Monday, 11 July 2011

Experiencing seals and shipwrecks in Gros Morne Park-July 9, 2011

Viewing the remains of the S.S. Ethie
             We had left our home in Corner Brook around 10:00 am on July 9, 2011 with the idea of having an outdoor adventure as well as seeing one of Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s (TNL) Gros Morne Theatre Festival  plays in Cow Head in the evening. Since we planned to see the play “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” we made a stop at the site where the S.S. Ethie was wrecked in a vicious December storm in 1919. A set of stairs leads you down to the beach where you can still see the remains of the rusting ship on the beach.  It turns out that the play “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” is 17 years old this summer and was the play that launched TNL’s programme in Cow Head according to director Jeff Pitcher. So we were looking forward to seeing TNL’s popular presentation about the events that led to the Ethie’s demise. But before we did so we had a sea kayaking trip of our own planned with Long Range Adventures at St. Paul’s Inlet which was just a few minutes from Cow Head.
Getting ready to set out on St Paul's Inlet
          I guess it was third time lucky. We had heard about the harbor seals at St.Paul’s Inlet located near the northern end of Gros Morne National Park for many years and twice had tried on our own to see them. But with no luck! So for this trip we decided to contact Long Range Adventures ( who regularly guides sea kayak trips in this area. “We have seen seals on every trip so far this summer” Daine Hewlin told me over the phone so we booked a spot on his afternoon tour. We joined their ½ day paddling excursion (with several other visitors from Ontario and Switzerland) and we hadn’t paddled out for more than 10 minutes when Daine said he could see seals. And before long we were paddling right up to them. Daine, in fact, seems to know these seals by name since they let him get remarkably close as the adjacent photos indicate.  This is one of the only places in Western Newfoundland and perhaps in all of the province where you can regularly see seals up close in a sea kayak. You can paddle a single if you like or if you are new to kayaking a double is the way to go since they are almost impossible to tip over and are very safe. This tour is ideal for beginner-intermediate paddlers since St. Paul’s Inlet is often protected from wind. Long Range Adventures also guides hiking trips and rents bikes and they are based out of Sally’s Cove.   

Daine seems to know the seals by name

A scene from the play
           That night we saw TNL’s play about the “Sinking of the S.S. Ethie” and could see why it has had a 17 year run.  The dinner theatre venue at the Shallow Bay Motel was completely full (be sure to book ahead) and we enjoyed a top notch fresh cod dinner during the performance. This performance gives the backstory to the reasons why the Ethie sailed that night as well as what life was like along this coast over 90 years.  We learned that it was through the Captain’s skill in running her into one of the only places where they could possibly make it ashore and great deal of luck, that no one was lost despite the very stormy waters. Evidently a baby was saved by being transferred to shore in a mail bag! TNL is performing 7 plays this summer and seeing a play about the area you are visiting really adds to the visitor experience. When we travel we like to hike, beach walk or go sea kayaking by day and then if possible, listen to traditional music or take in a local play in the evening and Gros Morne National Park is ideal for this in the summer. For more information on TNL’s Gros Morne Theatre Festival schedule or to book tickets to a show see- or call 1-877-243-2899.         

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