Moving east, one fjord at a time, a pattern emerged. Motor up a fjord, anchor, dinghy to the mouth of the stream at the head of the fjord, hike high up the stream, find a large flat rock from which to launch the drone, get some video footage, soak and shower in the pool at the base of a waterfall.
But before this pattern, we experienced Ramea Day and the Rock Island Music Festival.
Leaving Grand Bruit, we mostly motor-sailed 30 nautical miles through patchy fog to the Ramea Islands, a small archipelago about five nautical miles off the coast. There is only one place to tie up in Ramea, Ship Cove, ringed by the small town. Two other yachts occupied available spots on the public wharf, so we rafted up to a surprisingly clean fishing boat that didn’t look like it was going anywhere any time soon.
No sooner had we stepped ashore than we discovered we had arrived just in time for Ramea Day and the start of the Rock Island Music Festival.
Ramea Day is like Canada Day and the Fourth of July wrapped together, but only for the 600 or so souls who live in Ramea. Everyone had the day off, and the main activity centered around drinking and listening to local musicians perform on a sound stage constructed adjacent to the island’s hockey rink, which had been covered by a huge party tent so the festival could proceed rain or shine.
A $5.00 cover charge got you into the place. All along the sides of the rink were booths staffed by volunteer firemen (and women) distributing beer and mixed drinks. First, you bought a ticket at one booth, then moved a couple of booths down to select your poison. One ticket cost $4.00, which got you one drink. All proceeds benefited the fire department. Business was brisk.
One performer after another played sets of six to 16 songs as the festival goers drank and visited. I’m not sure what the prevailing genre was — probably post-modern Newfoundlandian – but it seemed like a funky combination of Celtic, Irish, and Zydeco to my unsophisticated ear. The performers varied from solo artists supported by canned percussion to groups of five or six with guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and a squeezebox player. Vocalists sang about hard times up Grey River, getting jilted in St. John’s, or longing to return to the island once away. The bands had names like The Pink Boys, George Giles & Friends, and We Fellars.
The revelry went on all afternoon and late into the night, only interrupted for a couple of hours around dinner time so everyone could go over to the Lion’s Club hall for a turkey supper prepared by the island’s Ladies Auxiliary. Tickets had to be purchased in advance. Even though reportedly sold out, Andrew and I presented ourselves at the door as poor destitute sailors and two $8 tickets were found for us. We joined the end of the buffet line and were served a heaping plateful of mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, something called pudding, and a small dollop of canned peas and carrots, all smothered in thick gravy, except the vegetables. We then were welcome to take a spot among the diners seated family style on each side of two very long tables. On the way to our seats, we spotted another table groaning with cakes and sweets of all kinds.
Eavesdropping a bit, and then engaging those around us, I initially had a hard time understanding the local dialect. It was definitely English – no French spoken here – but the peculiar accent was so thick that I had trouble understanding it. At first, all I could get was a sing-song “Oh yah” that seemed to be the standard refrain by a listener. Seemingly a habituated listener response similar to the inhaled “Yah, yah” we heard throughout Scandinavia, this response invariably started with the “Oh” on a middle C and ended with the “Yah” exactly one octave lower, always accompanied by a nod of the head. Eventually, I got the gist of their speech and had some fine exchanges, adding a few “Oh yahs” of my own for good measure. Even so, though they see quite a few yachts cycle through, we were decidedly outsiders here.
We spent the weekend hiking the eight kilometer boardwalk around the island’s perimeter, drinking beer and listening to music, and climbing the hills to fly the drone. Too soon, the festival ended and our time on Ramea was up. We pointed the boat northwest toward Grey River.
While the Basin and Barasway were spectacular, Grey River was even more so. A true fjord, one entered through a gap in the cliffs not 200 meters wide. Turbulence gave way to serene calm as soon as we were inside gliding smoothly up the steep sided channel past the outport of Grey River toward the Northwest Arm. Jaw dropping scenery surrounded us the entire way. Six nautical miles in we dropped the hook in five meters with thick mud holding. It was getting late, so we dined on spaghetti and crashed. The roar of rapids dropping into the head of the fjord not far away lulled us to sleep.
Next day, we dinghied up to the mouth of the river, hauled the dinghy above the high tide line, and set out upwards. Mostly rock hopping but sometimes wading, we ascended until we found a section of the river with a succession of rapids, falls, and pools, reminding me of New Hampshire’s Swift River and childhood summer days on Windleblo Cove. Here, after launching and retrieving the drone, we swam and soaked, then sunned.
