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In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail


At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Blue Water Medal

Blue Water Medal
Blue Water Medal

Books By Annie Hill

  • Brazil and Beyond
  • Voyaging on a Small Income

30 October, 2012

I am, generally, proud of this little country at the bottom of the globe.  I am immensely proud of the fact that so many Kiwis have tried to make up for the appalling environmental ignorance and vandalism of their predecessors.  Many thousands of people give generously of their time and money, to restore populations of endangered birds and to protect other species from the predators, so foolishly introduced.  In the past our Government have helped in this, setting aside vast tracts of land for conservation.

However the present Government seems to have no interest in anything but making money.  Not only does it want to mine coal (lignite at that!) on conservation land, it recently voted against doing anything more to help save our delightful Maui's dolphin from extinction.  These dolphin are unique to N Island, New Zealand and the threat is both unnecessary and, of course, man-made.  They have a cousin in S Island. Hector's dolphin, a cheerful and confiding little animal that bustles over to spend time with a yacht in its area, puffing and diving companionably, even when you sit at anchor:

Even the Hector's dolphin is hardly flourishing, but its poor cousin is now down to probably no more than 55 males and more are dying every year.  In nets.

I have personally written to members of the Government several times about this issue, but have only ever received an automatic reply. Our Prime Minister is also Minister of Tourism.  NZ sells itself on its 'clean, green' image.  You'd think that if nothing else, the fact that we might be the first country since China (see my earlier blog) to allow a cetacean to become extinct, would give him cause to think.  Apparently not.  If, after reading this, you feel as I do, please drop him a line and ask him to get his act together:

Maui’s dolphin is listed as critically endangered and the Government itself identified that 95% of the threat of Maui’s dolphin mortalities comes from fishing-related death, namely entanglement in nets (including set nets and trawl nets). Mining and oil activities, pollution, vessel traffic and disease constitute the remainder of the threat, on a much lower scale but still significant given the precarious state of the population.

Since the recent, alarming, population estimate there have been further deaths of Maui’s and/or Hector’s dolphins – including entanglement in fishing gear, and dead dolphins found outside the area previously protected. Reporting of dolphin deaths in fishing nets, with or without observers onboard, indicates that only around 1% of these deaths go reported. In other words, these may represent just the tip of the iceberg.

The International Whaling Commission's scientific committee, at its 2012 meeting, noted that bycatch in gillnet and trawl fisheries is the most serious threat to these dolphins, and recommended “the immediate implementation of the proposal by the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries to extend the North Island protected area ..."

In September, a similar statement was made at World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In a vote, the IUCN passed an almost unanimous motion urging New Zealand  urgently to protect Maui’s dolphin.  There were 576 country and NGO votes in favour of the motion, and two votes against it. Each country member has two votes, and the two "no" votes belonged to New Zealand.  Can you believe it?  This country, that depends on green tourism voted against 576 other countires and organisations who wanted to protect our own dolphin!  It's beyond madness.

New Zealand  has brought species like the black robin and the kakapo back from the brink of extinction and is rightly proud of these efforts.  And yet now we are complacently contemplating the extinction of yet another unique species.  It's incomprehensible. 

I still mourn the Yangtze River Dolphin, an animal I never encountered.  Having shared the sea with the lovely little Hector's dolphin, I feel incredibly close to their cousins from N Island.  I can't bear the thought of their disappearing for no reason apart from apathy and ignorance.

If you want to know more about it, just Google Maui's dolphin.  You will find no shortage of information to bear out my story.

22 October, 2012

Although my life is now firmly based in NZ, living aboard and sailing Fantail, May and June of this year saw me back in the Maritimes and sailing on Iron Bark once again.  Trevor had invited me to join him for a couple of months, and as he was planning to winter-over once again in Greenland, I thought he might appreciate some help with the preparations.

After spending two or three weeks in Halifax, we had knocked over most of what was needed to be done, so set  off for a short cruise to the S Coast of Newfoundland, a place I have visited only too briefly in the past. We made our way up the coast of Nova Scotia, through the Bras D'Or Lakes, locking in at St Peters

In the St Peters Canal

 and on up through the Lakes, stopping once or twice on the way.

Passing under the Barra Strait Bridge
After passing through the Barra Straits, we sailed onto Baddeck, where we stayed for a few days enjoying meeting old friends again.  Then we sailed out across the Cabot Strait in bright sunshine, which ended as we approached the Newfoundland, shrouded in fog, as one expects.
Newfoundland fog - much less than usual this year

 However, what we didn't realise, as we groped our way in to anchor, was that for most of the rest of our stay in Newfoundland, we would enjoy beautiful, sunny weather.

Our first anchorage on the S Coast was Culotte Cove, a place Trevor had discovered the previous year and wanted to visit again.  It was a delightful spot and we had some pleasant walks ashore.

