Monday, January 31, 2011
A Final Farewell
I barely remember that first time I sailed to Newfoundland on The Caribou to Port Aux Basques, NL. I was after all, only 5 years old. There are a few things I remember. I remember watching movies in the lounge. I remember eating fries in the cafeteria. I remember begging my dad for quarters so I could play video games in the arcade. I remember the sail being long, six hours there and six hours back. Little did I know that those ferries traveling between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland would become a big part of my life many years later. In the year 2000, at the age of 20, I decided to move to Newfoundland to attend college. I packed all my belongings into my car and boarded the Joseph and Clara Smallwood bound for Argentia for the first of many crossings I would make every year for a decade. It was an overnight crossing and I remember that night as if it happened yesterday. My parents and my sisters were there too. They were following me to St. John`s in the family mini-van to help me settle into my new apartment and life in a place where I knew no one.
For years, I boarded those ferries during the Christmas holidays, during summer vacation and sometimes during other holidays throughout the year to visit family in Cape Breton. Most times upon boarding The Smallwood, I would make my way to the 7th deck and plant myself in my favorite corner at the back of the Bacalieu Lounge. The corner, which was located to the right of the doors leading to the quiet area was always dark and quiet enough to allow me to sleep through the 14-hour sail. Sometimes though, a sail was memorable, even legendary you might say! Both good and bad memories were made on those trips across The Gulf. For example, the time my sister and I traveled by bus from St. John's to Port aux Basques. After spending 12 hours on the road, we were booked to sail from port that evening. We boarded the ship like usual but did not leave port until two and a half days later. A winter storm rolled in resulting in high seas. We spent the next few days playing cards, sleeping, wandering the ship and slowly going crazy! Than there was the time the harmonica player livened up the bar and lounge with a set of lively tunes to the enjoyment of the house band and patrons alike! He happened to be with a group of American surfers heading to Newfoundland to catch some waves. And how could I forget the weekend that a group of us were supposed to go to a concert at the university but ended up on a return sail on The Caribou instead. We hung out in the bar listening to live music and drinking beer and didn't get off the boat until it returned to where we departed.
And of course, like many other budget travelers who will do anything to save a few bucks, all the times I boarded those ships with a backpack full of beer because it was cheaper to hide out in a corner somewhere on an outside deck and drink than it was to drink in the bar. Oh, how those cans would explode all over me from being shaken for so long. I would have to walk around the ship for the remainder of the sail smelling like Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale but for the money I saved over the years, it was worth it! And I will never forget the people, some of them quite memorable characters, that I met while traveling on those boats.
These ships I reminisce about have all since been replaced. The MV Atlantic Vision which made it's first voyage across the gulf in 2009. I did have the opportunity to sail on The Vision not too long ago when I returned to Nova Scotia to live and I'll be honest with you, I didn't much like the ship. It's not that there was anything specifically wrong with it, it's just that its not the Smallwood or the Caribou. They were good, sturdy ships that could withstand almost any conditions in the harsh North Atlantic. I don't know how well the Vision fares in rough seas but she certainly seems a bit less sea-worthy than its predecessors.
Before the whole fleet was replaced, I made one final voyage to Newfoundland to complete the final stages of my move back to Nova Scotia. That was the last time I sailed on the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood. It is strange how her retirement coincided with my last days in Newfoundland, almost like a sign, the end of an era. That ship brought me and my family and hundreds of thousands of tourists to and from Newfoundland for over twenty years.