When m’lady and I were traversing Conception Bay on what turned out to be our final house-hunting trip to Newfoundland we were spoiled with views of distant icebergs pretty much every time we got within sight of the ocean, which was often. We saw so many in those four or five days that when we encountered an especially majestic ‘berg grounded in the harbour at Cupids just a hundred feet from shore, well, we barely stopped the car. We certainly didn’t bother digging out the camera.
Then during our first Spring living here on the island we snoozed on a huge ice mountain that had parked itself aside our favourite little brewpub town of Port Rexton. We’d see it on the news or see pictures online and say things like, “Maybe we should take a road trip and check that out,” or “Can’t wait until a big one like that settles somewhere closer to the house,” and before we knew it the thing split in half and soon vanished. So at our next opportunity we drove an hour ‘round the bay to Sibley’s Cove and made do with a rather flat and boring iceberg that we found bobbing just off the shore. Then 2021 proved to be an abysmal year for icebergs (I didn’t know there would be good years and bad years), so that nondescript icy platform we saw in Sibley’s Cove has been our only iceberg sighting since moving to Newfoundland.
Which surprises me.
So when the Great Reopening of 2022 coincided with a very active and early iceberg season we decided to strike while the iron was hot. There were notable ‘bergs around Twillingate and Bonavista along with a huge, gorgeous monstrosity that had nestled up against Triton. Boat tours abounded. With soaring gas prices we hummed and hawed for a few moments trying to figure out how to justify a twelve-hour round trip when I came across a tour operator called Trinity Eco-Tours. Trinity is only two-and-a-half hours away and it’s right next to that favourite brewpub town of ours, Port Rexton. I picked up the phone and spoke to Skipper Bob who told me there were currently three icebergs in the area and he had room for us on his tour boat the following day at 1pm. I passed the phone to m’lady and her credit card and quickly googled to ensure that our nearby brewpub was indeed open for business. It was. A few clicks later she had booked us a room for the night at the wonderful Fisher’s Loft and dinner reservations too, so just like that we were all set. The next morning – April 29th, 2022 – we got up early and packed in a hurry, leaving the house just after 9am.
As we drove through an ever-thickening fog I became less worried that I had underpacked for a three-hour Zodiac tour through the North Atlantic. It was a drizzly two degrees out and I hadn’t even brought gloves. But no matter (thought I), there’s no way the boat will go out in fog this thick. We discussed it during the drive and both m’lady and I were both fine with the idea of just having the day in Port Rexton if the boat wasn’t going out.
Spoiler alert: the boat went out, and yeah, it was cold. Luckily Skipper Bob loaned me a thin pair of work gloves lest I wouldn’t have survived it.
As requested, we arrived at Trinity Eco-Tours a half-hour early where we were greeted with hot coffees and tasty muffins. Skipper Bob strummed Pink Floyd and Extreme songs on his Ovation guitar as a half-dozen of us trickled in to his seaside cafe. Skipper Bob’s assistant Skipper Steve introduced himself and did most of the talking while we waited for some others to arrive (I tired of the “Skipper” stuff right away but I played along). Eventually S. Steve took us out back and outfitted everyone with floatation/warmth body suits. Inexplicably, mine and m’lady’s outfits were coloured ocean-grey, whilst everyone else’s suits were coloured standout-orange.
We ended up waiting about an hour or more for a group of five to arrive. When they finally pulled in (without a word of apology or explanation to anyone, but that’s fine) they got suited up and we all hopped into a mini-bus. Skipper Bus Driver Bob drove us about forty-five minutes down* to Catalina, where we parked at the pier and transferred ourselves to Bob’s boat to begin our three-hour tour.
It was one of those hard-inflatable oversized dinghy’s, maybe twenty-two feet long or so with two 150cc outboard engines on the back. We were assigned our spots in the boat according to weight distribution and m’lady and I ended up in the front two seats. Behind us was the group of five, then an open booth that held the steering wheel where our two Skippers stood, with the final four sightseers sitting aft of them. Each of us were seated on our own bouncy chair, rather like a motorcycle seat that was attached to the floor by a single, shock-absorbing stem. The chairs featured a rounded metal bar to hold on to that was shockingly perfect for teeth-bashing. Overall it felt very much like a midway ride with no safety belt. The seats were pretty comfortable, but proved to be no match for the hammering waves we experienced on the way out.
