Wednesday, January 31, 2007

from battlefield to babes

january 30, 2007

So here we are on the flanks of historic Signal Hill - a designated National Historic Site - an iconic place for most Newfoundlanders (and recently
voted best place to make out and, well, also best place to splitzo) and one that tops the must-visit list of tourists. The proposed redevelopment of the Battery Hotel galvanized residents in 2005 when a developer wanted to build a 10-storey brute of a building. That developer, Rick Butler, has since purchased the hotel, painted part of it red and added this life-size poster to one side. As one resident has put it:

"Rick Butler now owns the [Battery] hotel...and that sign on the side is scaring the hell out of me. . . he thinks he is still inCalifornia. Next week there will be valets on roller skates . Maybe avisit in February will remind him where the Battery is . Talk about a cultural slap in the face! That sign is a HUGE warning of this guy's mentality and how unaware he is. "

Just hope this babe doesn't try doing that in St. John's harbour - she could hit a nasty bubble.

On the victory side, residents of Quidi Vidi - just the other side of Signal Hill, have won a victory over further inappropriate development in their historic village.

Monday, January 29, 2007

cabin fever?

(photo taken at little heart's ease, by john knight)

january 29, 2007

you know when my kids - especially #2, the son - start jumping around the house it's time to chuck them outdoors. go build a snow fort-shovel snow-put out the compost-sled down the neighbours back garden-look for flickers, whatever. goodness knows what my excuse is.

snow is continuing in st. john's. cabin fever could be setting in.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Newman Sound

january 21, 2007

The three of us were out to feast our eyes on the wild blue - a field of wild irises, that is. The July 1st weekend should have put us there - in Newman Sound in Terra Nova National Park - at the right time (see my story in Kanawa, summer 2003). As it turned out, we were a couple of days early, the lips were barely opened. But we found a rich intertidal environment brimming with comb jellies, starfish, limpets, sea urchins and anemones grouped like baked apples on a platter, all in a garden of gold rockweed and other seaweeds. And good swimming (okay, not in the ocean but found a couple of clear ponds to bathe in), great back country camping (complete with much-needed bear hangers), and an old deserted community to wander around (Minchin's Cove is still full of slab wood and rusty engine parts from an old sawmill, a few graves and root cellar depressions from the former community).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ragged Harbour & the brass button man

july 2002 I took the family on a road trip 'all around the circle' like the song. One of our first stops was at the cabin of a friend, well-known musician Eric West. His little cabin in Ragged Harbour is but a 15-mins drive from his home in Ladle Cove on the straight shore. Across from Fogo Island. Well, it's too hard to describe to those not familiar with Newfoundland but suffice to say it's pretty rugged by even Newfoundland standards. Bakeapple-bog flats behind, cold ocean beyond - I was standing on a thin wedge of terra-maybe-firma.
Anyway, Eric graciously loaded us up with goods from his freezer - moose, caplin, greens, his mum's homemade bread, cake, squares. We were good. I squeezed the car over the mussel-laden dirt road and it farted to a stop in front of his emerald-green cabin. Kids piled out and quickly got a beach fire started for dinner. That night Eric joined us and we sat in the dark as he played guitar, enthralling the kids with his many songs including the 'Brass Button Man' - a song that sent gleeful shivers down the kids' backs as they thought about this strange fellow on Duck Island - not far from where we were now staying.
Eric is also a paddler, and we'd planned a couple of day paddles. The wind had other plans so we kept our kayaking and canoeing short in the sheltered reaches of this bay.
But Ragged Harbour left its imprint on me. And the few days spent there - watching the kids make inukshuks on an island at low tide, eating meals on the rocky beach, and revelling in thunderstorm backlighting the tuckamore - turned into a short story, 'Products of Erosion ', that was published last summer in The Nashwaak Review.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

KNL's Annual Retreat

january 17, 2007

The May 24th Weekend. It's a big one in Newfoundland. I'm certain in other places they're raising a glass to Queen Victoria. But here for many folks it's about pitching a tent (or parking in the RV) in a provincial park and enjoying a few beers with friends. Not my cup of tea but each to her own. For paddlers, it means a weekend based out of cabins in Traytown near Terra Nova National Park; the opportunity to paddle the ocean or rivers, take a stroke or river-running clinic, participate in a day paddle with new and old paddling buddies, enjoy a cold beer at the end of the day, throw a frisbie, dance in the pub on saturday night, take in a banquet dinner with a guest speaker (fab kayakers like Justine Curgenven and Ruth Gordon) sunday night, and wake up hungry monday morning while the KNL board of directors cooks up an open-air pancake breakfast.

