ICEBEAR encountered her first whales yesterday. After the wild breaching we saw a couple of humpbacks exhibiting in the distance earlier in the day, we’d kept a sharp lookout for the rest of the morning, hoping to spot more, and closer. Around lunchtime, I casually came up to check the water temperature on the speedo gauge at the helm. I heard the whale before I saw him, heard his spout off to port over my left shoulder. I turned just in time to see his low dorsal slip beneath the surface.
“Hard to port Tom!”
We diverted to the north in the hopes of crossing paths with this one, who was much closer than the whales we’d seen breaching earlier in the day. As we approached the area we’d seen him spout, we slowed to idle speed. He surfaced again not far from the boat, headed our direction. We shut down the engine, hoping he’d come to us. Then, another spouted just alongside the first. Two humpbacks approached from about 100 yards off. The wind was calm, the water glassy. We didn’t have any sail up at all, handing the main a bit earlier to stop all the slatting around.
ICEBEAR sat there sideways to what little tickle of wind from the SW, and the whales came to us. Gently and slowly, first one, then the second, was visible beneath the surface, their iconic white flippers like airplane wings deep underwater, turned fluorescent green by the color of the cold northern water (which was 9º C by the way - I did actually check!).
Then they came closer. And closer. Both humpbacks circled the boat in lazy arcs, diving directly underneath the keel in what seemed like slow motion, then surfacing only feet away from the stern. This went on for over 30 minutes, the crew watching from the cockpit in stunned silence. You could feel the spray from their spouts as they breathed deep right alongside, then silently sliding under the boat and showing us their tail flukes as they dived.
Mike, an avid cold water swimmer, was the first to get in the water. I gave him my mask and he gingerly walked down the stern ladder and slipped into the ocean to watch the whales play beneath him. He was only feet from two adult humpbacks, each about 40’ long and gracefully playing underneath ICEBEAR’s hull, and Mike, who was hanging on the ladder and watching in awe. He didn’t stay long for the cold water. Then Bill took the mask and followed suit.
It felt like the whales were just as curious about us as we were them. They showed no signs of stress, even when Mike & Bill entered the water, and it didn’t appear that they were feeding or doing anything besides checking us out. As ICEBEAR drifted on the glassy surface of the sea, they followed. We were able to keep the engine off for the duration, and yet they stayed close by.
Finally, satisfied with their visit to us, they took one last deep breath and dived deep, their tail flukes vertical above the sea as they dived down, kicking up a large slick on the surface, and with that they were gone. Dumbstruck, we started up the diesel and continued on our way. All the while a couple dozen little seabirds sat on the surface around the whales, paddling around on webbed feet and dunking their little heads under the water, maybe hoping themselves to get a glimpse of our whale friends.
Inspired by the whales, I decided to take the gamble with the weather and head for the Fjord Coast after all. After three days at sea from Lunenburg, we made landfall on the rugged, remote south coast of Newfoundland, navigating into the 5-mile-deep fjord at Hare Bay, a place Mia & I have had on our radar since 2011 when we came up this way on ARCTURUS. It was a game-time decision - a deep, scary-looking low pressure was forecast to pass directly overhead Newfoundland, and would make our 250-mile passage around to St. John’s touch-and-go - if the low slowed down, we’d be stuck, and crew would risk missing their flights. With sunshine in the immediate forecast, we took that risk.
The entrance to Hare Bay only becomes apparent as you close the coast. High cliffs line the shore for as far as you can see east and west, and unbelievably the cliffs are broken every few miles by deep fjords, reminiscent of Norway, just maybe a bit greener.
We motored in a flat calm into the fjord mouth after passing close by the humorously named Penguin Islands. Once inside, a south wind funneled from nowhere and we sailed the final five miles into the Northeast Arm and a beautiful, amphitheater-like anchorage at the head of Morgan Falls. In what was certainly the quickest shore party we’ve ever assembled after a long passage, we sent a hiking team into the falls for an afternoon exploring the wilderness. The weather was so nice that we stopped on the hike back for a soak in the river, air-drying in the sun on the warm granite rocks along the shoreline.
Next morning the barometer started it’s long steady fall, and the clouds and fog moved in. Jeremy, Bill, Liz Mia & I went ashore again for one last excursion before the rain set in, hiking the steeper, smaller falls to the northwest of our anchorage. Bill & I were rewarded with views over the boat and the entire fjord, not a sign of humanity in sight. We could have made the summit, but it started raining, and while the hike was more of a scramble than a climb, we were worried it might get slippery enough on the descent to warrant taking the conservative play and heading down before the rain began in earnest.
Back onboard, we elected to weigh anchor and seek shelter from the coming easterly blow in the northwest arm of the fjord. It’d give us something to do at least. In dense fog, gusty winds and steady drizzle, weather opposite to what we had on arrival, we steamed into the pool behind Sandy Point and found a cozy anchorage in 25-feet, framed north and south by the steep walls of the fjord. To the west, behind us, Dollard Brook disappeared into the valley inland. The scene looked like something from the Revenant.
As the low approached from the south, the easterlies picked up, and with them came the rain. It poured that night, but in our protected hides-hole, we never saw more than 22 knots on the anemometer, despite a gale warning for the offshore waters. By morning the rain had abated and again, party to stave off boredom, and partly to give the crew their money’s worth, we elected to weight anchor again and make a run for Francois, 15 miles and a few fjords to the east, while the wind was still in the ESE.
Outside Hare Bay, the fog was thick, and we proceeded under genoa on instruments, using the radar and chart plotter (which was exceptionally accurate by the way) to navigate to the mouth of Francois Bay, only seeing the red buoy marking the entrance when we were within 100 yards of it. The village at the head of the fjord resolved out of the mist as we made our way in using the radar to gauge our distance between the walls of the fjord.