August 10, 2008
Born upon the bright blue sea
I knew that I was going to love Loyola O'Brien the minute I stepped on his boat and he gave the "little bit of a safety talk" and told us how to put on a life vest. "There's two ways to put on a life vest" he told us, "The wrong way, and the right way, which is quickly me by's, because she's not a big boat, and if she goes down, she's going fast." Then he acknowledged that if the boat did go down, that the life vests would be of little help in the freezing North Atlantic, and suggested that if there were a little trouble, we put on the vests (the right way) and then follow him to the life boats in the back. The Captain, he advised us, would not be going down with the ship.
We sailed out of Bay Bulls, and as we did, Loyola sang "Fiddlers Green" into the waves as Greg sailed us out past the incredible rocks and caves carved by the surf, right past Witless bay, and out into the sea (big waves) to an ecological seabird reserve, all of us hoping to run into a whale on the way, and to out run the fog and the rain that are still dogging this trip. (I'm writing this on Sunday morning, and it's raining again.)
The birds were really something. These are mostly common murres, known to Newfoundlanders by their two other names, according to Loyola. Some Newfoundlanders call them a Turr, and others use their more usual name, which is "delicious in a big pot of stew".
There was boatloads of them. Just boatloads. They swooped and dove (more than 100 feet into the water for food) and I found out that they live for about 35 years, which seems to me to be a seriously good run for a life on the sea.
Those are puffin holes (and puffins, though they are a little wee in that picture) 60% of North America's puffin population live on these islands off Witless bay, though only when they are breeding. The rest of the time they live all the way out on the open sea. Those burrows they make in the ground are .5 to 2.5m long (2-8ft) and the puffins use them like runways for takeoff. They dive and swoop and crash into the ocean, hunting up the capelin that they love to eat. Capelin is a little smelt fish that swarms by the millions and millions in the waters here, and are food for everything. Seabirds, squid, seals, cod....everything eats capelin, and when the capelin is running, the waters here are practically infested with every sea creature you can imagine, including whales at every turn.
This is a humpback whale, and I know the pictures aren't very impressive, but the whale was. Huge guy. Massive. Maybe 14m long (that's 46 ft). That's his long pectoral fin above as he rolls in the water. He was travelling rather than eating this day, and he was fast. Loyola said that even though whales may seem to be alone, their calls carry so far in the water that this whale could have been answering a dinner call from his buddy whale two bays over, and in a whale context, they would still be "together".
When the tail comes up like that it means that the whale is probably diving deep, just the way that your feet might come up if you're going to the bottom of the pool. We followed this guy for a bit, and minke whales swam nearby us while we did.
That's one of the three islands of the Witless Bay Ecological reserve. Chock full of those birds and whales and everything else, and not a single human.
That's us. The sea looks still, but it's not. Really not. Really not enough that even Joe took gravol, which shocked the snot out of me (and made me feel way better about being sort of green if I didn't stay close to the water line.)
This is Greg, captain of the boat and all round good sport and fun guy. We had a blast.
Then it rained. (That's starting to be really thematic.)
Posted by Stephanie at August 10, 2008 9:20 AM
I am loving your trip reports. I want to go to Newfoundland!
I'm living vicariously for now... thank you for sharing your trip with us. Serious fun.
You will be pleased to know that its raining again, still, back home in Ontario. We went to the east coast a few years ago, we didn't do the whale watching thing, I wish we had.
I'm loving the travelogue. Newfoundland is probably my very place in Canada and I haven't been there in much too long. They made the best vegetarian Mulligatawny soup at the India Gate in St. John's, BTW. I hope it is still there.
Rain in Newfoundland with whales and puffins is better than rain in Toronto. Enjoy your holiday!
And I'm still wondering about the vast amounts of bird poop that must be in these places. What's wrong with me?
Thanks so much for sharing your holiday photos and the great explanations that accompany each one. My 7 year old LOVES puffins and sea animals of all kinds. I'm adding Newfoundland to the top of our travel list!
So far, I have loved these pictures and all the commentary. Makes me want to get on the ferry in Portland, ME and head to the Maritimes! I hope you enjoy your vacation despite the rain. I call that sit by a lively fire and knit weather!
