Whale watching tour.
With my hand on the railing and my knees slightly bent to absorb the pounding of the waves against the boat, I scan the wave tops looking for whales. So far it has been a bust but our captain has entertained his paying customers with a chance to jig some codfish.
He throws a baited hook over the side of the boat and rapidly unwinds the line off the spool. When it sinks to the bottom he rhythmically tugs and releases the line. With an upward tilt of his chin he nominates one of the Memorial University students seated together on the starboard side to take over for him.
Looking between both of her companions, neither budges, so she goes up and hesitantly reaches for the spool. Captain gives her a few tips and the hand-off is complete. Captain walks to the cabin to check the fish finder and yells back ” Lots of fish down there.” Within seconds the line draws taught. There are a few “oohs and aahs” and someone yells “fish on the line!” There is a scramble for a net, while the fish fights against the upward pull. I watch the action from the other side and get a full view of the cod getting reefed over the side, onto the deck. The young lady holds the fish up for photos and everyone starts to clap. The question of whether to keep or release, gets asked and the captain says, “we can keep it.” The hook is removed from its cheek and it gets tossed into a trough at the back of the boat. More bait is put on the hook and the next person steps up to try their luck. I turn my head towards the sea, unable to stomach the squirming of the codfish going through its dying spasms.
After two more cod are pulled on board, captain says, “Lets go find us some whales” and pushes the throttle down. I lurch forward, toppling onto a lady with long grey-hair. “Sorry,” I say for encroaching into her space. She just smiles and I read “apology-accepted” in the creases around her eyes.
Our captain is shaking his head and steering the boat with his left hand. I overhear him speaking to one of the men on the tour, he says he has never seen a year like this: “No icebergs, no whales, and few tourists.” He usually runs 9 am, 11 am and and 1 pm cruises, but this will be his only tour today. I have ventured out from Saint Lunaires-Griquet harbour along with eight others hoping to see humpback whales. The grey-haired lady is the escort for the three young students – two men and a woman all from Bangladesh who are studying Engineering at Memorial University in St John’s.
Their church group flew into St Anthony yesterday for a tour of the L’Anse aux Meadows and Norstead. They are flying home tomorrow. There is a retired Air-Force vet and his wife up from Gander, they are enjoying a COVID style staycation in their own province, and another couple. All nice people, and in spite of the lack of whales, it has been a much needed outing and everyone is eager to get to know each other.
We stop again where a large group of gannets and gulls are diving, hoping it is a sign that whales are stirring up the fish. No whales but more cod jigging. We are far out from shore now and the waves are higher, the boat pitches and rocks. One of the male students is suffering from seasickness. His female friend holds onto his shirt so he doesn’t fall overboard while he heaves over the side. When he is empty he sits looking very green and she rubs his back, hoping the action will alleviate his symptoms. The captain seems unconcerned. Strolling by to check on his client, he says, “He will be OK, he is just chumming the water for us,” and gives a throaty laugh, then goes back to the other side to check the fishing lines of the other clients. The image makes me nauseous so again I stare out into the open ocean and the horizon.
Off we go again to the farthest tip of the island of Newfoundland. The boat dives into the air, landing on each wave with a smash over and over. It is so loud I start to question how much pounding can a boat hull sustain? For a long few moments I am tense.
The grey-haired lady pushes by me and spews over the side. Sitting back down on the wooden bench with a thud she wipes her mouth and slides a look towards me, where I see the sorry register in her eyes. Spray from the waves sprinkles over her and she moves to the other side. Approaching a long narrow piece of land with a lighthouse the captains shuts the engine and we roll in the waves, He points to the lighthouse and says this is the very top end of the island of Newfoundland. Quirpon Island Lighthouse . We are on the edge of the Labrador Sea.
Our captain looks out in every direction and says, “I don’t know where the whales are,” sounding apologetic. He fires up the engine and we head back. It is long scenic steam back. We are not far from the harbor when the gulls start plunging headlong thru the water-line. A loud exhale has all heads turning to see a plume of water vapour fill the air. A fin rises and a along black back slides through the water. It rolls and waves a fin through the air, as if to greet us. I am too short, I can’t find an opening in the group as everyone has gathered at the side of the boat to see the whales. I am struggling dancing on my tip-toes on the swaying boat deck searching for just a small look.
The captain notices I am being shut out and comes over to invites me to stand on the wooden seat at the stern to get some photos. He assures me he wouldn’t let me fall. I trust him and climb up. I take some great photos then just stand and watch them feeding. There are several all rising up and blowing at different times, slowly they move off and the entire boat hoots and high-fives in celebration, even our sick passengers seem revived by the whales’ visit.
Ending our tour on a note of jubilation we enter the tickle into the harbour, One final quintessential photo – a boat foundered and pulled up on the shore.
Our tour was suppose to be 3 hours but Captain Keith stretched it to four hours once the whales showed up to ensure we got the experience we came for. Returning to the dock each client was helped off and their catch of the day cleaned and filleted. Cost was $65/ person. Children $40. I didn’t see a senior discount. They do group and charters; fishing tours, whale watching, icebergs and photography tours. Season is June to October. Below is contact info:
Iceberg Alley Boat Tour
217 Main St,
NL A0K 2X0
Phone: (709) 454-2076 / 454-5342
Please join me again as I climb dare-devil hike in St Anthony
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