Current Collision at Cape Race

Word seems to spead quickly in these parts, and every few minutes someone else would be brought in to see the people with three little girls off the sailboat everyone had seen anchored out.

Ben Zartman, Ganymede

Danielle Zartman

We had been sailing through heavy fog for two days as we approached Trepassey harbor, helped along for the last hour by the sound of two seriously loud fog signals at the end of Cape Pine. But when the cape was abeam the sky suddenly cleared, revealing high gray cliffs topped by emerald-green vegetation. Waterfalls tumbled here and there into the sea, their sound lost in the distance. The water around Ganymede was alive with puffins, the air with gannets and terns. Far away a whale-spout misted the horizon, then disappeared. Trepassey harbor is long and narrow, but very easy to get into. No wonder it was used as a harbor of refuge for Grand Banks fishing schooners; the worst navigator could harly fail to find it in any conditions, and it doesn’t require rounding Cape Race.

There’s not much there now, though its windswept hills have seen lots of history. It was from Trepassey that the first transatlantic flights took off—a couple of US Navy flying boats left from there for the Azores, and Amelia Earhart also departed thence on one of her daring air voyages. It’s hard to imagine the harbor full of fishing schooners unloading cod, or picking up any sort of supplies—there’s barely a convenience store now, and less than a half-dozen fishing boats scattered about the whole bay. We found some good mud to anchor in, though, and spent a relaxing weekend damming up little creeks ashore before heading around the dreaded Cape Race.

Cape Race can be a really awful place, if the wind and swell are wrong, with the Labrador Current running south along one side to meet the warmer Gulf Stream water coming up the other, and everything mixing and roiling together at a cape that would be respectable even without all the extra ingredients. We mercifully caught it on the mildest of days, and got around without any trouble. As soon as it was abeam a following wind sprang up and we sailed downwind for several glorious hours with the Beast steering a perfect course.

As we neared Renews harbor the wind became gusty and fluky, so the Beast could no longer steer reliably. It’s the bane of this coast, and makes cruising it pretty challenging at times: the high capes and hills and fjords all funnel and divert and accelerate the wind, so as you get along it never blows the same speed or direction for fifteen minutes at a time. The only sure thing seems to be that once it begins to blow hard, it will continue blowing harder for a long time. It’s also certain to be blowing straight out the deep fjords, so getting in them requires motoring slowly into the teeth of the wind.

Renews, though having lovely water as clear as the Bahamas, had neither good shelter or holding, so we let the wind blow us back out and carried on to Fermeuse, very long and narrow, and guarded by the ominously-named Blow me Down Head. We got past it all right and found good shelter at the very head of the bay, just by a shipyard full of tubby, stubby fishing trawlers, from which the smell of polyester resin wafted strongly in spite of the breeze.

There was even less there, if possible, than Trepassey, so we rested a day and sailed for Cape Broyle harbor, ten miles away. We had considered carrying on to Bay Bulls, but the wind went more north than we could sail into and make good way, so we came about and whooshed into Cape Broyle. Or whooshed until the wind came from straight inside, when we doused sails and plodded instead.

Cape Broyle boasts not only a small grocery store, but a restaurant with Wifi, and we indulged in a meal ashore to catch up on emails. Word seems to spead quickly in these parts, and every few minutes someone else would be brought in to see the people with three little girls off the sailboat everyone had seen anchored out.

“You never sailed all the way from California?!” We heard again and again in their charming Irish accents. One waitress was perfectly scandalized that anyone should live on a sailboat, even after I assured her that hundreds of people do. “But not up here!” Though afer a moment’s consideration she remembered that she had once seen another sailboat anchored off. “But they never lived on it always!” Everyone also wondered, as they had in Trepassey and Fermeuse, why on earth we didn’t just tie up to the government pier. “We didn’t want to take anyone’s spot, you know?” I would answer. “There’s never no spots!” they all laughed. “You just tie up wherever you can.”

There was a piece of bad weather on the way, so we took their word for it and helped ourselves to a berth at the wharf. We’re sitting there as I write, having a baking day while the wind whistles overhead, exchanging a pleasant word with every passer-by, and wishing that summer in Newfoundland could last forever.

We are the Zartman family: Ben & Danielle, and our three girls, Antigone, Emily and Damaris. We created this blog to chronicle our sailing adventures on Ganymede, a home-finished 31-foot gaff-rigged cutter, which has been our home since 2009, when we sailed from San Francisco, California, to the Sea of Cortez, then down along the Central American coast. Currently in Newport, Rhode Island, we plan to sail to Canada, the U.K., and beyond this summer.