I have friends that live in St. Johns. I can see why they love Newfoundland so much! Great family photo. As for the rain - it's raining here in Toronto too. What else is new....
Newfoundland, ahhhhhh. Is it difficult becoming a Canadian? It could be 95 F here today. My that weather looks lovely.
These are great reports, love 'em! So did one of your DD's go overboard?? or did you push her???
If it's raining every day and foggy the rest of the time, you must be in... Ontario! Or Newfoundland. Evidently our climates are now becoming the same, except no whales.
Yeah, pretty much the whole of the Maritimes has been slowly readying wood and tools, should the need to build an ark become apparent. It kinda sucks. But at least you won't get sunburned on your vacation!
I really need to go to Newfoundland at some point. I live in New Brunswick, I should be able to take a road trip sometime!
(Those puffin holes really set off my trypophobia, though. Brrr.)
You got your sock yarn! Awesome!
Your pictures are so beautiful. Hubby is currently talking me down. Those are Canadians wearing jackets in August!!!!!! But, I think I have enough wool to go on vacation there someday.
I'm glad Suzanne asked - because I was starting to think I'd missed something along the way - there seem to be only two daughters on this trip.........
I'm having so much fun reading your Newfoundland posts! My husband and I kayaked out to those islands in Witless Bay. All by ourselves, with the birds at our sides. It was impressive. We sat still in our kayak and the puffins came up and dove beneath our boat. Of course, I know what you mean about the cold water and the life vests. We had a sunnier day though, but the ocean is so vast!
While jackets in the summertime are quite appealing right now, I'm wondering how cold/snowy/wintery/depressing the winters are. We know what we'd be doing to pass the time up there......
Thanks for the vacation memories. I'm vacationing vicariously through your blog!
I want to go to Newfoundland! Seeing a puffin in person would be incredible. And the Newfoundland coast is just amazing.
What a trip! Thank you for sharing.
Wow!!! Again, beautiful pics - so great you were able to see some amazing whales and other wildlife! Is the temperature there cool everywhere or just on the water?
We've been talking about it and now I *know* that we have to go visit the sister-in-law in Newfoundland!
Every time I see whales, I think of Carl Sagan doing his whale impression on Cosmos. I can still hear it in my head. I am a dork.
Thanks for taking us on vacation with you, I've really been enjoying the pictures and all the information! :)
Lovely photos! If it makes you feel any better, it's raining in Oregon as well. But it is a welcome relief from the 95+ degree heat we had earlier in the week! Your Newfoundland photos remind me of the Oregon Coast. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! Except you wouldn't see me out on a boat on the ocean. Did that once and thought I was going to die from seasickness!
This place looks incredibly beautiful, and cold and wet. T hank you for sharing the gorgeous pictures.
I'm so inspired by your pictures that I've finally applied for my passport (now mandatory to return to the US from Canada). Newfoundland is so beautiful!! Just one question tho...aren't you missing a daughter???
It's so nice that you have a life, so I can one vicariously through you :). My life is so dull and dreary that it is fun seeing all the places you go and things you do. Whales, and not just one. WOW.
Ahh, one of the 1000 Best Places on MY list I've yet to visit. I'm a lot closer now, too, Maine! HA! I know it's a long way from here, as well. I love, love the travel posts!
Is that the second Hibiscus for Hope sock? How can that be?
I am definitely putting Newfoundland on my must see list. Thanks for the beautiful pictures.
Thanks for the travel updates. Your vacation posts are the best. Did you see David Bowie has a testimonial on boat tour web site? I wonder if its THE David Bowie. He's almost as famous as you.
I think your posts are leaking. It's 10C (50F) in Kalamazoo this morning. Also, you apparently failed to note that Inspector Clouseau was narrating your tour.
"Minky whales -- that's what I said, you silly person..."
Oh I love Puffins! There is a puffin colony not far from where I grew up, and the boat trip to see that is fantastic :)
I am enjoying the pictures of Newfoundland so very much. They are bringing back happy memories of a vacation I once spent there.
