Red Bay, Labrador
The next morning, July 16, found us in Red Bay, a city of a couple of hundred that makes Corner Brook seem like a metropolis. This was a tender port, so the ship anchored outside the harbor & we were transported in by tender boats, which are some of the orange boats hanging along the side of the ship. You have already seen that some of those boats are hanging above our cabin, so on this day we were awakened about 6:00 by the dulcet sounds of the boat being cranked over the side of the ship on chains & ropes. So we got up, had breakfast & boarded a tender for the town.
In the 16th Century Basque sailors came to these waters to hunt whales. They spent about 40 years in this lucrative enterprise before their ships were impressed into the Spanish Armada. They seem never to have resumed this hunt, perhaps because most of their boats were destroyed by the English or perhaps because they had thinned out the whale population too much. Anyway, in the 1970’s archaeologists discovered that there was a Basque whaling station on Saddle Island across the harbor from Red Bay that had been forgotten for centuries. Since then a number of the building foundations have been found there along with a cemetery. One theory is that the town got its name from all the whale blood spilled in this harbor.
So our first stop was the local museum. There we saw a 400 year old whaling boat, which the Basques called a chalupa, that scientists recovered here. This is the oldest known boat of this type. Next to it is a mandible bone of a bowhead whale that is not much shorter than the boat. It takes some courage to go after a whale that size in a boat this small. On the wall was the skeleton of the fin of a Right Whale hanging next to a model of a Basque fisherman so you can see its size.
Our museum tickets included a ferry ride to Saddle Island, so that is where we went next. The “ferry” was really a small boat seating only 10, so we had to wait in line a while before crossing. The coast is very rocky & the water is very clear so you could see the rocks & plants under the water. There was a guy by the dock dressed as a Basque, looking a little strange but providing a pretty good explanation of the area.
Both sides of the harbor are full of large granite boulders & outcroppings and many fields of beautiful wildflowers of various colors, so this is a good place to show some of that.
Here are some closer views of wildflowers. I don’t know all their names, but they were very small & colorful. You may have seen some of these in the previous episode, but what the heck: they are still pretty. First some fields of flowers, then some portraits.
Once we docked on Saddle Island, only a few minutes in the boat but a long time waiting in line for it, we followed a path all the way across to the other side. Various archaeological finds were marked by signs, but you really couldn’t see anything there. At the end was the Basque cemetery, but the only thing to distinguish it from the rest of the landscape was the small rocks in short rows rather than distributed randomly. We were told that scientists had found about 140 bodies in unmarked graves here. It was unremarkable and we didn’t even take any pictures.
About halfway across the island archaeologists found a Basque boat under the water. They photographed it & covered it up again for safekeeping, so you can’t see it. But on almost the same spot is the rusting wreck of a boat that went down in the 1960’s (I think), some 500 years later. That one is quite prominent & visible from the town as well as the island.
All over the island were sea urchin shells. The birds catch them and bring them here to eat, then leave the shells. Some still had spines on the shell and some had completely worn away until they looked like christmas ornaments with one side bashed in. Back in Red Bay we saw a family of Inukshuks (“in the image of man” in Inuit) lined up in front of a house. The Inuit have made these for centuries as directional beacons.
So we left Red Bay heading north. But that evening the Captain announced over the ship speakers that there was too much ice in the harbor at Cartwright for us to go ashore in tenders. Thus, we headed for Greenland instead, giving us two sea days before reaching Nanortalik. There were some rough seas on this trip, but at least the first evening out of Red Bay we saw our first iceberg! We would see many more by the time we reached Greenland.