St. Anthony on the Rocks

Yvonne and Captain Keith were married for 28 years. Yvonne rented out three small cabins during the summer months on the quiet side of St. Anthony. Keith disappeared for months at a time on commercial fishing boats hauling in shrimp and halibut. Keith was a jokester, always quick with a seafarer’s pun. Yvonne had a big heart, taking in strays and foster children. One day, Keith had the brilliant idea of renaming his small lobster boat Bergy Bits and converting it to an iceberg sightseeing ride. The new venture would allow them to spend more time together. Plus, tourists are easier to catch than fish.

No ‘bergs in sight from the coast of St. Anthony.

Due to the boat’s diminutive size, Yvonne advertised the outings as intimate to distinguish them from the large, safe, and comfortable ferry excursions. The business thrived but the marriage didn’t. Yvonne still makes Keith his thermos of coffee for the first booking each day from her makeshift office in the cabin rentals, but her rescue stray Woofy is now her best friend. Keith hides cash tips from his new girlfriend who wants him to take her to Florida or buy her a new car.

Keith’s son-in-law returns from fishing, passing a baby berg (doesn’t count) in St. Anthony harbor.

It was 46 degrees in a deep foggy mist as we ate blueberry scones just out of Coleman’s bakery freezer, half-thawed and washed down with a Diet Coke. It had been a long night for Sheri battling the mosquitos of Pistolet Bay. From Lighthouse Point in St. Anthony, Eric spied a yellow boat too small for the scale of the sea, fading in and out of the North Atlantic fog in an area called Iceberg Alley. Once part of massive glaciers formed more than 10,000 years ago on Greenland, monstrous chunks of ice break off and float south past the coast of Newfoundland by way of the great North Atlantic conveyor. Beyond the small yellow boat a massive shape loomed, or perhaps it was a fog bank playing tricks on our eyes. Eric came to the realization that we were not seeing icebergs or whales from the shoreline so Sheri called the big box tour company in town but they were “fully booked.” There was one other choice.

Tourists in search of an excursion. If that white boat is it, I’m out.

Yvonne answered on the 6th ring, “Yah? Hello?”
“Hi, do you have any iceberg tours today?”
“Oh yah, all we have left is a 1 hour at 11:30. Not on the normal schedule. Special for today.”
“Will we see icebergs and whales in an hour?”
“Oh, yah. Definitely. Probably.”

S.S. Bergy Bits ready to host an “intimate” excursion.

Sheri is not good on boats. Doesn’t matter how big or small, motion sickness is real. One hour sounded a lot better than two and with an “Oh, yah, Definitely,” ignoring the “Probably” we were in. Following Yvonne’s too brief directions to a dilapidated shed on St. Anthony’s bight, Eric wedged Boss into a neighbor’s front yard while Sheri made conversation with an out of place couple poking around the pier.

Kieth says “Jackets optional, fuel required.”

“Are you here for the iceberg tour?” Sheri asked Virginia. “We ARE,” she said with practiced enthusiasm. Virginia had worked at NIH in Bethesda for 8 years. Now they lived in a Walton’s styled cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah. They’d been to Greenland to see the icebergs and were here to compare them to the ones in Newfoundland. Eric nodded affirmatively and quizzled his eyebrows at Sheri. “We were supposed to go at 9:30 but they forgot about us and took other people. So they made up this one hour tour cause that’s all we had time for.”

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip …”

Following Boss to the waterfront, a Quebec man in yellow lens glasses parked and approached Sheri. With a nod to his wife in the passenger seat of the Pleasure Way camper van, he said disappointedly, “We saw an iceberg yesterday from shore but it has disappeared.” Sheri commiserated, “We thought we saw one from the lighthouse but we’re not sure so we’re going on this boat tour.” “Now?” he responded. “Yes, now.” “How much?” “$65 each, but you have to talk to Yvonne.” Sheri had just booked her first iceberg tour.

The last giant of the season looms in the mist.

As Yvonne rolled up in her minivan, the small yellow lobster boat that Eric had seen from the point came through the break water and pulled up to the Newfie Shed. Captain Keith escorted 12 women and children in varying shades of green off of the worn deck onto the dock. Capt Keith gave the twin motors twin cans of petrol, pointed to the wear-em-if-you want life vests, and hurried the six of us onto his boat. “Stop by da office after ta pay!” Yvonne cheerily called out as she waved us off. We had to get moving if Keith was to make it back in time for the normally scheduled 1:00 tour. No time for paper work.

300 feet high and 200 feet deep, a Titanic killer in different times.

Eric recalled once signing a liability waiver to rent a kayak on a placid pond in Maryland. Things were different in Newfie. He doubted that the Professor or Maryanne had to sign waivers either before their three hours on the S.S. Minnow. 45 minutes later, having sighted Humpback and Puffin, Bergy Bits rocked in large North Atlantic rollers, 4 miles offshore, drifting alongside the 300 foot behemoth from Greenland, whose peak we had seen from the lighthouse.

Kieth says it will break apart in a few days after colliding with the coast.

Sheri snapped two pictures then handed Eric the camera, taking a seat away from the crowd to focus on staying calm. Panic feeds motion sickness. She could feel frozen blueberry scones lodged in her throat, behind her eyes, churning in the pit of her stomach. We lingered in the cold North Atlantic fog, circling the berg, marveling at the last of the season passing, listening to the Greenland floater crack and groan and give up her chunks of ice into the sea.

Get yer ice cold souvenirs here

75 minutes into the 60 minute tour, Capt Keith brought old yeller back to life, shoved Sheri into the bow for a cold wind cures-all race back to the bight, and pushed Yvonne’s urgent “where the heck are ya?” calls on his phone to voicemail. Eric chatted up Keith who was at the helm pushing on the throttle that was already full forward. Captain Keith opined that the icebergs were getting more common probably as Greenland warmed and shed its icy coat. Business on the Rock for Keith was good. The new shrimp processing plant in Port au Choix was booming and lobster traps were stuffed as shrimp and lobster migrated north in the warming waters of the North Atlantic. Come fall, Keith was fairly sure that he would be signing up for a three month stint on one of the commercial fishing boats.

Canadian whiskey (Signal Hill, NL) on 10,000 year old ice rocks.

St. Anthony on the Rocks