Puffins are the national dish of Iceland, or so we were told. We did not eat any when we were there because they supposedly taste somewhere between "duck and fish". Yum. Those cliffs from the other day, by the way, look like they would fit exactly into the Cliffs of Moher like a jigsaw puzzle!
I've been meaning to post for a while. Thank you thank you thank you for leading be to CBC. I think it was through links on a Canada Day post. I've been downloading their podcasts and just love them.
Right now I'm listening to a book on Between the Covers about Joe Smallwood. What fun!
Wow, first time in ages that seeing somebodys vacation photos made me want togo see that place instead of just making me want to run screaming from the room. It really is awfully pretty & has been duly noted on the places to actually go to list. Thanks.
I hope you are having fun but if the weather is like that all the time you couldn't give me enough Prozac to live there.
Not trying to be a comment hog.. but I just read through the article on puffins that you linked to on Hinterland's Who's Who. Did you read the 'Unique Characteristics' section. Puffins sound like awkward teenagers. Poor fliers, often crash land, race over to watch a fight. Your blog should be entered in a Most Educational category for the next awards. There are just so many things I would not know about if I didn't read your blog.
Thanks for educating me about Newfoundland. Thought I'd like to visit, but after seeing all the rain, fog, coats, and BIRDS, I can safely cross this vacation hot spot OFF my list. BIRDS!!!???? (shudder)...
With all that rain and fog, I bet Joe would have really appreciated a nice warm gansey.
*laughs out loud at rams*
Seriously, what's Amanda doing while all of you are trying not to toss your cookies?
We did exactly the same boat trip a few years ago and we absolutely loved it - been to Newfoundland twice now and your posts are making me think about returning for a third visit!
So cool you saw whales! I saw a few in Hawaii in April but from much farther away and I didn't have the camera ready as you did.
Your vacation sounds absolutely fab. My late brother used to spend a lot of time up there - he absolutely loved it.
I love living through this trip vicariously, and I've already informed my husband that Newfoundland is now on my List O' Places To Visit. Thanks
Wool. It's good for the rain.
It's rainy and chilly here in Toronto, too. Last night I couldn't remember for a split second if it was still summer.
I've been enjoying the pictures. Even wet, it looks like a beautiful place.
I LOVE the weather you are talking about - right down to the rain! Here in VA its hot and humid and I want to shed clothes. Sort of like Toronto when you left!
Thank you for posting these pics and the info that go along with them, Stephanie. Newfoundland really is such a *beautiful* province, even when raining. :)
What a wonderful trip. Thank you so much for sharing it with us - with each entry, I am more determined to make this our next destination. Also impressed with the numbers of wildlife - nice to know it's still out there somewhere. It sounds like the people are welcoming and friendly (good senses of humor!) as well! So glad you are having a great time!
Wait, I don't get ya-- is Greg the captain or is Loyola O'Brien?
And what is the origin of the name "Witless Bay"? Bound to be a good story there.
Newfoundland is going to see a huge upswing in tourist numbers next season.
I've done that tour from Bay Bulls- complete with Irish songs being sung and the leader's wonderful sense of humour. I remember thinking- where are all the other boats....we were the only boat on the ocean that day. (In May, mind you while it was still snowing). It just occured to me that #1 daughter is not with you. I bet she is working this summer in between school sessions.
Looking forward to tomorrow. Don't forget to hit one of the pubs downtown for some Irish music before you go home.
That takes a man very secure in his manhood to stand there holding a teeny bit of a pink sock. Nice job, Greg. But, that teeny bit must mean that the other ball/hank/skein found you...yay.
I admire you for many reasons, though, and most recently, your ability to smile while on a boat on the open sea. I won't go into all the details here, you're welcome for sparing you, but my sister, bless her heart, wanted to do something romantic for hubby and I when we all went to Hawaii in January, so she bought us a dinner cruise. I didn't really want to go, hubby really really did. I should have listed to my inner voice. My tummy feels funny when hubby takes corners too fast when we're driving. And, with the type of person I am, I almost always bend to whatever is gonna make most everybody happy, ignoring whatever it is that would make me happy. Aside from dealing with the deaths that have happened to people very close to me, I have to say that the time spent on that boat in the open sea were the worst hours of my entire life. It was after that that I decided I needed to stand up for myself more often and not just do stuff because it's what everybody else wants me to do.