Yeah, cold days like this I'm looking forward to this May 24th - Kayak Newfoundland & Labrador's 7th Annual Retreat. About 100 paddlers of both sea and WW persuasion come out to the retreat. The location is ideal: two rivers nearby offer great WW runs and where they spill out to the ocean, offer the opportunity for sea kayakers to practise some moving water skills. And the rocky coastline is riddled with bays, coves, arms, inlets and fjords aligned in different directions so there's usually somewhere to paddle even when it's blowing. It may snow, rain, hail (paddled in all three one year) or be blistering hot. And if it's really too windy to paddle, well there's lots of hiking trails to go on in the nearby national park.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

habits of mating murres and other quandaries

january 11, 2007

So, when you say they’re monogamous, is it a year-round commitment?

Seabird biologist and Canadian Wildlife Service research scientist Greg Robertson didn’t get his feathers in a flap for this (“no, it’s a summer romance”) or any of the other more, well, scientific questions put to him at tonight's lecture, the first of KNL’s 2007 winter series, entitled “bull-birds, tinkers and turrs.”

An entire colony of paddlers turned up to learn about Newfoundland seabirds, their ecology and how to tell them apart. I was fascinated by the talk – and the continuing bombardment of questions from the floor – and learned a whole lot more about species population, trends and problems (e.g. which species are more susceptible to oil spills, ghost nets, hunting, etc.).

And it turns out, kayakers can be hazardous to many of these marine birds. Kayaks allow us to get close to a cliff-dwelling colony without being detected - at first – but chances are a flock of startled seabirds could fatally dislodge their eggs from nooks and crannies. I was startled to learn just how few eggs most of these species lay (1 or 2). Just a few paddles by a few kayakers to an island or cliff colony at the wrong time of year could potentially decimate a local population. Something to think about. Greg suggested approaching islands straight on rather than surprising any nesting birds, and not to lunch at any bird breeding islands. Well, that makes sense. Small things we kayakers can do to help the survival of our feathered friends on the water.

At the same time, the coastline of Newfoundland offers kayakers a marvellous opportunity to observe seabirds - from an appropriate distance. Every year, millions of seabirds travel here.

In the autumn, many come here from the high Canadian arctic and Greenland. In the spring, swarms of them cluster in the bays and along the coastline (Artic terns, for example, arrive after a lengthy trip from Antarctica). Over the spring and summer it's possible to see gannets, murres, guillemots, kittiwakes, herring gulls, black-backed gulls, puffins (the province is home to about 95 per cent of the continent's Atlantic puffins), razorbills, loons, eider ducks, cormorants, bald eagles, ospreys, the list is near endless. Way more than I know.

Above photos: top one is Cape St. Mary's (from Cackle TV) - humungous gorgeous hunk of rock seething with birds on the southern Avalon, Newfoundland - easily accessible by foot - includes one of the largest Gannet colonies in the world. Other two are from website of Dr. Bill Montevecchi, a University Research Professor of Pyschology, Biology and Ocean Sciences at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Hope he doesn't mind my using them!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Circumnavigating Bell Island

january 10, 2007

Circumnavigating Bell Island can be a challenging paddle, particularly around the northern end when there's a good swell on and northerly winds. Just happened to be the case the day I paddled it with friends back in '03. I'd been out on a night paddle the evening before. Got home around 2am to a phone message 'we're paddling around Bell Island tomorrow - meet us at the ferry at 9am if you're interested'.

Well, of course I was, and what's a little lack-of-sleep. It was Regatta Day (so several people had the day off from work), sunny with some clouds. Winds started at 20km NW. We loaded up our boats after taking the 20mins ferry ride and at 10:30am headed north for a counter-clockwise circumnavigation (about 26km if I recall). Hit with swells of about 8ft with chop around the north head of the island - this is the challenging spot, there's a nasty shoal at one side, sheer cliffs and no take-out for about 2 hrs from the put-in. We gave the breaking shoal a wide birth, then surfed into a beach for lunch - one member who's a terrific paddler got seasick on this first stretch - and an hour-plus lay-down after clambouring through a mining tunnel and up onto a meadow. Geology of Bell Island makes a fantastic paddle - cathedral cliffs worn in folds like curtains, sea caves, massive sea stacks. The mesa-like sandstones of Bell Island are an anomaly in this Avalon region of mainly granite and shales.

While we surfed a good part of the western side on following seas, by the time we made the southern end it was dead calm. Rounding the end and paddling up the eastern side, the winds had changed to NE (isn't that always the way) but they weren't much to bother about. We were off the water shortly after 5pm - except for Mark D who poo-pooed the ferry and paddled over from the 'mainland' and back! I was paddling with some of Newfoundland's finest paddlers, had challenged myself to go beyond my comfort level - and went home feeling great.

