Kayaking Labrador's South Coast
Trip #1 - Happy
Valley-Goose Bay to Cartwright

By Richard Learning

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Map of Labrador showing our route (Thumbnail - click on image to enlarge).

In the summer of 2002, I began what would be the first of three kayak trips paddling down the Labrador southern coastline, from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Capstan Island in the Labrador Straits. 

Day 1 - July 07

On July 07, 2002 , myself and my oldest brother, Jim, began our kayak trip from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Cartwright.  Over the winter, Jim had developed a sore shoulder, so rather than risk having to turn back, we opted to rent a double seated kayak instead of two singles, so I could compensate for him until his shoulder got better.  My wife, Betty, and one of my fellow firefighters, Tom Quilliam, and his daughter, Tammy, came to see us off that morning at 8 am .  It was raining and cold as we left from the beach off Mudlake Road and started across the Churchill River .  The wind came up which made paddling a little more difficult.  We had lunch at Muldoon Point and from there we headed for Point Epinette Island . 


Photo 1 - Mud Lake Road (Happy Valley-Goose Bay).

Photo 2 - Tom & Shannon Quilliam and Betty send us off.

Crossing Carter Basin was very difficult because the wind had picked up considerably, making the waves about five feet high and very choppy.  We had to paddle tight to the land after we crossed the bay.  We kayaked along Point Epinette before making our way to Cliff McLean’s cabin at Point Epinette Island . We arrived at the island cold and wet, around 6:40 pm .  Thank heavens Cliff had the cabin stove filled with wood, keeping the place toasty warm.  We hung our clothes up to dry while we ate a supper of fish and potatoes, chatted with Cliff for a while about our first day, then went to bed. 


Photo 3 - Gillards Bite (Lake Melville).

Photo 4 - Eskimo Paps - Hares Ears (Lake Melville).

Day 2 - July 08

The sun was shining the next morning, and after thanking Cliff, we were off for Hares Ears at 6:30 am .  When we were at Adams Point, we saw two speed boats coming toward us.  This was Scottie Lormier (also a fire fighter), Lloyd Pardy, and George Lyall stopping to say hello before they headed to Cartwright.  Then we were on our own once again as we paddled toward Hares Ears.  We had lunch at Kiniriakak Point.  The weather was beautiful with not a breath of wind, and the water was flat calm as we kayaked along.  We arrived at a cabin owned by Clayton McLean at six thirty in the evening.  The sun was shining on the sandy beach as we paddled ashore. We spread our wet clothes on the front bridge of the cabin to dry in the warm sun.  There we had good night’s sleep.


Photo 5 - "Are you paddling back there or what?"

Day 3 - July 09

The next day was once again raining and windy.  We left Hares Ears at 9 am .  We had lunch at Place Point where Jim was drying his shirt by the open fire on a wooden stick when ‘poof’  it was all afire.  Gone just like that.  We both had a great laugh at his misfortune.  We stopped at Cabot Island where we found a rusty hatchet.  There we spotted a ring seal on a rock about 100 feet off shore.  That evening, we stopped at Frenchmen Point to set up our tent.  Before we knew anything, a helicopter was above our heads and landing on the beach.  The rotorwash got to our tent which wasn’t secured at that time, and it ended up in the alders.  I could see right away that it was my neighbour, Lawrence O’Brien, our MP for Labrador.  He was on his way home from a community meeting along the coast.  After chatting for a few minutes, Lawrence left on his way to Goose Bay.


Photo 6 - Snooks Cove.

Day 4 - July 10

The next day the wind was blowing hard on the land, and we couldn’t leave because the waves were too rough coming onto the beach.  This was a lesson for both of us; to next time find a protected cove before settling for the night. We were too exposed here on the point.  So we spent the day resting and exploring the area. Later that evening, the wind and waves started to die down and since we had a couple of hours kayaking left, we decided to break camp.  We left at 7:30 pm and headed off for English River.  After about 10 minutes paddling, we sighted a black bear walking along the beach, toward our old camping spot.  At 9:30 that evening, we arrived at English River.  We set up our tent next to an old run-down tilt.  We lit the old wood stove in the tilt and hung our clothes there to dry.

Day 5 - July 11

At six o’clock in the morning, we were gone again heading for Trout Point and then straight for Pelter’s Island, where we had lunch before setting off towards Stag Island and then on to Rigolet.  Once we were in the Hamilton Inlet for the first time, I could smell the salty ocean air - the smell was so refreshing.  We were lucky that the tide was falling which made our time much faster.  If the tide had been rising, we would not have been able to paddle against it, since it comes in at about twelve knots.  The weather was warm and the wind was at our backs, so we were making good time.  We arrived at Rigolet at seven thirty that evening. We pulled our kayaks up on Max Blake’s lawn and spent the night at his motel.