The sad thing is, I even brought knitting with me. On the boat. In case I wanted to knit for a while. Yeah.
I just look at you on that boat and my stomach remembers the queasiness. Ughhhh. I'm going to go lay down now. Before I throw up.
But wow, you actually look like you're having fun. Bless your heart.
Your pictures remind me that we, humans I mean, are are but a tiny presence on this earth. I recently went to Sea World in San Diego and saw some of these animals up close. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like to see them in their own environment.
What a wonderful trip!
VERY interesting post. Makes me want to go too, and maybe read Shipping News on the way.
Love this post. Thanks.
Thank you so much for writing all this and photographing all this and sharing your trip with all of us. Wow, it's gorgeous out there.
I am green - with envy. What a marvelous trip you're having! I've long wanted to go on a "whale" watching trip like yours & every time I've been near an ocean something has come up that has prevented it. Maybe I have to persuade SO to go to Newfoundland.
You know, I just returned from a week-long kayaking trip at Johnstone Straight. Whales are magical creatures and I know what you mean when you say pictures can't be as impressive as the Whales.
I returned thinking I should go back soon, but now I believe my next adventure should be in Newfoundland. It *is* the grandest place on earth, no? heh
I had noticed that your eldest daughter wasn't on this trip with you, but figured she had work/school/other summer plans and such.
Now I understand why the place is covered in wool. 'Warm when wet, and emits heat when it is drying' and it does seem to be very wet there. It would seem prudent to have lots of wool.
Newfoundland looks a wonderful place to visit - in summer.
witless Bay? Seriously?? I really, really want to live in a place called Witless Bay.
Dude, rain's pretty much been a theme here this week too. At least you got whales out of it.
I bet you'd love Fluke by Christopher Moore. Great whale story, and a cool afterword type thing about whales.
Thanks for sharing your trip!
OMG just heard about North York... I hope everyone is okay!
Oh--I just LOVE "Fiddler's Green," especially as sung by the Irish Rovers, who were my first introduction to my beloved Irish music.
Thank you so much for the pictures - our waterball has so many interesting places to know. Your daughters are lovely and Joe looks quite handsome with his short do. I will now have to study up on Puffins and put my dream together for visiting New Foundland. I do love that type of weather, and boats and open ocean...hmmm.
I am falling in love with Newfoundland!!! Love the pics and all the info about this place. As a gal from Alabama, I am loving learning all about this neat place!
Thx for sharing with all of us~
Lovely pictures! It looks so wild and glorious! I hope that sock yarn is washable so you can knit while it rains. :-) Safe travels!
What great pictures. Again. I fell in love with Laurie Lee's sock design Fluke. It's a free pattern and looks just like a whale's fluke. I hope it dries out for you.
What a great trip! You guys must be just having a blast!
Don't worry. It's raining here too.
I've enjoyed your reports from vacation. I have always admired puffins, but had no idea where they made their home. Must visit!
Wicked! That's the same whale-tour we took. I knew it was going to be a good time when the the pre-trip music on the boat speaker system was a wood-stompin' version of Kiss' "I Was Made For Lovin' You Baby" by Kilt.
We had rough seas that day. I was surprised to discover I had inherited a decent set of sea-legs. Jim was hilarious - you can hear his moans and groans all over the video he shot. We had no gravol. Oops.
Oh my, does this bring back memories of our family vacation years ago to the Maritime Provinces where it rained every day for 2 weeks straight. On Prince Edward Island, we came across a Potato Museum and were so desperate for some place warm where we wouldn't have to a. stare at each other in a confined space or b. get soaked to the skin that we all piled in where we enjoyed a lovely hour learning about the history of the potato. It actually was quite fun. I think we were the only visitors at the time and we had a blast providing our own narration to the film they ran just for us and then looking at LOTS of varieties of potatoes. I have no idea where on P.E.I. it was, but if anyone happens to run across it, I highly recommend it. Thanks for posting your wonderful pictures and travelogue. It's been a delight.
