We started this adventure on the 14th of June and after some 56 days we turned around and began our way westward, back along the south coast of Newfoundland. From Bay D’Espoir we had a lovely 35 nm day running down wind and working our way up into Devil Bay and then into Rencontre Bay, where we picked up a mooring off of what had been the out port of Rencontre West. The community was relocated sometime in the 1960’s but 5 houses still stand as testament to the love the inhabitants had for this idyllic peninsula community. We stayed two nights as the hiking and berry picking was spectacular. There is a small river that runs through the original community and out into the cove, and up that river must be the spot from which all other blueberries originate. They were everywhere! Whole handfuls could be picked in one swipe. We had forgotten to bring a pale so we filled our shoes!!
The morning we left Rencontre a stiff 25 knt breeze was blowing out of the East and I didn’t appreciate how much of a sea had been churned up. We left the protection of the cove and turned smack into a windy and choppy sea. Heart’s Desire, being a double gaff schooner, rigged to fly a gaff top and a fishermen stay’sl has about as many lines running aloft as your great Italian grandmother had spaghetti hanging about her kitchen. The combined windage and the rolling seas brought us to a complete stop. It was questionable whether we could motor the three miles out to open water or if it was even worth the effort. This was the moment we discovered the best motor sailing combination for the boat. A double reef in the main and the jib set, a jig and jigger arrangement. With both sails strapped in tightly we could fall off, steady the boat and enable the propeller to have some real water to bite into. Not exactly a eureka moment, but rather one in which necessity dictated experimentation, leading to better seamanship. Anyway…The day was a fast and windy run to the Ramean Islands.
I’m not sure if Ramea is considered an outport as the island is now serviced by a car ferry and resembles a small rural community more than the likes of Grey River or Francois. Either way, they too have been hit hard by the dramatic changes that have decimated the fishing industry along this coast. In the early 1990’s Ramea was home to some 1500 residents happily employed fishing and working in the local fish plant. Now there are less then 500 people and the numbers keep falling. There are only two boats now fishing out of Ramea. Of the people we met, more than a few were bemoaning how fast the summer had passed as now they must travel west to work the winter season in the extraction industries of Alberta, leaving families behind for months at a time. As you will read in any of the cruising guides Ramea is the place to fill you water tanks as they have treated water, though we did not fill here as it required going to the derelict fishing dock. What we hadn’t read is that it is also the cheapest place in Atlantic Canada we found to take on fuel. The town is heated by high grade low sulfur heating oil, i.e. diesel, which is free of vehicular taxes and is sold at a price suited to the local market.
After two days it was with enthusiasm we set out from Ramea and made the down wind run to Grand Bruit. After the wonderful time we had previously had in Grand Bruit on our way East we had greatly looked forward to returning there on our way back along the coast. When an outport community is resettled they unplug the light house and remove the navigational aids. So with this in mind under double reefed main, fore and stay’sl we picked our way between the breaking seas of “smoker,” “bad neighbor” and the many islands that make up the entrance to Grand Bruit. There was no safe place to round up and take in sail so we tore into the harbor on a beam reach something I would never imagine doing except that we had been in there before and had no other choices. The harbor sure seemed smaller than I had remembered it.
Our arrival in Grand Bruit was a sad one and gave both Jessica and I a deeper appreciation for what a difficult decision it must be to resettle ones community. The friendly faces and the helping hands of the few summer residents we met were all gone. Despite the four years of closure the presence of even these few people on our first visit had given Grand Bruit back her life, kept her ghosts at bay and hid from us the true realization that for this unimaginably lovely place the end really has come. We wondered her paths in a daze, weighed down by melancholy, hearing the lost voices of children at play, catching the imagined whiff of cut grass and fresh paint. Maybe it was that our perspective was now informed by the four active outport communities we had visited, or just the grey stormy weather that blew the words of Verna Billard took on a new meaning for me: “we thought it would last forever.”