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.


Michael said...

The plane swung low over Bell Island just prior to landing this past August and the thought went though my mind as I looked over, that it would be a good place to 'push my limits' a bit as a paddler as well. Feels good, eh?!

Great post! Thanks.

squidink said...

Michael - you've managed to view quite a few good paddling spots! If you're interested in doing so when you're here this summer, there's usually someone/small group paddling around Bell Island.
cheers, Alison