Iron Bark at Culotte Cove
 I must be getting old: the first few weeks in the Maritimes I found I was cold all the time.  I had just come from late autumn in New Zealand, but it was considerably warmer than late spring in the Maritimes.  Ashore, out of the wind and in the sun, I could warm up, but on the water I felt completely chilled.  On the other hand, surrounded by sea at 3 degrees, maybe I did have some excuse!

Water Temperature on 29th May!

 We sailed on to nearby Burgeo, where we went to an excellent concert, with Jim Dorie from Pictou and Burgeo's own John Coffer, whose music I enjoyed so much that I treated myself to a CD.  Burgeo has a wonderful sense of community and Trevor seemed to know a lot of people from having been there the previous year.  He had stayed for quite a while and, because he was alone, got to meet many people and enjoy much hospitality.

We left Burgeo for pretty little Doctors Harbour where we stayed for the night before heading off to Grey River.  Grey River is the start of the astonishingly dramatic scenery that brings sailors back time and again to the S Coast.  This is also the only part of Newfoundland where some of the communities still have no road access.  Sadly, there is a lot of pressure on the inhabitants of these remote communities to finish the job that Joey Smallwood started half a century ago - and move from the outports to the larger towns.  Some people have stuck to their guns and refuse to leave and Grey River is one of these communities.  The entrance to Grey River is narrow and between very high cliffs

Entrance to Grey River

and the village is squeezed onto a narrow ledge of flat land at the base to the left-hand cliff as you enter.  We went to anchor in SW Harbour, where a lot more houses had been built since our last visit.  Apparently the good citizens of Grey River (Pop fewer than 200), find there is too much hustle and bustle in the big city and need to escape to the peace and quiet of the country!  As we sailed along the S Coast, we found a lot of new building going on, which while no doubt great for the locals, was a bit disappointing for us.  This startling increase in wealth is due to the fact that many Newfoundlanders work away from the province at the Tar Sands in Alberta, about which I will forebear to comment.  My feeling was that with so many people working away, the profound sense of community, which was such a cohesive part of Newfoundland society , has diminished.  I also felt that they were much less interested in visitors than they used to be.  Most people now have access to satellite TV and the Internet and no doubt their world is a much bigger place than it used to be.

We spent quite a time in the Grey River, exploring its several anchorages before moving along to Hare Bay, another impressive fjord.  One of its arms - Morgans Arm - has a most impressive series of waterfalls at its head.  We anchored nearby to go for a walk and I found a wonderful route up alongside the rushing water, which was truly dramatic.

The waterfall at Morgans Arm
From where the river started to fall down to the sea, we walked to the the top of the hill/cliff overlooking the harbour and waterfall, where Iron Bark was minified by the vast scale of the landscape.

Looking down at the anchorage at Morgans Arm

Trevor did a bit of boulder rolling and we both enjoyed a respite from the blackflies. 

Trevor and boulder
Then we tramped down again, by which time it was quite late, so we chugged back to our former anchorage drinking a glass or two of rum on the way.

Our next harbour was on Brunette Island.  We arrived there late in the afternoon and put off going ashore for the next morning.  There were half a dozen caribou ambling along the beach, their ankle bones clacking quite audibly, and I watched these for a while.  At one time there had obviously been a sizable outport - the reasonably extensive bay was surrounded by signs of houses.  If you reckon to half a dozen per house, there may have been as many as 1000 people there at one time.

After breakfast, we went ashore and wandered around.  The caribou, sadly, were a long way away - dots on the landscape.

Brunette Harbour
There was a graveyard, of course and three of the gravestones were for separate five-year old children: two boys and a girl, killed on the same day.  They had 'drowned in a pond'.  There is a barachois between the two sides of the settlement and I suspect that this is where they died.  The accident occurred in February and I guessed that they fell in through the ice.  It possibly wasn't strong enough to support the adults who tried to save them and by the time they had floundered their way across, the poor children had drowned.  What a shocking tragedy for the settlement.  Both boys had a long piece of verse on their gravestones.  The little girl didn't.

Graveyard at Brunette Harbour
Brunette Island is the largest in Fortune Bay and in 1964 an attempt was made to introduce bison to Newfoundland, using the island as a test site. One would have thought this a pretty barmy idea, considering the differences between the prairies and the offshore islands of Newfoundland.  Not surprisingly the experiment was a failure.  However, subsequent and more successful attempts have been made to breed. arctic hare, caribou, ptarmigan, and moose.  It is sad that in a vast and essentially underpopulated country such as Canada, these animals should require any help from humanity to survive in the wild.  But hunting pressures (past and present), so-called predator control, habitat decline, disruption of migratory routes and other stresses have had a dramatic and devastating effect on much of Canada's wildlife.

In the afternoon we sailed to Harbour Breton.  I had hoped to revisit St Pierre-Miquelon for a nostalgic taste of France - and its food - but alas, this was not on Iron Bark's itinerary.  Harbour Breton, though smaller than St Pierre, is still a sizable place, with several large - by local standards - shops. 

