By Kevin Redmond
Newfoundland Sportsman. 10(4):44-46. July/August 2000.
Upon a point of land, jutting out from Newfoundlands south coast into the Atlantic Ocean, a large fire blazed under an overcast sky late in the night. In the darkness, smashing surf echoed as wave after waver crested and broke over the numerous shoals surrounding the point of land. The laughter and jovial spirit of the men sitting around that campfire was a sharp contrast to the dastardly deed they were about to undertake.
Passing ships, drawn to this light as a beacon of safety, happened upon the shoals. As the night passed the ocean slowly weakened the boat timbers until finally the ship dissolved into tiny pieces. Few sailors survived the crushing swells and frigid waters. The pirates on land waited for morning light before claiming their booty and dragging the lifeless bodies to a nearby pond, since named "Slaughter Pond."
Richard Alexander in the surf. Photo by Kevin Redmond (thumbnail - click on image to enlarge)
Not the kind of story we normally associate with caring, compassionate Newfoundlanders. In fact, these were pirates from other countries, taking advantage of mariners passing through these historic shipping lanes.
This same Burgeo area, touted by many paddling experts, today boasts some of the best sea kayaking in Atlantic Canada. It is a place with exposed and protected coastline as well as a living culture representative of rural Newfoundland. Before the road to Burgeo in 1979, this was an isolated coastal fishing community. It was this feature that drew writer Farley Mowatt to the area. From his experiences there evolved a number of books based upon rural life in Newfoundland.
Mowatts book "A Whale for the Killing" comes alive when you paddle in Aldridges Pond at night. The rhythmical wash of the surf on the beach is reminiscent of a whale breathing. The true story of the whale goes something like this: a large humpback swam into the pond at high tide via the narrow neck of water connecting the pond and ocean. The whale was unable to find its way out of the pond and eventually succumbed, likely to starvation. The carcass of the whale was then moved to the harbour on Rencontre Island.
The two main attractions east of Burgeo are Aldridges Pond and the "Man in the Mountain" in Bay du Loup. The Man in the Mountain is the most impressive rock face either of our kayaking group has ever seen. Bay du Loup is a deep, fjord-like bay. The steep, canyon- like walls of the bay are an ideal nesting site for birds of prey such as the bald eagle and osprey. To view these majestic birds fishing is not uncommon.
Paddling south of Burgeo we see a number of islands, some of which were once settled, but today only fragments of their history are evident. Although Rencontre Island was not settled in recent history, its archeology shows evidence of maritime archaic Indian settlement thousands of years ago. More recent cultural linkages to Rencontre Island are tied to its protected harbour, the final resting site for the whale that died in Aldridges Pond, as well as a sunken trawler which is visible 10 feet below the kayak.
Photo by Kevin Redmond (thumbnail - click on image to enlarge)
The best protected paddling is Arrons Arm, to and including the Barasway. When the water is too rough outside or you prefer the security of protected coastline, this is a terrific paddle.
The canal between Arrons Arm and the estuary of Grandys River is dredged on a regular basis. It was the untimely death of three telegraph operators in the mid 1800s that led to the first dredging of the canal in 1859. They7 had been on a fishing excursion to Grandys River, and in those days it was necessary to travel the outside or exposed coastline when going to or from the river from the community. On the return voyage their boat capsized and the three men drowned. Kayakers and canoeists should time the majority of their paddling in this area with high tide, as at low tide the water is shallow with a sticky, sandy bottom.
As we paddle ahead towards the Barasway we notice subtle changes in water colour. The dark, fresh water contrasts with the clear, green salt water ahead as we approach the Barasway. Boaters should be wary of the confluence of the canal, Grandys and the ocean. Here, river current collides with running ocean tides, causing frothing havoc on the water. Waves coming at you from perpendicular directions are capable of challenging the most competent boater.
If the seas are calm you can paddle the exposed southern shore of the Barasway; if not, a short portage over the sandy strip separating the ocean from the Barasway will drop you in the protected saltwater pond referred to as Big Barasway. The richness of the ecosystem here provides refuge and a staging area for a wide variety of both land and sea mammals such as seals and caribou, to name a few.
On our most recent trip we hung around the seals in the Barasway for half a day, passing by some with no more than 30 feet between them and our kayaks. On warm, sunny days the seals sun themselves on rocky outcrops.
Sandy beaches, remote islands, wilderness or the security of a park-like setting paddling in the Burgeo area will undoubtedly appeal to all levels. For the inexperienced paddlers or those who like to know local cultural and natural history, a local guide is recommended.
Stan and Derrick Mercer can provide detailed interpretation of the area. They give true meaning to the term "local experts."
It is only a question of time before Burgeo becomes a popular destination by both Newfoundlanders and out-of-province tourists. It is an awakening for most who visit the area, with the most common comment being, "it looks like the Caribbean!"
Those interested in a paddling adventure can contact Derrick Mercer at (709)886-1212.
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