Day 6 - July 12

The next morning, we went shopping at the Northern Store where I bought a pair of rubber boots.  We were away at eleven that morning.  For the first time on this trip, we saw whales, seals, sea birds, and the clear green ocean as we kayaked along.   We were heading for Lesters Point where another fellow fire fighter, Howard Michelin, and his brother, Steward, were spending the week netting salmon.  Before we left Goose Bay, Howard had told me to drop in there for a meal of fried salmon.  As we arrived at the cabin, we could smell the salmon frying and we were hungry!   The  salmon was very tasty and filling. 

We thanked them for the meal, and at 2 pm, were once again headed for Cartwright.  At Turner’s Bight, we dropped in to see Frank Webber and Dick Michelin who were at a friend’s cabin there.  We left at 6:30 pm and kayaked for another hour to Cranford Harbour where we camped for the night.  We had a small naphtha gas stove which I had purchased especially for this trip.  It was a great stove, but this time when I lit it up, the flame shot about six feet straight up into the air.  I found that the little metal top, the size of a quarter, had fallen off somewhere on the way, and so we had to improvise.  I made a top with aluminum foil which lasted for the remainder of the trip. 

Day 7 - July 13

The next day was sunny and warm, and we were off at 7:00 am.  It was calm as we kayaked down Groswater Bay, and there were young ducks everywhere.  We ate our lunch at Snook’s Cove, and rested for an hour before doing a little walk around of the place.  We noticed tent poles up ready for use.  Since this is a good goose hunting area, people come back year after year to set up their tents and hunt.  We got going again and headed towards Cuff Harbour.  Just inside Indian Islands, we saw a black bear on the hill above the shoreline.  We were about two hundred feet away when the bear reared up on its hind legs to have a look around and spotted us.  The bear ran up the hill and out of sight.  We kayaked along the shore and stopped at a cove to camp.  After we were settled for the evening, we climbed a hill and looked out over the ocean.  Some distance out there was a long string of icebergs across Groswater Bay.  What a beautiful sight!


Photos 7 & 8 - Cuff Harbour 1/2 km before West Bay.

Day 8 - July 14

We were up at five o’clock the next morning.  The tide was way out, and we had to carry our camping gear and kayak about two hundred metres to get to the water.  As we were carrying the equipment over the shoals, we saw fresh caribou tracks in the mud.  They must have passed by earlier that morning.  Today was Jim’s 65th birthday, and we decided we would have breakfast at West Bay, which was once a fishing community but is now deserted. We arrived around 10 am and made it a birthday breakfast by having toast bread and scrambled eggs.  The sun was nice and warm so we lazed around for about an hour and a half looking at the fallen houses and the old rotting fishing nets.

We found an old Comfort woodstove taken apart ready to ship, but was obviously left behind.   It was time to leave this wonderful spot and head up along the West Bay Strand.  After kayaking for about an hour, we realized we weren’t moving ahead.  The wind was pushing against us too hard.  The waves rolling onto the beach were huge, maybe eight to ten feet high.  Jim suggested that the only way we could get ashore was to ‘surf in’.  That was going to be difficult because we had never done this sort of thing before.  The first wave was okay but the second wasn’t.  The kayak started to broach, and there wasn’t much we could do but shove our paddles straight down and hope that we would touch the bottom of the sandy beach. 


Photos 9 & 10 - West Bay Strand

As luck would have it, the kayak stayed upright and we came down hard on the beach.  Being up front, Jim scrambled to pull the kayak onto the land before another wave hit us.  It was too late.  I was swallowed by the wave as he was pulling me to dry land.  Once ashore, everything was okay and we stripped off our wet clothes and hung them on the willows to dry in the sun. That evening, the wind died down so we kayaked around Paradise Point to Woolfreys Brook where we spent the night.

Day 9 - July 15

Early the next morning, we were having breakfast when we saw a wolf walking down the beach.  The animal didn’t notice the kayak until it got the scent of our tracks in the sand.  It suddenly flipped over with its head  turning to all sides, looking to see where this strange smell came from.  Meanwhile, we hid behind the knoll looking at the animal.  It didn’t take long for the wolf to reach the trees and disappear. 

That morning we rounded Cape Porcupine heading straight for Sandy Point.  Just before Pigeon Island, we spotted a whale going around in circles, creating a lot of bubbles.  He was going fast and steady.  We had heard that this is the way that whales will sometimes feed.  It was amazing.  Later, as we kayaked along, we noticed a number of gulls flying down and touching the surface of the water, then coming up again.  We went over to check what all the commotion was about, only to see the gulls stealing fish out of the bills of the turrs as they surfaced from fishing.   I had never seen a gull do anything like that before. 

As we were kayaking into the beach for lunch, a whale came up just a couple of feet from the kayak.   Then he dove again and went out of sight.  We ate lunch at Sandy Point and then kayaked across the mouth of North River to Table Hill Bay Cove.  We lazed about the beach for a couple of hours before heading for Cartwright, arriving late in the evening.  The trip was over and the next day we were on the ferry for Goose Bay.  Jim and I had kayaked about 325 km.

Photo 11 - Table Cove Beach.

Photo 12 - Main Tickle, paddling to Cartwright.

Photo 13 - We are about 3 km from Cartwright

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