Day tripping at Bay Bulls (Southern Shore of the Avalon Peninsula)

By Alex McGruer

NTS map 01 N07 Bay Bulls, UTM Zone 22, Nautical Chart Bay Bulls and Witless Bay

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Map of Bay Bulls. Click on image to enlarge.

From downtown St. John’s, Bay Bulls is about a half hour drive on the Southern Shore Highway. This location is a relatively safe, protected paddle in all but strong easterly winds.

A good place to launch is the brook area accessible by a small dirt road. You can pull in there by Neil O’Brien’s slip and kayak tour sheds. If he invites you to launch at his slip (and he will),  it’s a good idea not to block that slipway area with your vehicle.

There’s a public wharf and slip but it’s run by the local harbour authority which charges for the use of its facilities. A trip in Bay Bulls can be anything from a half hour paddle around the tour boats to a half day paddle along each shore with a crossing at the head of the bay.

The south shore has caves and interesting geology that, while not spectacular, are a good return for an easy paddle close to town. Island Cove, at the eastern end of the south shore, is normally the turn around spot for most kayaking tours. Caves are found all along that shore.

The distance from Island Cove or parts southeast of there across the bay to Columbine Point or Useless Bay is about one nautical mile ( 2 km + ). Useless Bay is where a huge iceberg grounded in 2000 (see photo below). It was spectacular for paddlers and tour boats passengers alike.

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Thumbnail. Click on image to enlarge (photo Alex McGruer)

As you round Cape Boone, the waves can be fairly high in comparison to what is normal. This is because of sea swells meeting wind waves from Bay Bulls.

Further along that shore you’ll find an area called Bread And Cheese. As you pass here, you move into an anchorage and marina for fishing, pleasure and tour boats. At this point, you will paddle over the Sapphire, allegedly the earliest known shipwreck in North America. At least, that’s the story the O’Briens are sticking to it.

This part of the bay also hosts a cod fishing pen. It’s quite a thing of interest to see the fish being fed. As you return to your launch site, you should watch for seals. They will have taken a hiding place when you launched, but a kayak is less noticeable slipping across the surface of the water compared to being dragged from a car with the fumbling of gear. On a previous trip, I saw three seals in that area. A mink lives close to the wharves.

Whales don’t frequent the bay as much as they do some of the others along the Southern Shore, but they do appear at the mouth of Bay Bulls from time to time. Smaller minke whales do make the odd trip in there.

In 2000, Bay Bulls hosted a large basking shark. Bay Bulls has two kayak tour and three boat tour operations. Neal O’Brien runs one kayaking operation, while Mike Henley runs the other. Determining what marine VHF frequency they are on could enhance your safety while paddling, as calls for help on that frequency should result in a rapid response.

This is a great spot for beginners and off-season paddlers. It lends itself well to night paddles as well. The presence of two restaurants in Bay Bulls adds to the appeal of the location - you will launch knowing that a warm meal and drinks are available upon your return.

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