Harbour Breton
We went ashore and set off anticlockwise around the harbour.  Fortunately, before we'd gone too far, someone asked us if we were 'hiking' and when we said no, suggested we go back the other way.  If we'd looked at the chart before leaving, we'd have realised that the E side of the harbour was in fact a peninsula, with a deep bay the other side.

Just as fortunately, a passing driver stopped and drove us round to the supermarket, where I topped up our stores.  A quick visit to the grog shop, and then back on board and underway towards Jerseymans Harbour, just across the bay.  There were one or two new and/or rebuilt houses here and quite a few signs of the original settlement - particularly the surviving ridges from the potato patches.  We rowed ashore to take a walk along the old road to Bay de L'eau.  Although a bit boggy and overgrown in places, it was surprisingly easy to follow and we reckoned that it was probably cleared as a snowmobile track in winter.

Old wharf footings at Jerseymans Harbour; wrecked ship in background
Iron Bark anchored at Jerseymans Harbour
The next day we sailed over to Grand Bank for fuel - the unusually sunny weather that we'd enjoyed was accompanied by many calms, so we'd done a lot of motoring.  We only stayed overnight and set off early the next day for Little St Lawrence Harbour.  Not a particularly pleasant passage because when we turned on the engine to get around a headland, it stopped after a few minutes and when Trevor investigated, he found the filters blocked.  He had to change them and even then the engine sounded less than happy, but managed to take us into the pretty harbour in the calm of the evening. 

Trevor wasn't entirely confident about the filters, so first thing after breakfast, he sorted things out properly.  He was just tidying up when we were hailed from the shore.  We rowed over to the wharf.  I climbed up the ladder and a complete stranger threw his arms round me and said: 'Jerry - you remember me!  Great to see you again.'  I had to confess that I didn't and it turned out that he thought we were an entirely different couple.  His explanation was that 'the boats look the same'.  As theirs was a red, hard-chine, Bermudian ketch, one would beg to differ, but I guess all boats that aren't white plastic sloops look the same!  Anyway, Jerry was not daunted by this minor mistake and we went up to his house for coffee. He is rebuilding the old family home and although he works away a lot of the time, is hoping to settle there permanently.  He told us that the local climate has improved out of recognition since he was a boy, so that now he can plant a good vegetable garden.  I guess some people are benefiting from global warming!

Little Bay St Lawrence
After lunch we walked round to St Lawrence.  One or two people were farming in a small way, and it was pleasant to see a cow and calf, a couple of sheep, some ponies.  As with all these places, most of the shops have closed and everyone goes to the big smoke.  Hopefully expensive fuel will revitalise the local shops.  We strolled around the town - dominated as usual by a huge and ugly fish plant - in the sunshine.  The latest victim is the poor, unsuspecting whelk, which is now being 'harvested' in huge quantities.  Each boat brings in about 20,000 lbs each time it lifts its 500 pots, which it does several times a week.  Later I discovered that the quota for Ship Cove was 1 000 000 lbs!  And this is for a tiny harbour.  I find it hard to believe that such a fishery is sustainable, and even if it is, it must be at the expense of some other ocean dweller.  Maybe the scientists have done their homework properly and the politicians have listened to them.  And then again, maybe they haven't.

From Little St Lawrence, we sailed to our final Newfoundland outport before I left Iron Bark.  Burin was a lovely little town and a fitting conclusion to our cruise.  We anchored in Ship Cove, which obviously welcomed yachts because they had built a dinghy dock for visitors.  This was marked by a VW Beetle that had been made into a cute joke: a big key stuck out of its back and on the front was a snow plough and a pair of moose antlers.  On top was a light box with Burin written on it.

Iron Bark and Beetle in Ship Cove
The town is very neat with a lot of buildings done up as showpieces.  A beautiful boardwalk has been built along the waterfront, decorated with lights and with flags of the Provinces and those countries that have had the most influence on Newfoundland.  They have tried so hard that it brings tears to your eyes.  So early in the year, everything was shut, apart from the interesting little Museum.

We ambled down the road to the wharf and were warmly greeted by the Harbour mistress, who gave us coffee and biscuits.  She was quite happy for us to bring Iron Bark round to anchor, the incentive for us being a washing machine!!  So we went back and motored round.  We brought the laundry ashore and while it was washing, Marguerite kindly took me to the local shop - about 10 km away!  It was a much-appreciated kindness.

The following day we made a quick trip to Marystown, to stock up before heading back for Nova Scotia.  From there I flew back to New Zealand. while Trevor headed north again.

I managed to clock up 1000 miles in the Maritimes, but I have to say that after a season of sailing my wonderful junk rig, I am even less enamoured of gaff rig.  Once a junkie, always a junkie!  But  Iron Bark  is a great little ship and perfect for the sort of extreme sailing that Trevor chooses to do.  For my own part, I am happy exploring the New Zealand coastline on my own little boat.  All the time I was away I was thinking about her and planning projects and little cruises that I hope to do.  In my own way.  In my own time.