France, Cape Race, and the End of our Adventure

Saint-Pierre's ghostly cemetery on a foggy afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Saint-Pierre’s ghostly cemetery on a foggy afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

As I write this, Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour is steaming off the coast of Cape Race, Newfoundland. We’re making a speedy 12 knots across the water, with light swells from the south and a temperature of about 8°C out on deck. The fog that enveloped us yesterday is gone, swept away by the winds that have increased from nothing to roughly 10 kilometres per hour.

We left Saint-Pierre et Miquelon at 1400 hours; exactly 24 hours after having arrived yesterday afternoon on an unscheduled stop. The weather that caused us to miss the Magdalene Islands and our Expedition Stop on the southern coast of Newfoundland turned out to be a blessing, as it gave us a full afternoon, evening and morning in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon; itself an overseas colony of France.

Ocean Endeavour in the haze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Ocean Endeavour in the haze. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The city of Saint-Pierre is home to a little over 6,000 people, most of whom live in the collective city center. Not that we could see the city from onboard Ocean Endeavour; some of the best (meaning moodiest) fog blanketed Saint-Pierre when we arrived yesterday. You could scarcely see across the length of the ship, let alone anything else.

For such a last-minute port of call, Adventure Canada really rose to the occasion. On offer: an intermediate-level hike across to the other side of the island for wildlife-watching and botany-spotting; a historical bus tour of the city center with multiple departure times and the option to be dropped off opposite the Tourist Information Center; and a guided walking tour of nearby Sailor Island.

Saint-Pierre is actually an overseas territory of France. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Saint-Pierre is actually an overseas territory of France. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Located just 25 kilometres off the Newfoundland coast, it looks like it's straight out of "The Shipping News." Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Located just 25 kilometres off the Newfoundland coast, it looks like it’s straight out of “The Shipping News.” Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Of course, guests also had the option to do their own thing and explore to make the most of our unscheduled time here. So, rather than walk the 20-minutes into town through the fog, I cycled.

New for this season, Adventure Canada has introduced an onboard mountain bike rental program in select ports of call. The Ocean Endeavour has a fleet of 13 Kona mountain bikes, which are available during each Expedition for a per-person cost of $55 CAD. The rental fee includes the bicycle, lock, helmet, and any other necessary gear you might require.

How do you get around in Saint-Pierre? Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

How do you get around in Saint-Pierre? Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Rent one of Adventure Canada's new mountain bikes for the afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Rent one of Adventure Canada’s new mountain bikes for the afternoon. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Now, on many cruises (in particular, river cruises), bicycles are provided to guests on a complimentary basis. However, you can imagine how in-demand these thirteen bikes would be if they could be reserved for free. The $55 per guest charge ensures you really, really want to bike around, and that bikes aren’t reserved and then never used.

Since this is the first voyage this feature has been rolled out on – and with a foggy afternoon creating absolutely no demand for the bikes – Adventure Canada invited me to take one for a spin around Saint-Pierre.

If you’ve cycled on river cruises, forget everything: these aren’t city-based road bikes; these are proper off-road expedition bikes, complete with heavy-duty suspension, adjustable seats and handle bars, and multiple gears.

Overall visibility on my cycle: poor. But fabulously foggy! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Overall visibility on my cycle: poor. But fabulously foggy! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Here’s the lowdown: this was an amazing way to get around, even in the fog and mist that pelted down on of my outing. In fact, the bikes were so good that I was able to ride on Saint-Pierre’s narrow streets and patchy sidewalks without any issues. During “rush hour”, I was able to move the bike from the road to the sidewalk and negotiate the square curb without any issues at all. The high-end shock absorbers ensure that road conditions don’t rattle you around like a city bike would. Locking it up is also a snap, and the lock was heavy-duty enough that I didn’t mind leaving it lashed to a post for an hour while I window-shopped.

This morning, I chose to walk into Saint-Pierre from the Ocean Endeavour’s docking location on the outskirts of town. I love this place – it reminds me of Longyarbyen, Svalbard and Kirkenes, Norway all rolled into one. It’s remote and entirely self-sustaining, with quiet, desolate streets.

Saint-Pierre's cemetery is located on a hill overlooking the town. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Saint-Pierre’s cemetery is located on a hill overlooking the town. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

And yet, there’s more than a hit of France about the place, which is part of France and the European Union. You can get foie gras de Canard (duck Foie Gras), French teas, chocolates, bonbons, and, yes – French wines, the latter at a deep, deep discount. When wine is €6 per bottle, it’s a deal in any currency.

But it might pay to be choosy: I saw a bottle of something called Cap’tain Schnapps in the local supermarche. Going for the rock-bottom price of €3.38 per 750ml bottle, this 45% alcohol is probably closer to turpentine than something you’d want to have as an aperitif, but hey, it could be good. I, however, wasn’t brave enough to try.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At 1400, Ocean Endeavour let her lines go for one last time this voyage, as we began our afternoon and evening cruise over to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where our journey comes to a close. About 47 of our fellow guests disembarked today on a charter flight to St. John’s to begin a special post-cruise tour, while the rest of us are joining the ship for the night voyage through the Atlantic.

Just before 1730, Cape Race, Newfoundland came into view off our port side. A prominent headland, this is the first sight of North America that most people on the Northern Atlantic routes would have seen on a westbound crossing, and the last point they would witness on an eastbound sailing. If you – like me – had European ancestors that sailed to Halifax or Montreal, there’s a good chance they saw this headland too.

Porthole windows into the cemetery's crypts are nautical...and vaguely off-putting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Porthole windows into the cemetery’s crypts are nautical…and vaguely off-putting. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Cape Race was also one of the first places with a Marconi telegraph station to get the distress signals sent by the RMS Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912. Shrouded in fog for roughly 158 days per year (except, ironically, today), it was also the site of the wreck of the SS Arctic, which collided with the Vesta in heavy fog off Cape Race on September 27, 1854. Out of over 400 onboard the Arctic, only 88 – most of whom were crew –  survived to tell a tale of panic and confusion in which every woman and child listed on the ship’s manifest perished. The Collins Line, which owned and operated the Arctic, was never held responsible for the disaster, but went bankrupt four years later. Captain James Luce, who commanded Arctic’s final voyage and was overrun by his own crew, was treated favorably by the general public for his own plight. Washed off the decks, he was plucked up by a passing boat and saved. He never went to sea again.

It’s one of many heart-wrenching stories that have occurred off these shores. To many, it’s just a cliff and a lighthouse. To me, seeing Cape Race is a rite of passage for those who love the sea and the ships that sail – and have sailed – upon it.

Today at our final Farewell Briefing in the Nautilus Lounge, Expedition Team member and raconteur Phil Jenkins left us with a quote that struck me as being exceptional. Jenkins claims to have heard it in the Arctic, and that could be. But I look at the sea outside the windows, vast and foreboding, and wonder if it isn’t a synonym for the trials of mariners past and present alike:

“If I never meet you again, may I feel the lack. And if I do meet you again, may I feel the joy.”

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor has sadly come to a close, but stay tuned for our full Voyage Recap! Be sure to follow along with our adventures on Twitter @deckchairblog.

 

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