We moved the next day six nautical miles to the river’s Southeast Arm and more jaw dropping scenery. Rather than ascend the river, we scrambled up to a draw overlooking the ocean at Gulch Cove. Odd as it may seem, here a low cloud ceiling made the place appear almost tropical.
Eastward we moved to La Hune Bay and Deadman’s (pronounced DEED-man’s) Cove. Somehow even more stunning than Grey River, the sheer rock walls of this fjord towered a thousand feet above us as we set the anchor in 14 meters of water. After a curry dinner, we watched a movie and turned in. The next morning dawned grey and rainy. Undaunted, we donned our raingear and set out to climb to the top of the rocks. Though the rain meant no drone flying, Andrew brought his GoPro to capture the ascent at ground level. We were thrilled to find blueberries in profusion and spent an hour foraging.
Leaving Deadman’s Cove, our next stop the following day was the outport of Francois (pronounced Frans-WAY). One of the few functioning towns along this coast, Francois is visited by the ferry every evening. Some townspeople greeted us as we tied up to a floating dock set up exclusively for visiting yachts, and we soon discovered that, unlike Grand Bruit, women were among the town’s inhabitants. A small grocery store, a post office, and a school were in evidence as we toured the town’s network of sidewalks. Residents got around town on foot, but mostly by quad ATVs.
The Francois layover day dawned crisp and clear, just right for a hike in the hills above the town. Once on the ridge, we launched the drone for some stunning scenery shots, then continued along the ridge for several miles before descending to a hanging lake and a refreshing swim. The final half mile took us past the permanent residents in the small cemetery before descending a steep boardwalk into town.
It was here in Francois that we had our first bad encounter with the infamous Newfoundland Air Force – bugs!
All the cruising guides warned us about the viciousness of the insects in Newfoundland, the black flies, midges, no-see-ums, and of course, mosquitos. We were advised to screen all hatches and companionways and to wear bug dope when on shore. Mysteriously, though, we had had little problem with bugs so far along the southwest coast, which perhaps lulled us into complacency. That first evening in Francois, little flea sized biting flies attacked, and within minutes we both had welts on any exposed skin. We quickly retreated indoors, with screen defenses in place, but the damage was done and the lesson was learned. Don’t mess with the Newfoundland Air Force.
Tied to the dock opposite us was a boat I recognized from earlier in the season. Soon returning from a shore excursion, we greeted Pete and Louise Hoggins, owners of VMG, a British-flagged Catana 42 catamaran. We had first encountered Pete and Louise as they filled their tanks with diesel in Halifax. Pete and Louise are full-time liveaboards working their way north and east to round out the summer season before turning south and eventually wintering in the Bahamas. They were leaving Francois the morning after our arrival, but we pledged to catch up to them in Hare Bay, another spectacular fjord just down the coast. To tie us over, Louise offered us fresh basil from her on board garden!
We kept our pledge, arriving at Hare Bay’s Northwest Arm two days later to find them still anchored there. Fog had slowed us down and we arrived quite late, so rather than visit that evening we agreed to join them for coffee the next morning.
I know there’s quite a bit of debate about the virtues of monohulled boats vs. catamarans, but once you’ve been on a cat you end up with living room envy. VMG’s saloon is as spacious as a gymnasium, serving as a kind of great room with galley, nav station, dining area, and living space rolled together. A convenient sliding glass door separates the saloon from a spacious aft deck, which extends the living quarters in good weather. Only two years new, everything was sparkling, which is testament to Pete and Louise’s sailing ethos and attention to maintenance detail. A born worrier, Pete sweats the details, which Louse claims to love as she says it frees her from worrying herself. Regardless, with 40,000 cruising miles under their keel (they owned a monohull prior to VMG), they have earned their stripes and VMG’s sterling condition shows it.
After coffee, we returned to Windleblo and soon dinghied up to the head of the fjord to ascend yet another spectacular waterfall. A heavy rain had fallen overnight, causing extraordinary volumes of water to come crashing down the fjord walls from multiple pour offs high above. For one final time in Newfoundland, we launched and retrieved the drone to get more footage for Windleblo productions.
The forecast showed the wind lining up just right for a 50 nautical mile dash across to St. Pierre. We set out at 1 a.m. that night to make the crossing. Next stop, FRANCE!