You saw a whale!! That is so cool. I'm afraid it sounds like I would have been terribly seasick though.
Thanks for sharing your vacation.
I am not in a position to take a vacation this year, so rather than moan about it on my blog, I'm reminiscing about past vacations.
Yes, I know. This is contrary to my philosophy, which is not to dwell on the past or plan for the future to the point that it obliterates today.
But this past week, I've been enjoying past vacations rather than make myself miserable now.
So, your blog is almost like having a vacation of my own.
I sat through all but the very beginning of this post with my mouth hanging open.
I had the opportunity to ride on a boat that went out to where the porpoises usually play, and watched them in the wild, almost within arm's reach.
But those whales are amazing! From what you're saying, that whale is about half the length of a football field!
I am loving the blog of this trip! I live in NY and want to go there for a vacation. It looks so beautiful!! If you are wearing coats in August ... it must get pretty cold in the winter, no? So much fun to read your blogs!
That place looks wild and fab. And it's raining here in London, too (that's UK London).
I nearly needed a Dramamine just to look at the pictures of you all out on the boat. Motion sickness insures that I shall remain on land, much to the dismay of my long line of ancestors who fished for a living. I just read the news about the explosions in Toronto. Hopefully the evacuations didn't effect any of your friends or family.
Even though I've never visited, Newfoundland will always be in my heart. When I was a scraggly toddler I had a tee shirt that said, "Where the rocks meet the sea, its a grand place to be" referring to St John's. My grandmother is from up that way, and I have always wanted to go visit. In fact, I believe she's going in a few weeks to spend time with extended family.
Thanks for sharing the beauty of it with those of us who can't get there so easily!
When I sailed out of Bay Bulls with Mr. O'Brien I failed to take the appropriate precautions and I left my lunch on his boat. The trip was fantastic and I thought I was going to make it back to port without an obvious problem when one of our group saw a whale and the boat went back out to get a better look at it. That was it for me. Well, it was worth it for me. Too bad about the boat, though.
If it makes you feel better it's the monsoon season here in Durango Colorado so it rains a lot every day. And don't you have THREE daughters?
Paint me green with envy. A whale! A real live in-the-nature whale. Wow. My dream is to go whale watching ... wow. Lucky girl you are.
Wow! Funny to think that the blog readers probably outnumber the inhabitants of this wild but stunning place by a couple orders of magnitude. (The human ones anyway - for the birds and fishies it'd be reversed.) And I suspect that Gretchen's prediction of the tourism upswing is probably accurate - if you agree, do the local folks a favor and give them a heads-up.
Damn. Just -- damn. I'm insanely jealous, becoming very educated about Newfoundland, and plotting how to get my family up there.
great posting real enjoyment
a real show case for your writeing
skills and word pictures fine
with out the pictures
watch out for joe he looks
good in short hair
My husband and I both hope to visit Newfoundland someday. Thanks for the glimpse :-}
Either a)head West...the weather finally turned out here in Corner Brook and we've had two days with the sun hot enough to split the rocks b)hope that the traditional weather rules hold and the good stuff is moving out to the east coast (don't hold your breath though - there's a reason why west coasters stay away from 'town'...heh)
You know Stephanie, I am really enjoying YOUR vacation, I know you know how to write well ( huh)from you blog and books, but girl you could be a damn good travel guide if you ever changed careers! You just have so much knowledge and share so much , it's so interesting! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this! Wendy
Hope everyone is well in Toronto
Thanks for sharing these wonderful several days of seagoing adventures!
I hope you are having as much fun in your vacation as I am reading about them!
isn't there a special dog to hunt those Puffin in their lair? i'll do some looking. what a great trip,
they can almost make their legs go flat out like someone doing a split and almost make the top of thier head touch their backbone.
Wonderful, just wonderful, rain or not.
What a fantastic trip out on the water! Even if it did rain and was rough.
I'm loving your Newfoundland stories. Thank you!
