The trip through the Bras D’Or lakes has been fabulous but it is time to steer for Newfoundland. The weather is ideal for cruising and as we near the north exit, a profusion of seabirds fills the air, and there’s little doubt we are back in the ocean.
HEADING TO NEWFOUNDLAND
Our trip to the south coast of Newfoundland, will be an overnighter. It’s about 165 miles to Grey River, our destination. I am incredibly stoked to finally visit the south coast. It’s been on my ‘must see’ list since I began sailing, and even before that. We’ve met many sailors over the past year who have visited the south, and good reports were received from everyone.
The wind is from the SW, about 10 knots, so we hoist a full main, unfurl the jib and settle in for a comfortable day of sailing. That evening as the sun sets we experience a phenomenon neither of us has seen before. On the water, where the sun set and disappeared, is a brilliant light that lingers for almost 5 minutes. It is a blazing orange and shimmering light that stays in the same spot until it slowly dies away. It’s like the sun took a breath and decided to hang there for a moment.
A cool night unfolds and Al and I take turns keeping watch. We trade off around 4:00 am and Filbert joins me in the sleeping bag, trying to cajole me into feeding him treats every 20 minutes or so. A mantle of stars fill the night sky, abundant and twinkling. The best time on the ocean is before daybreak, when you have the stars above and the horizon begins to lighten with the coming day, with a promise of sun and light.
We have breakfast just as the sun begins to rise, and at the same time a huge pod of dolphins come and swim and play for an hour. The sunrise is spectacular and I am almost reluctant to head into land.
The entrance into Grey River reveals itself through the fog and our first reaction is a combination of terror and amazement. The guide said the entrance here is a little tricky and it truly lives up to that reputation. Slow to reveal itself, it gradually opens as you near it, the fog subsides and what looks to be a solid wall of rock, opens and a narrow cut appears through steep rocky cliffs, towering on either side of Ingomar. The water is churning as the tide is coming out, brackish and bubbling. The minute we clear the entrance, complete calm, the air is filled with bird calls and an incredible scent of fresh air is pervasive. Fog floats high above the tips of mountains, dancing between them.
This place is amazing! High mountains on either side, calm waters, waterfalls, the fresh salty smell of ocean mingled with pine and spruce trees. Grey River has several long reaches into the interior of the island and we travel down Northwest arm to see how far we can get. Small open boats laden with driftwood cruise by and the occupants give us a friendly wave as we pass one another. We set the anchor down at the top of the arm and have the perfect lunch, bathed in sun, surrounded by the splendour of it all. I cannot recall what we ate because the awesome beauty around us was paramount to everything else.
After hanging out for the afternoon, and trying our hand at fishing, we head back to the small town of Jert’s Cove, near the entrance. Towns on the south coast are remote and the only means to get here is by boat or helicopter. We tie up at the government wharf and go ashore for a walk-about. It’s lovely, but quiet. There are winding, meandering streets that weave between the houses, nestled into the base of a steep mountain. After dinner we hear activity up on the wharf and go up to meet some locals. We’re told we are the first sailboat of the season but there will be many more to come. The people are warm, friendly and chatty. We talk about life in Grey River and what its like in winter. One man tells us the arm we visited today ices over in winter and they skidoo over the interior seaways and up on the hills that loom large above the waterways. It must be amazing.
There are two men reinforcing the government wharf next to where we’ve tied up. They reassure us that we are not in the way but tell us they have to work when the tide is low. Early next morning, around 5 we awaken to the sound of drilling. The two men are up early, working while the tide is in their favour. They apologize for waking us so early but we reassure them that its not a problem and seeing we’re up, we untie the lines, get out of their way and head for Francois.
Have you ever wanted to visit a place that has captivated you? A place you’ve heard about but because of its remoteness seems almost impossible to visit. That place for me is Francois. I cannot remember the first time I heard about it but it seems as though I have always wanted to visit. My camera gear was ready and as we sailed the coast from Grey River to Francois that morning I was literally abuzz with excitement and it did not disappoint.
Sailing the south coast early morning is otherworldly. Mist hugs the cliffs that rise abruptly from the glasslike sea. Waves lap softly against our hull with a sleepy swish, as we sail past headlands that jut into the sea, large and stately.
It takes 3 hours to sail from Grey River to Francois, and the day is bright and beautiful. We pass the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour and meet several fishing boats heading out to sea, and receive a friendly wave as they pass our boat. We tie to a dock that turns out to be a working dock where fish are being unloaded. One of the local fishers directs us to a floating dock across the harbour. Before we untie we take a short walk up to the town store to find gas and some supplies.
The floating wharf is very comfortable and once we’ve secured Ingomar, we take Filbert for a walk. The town is a series of boardwalks and lanes that connect the houses. When we return, we find a bag of halibut in the cockpit. While at the first dock I’d had a chat with a local fisherman who told me they were catching halibut. I said it was the best fish, in my opinion, and I guess that was enough incentive for him to walk over and leave us a very generous bag of halibut.
We pack our knapsacks and head out for a hike, stopping at the store to find someone to pay for the gas we purchased, and to locate the fisherman who gave me the fish. People use ATVs to get around and the sounds reverberate across the basin. The general store is the in the centre of the store, and several people are sat around as we enter, having a chat.
There are several hikes, we take the one that goes up to the Pulpit, a rock face that overlooks the town of Francois. The trail is well marked, and they use deadwood as trail marker posts, which fit in perfectly to the landscape. Our hike takes us high above the town and provides amazing vistas of the channels that cut into the coast. There are wildflowers everywhere, and we see picture plants, lady slippers, arctic cotton and so many more flowers that I cannot identify. It’s incredible and one of the nicest hikes we have done this year.
I can honestly say that Francois is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. My words cannot do justice to the beauty of the landscape nor the warmth of the people. If you can, you should go because unfortunately it may not be there forever. There is talk currently of resettling the community because if its remoteness. There were 11 children in the school this past school year, and 3 graduated. It is as though you have stepped back in time but only because life there is so charming, simple and pristine. If there is a place like Francois that you have always wanted to visit, then make sure you take the time to get there, because it may not be there forever.