Trip date - 30 May 2010
NTS map - 2C/05 Sweet Bay
Paddlers - Peter Armitage and Hazen Scarth
Cell phone coverage - none at the slip in Winter Brook, but coverage may be possible on hill-tops along the shore in an emergency. Cell phone coverage in neighbouring Goose Bay (Musgravetown area) is excellent.
Local accommodation - Aspen By The Sea Cottages, Brooklyn
Wolf Island camp site - N48.4758 W53.6638
Map of the Winter Brook-Wolf Island-Sweet Bay area
Sue Duffett, Brian Duffett, Alison Dyer and Peter Noel paddled the outer reaches of Sweet Bay in June 2009, launching from Nolans Point at the north end of the town of Sweet Bay, with a cursory exploration of the western side of Wolf Island on the return. One of the primary goals of our paddle, therefore, was to check two small coves on the east side of Wolf Island that had been missed by our compatriots with the view to choosing a suitable camping spot for future KNL "Introduction to Kayak Camping" trips. Furthermore, Sweet Bay is now my paddling "back yard" given our recent purchase of the old Ash family house in neighbouring Portland. The put-in at Winter Brook is a brief 7 minute drive from the old house. It takes 2.5 to 2.75 hours to drive from St. John's to Winter Brook. Driving from the Lewisporte area takes an equivalent amount of time, I believe.
Hazen and I chose a privately owned, concrete slip for our launch, located on the north side of Winter Brook near a large, beached yacht. It's my understanding that many local folks use this slip and that the owners do not object. There's lots of sandy beach along the south side of the shore at Winter Brook for launching and almost no housing on that side if one is concerned about disturbing local folks.
Launch site at a concrete slip on the north shore of Winter Brook (photos P. Armitage)
The weather forecast for the day called for light northwesterlies, cloudy in the morning with sunny breaks in the afternoon. The forecast was pretty much spot-on except for the 20 kph on-shore winds from the northeast that sprung up mid-afternoon and which made for a relaxing, lop laden float on the way back to Winter Brook.
We departed Winter Brook in Northwest Arm at noon and hand-railed along the north shore of the bay. High tide was at 10:30 am. The shore line proved to be much more variegated than anticipated with numerous little coves, brooks and even a small waterfall near the start of the paddle in Loders Cove. We think sea run trout might be able to jump these falls. What do you think?
Small waterfall at Loders Cove (photos P. Armitage & H. Scarth)
The view out the bay while paddling towards Wolf Island. Lumpy terrain on the peninsula separating the Northwest and Southwest Arms of Sweet Bay (photos P. Armitage)
Not surprisingly, virtually every larger cove along this shore harbours one or more cabins, especially those with brooks. We noted a SUV parked beside one of them which reminded us of the easy access afforded by the nearby forest access road that runs to Great Chance Harbour on the headland. The proximity of this road to the north shore of Sweet Bay means that any of the coves along the way should serve as good escape routes in the event of adverse weather or emergencies.
The fact that virtually ever habitable, sheltered cove in this part of Bonavista now has a cabin speaks to the need for the system of Coastal Public Access Sites proposed by KNL to the provincial government. There were hardly any cabins in Great Chance Cove at the northern entrance to Sweet Bay when Peter Noel first visited there by sail boat 20+ years ago. But the situation today is very different. According to Brian Duffett, "[t]here is a lot of cabin development in Great Chance Cove. We woke to the sound of an excavator digging about a kilometer from us 7:30 Sunday morning....In this area there are about twenty cabins inside the cove and it's only a matter of time before someone puts a cabin here [at one of the only remaining, public access camping spots]" (email to P. Armitage, 8 June 2009).
One of several cabins along the route. This one is road accessible (photo P. Armitage)
We're getting close to Wolf Island at this point. The higher knob in the background is the southern end of Wolf Island (photo P. Armitage)
The southern cove on the east side of Wolf Island was our first destination because we wanted to determine if there are any suitable camping spots there. While the cove has some lovely beaches, they disappear at high tide and the terrain back of the landwash looks too steep and wooded for comfortable camping.
The southern cove on the east side of Wolf Island (photo P. Armitage)
The northern cove on the east side of Wolf Island has a large beach area that is good for landing and launching kayaks, and there are several locations where tents can be pitched without difficulty, although windfall will have to be removed in many places. If you intend to camp there, be sure to take an axe to facilitate the removal of windfall.
However, the terrain immediately west of the beach is peat wet land covered by caribou lichen, blue flag iris, and shrub. The beach itself has a peat substrate which makes it spongy to walk on. Therefore, once on terra firma, the best walking is along the top of the beach where the ground is drier. The north side of the cove leads to barren hill tops that one can climb easily in order to stretch the legs and obtain good views of Sweet Bay.