The following excerpt is from Geological Guide to Newfoundland & Labrador:

Bell Island is close to the city of St. John's, and yet it represents a separate world with its own interesting mining history. The ferry to Bell Island runs about every 45 minutes from Portugal Cove, and the trip makes a pleasant day outing. A useful billboard map of the island stands at the bottom of the steep hill at the ferry terminal on the island.

The beach area immediately north of the ferry terminal is backed by high cliffs of Ordovician shale and crossbedded sandstone, appropriately called the Beach Formation. These rocks were formed in an ancient tidal environment where a variety of animals lived. Signs of these animals may be seen in trilobite tracks, worm burrows and shell fragments on the flat surfaces of fallen slabs.

Drive on up the steep hill from the wharf, turn right on East End Road, then right on Lighthouse Road to visit the lighthouse at the north end of the island. Park at the barrier and look east at the cliff face on the large detached block. The same reddish, gently dipping beds seen on the beach are present below, overlain by a band of grey, quartz-rich sandstone.

Proceed back along Lighthouse Road, turning right at East End Road, and follow it into the town of Wabana. Several large murals on public buildings depict scenes from Bell Island's history. The oldest open-pit iron mine, opened in 1895, lies off to your right as you drive straight through the town. Surface ore ran out in 1902, and mining descended underground, following the west-dipping, iron-rich layers as far as 3 km out under Conception Bay toward Carbonear. Beyond the west end of Wabana, just before the Trade School and another mural, Airport Road branches right. A short distance down it, to the right, is the entrance to one of the inclined shafts, dating from 1916. The iron mines eventually closed in 1966.

Lance Cove, on the southeast side of the island, was first settled by farmers and fishermen in the early 1700s.

Other beautiful photographs of Bell Island, from clifftops, available here.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

out with the old

january 7, 2006

... in with the new.

And so we bid adieu to the twelve days of Christmas. (And son Ezra's tooth.) No snow yesterday, old Christmas Day, so we went biking. Imagine! And our tradition of burning Christmas trees in a big bonfire at Middle Cove Beach (we grab trees tossed aside on the streets of St. John's, ours stays up for quite a while yet) was likewise rained out. However, I enjoyed a fabulous 12th night party at a friend's place in the Battery - just around the corner from me - with lots of musicians to cheer in a new year.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Memories of Woody

January 5, 2007

Woody Island, Placentia Bay. It conjures up a bunch of thoughts. Jim Price and lodge owner Loyola Pomeroy organize the annual kayaker's weekend there in April. They even have a boat to follow the paddlers and bring them lunch! But Woody also makes a great day-paddle in the summer.
From the put-in at Garden Cove, it's leisurely 2-3 hour paddle to this resettled island. (And if you call Loyola ahead of time, you can order lunch - complete with toutons - at Woody Island Resort.) Oh, that's Sound Island, across from Woody, in the photo directly above and the Burin Peninsula in the background. Nice lumpy land, lots of wildlife (always eagles, usually a caribou or two, river otters playing in the inner reaches). Nearby at Rattling Brook there's a deep pool above a small waterfall - ideal for a mid-paddle refresher. On the outside of these two islands, one can see clear across the Placentia Bay (well, usually one out of three days) and often see huge oil tankers making there way to and from the Grand Banks glory holes.

Placentia Bay, on the south coast of Newfoundland, is a huge, ice-free deepwater bay. It's fringed with outports full of people with surnames of the original settlers and scudded with over 300 islands including Woody. A paddling paradise.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year's Dip

(photo credit: jamie lewis)
january 2, 2007

Quidi Vidi Gut, New Year's Day. The ritual paddle (if you can call it that) was started years ago by veteran paddler Jim Price (who just happened to be down south this time). A number of us regularly turn up to this small harbour, just minutes from downtown St. John's, and scoot down the icy slipway to celebrate the new year in a proper fashion - on the water.

Quidi Vidi, an historic village first settled in the 16th century and now within the City of St. John's boundary, had retained its appearance for centuries. It still has narrow winding lanes, fishing sheds, old buildings and lots of charm but developers are eagerly gobbling that up by building massive, architecturally-inappropriate homes on and near the waterfront. Geesh, you'd think we'd learn by now that the value resides in what we have and are, not someone else's idea of us.

Okay, back to paddling. It was chilly (ice kept forming on our decks & spray skirts) and a northerly wind gusting upwards of 50km kept a balmy -4C to feeling around -11C. Not cold enough to keep fellow paddler Peter A from trying out his new drysuit by executing a quick roll.

Fellow paddler and blogger Jamie Lewis also has a couple of reports on the day promised. My underwater camera was on the blink so I have none from the day - hopefully Jamie will blog his soon and have shot of the entire gang and harbour.