Cathy Hawkins, one of the founders of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, has never been shy about adventuring. She’s been an offshore ocean racer, an Antarctic expeditioner and is now carving out a new career as crew aboard a high-latitude sailing vessel currently in Newfoundland, bound for north of the Arctic Circle.
Here’s the latest excerpt from her fascinating tale. You can follow Cathy’s adventures on her blog site:
As we slowly recover from our 44hr flight and jet lag, this ‘alien world’ of Newfoundland and Lewisporte harbour is frozen; fishing boats are stuck in ice alongside the marina; patterns of crystalised ice on the hatches above our bunks are our first awakening sight; snow is either streaming vertically in soft dollops or flying through the air horizontally pin-pricking our faces; our steps away from the boat sink into knee deep power or skid over icy puddles.
The good news is that the diesel heater is keeping us tropically warm below decks where we complete jobs and familiarise ourselves with all the nooks and crannies aboard. Newfoundlers, Peter & Carolyn Watkins, have taken us under their wing with experienced high latitude/local waterway advice, meals in their cosy home, Wifi, lifts to the shops and more. On Day 2, just as the wind whirred another octave higher in the rigging, they scooped us up and took us home ahead of an easterly gale and a 25cm dump of snow! The next morning we had to dig our way into the cockpit.
Leaving a late Australian summer and landing in a punitive Newfoundland Spring has taken some head spinning acclimatisation. The harbour is still iced over but it doesn’t have that impenetrable look about it anymore – it now looks shiny, slippery and vulnerable. Foreshores are thawing and ute drivers aren’t as cocky about driving on the “water” anymore to get to their boats. Today, the marina looks like a peaked and cracked Pavlova after being attacked by fishermen with chainsaws, who cut an escape route through the ice to set their boats free.
“We feel the need to book ourselves into a firearms course to build confidence in aiming and firing at boat-boarding polar bears”
Lewisporte is tucked up in the head of narrow sheltered Burnt Bay, which is a choke point for ice. Just 4nm to the north is the broader waterway of Indian Arm, which is virtually ice free and the darkest royal blue water I ever remember seeing.
So we have just a handful of ice miles to break through, hopefully before April’s end, to reach Indian Arm. A few days of offshore winds has reshuffled the Arctic sea ice along Newfoundland’s north east coast.
New experiences abound in high latitudes – doors blow off hinges even when you’re sure you closed them properly; minks are expert fishers on the water’s edge; we feel the need to book ourselves into a firearms course to build confidence in aiming and firing at boat boarding polar bears; guns – of every type imaginable – are sold over counters to any random person; when locals introduce themselves they don’t venture out of their cars – greetings transpire from wound-down windows with a prerequisite gap big enough to be heard through; no one goes for walks per sé – exposure to the elements is minimised by short dashes between heated buildings and vehicles; you get offered a lift when your destination is only 25m away; boat paint sticks like glue when you paint in temperatures around 5°c; it’s freezing crossing the boatyard to the yacht club toilet at 3am but sort of beautiful and uplifting in the same moment – a bit like going for a winter swim in Tassie and Antarctica and you’re not sure whether to cry in pain or scream with exhilaration.
The things I’m loving about being here are the generosity and hospitality of locals like Newfoundlanders Peter and Carolyn Watkins – nothing is too much trouble and they are a mine of information about everything Newfie and nautical.