There are no brooks on Wolf Island so you will need to take your own supply of drinking water if you want to camp there.
Entrance to the northern cove on the east side of Wolf Island (photo P. Armitage)
The northern cove on the east side of Wolf Island is the preferred camping location (photos P. Armitage)
A narrow passage between the mainland and the north end of Wolf Island (photos H. Scarth & P. Armitage)
A happy Hazen weaving his way through some narrow tickles on the way back to Winter Brook (photo P. Armitage)
We landed back at Winter Brook at 4:45 pm having left our lunch spot on Wolf Island at about 3:30 pm. What, then, of our assessment of the paddling value of Sweet Bay and camping on Wolf Island? In a nutshell, Sweet Bay rates highly on the scale of beautiful, paddling destinations in Newfoundland. The lumpy hills and numerous steep cliff faces are visually stimulating unlike some of the flatter portions of our coastline (e.g. St. Mary's Bay, Dildo Run). There's waterfowl and other avian species of interest including loons, mergansers and eagles. We saw lots of evidence of moose even on Wolf Island as the beach and camping area in the northern cove was peppered with moose poop. The benthic environment is critter rich in this area; it's very similar to what you see in Newman Sound in Terra Nova National Park, with lots of sea anemones, sea urchins, eel-grass (aka goose-grass), mussels, clams, whelks, kelp, fish, etc.
While the area presents a suitable illusion of "wilderness" (a fictional concept in Newfoundland), there is much about to remind one of ongoing land use and human occupation. This includes lobster pots at the north end of Wolf Island, domestic wood cutting, cabins, and the distant lights of the town of Sweet Bay.
We know that this area was occupied by Dorset Eskimos prior to the arrival of Europeans, according to provincial government archaeological site records, so you might stumble on archaeological artifacts if you have lynx eyes and can tell the difference between a chert end blade and a rock. Dorset sites "are known from northernmost Labrador, all along the coast to the Quebec border, and virtually around the entire Newfoundland coast. Charcoal from their fires has been dated over a 1,500 year span - from before 2,700 years ago to about 1,200 years ago" (James A. Tuck. 1976. Newfoundland and Labrador Prehistory. Ottawa: National Museum of Man. pp.87,91). Please do not collect archaeological remains or otherwise disturb archaeological sites. Artifacts must be studied in situ (e.g. in relation to charcoal, etc.); removing them can make it impossible to determine their cultural affiliation and age. It's best to note the geographical coordinates of your find, take some photos of it, and notify the provincial archaeology office in St. John's.
Here's a few notes from the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador concerning European history in the Sweet Bay area. For the town of Sweet Bay we have:
"Sweet Bay was probably used for winter woods work by families from the Tickle Cove...area before being settled by families engaged in the Labrador fishery" (Vol. 5, p.331);
"In the late 1800s residents also became involved in the lobster fishery, and by 1901 there were 10 lobster factories. In 1994 lobstering remained the main source of fisheries income in the community" (ibid.:331);
"Woods work has also historically been important: for boat and schooner building as well as sawmilling. In the 1950s, people from Sweet Bay not only sawed lumber, but also sold firewood throughout the Bonavista Peninsula. Many of the early settlers kept livestock, and subsistence farming continued up into the twentieth century" (ibid.:331).
For Winter Brook we have:
"A logging community at the head of the Northwest Arm of Sweet Bay....Tradition has it that Winter Book was first used as a winter residence in the late 1800s, with the first year-round residents settling in the early 1900s" (p.588);
"Traditionally, the chief source of income in Winter Brook has been lumbering - with fishing, farming and construction labour elsewhere serving as secondary sources" (ibid.:588).
One big advantage to paddling in Sweet Bay which should appeal to newer kayakers is that it's a very sheltered bay that experiences little swell from Bonavista Bay and the north Atlantic. Nonetheless, its geographic orientation NE-SW means that the prevailing summertime winds from the southwest will probably kick up a good lop, given the fetch. Newer kayakers will want to take the fetch and winds into account when trip planning. The northern shore of Sweet Bay has enough sheltered nooks and crannies to permit frequent breaks when paddling back to Winter Brook in stronger headwinds.
Another advantage is that a circumnavigation of Wolf Island can be done as a relatively short half-day paddle - a leisurely 5 hours. However, the area will easily permit a full day paddle from Winter Brook or the town of Sweet Bay with explorations of Landers Cove, Bottom Cove and various islands and islets in Southwest Arm included.
The total paddling distance for our day on the water was approximately 16 kms. We took about 2.5 hours to reach our lunch spot in the northern cove of Wolf Island but we hand-railed close to shore the entire distance and stopped frequently to take photos, etc. The return time was about 1 hour, 15 minutes with a following sea. We figure that paddling into a strong headwind from the southwest would extend this return trip to about 2 hours.
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