I'm jelous that you got to see a whale, when I was at Witless Bay this past June the capelin wasn't in therefore the whales weren't in... hopefully I'll see a whale next time we're on the rock!
Just so beautiful--The Earth is really a remarkable place and you guys are in the "Suite" of beautiful 'rooms' of the Earth.
I love being out in the sea. I'm so jealous.
You are making me want to go to Newfoundland as well. And I got to see some puffins on my summer trip - on Haystack Rock, in Northwestern Oregon. I was very excited. It just seemed so special being able to see them.
Hi Stephanie -- you did it again. I feel like I was there.
what a beautiful place! your wonderful anecdotes are going to inspire an increase in newfoundland tourism.
Thank you for the vicarious trip to Newfoundland! Enjoying the beauty, the ocean, and the wildlife! I can't wait to see the next post!
(We went to Texas and it was 105 F! Oh, for the rain!)
Thankfully, I have never gotten seasick, even on some fairly decent swells. I actually love the rocking.
One of the most magical moments I've ever had here in Maine was the day I was walking along the shore and a pair of puffins flew by. They pretty much never come that close to the mainland.
Thanks for the Puffin link... Who knew they'd "lose" their beak-plates?
Thanks for the virtual vacation today -- a relief from the heat, locally.
I hope things are okay back at home?
it looks like such a glorious wild place - and that you are making some wonderful family memories.
Have a fabulous rest of your vacation!
I just wanted to tell you that I made my first sock and am so happy about it! Now I have to finish the other one....
I love your blog. This post is so nice to read, you have such a lovely family too.
Aw, you all look like you're having such a great time together. Enjoy! We certainly appreciate being brought along on your family holiday!
THANK YOU for the "travelogue"! Our vacation this year is going to consist of going to my sister's wedding, which is wonderful, but not exactly a real vacation, you know? So I'm loving my vicarious trip to Newfoundland. It's amazingly beautiful there.
Still absorbing Joe's haircut - he looks like a different guy!
I would have been the one laying flat facedown on the bottom of the boat, wishing I was dead. Something has to be done about sea-sickness, that actually works!
I'm trying to think of anything nicer than sailing out to those beautiful islands with the captain singing "Fiddler's Green" and failing!
Yay whales! As a former whale-watching guide I'm always happy when people get to see them (we very rarely got completely skunked, but when we did it was awful). And glad that the sea-sickness drugs worked!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for the whale pictures Stephanie!! You just totally made my day. I am so glad you got to see them in person. I think it is deeply spiritual experience to be in their midst.
I have been reading your blog for around a year now, but don't usually comment. You get so many comments that it's overwhelming! I love to read about your adventures. You have a wonderful way of writing that touches so many people (especially us knitters) as just so true. When you write about your travels, you take us all along with you. Thanks especially for including non-metric units so Americans like me can truly appreciate what you see!
Just thought I'd drop you a note and thank you for making the conversion from meters to feet. Really...
Yep, my step-daughter was at Memorial University last month. She says Newfoundland is beautiful and was very impressed by an iceberg she saw. We are Puerto Ricans, so maybe she saw a little bit of ice and thought it was huge, you know--the unfamiliar...(just kidding, she's a very level-headed girl, unlike me.)
Once again, thank you. Lovely account and learning so much. When do you find time to knit amidst all this activity?
Your whale pictures are really good. I went on a whale watch out of Boston Aquarium some time ago. Nearly all of my pictures require an explanation... "THERE, SEE?? That little black fleck there is a WHALE! What do you mean you can't see it, it was THERE!" :) I was too busy watching to remember to take pictures until it was nearly too late. Did you get to see any breaching?
Thanks for the "tour of the sea life". Those were some very interesting facts about the creatures that you took pictures of. I really like Joe's haircut and laughed when you commented that he was trying to remember why he left NFLD. I keep joking with my 33 year old daughter that she should meet a "Newfie" - and marry him. She has 3 friends who married NFLD'er and they all have great marriages!!
Wow, someone named Loyola? That's my aunt's name, and was my grandmother's, but we never come across that first name outside of the family! (Yes, I am well aware of the saint and the Jesuit/college/etc. connections.) Nifty.