Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Puffins, Glooscap and a boring rescue.

While viewing puffins on the wing may not seem a scintillating lifetime wish, you'll have to admit it's something not everyone would add to their "bucket list".
Saturday I got to cross that entry off, along with ten other good chums from our paddling club.
We all (11 of us!)arrived willy-nilly on Friday evening at the beautiful Puffin Tours Campground near Big Bras D'Or on Cape Breton Island, and immediately fell into a comfortable routine of setting up tents and readying for the morning. The foggy dew and occasional mist were put to flight by Lynda-Marie's trusty kitchen shelter tent, with its clever system of camp tarps and shower curtain rings. We lolled inside in our camp chairs, cheered by the rosy glow of Wayne's home built wood stove just outside.
Saturday morning came early, after a blissful night under the stars with the sound of distant foghorns as lullabies.
Breakfast was a veritable smörgåsbord, as everyone seemed to have entirely too much of everything. Amazingly, we were all on the water before our anticipated launch time, a first for Pictou County Paddlers, I believe.
Well-armed with local lore by the campground's tour boat skipper, we avoided potential trouble spots and wended our way out to Cape Dauphin with the Bird Islands tantalizingly close on the horizon. After a quick snack on a secluded sandy beach we set out on the 3 km crossing to Hertford, the first of the Bird Islands. While launching, a passing local lobsterman offered us some weather advice, alluding to a storm approaching rapidly from the North. We took that under advisement and continued on. Actually, I had noticed the increasing swells which manifested in a nasty dumping surf on our erstwhile pleasant lunch beach. As the last one to launch, I got knocked sideways twice by intemperate wave sets.
After a comfortable crossing on gentle swells, we came into the lee of the Bird Islands and under the spell of their singularity. Sea birds of all types imaginable roosted in countless crannies, and darted busily past us on errands too complex for us to grasp. While in this state of mesmer, one of our paddles made a slight goof and found himself upside down in his kayak, a granola bar lodged firmly in his mouth. Taken aback by this, he forsook his normally dependable roll and punched out. The ensuing group rescue went like clockwork, and within minutes he was back in his cockpit and paddling onward. I was intensely but quietly proud of our club members, none of whom broke a sweat. The only directive I gave was a timeline for a possible tow hookup, as the flotilla drifted slowly toward some edgy looking rocks. Thankfully, this did not come even close to being necessary. Well done, folks.
A slow circumnav of Hertford, the innermost of the Bird Isles was very rewarding, and we saw murres, gulls and puffins aplenty. The puffins seemed fearless, settling onto the water within meters of our boats and eying us curiously. On the wing, these stout seabirds seemed quite ungraceful, but on the water they were clearly in their element. One wonders if they might be distant cousins to the doughty penguins of southern climes.
Forsaking a trip around Ciboux, the outer island, we made instead for the Fairy Hole and Glooscap's Cave on the mainland. Given the local lobsterman's admonishment about the oncoming storm, we felt this was a wise course of action.
A landing at the Fairy Hole was not practical, due to the steepness and lack of welcoming sand. Instead, we followed Bill to a nearby cove where all 11 of us could land and lunch in comfort. The local geology was amazingly complex, and we spent a good while exploring the shoreline.
Fortified with nutritious lunches and sugary snacks, we tried again for the Fairy Hole and with the expertise of Wayne and others we managed to bring all boats safely if not unscratched ashore. A tinkling waterfall greeted us, and we posed there for group photos.
A few of the more intrepid paddlers made the nail-biting rope traverse to the very mouth of Glooscap's Cave, but unfortunately he was not inclined to let us enter despite the offering of tobacco we made on the boulders guarding the cave. A 30-foot circular pool, eight feet deep with a six foot vertical rock face stymied us at the entrance. A single strand of very aged-looking nylon rope stretched tantalizingly into the cave's maw, but thankfully no one felt the urge to risk life and limb on it.
A leisurely paddle back to our camp site was made interesting by the rushing tide in the Great Bras D'Or Passage. Some paddlers struggled against back eddies and whirlpools, while others found the express flowage and fairly flew along at 9 kph.
We all arrived tired and safe at our home beach, and a few hours later were once again cozied into the bug tent, yawning and telling outrageous lies.
I think it's fair to say everyone slept well that night, despite the occasional gunshot (?) in the distance.
The remaining adventures of the weekend are best left to someone else...


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