Sailing The Labrador – An Expediton of a Lifetime

We’re aboard the good ship Wanderbird, anchored snugly in in Shoal Bay on the south central coast of Labrador. The wind is blasting over the vessel at 50-55 knots and, much to my relief, the anchor is securely set. It is 4 pm and the clouds are speeding by close overhead. The worst of the wind should be over before darkness which will be somewhere around 11 tonight. I am on watch here in the wheel house as the seventeen other adventurers relax below. We are seven days into our 12 day coastal Labrador Expedition aboard the vessel Wanderbird.

Yesterday, as we sailed in close proximity to an iceberg that dwarfed our vessel, Karen and I hugged. We had just began to fully enjoy the culmination of the four years of hard work since we had started the conversion our North Sea fishing trawler to an expedition vessel suitable for cruising the remote coast of Labrador. We built upon the already sturdy hull to create this most unique small passenger expedition trawler, the Wanderbird. Twelve guests from England, Switzerland and the United States joined us in St. Anthony, Newfoundland to join us on our first Labrador charter. We all had planned on an adventure of a lifetime and we have not been disappointed! As we sailed from St. Anthony harbour we received word that a pod of Orca or Killer Whales were in the vicinity. The six foot tall dorsal fin of the Orca was soon sited and we all logged our first viewing of this king of the food chain. We motor sailed at 7 knots on a northerly course to clear Cape Bauld and then set a course that brought us across the Strait of Belle Isle to Labrador. I have to say that I have NEVER seen such a display of wildlife as was presented to our fine ship’s company aboard the Wanderbird.

During the five hour, 35 nautical mile crossing, we sited no fewer than seventy five humpback and finback whale accompanied by hundreds of white beaked dolphins and thousands of pelagic sea birds of countless varieties. We all agreed that this most remarkable spectacle was the ultimate definition of the term “Teeming with life”. Our wonderful dolphin escorts never left our side as we sighted land and toasted our own arrival to this most beautiful and wild place, The Labrador!

The first harbour that we entered was Henley Harbour in Temple Bay on the South Eastern Coast. We all stared mouths agape as our sturdy ship weaved among the rocks to enter this long deserted fishing outport. Henley Harbour was defended by an English fort built in 1766. A graveyard and remains of the fort were visible on the outskirts of a quaint and decaying village that was totally abandoned in 1995. After a fine afternoon of hiking, exploring and stocking our fresh berry supply, we returned to our floating home for another of the mouth watering feasts that we would enjoy throughout the entire voyage. After breakfast the following morning we got underway headed North. After an hour of working along the magnificent coast, our bow lookout shouted “Iceberg ahead” and we all rushed to the starboard side to view another first. The shimmering gargantuan appeared in brilliant blue/white at a distance of 5 miles. Having never seen one of these giants before, we had trouble actually gauging the size of the behemoth until we were close enough to see that it towered over our sixty foot mainmast and reduced the 150 ton Wanderbird to the proportions of a toy boat as we stood along side at a respectful distance. WOW, all this in our first twenty four hours in Labrador!

During the time that I have been writing this brief, the wind has already diminished and the sun is beginning to peak through the speeding grey clouds. The weather here in Labrador is described wonderfully in this paragraph of the Labradorians by Lynne D. Fitzhugh.” Labrador’s is among the most lethal climates on the continent not because it is the most harsh, but because it is so utterly disarming. The balmy southwest breeze that glorifies a summer morning can slam around in a heartbeat – dark shadows racing across the limpid sea like chills, stripping the skin from the flattened water and hurling it against the land so hard it makes the ledges flute and scream. Within minutes waves are leaping and foaming like a pack of mad wolves on the deepening swells. In October 1885, one of the many gales to hit The Labrador that fall claimed sixty-four vessels and three hundred souls in about an hour.” “Weather in Labrador is dramatic, capricious, and omnipotent, ruling the lives of residents like a band of outlaw gods. Temperatures in a single day can span sixty degrees, wind spins a full 360 and weather switch in minutes from the thickest fog to brilliant sun to driving rain. But there is a terrible beauty in such unfettered wildness – and the sky shows are spectacular: lenticular clouds that drift in from the great bergs like a fleet of space ships: white ice fog that rolls over islands and hills like a heavy blanket, keeping the shapes of the land beneath; evening landscapes chiming with larks and stagelit by the lingering golden dusks of Northern summer: double rainbows radiant against the dark back of a retreating storm: burnished sunsets in four acts; Northern lights that begin as gently flowing curtains and end in storms of pulsating energy fierce as the trumpets of the apocalypse.”

The Wanderbird is perfectly suited for comfortable cruising in locations such as this. We are completely self-sufficient for up to a month without having to re-provision and our fuel supply provides us with an operating range of six thousand miles. The safety equipment aboard is second to none and daily safety drills keep us prepared. Tonight we will be having a survival suit demonstration in the form of a fun ship board competition to see who can get into their suit the fastest. This incredible voyage has been presented with one wonderful spectacle after another and tomorrow we will regretfully begin our southerly trip back down the coast towards our return to civilisation. It’s hard to believe that we have not seen another person in almost a week. Our “Little Cod” wood stove in the coach house has been burning regularly with each and every northerly breeze that brings us forty plus degree temperatures directly from the Arctic. It’s amazing that when the winds turn southerly that the temperature rises up into the seventies! We will soon be headed back to our wonderful new homeport in Belfast, Maine to share pictures and stories of this remarkable expedition. A look at the ship’s log shows that we will have travelled almost four thousand nautical miles by the time we return to Belfast! We have all found that our initial fears about staying “out of touch” with news, television and radio has turned to a calm contentment, as we fully immersed ourselves in the natural surroundings and the fellowship that can only be shared between voyagers on adventures such as this. The solitude, scale and wildness of Labrador cannot be described. Karen and I are hooked! Labrador has touched us very deeply and we have decided to return again next August for three more expeditions. Six of our twelve guests have already agreed to join us.


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