It was June 22, 1997, and the three central Newfoundland chambers of commerce (Lewisporte and Area, Gander Area, and Exploits Regional) in an unprecidented joint venture, got together to promote this section of the province to the cruisers of the Newfoundland Flotilla '97. As part of this they chartered the Bayfield 36, Windborne III. It was owned by a former Flotilla committee member now residing in Lewisporte, Peter Watkins.
Embarking on this trip were the owner/captain; I was first mate, navigator and an LACC director; Cluny Sheppard, LACC president; Pete Stacy, GACC president; Sean Cooper, ERCC executive director; Alex Luscombe, LACC director; and Calvert Burry, guest of OMC. The major sponsor for the trip was OMC, with food and beverage donations being provided by many local businesses.
The cutter rigged Bayfield provided reasonably comfortable quarters for the seven people it carried on the 175 mile, 35 hour trip to Bonavista - although the bathtub was filled with cases of beer. Having been sailed down from Lake Ontario the summer before, and then used as a charter boat, Windborne III had a full compliment of safety equipment and gear. The radar would prove very handy when navigating around large icebergs at night.
With HRH Queen Elizabeth to be in attendance for the arrival of the Matthew, security was extreme. Bonavista harbour would be closed 24 hours prior to her arrival. This meant we had a frim deadline to meet, so this was the reason for our early departure time. We took some pictures for the newspaper, and video of the intrepid crew before departing the Lewisporte marina. Off we headed with the sun rising higher. It was still only 0615!
Winds were very light, but with the sails set at a broad reach we were able to manage 5 knots. Heading up the the eastern coast of the Bay of Exploits under a blue sky. The kitchen was taken over by Pete Stacy where he prepared to warm up the huge pot of soup provided by the Hotel Gander's kitchen. Food and drink were never in short supply for this trip, and it was the constant flow of beer that at least one passenger contributed to his not getting sea sick.
Unfortunately, this was not the case for everyone. In order to get around the some known shoals and unfamiliar waters, we chose to take a route that put us well offshore. Out in the open water the seas were around 8 feet high. While they were long enough not to be rough, they were enough to stir the stomaches of a couple of those aboard. By nightfall we were east of Fogo Island. Here the swells had grown to about 12 feet, and were closer together. Even though were were motorsailing, we had to change tacks on a regular basis to maintain a comfortable angle and keep the hull from slapping down too hard. The skipper disliked being tossed out of his bed.
Around 2200 we passed by an interesting site. The full moon was rising as we passed by an iceberg. I wasn't sure how it would turn out in the dim light, but I scrambled to dig out my video camera and captured the spectacle. Other than the lifelines throwing off the autofocus, until I could find the manual switch, the unique event was captured successfully. Later on two rather large blips on the radar screen turned out to be a couple of massive icebergs. We could barely make them out in the darkness though as we passed between the ancient blocks of ice. Alex kept watch on the bow until a wave broke over and soaked him.
Apparently, I was not meant to get much sleep on this trip. After catching about 5 hours in the aft berth, curled up with lifejackets, sails and various other items, I was awakened by the skipper to solve a problem with the navigation. This was a minor error caused by a coordinate being improperly entered into the GPS. I discovered, however, that something more serious had taken place during my nap. The rolling of Windborne III caused the skipper to grab for a post to steady himself. You can imagine his surprise when this turned out to be the very hot stainless steel pipe from the Newport heater.
This is where we learned the importance of a well-stocked first aid kit. While we thought we had one, it was lacking in things with which to treat burns. After soaking his hand in ice water for several hours, it was time to bandage the skipper's hand. Acting nurse Stacy produced the best available treatment from the limited kit - iodine. We knew that it must have been extremely painful when the application managed to produced an "ouch" from the otherwise tough skipper. Once bandaged, the hand had to wait nearly another 24 hours before being examined by a doctor.
Around 1700 we arrived at the entrance to Bonavista Harbour. Here we had to wait our turn in the queue to enter. One boat, apparently unaware of the procedure, jumped the line and was sent back again. While we were waiting, Peter Watkins went around to say hello to some of the other boats in the line-up. One guy thought we were drunk, or something, and did his best to avoid and ignore us. Eventually we were permitted to make our way to the assigned berth.
Once secured, we were able to look around and truly appreciate the amount of work that went into preparing for such a large number of boats. There were vessels from all over North America, and beyond, present. The smallest in the Flotilla were two Bayfield 25's, while some ranged well over 40 feet. We noticed a couple other boats from the Lewisporte marina. They were power boats who had left later, and travelled a different route than we had, going south of Fogo.
Now that we had arrived, it was time for us to go to work. We managed to secure another berth where we could be next to the dock. It was also right across from Bob O'Brien's boat. He was one of the people who originally came up with the idea of the Flotilla. We setup a table and loaded it with promotional materials on Central Newfoundland. In addition, we offered attractions of local foods such as smoked salmon with cream cheese on rye bread. The cockpit was turned into a free bar that turned out an almost endless supply of Screech and Cabot beer. The BBQ was used to heat up dried caplin. They were very popular among those passing by, although, not everyone was brave enough to eat them heads and all.
The following day the Matthew arrived with much fanfare - and a blast of cold weather. If it was like that when John Cabot arrived, he must have been extremely happy to make landfall. The replica of his boat was rolling from rail to rail while making its way in from Bonavista Bay. It was quite the site with music playing and canons going off. We decided to watch the opening ceremonies taking place just a few hundred feet away from the warmth of Windborne's Cabin, on the television.
That afternoon, a stove accident resulted in the second bad burn of the voyage. With two crew members going around with bandaged hands, a passer-by asked what kind of a torture chamber we had down below. Jokes were made about changing the name of the boat to Wind-Burn II. The hospital generously gave us a large bag of bandages, creams, etc for the return trip.
The next day was as warm and sunny as the previous day had been cold and miserable. The Snowbirds put off a spectacular air show in the afternoon. It had been cancelled the day before. The skipper and I got into the tender and made our way over to where the Matthew was berthed to get some video of her, and the crowds lined up for a tour. Shortly after supper, following another day of promoting Central Newfoundland, it was time for us to be underway again.
Pete Stacy had been called back to his place of business the day after we arrived, and Cluny drove home with his family, so we had fewer people for the return trip. There was some great sailing from Fogo to Black Islands. We were enjoying it so much that we didn't pay enough attention to the compass, and went well of course. There was some danger of hitting "Old Harry", a rock north of Twillingate, but a couple of bearings had us back on track again.
After adjusting our course we had a discussion about whether we should travel in the dark to rush our return to Lewisporte, or pull into Exploits for the night. I was for holding up and making another day of it, but most people were anxious to get back into their own beds, so we put on a pot of coffee and kept going on towards the Knight Island light and home.
Around 0200 we were snugged down at the Lewisporte marina, and our journey was complete. The burns have now healed. The iodine seems to have been just the ticket for the skipper as he got away without any scars, still, it is not a recommended treatment. Several of the Flotilla boats did eventually visited the Bay of Exploits that summer, and more the following one. This was just my second trip on a sailboat, but certainly not my last. More adventures awaited me, and soon my word processor.
- Peter Haliburton 1998