Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Rough Passage

White-caps and Swells

This morning we woke to an overcast and misty morning. Very different from yesterday’s sunshine. We still decided to paddle though and so after breakfast Ian and Debbie, and Bill and Janice, both in tandems, an me, in a solo canoe set off for the Sandbanks Provincial Park where Carolyn will meet us.

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It’s calm as we set off along the town coast in the Short Reach, and we paddle through the harbour and under the bridge past the dock where the ‘Gallipoli’ ferry is ready to leave for the Ramea islands. From here we head out to Morgan’s Island across the choppy channel. Our aim is to find Hunt’s Island and visit a cemetery there. At one time these islands were inhabited but the people moved back to the main land and the town of Burgeo some time ago. We saw some photographs in the museum the other day which showed some of the houses being floated across the channel and dragged up the beach to be re-located.

We mis-read the small map we have and instead of going to the far side of Morgan’s Island to reach Hunt’s Island we creep down the nearer coast of Morgan’s Island. The sea is a little rough with waves which are two or three feet high. It’s not too bad though as we are sheltered somewhat in the lee of the island. We keep a look-out for the cemetery though and eventually spot it on a cliff above us. A little further on we find a small rocky bay where we pull up. We walked up to the cemetery and discovered that this was in fact Hunt’s Cemetery. The most recent grave was dated 1989 and their were plenty of plastic flowers around to suggest that the cemetery is often visited. We had bushwhacked up to the cemetery but we could now see the proper trail leading up from the other side of the island. We walked this trail a little while up to a crest where we could get a view down to the other side. Below us we could see a small house and a new floating-dock. That’s probably the way we should have come. Up here we could also see the foundations of several houses indicating where people used to live out here.

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Back at the cemetery we looked back across to the mainland and could see our destination in the distance. The famous white beaches of Sandbanks could clearly be seen through the gloom. In discussing how best to get there I was all in favour for heading for the shore and creeping along the coast. The others however where for paddling directly across the open channel to the beaches. About half-way across we could see a group of rocks which would give us something to aim for.

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From the rocky bay we launched again and were soon out in the open sea. It was windy and choppy, with white-caps, and the swell was quite large too. We had the angle of the waves, the direction of the wind and the pull of the current to contend with and it was not easy to keep ourselves pointed in the right direction. We stuck close together as we crossed and fortunately visibility was not too bad and we had a pretty clear view of our destination.

As we became more exposed in the open see it became more difficult. At one point Debbie and Ian had a panicky moment as they found it difficult to turn the canoe with the wind blowing them off course. Bill and Janice hollered at them to keep paddling and gave them a brief tow to get them back in line. I was still in favour of making a dash to the shore but instead we ploughed on and eventually reached the rocks which marked the half-way point. I tucked in behind them and continued as best I could. It was quite a hairy paddle and it was a strange sensation to be out in such a sea in an open canoe. I was taking on a little water that broke over the bows and the canoes in front disappeared from time to time in the increasing swell.

Eventually we came past the last headland and could see the sandy beaches of the Sandbanks appearing closer. Far away I could see Carolyn waving on the beach indicating where we should land. At this point I risked putting my paddle down so I could take some photographs whilst the others got ashore.

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The surf on the beach was surprisingly big and I could see that the other canoes were having some difficulty keeping a straight line as they beached. As I came close to landing Carolyn grabbed my boat and hauled it ashore and I leapt out without mishap. I was exhilarated but glad that it was finished! We dragged the boats up the beach and then carried one of them back to the van. Ian and Debbie were definitely not canoeing back later that afternoon.

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For the next hour and a half we walked through the park, around the path, along the beach and following the boardwalk through the boggy marshy areas. We saw plenty of irises and pitcher plants as well as some Moose tracks in the mud. Still not seen any of these fictional creatures yet.

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Whilst trying to get close to some Pitcher plants for a photograph I nearly lost my boot in the sphagnum moss. After walking up some steps to Greep’s Head we admired the views, though the weather is not great, and then walked down the other side to visit another old cemetery. This one is overgrown and it’s clear that no-one has lived out this way for many years. It must have been a difficult and cruel existence out here. Especially in the harsh winters.

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We completed the circular trail back to the van after crossing two bridges over some ponds. Still no Moose. After a picnic lunch we walked back down to the beach to see what the conditions were like. I was ambivalent myself about canoeing back to Burgeo but Bill and Janice were keen, so that meant I had to go as well.

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It wasn’t easy launching out into the surf and on my first effort my canoe got swamped and I had to empty it before re-trying. This time Carolyn gave me a huge shove which was enough to get me past the breakers. Bill and Janice seemed to get off OK and we started our paddle back to town. The conditions were just about the same as our first crossing but at least this time we were to hug the coast all the way back. It was still a rough passage though.

The hardest part was getting around the point but once that was done the conditions eased off. I made it easier for myself by just tucking my canoe behind that of Bill and Janice. I don’t thing that drafting behind them made much difference, but it certainly felt safer. It was tricky for them though as they couldn’t really see me and communication was difficult in the wind.

Once past the headland we paddled across the mouth of two bays. Nobody was in the mood to go in and explore them. As we approached the town we could see the ‘Gallapoli’ returning from her trip out to the Ramea Islands. We had no desire to be run down so we paddled back across the channel, which was still very choppy, and took shelter within a group of rocks to watch her dock.

We then paddled under her bows back under the bridge into the shelter of the harbour. It was obviously calmer in here and we made light of the final stretch past the fishing-dock, out the harbour, and back down the Short reach to our home dock.

That evening, after dinner, we decided to have another paddle and took our canoes out down the far end of the Short Reach. We went past the old Fish Plant and even paddled a short way up a small stream. This end of the bay was almost solid with jellyfish.

Their was a dance in town that evening and some of us made the effort to attend. However it didn’t really get going until late and they returned back to the B&B before long.