Once we puttered out of the harbour and headway into the wind the front of the boat started slamming down off of the continuous waves. After a handful of neck-jarring concussions I remembered my snowmobile-jumping exploits as a youth and began standing up with each crashing wave, using my legs to absorb the shock. It worked perfectly and made the ride super-fun. Talk about a ride at the midway; I was giggling out loud! I leaned over and suggested m’lady do the same and I soon heard her yell over the din, “That’s much better!” Though she didn’t seem to be having quite as much fun as I was.
We were a good forty minutes out before we saw the first iceberg appear out of the mist directly in front of us. The dense fog made it absolutely magical. It was like the blank horizon simply solidified into a discernible mass of snow and ice before our eyes. The visible part of the ‘berg was about eighty feet long with a sheer mountainous dropoff on one side. S. Bob cut the engine to a crawl and we slowly circled the icy behemoth for at least a half-hour. It was astounding.
This was when I discovered how much m’’lady was suffering from seasickness, which she is prone to. I felt so bad for her as she hunkered down and concentrated on trying not to throw up while counting the long, unimaginable minutes before the trip would be over.
Once we started moving again her nausea subsided a bit, only to be replaced with a bone-shaking cold. While I had grabbed a winter jacket at the last minute to accompany my long shirt and hoodie m’lady had not, but it wasn’t until we stopped at the second iceberg that I actually saw her shivering in her bodysuit. I immediately gave her my jacket, which helped with the hypothermia but man, by the time we got to the second ‘berg she was barely hanging on. She was so ill she couldn’t even look up at the iceberg, only glimpsing it when our constant circling caused it to interrupt her focus on the fogged-in horizon. What a trouper. I’m confident that nobody else on the boat had a clue what she was going through.
Oh, that second iceberg was astounding! Like, amazing. Crystal-blue, with a natural amphitheatre that was rounded to immaculate smoothness by a constant cascade of ocean water that roiled back and forth up and over its walls. It was absolutely stunning, but I was feeling so sorry for m’lady I found it difficult to properly enjoy the moment.
The ride back was long and full of anticipation (and puffins. I saw at least a hundred puffins on the way back). With the wind behind us the ocean-slams were gone and we skimmed along the ocean with relative smoothness. Once we were in sight of land S. Steve gunned it, a mixed blessing that ended m’lady’s ordeal that much quicker but not without a final extra-icy blast of cold wind on our exposed faces.
When we finally landed she could barely speak. I hugged her strongly and helped her to the bus, where we doffed our grey suits, took our seats and started warming up. The boat trip had gone about a half-hour overtime, and coupled with our late start by the time we got back to Trinity and enjoyed a decompression hot chocolate and muffin with our Skippers and fellow popsicles…errr, passengers we no longer had time to stop into the brewpub.
The very same brewpub which, you may recall, had been a major motivating factor in us making the trip in the first place. Alas.
Luckily our large, upgraded, and quite perfect room at Fisher’s Loft along with a long, hot shower, and a lovely meal** at the hotel’s gourmet restaurant more than made up for m’lady’s day of maladies. We even saw a moose on our way home the next day.
Newfoundland is cool.
*Inexplicably – and nobody has ever told us about this; we were left to figure it out on our own – in Newfoundland when people say they are going “down” to somewhere it means they are going north and if they say they are going “up” then it means that they are going south. Our town of Harbour Grace lies between Carbonear to the north and Bay Roberts to the south. People invariably say they are going “up to Bay Roberts” or “down to Carbonear”. Whenever I mention this to people they tend to don a deer-in-the-headlights look as if this oddity had never occurred to them. Then they always (and I mean always) explain that it comes from going “up around the bay” or “down around the bay”. I counter by asking why “up around the bay” means to go south and “down around the bay” means to go north and we’re soon back to the blinking and the deer-in-the-headlights thing and before you know it someone is telling me that Subway started in Newfoundland or asking me if I’ve tried pineapple Crush or something.
I haven’t noticed any obvious discrepancies between “east” and “west”. Yet.
**It was a set meal that began with a tasty amuse-bouche in the form of a single, oblong cod bite followed by a great salad that oddly had the dressing on the bottom. The soup was excellent, I forget what kind it was but it came with a big, crispy pork belly floating in the middle. M’lady’s main was a lobster, chopped into a few main chunks and served with nutcrackers (but not with butter, though the waitress claimed there was a layer of butter pre-melted in the bottom of the plate. M’lady didn’t think so. As I am ocean-insect adverse I had the only other option: veggie gnocchi. It was really good but wasn’t a steak or a chicken breast, which it really should have been. The chocolate cake for dessert is what really filled me up, as did my two Jack and Cokes. Single or double? she asked. After much consideration I asked for a single, adding as an afterthought, “…but make it a thick single.” They came as doubles, charged as singles.
I’ll be using that line again.