We motored into St. John’s Harbor among massive tankers and rickety old fishing boats to the biggest town in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. Houses on hills, ships, tall banks and hotels. At 250,000 people, this town boomed when oil boomed, and has since dried up into 2-3 months of tourism and fishing. Inhabitants are kind, smiling people, country in their interactions, with accents verging on Irish. Sea shanties play unashamedly through the speakers of homey breakfast diners.
We nestled into a small pier, between walls of ships with their arm-sized dock lines, rafted up to another sailboat. The crew invited us aboard for dinner and Dark-and-Stormies made with iceberg ice. The captain and his daughter had just chipped it off an ice-berg the day before. They told us tales of a record ice year, and I became nervous about not having radar. Dana balked at the suggestion, angry that we had come here at all, and set off the next day to gather information about icebergs and oil rigs.
Yes, there had been nearly 10 times the normal amount of icebergs, but they were fading fast, and we should be out of range if we didn’t go further north…except for the ones that drifted a little south, of course. It was a risk that we were just gonna take, it seemed. Vigilant watches would help, and maybe not too fast in heavy fog? I’m not sure really, sometimes we try to comfort ourselves with reasoning but can’t ever be sure.
Just a few days in port then. Peter booked a hotel for himself immediately and then he and I set about some domestic errands, lugging sail-bags full of laundry through the town. We sat against the big front window of the laundromat, using internet as the workers buzzed their carts around and steam-pressed linens on a big hissing table. Then we taxied to the grocery store. Yet another round of provisioning. Not because we needed more food, but because the slow, foggy week from P-Town had opened our eyes to the luxury of treats at sea. We stocked up on fresh produce, fancy cheese, chocolate. We even bought a cheesecake, which would have to be eaten in the first days with no refrigerator. But we felt confident.
Meanwhile, Dad and Dana set about the boat repair. The port diesel tank needed to be cleaned and refilled, which involved siphoning out the contaminated fuel. But to get it all to one side would take some industrious innovation. Enter my father. We weren’t at sea, so he couldn’t heel the boat that way. Halyards are strong, though. He hooked one end to the dock and winched, pulling the mast down at an awkward angle. Kind Canadian vacationers slowed their boardwalk stroll to stare, heads tilting to match the angle of this classic wooden boat. The hull heeled to starboard, sloshing the watery fuel in range of his mouth-powered siphon hose.
There was no small-boat fuel deliver, however, so they’d be lugging diesel from the gas station a half mile away. Before they could even call a taxi, a gentle, wrinkled fisherman offered to shuttle them around. His boat sat right in front of ours and he enjoyed strolling by for a chat here and there. As did most of the kind-hearted, slow-paced passers-by. It took strained patience those few days to tame our American briskness and engage with the fine folk of St. John’s. When Dad and Dana insisted the fisherman accept money for his help, he grinned and said, “You’re not in New York anymore.”
Perpetual New Yorkers, however, they went later to hide money on his boat.
We were ready to go Sunday afternoon, but we decided to be uncharacteristically patient. We would leave St. John’s in true ceremonial style. Not in a frazzled rush at the end of a frenzied morning of sticky projects, but fresh and bright early Monday morning. Peter treated us to a last crew dinner in a fancy fish house on the water, pushing us to order appetizers, drinks, and expensive entrees.
The three of us frugal sailors took the decadence in accordance with our unique personalities; me accepting his offers readily, as the eternal child who has never worked to support a family; Dad shyly surrendering to his playful persistence, snatching last bites of appetizer before I could wolf it all down; and Dana staunchly refusing any coercion to go beyond her self-defined limits…while I happily plunged into the desserts that Peter ordered for everyone but himself. It was the start of a journey after all!
After dinner I hurried up to the little cafe I’d made my sanctuary the past few days. Small tables, a big window to the street, big mugs of tea, and equally big chunks of gooey gluten free brownies. I settled in with tea and brownie and set up my iPad and keyboard. I was determined to pump out a blog post before we set off. My next post would be from Ireland…or perhaps Iceland, you never know. We’d be leaving Monday, July 24, the day after the new moon, a good omen, I thought. Good timing for starts…or restarts.
I set a little blessing…”may we have wind, but not too much, may we have kind, following seas, good visibility, safe passage, inspiring wildlife. And most of all, may the chocolate supply last.”