CORNER BROOK Peter Yates has logged hundreds of kilometres kayaking coastal Newfoundland and has seen the rundown state of some of the resettled communities he has paddled into.
Those experiences made him appreciate even more the eerie silence of the two more recent abandoned communities he and three fellow sea kayakers visited on their trek along the southwest coast of Newfoundland last month.
The quartet — including Adam Anderson, Harold Moore and Jon Patten — launched off from Harbour Le Cou on Aug. 18 and spent the next week exploring the mostly inhospitable coast to Burgeo about 100 kilometres away.
The route took them to Petites, which was resettled in 2003, and later to Grand Bruit, which saw the last of its residents up and leave in 2010.
Their stop in Petites was brief as it was early into the trip and the foursome had to paddle onwards to their first scheduled camp site further along the coast.
When they stopped for the night in deserted Grand Bruit, they were its only inhabitants. They couldn’t resist ringing the church bell or having a beverage — which they obviously brought themselves — in the old Cramalot Inn, the tiny bar that was surely a popular gathering place in Grand Bruit’s better days.
Yates said it was sad to see history fading away but was glad he got to enjoy these places before they become too dilapidated.
“I’ve been to some communities on the Baie Verte Peninsula that were resettled some time ago and they are gone to ruin now,” he said. “Petites and Grand Bruit were more recently vacated ... To know they are going to deteriorate over time, it’s nice to be able to see them before it’s all gone.”
There were other highlights of the trek — like the incredibly rugged coastline, eventually broken up with stretches of beautiful sandy beaches as the paddlers neared Burgeo — that are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Yates had researched their route and was on the lookout for some special features along the way, like the reversing, tidal-driven stream at Pig Island in La Poile Bay.
The rising tide there generates a strong current flowing inward through a pinch point in the bay, while the ebbing tide creates a flush of rapids that heads back out to sea.
We had to haul our boats up the rapids when we got there because it was approaching low tide and then we ran down it,’ said Yates. “I have never seen anything like that. I knew there was something interesting there and it didn’t disappoint.”
The trip was not without its challenges, like high winds that forced them to abort starting in Port aux Basques — cutting 30 kilometres of their originally planned route — and then rainy weather for the first couple of days on the water.
“It was hard to get a fire going and a lot of our efforts were focused on getting gear dry,” Anderson said of the soggy start. “That didn’t put a damper on it at all. When you’re paddling, you’re geared up for rain anyway and the coastline, even in the rain and fog, was beautiful. It was over 20 degrees (Celsius) every day, so you could be wet and still not be cold.”
Plenty of maps, deck compasses, global positioning system units and winds in the 10 to 20-knot range helped make navigation worry-free, even across the three- or four-kilometre open water crossing of La Poile Bay in the fog.
The group did have the unanticipated problem of replenishing their fresh water supply in the early going of the carefully planned route. Luckily, that became less of an issue as they paddled on.
“Only one of our campsites had access to fresh water,” said Anderson. “The problem was, where some of the little brooks were, we couldn’t get any landing spots to filter fresh water.”
Besides the spectacular scenery, the paddlers were joined by a host of sea birds, a few big seals and several caribou, including a small herd that was in Grand Bruit the entire time they were there. Surprisingly, they never saw one whale, dolphin or porpoise.
Anderson and Yates, who have done long-distance kayak treks along other portions of Newfoundland’s coast, including a 100-kilometre trip from the Bay of Islands to Norris Point, already have their eyes on the next one they want to do.
The plan will be to resume from where they just finished in Burgeo and paddle further east along some even more rugged and remote coastline towards Grey River and McCallum.
“That will be even more challenging because the terrain changes a bit,” said Yates, wo called the most recent venture the best one he’s done so far. “The landing sites are harder to come by, with all the cliffs.”
They are also thinking about travelling along the eastern coast of the Northern Peninsula around another resettled community, Harbour Deep.