with a bit of everything.

Its not recommended to paddle alone.  IMHO, its not recommended for unexperienced paddlers to paddle alone.  I've paid my dues with practice in all kinds of conditions.  I had two short solo trips last year.  This year it was building on what I learned, not only about solo tripping but also about myself.  I was alone but never lonely.

I checked the weather forecast each day the previous week.  It was clear a stable air mass had moved in.  I planned a four day trip but I had supplies for more days.  There's always some risk involved in every undertaking.  The key is to minimize the risk through good judgement, skill development, reliable back-up plans and all the recommended safety gear.

Its up to the individual to assess the risk - reward equation.  When the rewards outweigh the risk its time to take the leap.

I'm glad I did with this trip!!!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Isle Valen: Thank you


I got into Isle Valen on Tuesday and discovered there was no cell phone service.  I was concerned that if I had to wait a few days to get out my wife would be worried I hadn't made contact.

With that weighing on my mind I decided to pack everything I didn't need for the night stay, hit the hay early and planned as early a morning departure as possible.  The wind continued to buffet the tent and sometime overnight the wind dropped.

I awoke at 4:30, packed my sleeping bag, air mattress and tent, put on my kayak gear and Stardust was ready to face the day.  It was foggy!


At 5:10 I was on my way wondering about sea state.  Near the entrance it seemed the fog was even thicker.  I knew I wouldn't be losing touch with the shoreline and luckily the sea was flat calm making that possible.


I decided on following the south shore of Isle Valen east and then north.  I knew I was going to have to make a blind crossing back to the Burin Peninsula in fog.  I had a map and a bearing to get to Deep Cove but I liked the comfort of knowing near the end of the island it bent in the direction I wanted to go so all I had to do was depart on the same bearing I held on the last bit of coast.


At Beachy Cove Head almost an hour after leaving the fog seem to lift a bit as entered Pete Cove.


The fog lifted further until I got to the northern tip of the island and beyond the fog thickened.  I launched out ...


... into the soup trusting my compass and I also had a backstop to rely on.  It was a 2 km crossing so I knew that if I didn't make landfall at the end of 20 - 25 minutes I had better take a more aggressive track to port.

Twenty minutes after leaving Isle Valen I could hear birds singing but still couldn't see land.  I paddled a bit further and it loomed out of the fog.


At 8:10 I had been on the water for 3 hours and I had not yet eaten breakfast.  Ladder Cove offered one of only a few places to get off of the water along the coast.  Just on speculation I took out my cell phone and on this isolated beach remarkably I managed to place a phone call.  That was a relief!  Then I set about cooking up some ...


... seaweed stew!!!  Just kidding.  I had porridge and a cup of tea and cleaned my pot with seaweed.  Refueled and ready to carry on I continued on along the fog shrouded coast maintaining close contact with just shadows at times until ...


... a couple of boats loomed out of the fog in Davis Cove which confirmed where I was.  I kept track of where I was by counting off the blocks on my topo by 10 minute, 1 km, intervals for 12 kms after making landfall.


Four kilometers on the fog dissipated at Great Sandy Harbour so I could made the crossing across the mouth of the harbour before landing at Gulch Pond and lunch time.


Reinvigorated after a good meal and a cup of tea I crossed over to Bar Haven Island and my paddling day ended after 42 kms at Browns Cove.


The day brightened with off and on sunshine.  I set up my tent and collected some ...


... firewood.  There was lots on the beach so I collected enough to start a fire and add more as the fire was burning.


After eating supper, which I did in a bit of drizzle every now and then, I got the festivities underway.  Oh ya, entertainment for the night.


I burned quite a lot of wood, some of it big sticks so I stopped piling on more wood and let it burn down to die before I hit the sleeping bag.

The day that started out with some trepidation resolved into a day of fulfillment unlike any I've had in a kayak up to then.  I felt great and the song "Thank You" by Alanis Morissette came to mind:

"Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence"

 I sang it but substituted "Isle Valen" for "India".

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Isle Valen: A short look


The narrow entrance to Isle Valen Harbour did not escape me in the fog as I found my way in.  My first impression was that the harbour was hemmed in on all sides by either vertical rock walls or steeply upsloping banks.


Here's a screen capture from Google Earth showing the layout of the harbour.  I ended up finding just enough flat ground to pitch my tent (in the northeast end of the harbour) ...


... by the side of the water.  There was level ground further away but a longish carry uphill.

The next thing I did was to try to call home to say I had arrived safe and sound.  I climbed to the highest hill without finding any service.  That made me a little concerned that people may worry.  You see, I wasn't 100% sure I'd get out in the morning an I already heard from the attendant at Garden Cove that he had been stranded here for 30 days a number of years ago.


The fog started to lift just a bit so as I came down from the top of the hill I got some photos.  Here you can see how the harbour is hemmed in by steep cliffs.


Here was an option with some level ground but a long carry from the kayak.

I was getting the real Placentia Bay experience where fog is a regular companion.  I would have enjoyed a bit of sunshine and more walking access around the harbour but it was what it was and like any lady dolled up, the harbour in sunshine would look a lot better and, to prove it, heres a link to sunshine photos of Isle Valen.



Isle Valen was settled in the early 1800's with the census for 1836 showing 167 persons.  The population peaked at 289 in 1857 and thereafter began a steady decline.  By 1921 the population declined to 184 individuals in 38 families.  by 1945 the population was down to 147 and completely resettled in the late 1960's.

This is the only house left behind as a common practice of resettlement was to float and tow houses to new communities.  I went to have  ...


... look inside.  This room looked like it could have been used as a dining room used for special occasions.  The sideboard still had some old dinner ware stacked on it.

I wondered what family lived here and decided to just leave everything behind.  The census for 1935 shows the predominant family surnames were Bennett, Gaulton, Leonard, Lockyer and Williams.  Was it one of them?


Turns out the mother of a friend of my wife was born there and is listed in the 1935 census: Mabel Williams, age 16, daughter of John and Julia.  They also had a son named Jethro, age 23.


The census of 1945 shows son Jethro married and with a new child named Doreen which is also the name of my wife's friend, but not surnamed Williams.

The stairs looked safe enough to climb but I didn't investigate upstairs where the bedrooms were.


Here's the entry to the kitchen, the paint still looking pretty fresh after about 50 years.


The kitchen stove!  This would be the central focus, and warmest room, of the house.  Everyday meals would be eaten here and guests entertained.

I have been to many resettled communities and have always wondered how people managed to eek out a living and survive in Newfoundland's isolated outports.  Some places had good arable land, others not so much.  Here in Isle Valen I couldn't see how anyone could even plant a few pototoes to fill a barrel let alone to feed a family for a year.  I take my hat off to their memory.

So much of Newfoundland's history is in these resettled communities.  Granted we have census records but so many stories of survival, how people lived and appreciation for the tenacity of the residents is being lost.

I always feel we have it pretty cushy by Isle Valen of yesterday standards.