Red Bay is one of the 12 ports along the Labrador coast mentioned in Spanish archives as key Basque whaling sites. In the 1560’s and 1570’s as many as 1000 men and 20 galleons came to this little harbour in the summer months. In 16th century Europe, whale oil was the prime source of light, was used as a lubricant, an additive to drugs and an additive for several products such as soap. This substance was so important that a barrel of whale oil would sell for the equivalent of 5-10k USD today. In one year the Basques would process as many as 10,000 barrels of oil in Red Bay alone. Making a solid contribution to the eventual devastation of the whale population. There is a nice museum in the bay and a beautiful walk around Saddle Island, a small island protecting the inlet. In addition to our study of Basque whaling history we also found a nice snow slope on the island and the monkies had a good sledding session and a little snowball fight.
There is now just a small community of about 60 people in Red Bay, mostly seniors. Marilyn and Bim, both now in their 60s, run the Whaler restaurant there and we spent an evening chatting to them and playing with Noah (18 months) and Shaq (3 years), two boys that they are fostering. Over the past 25 years they have fostered 22 children, helping to give children from depressed communities in Labrador (generally where severe alcoholism is prevalent) a better start. Generous souls doing their best to temporary improve some very sad circumstances.
Our next stop was the cosy little Eagle Cove, a well protected anchorage on Hawke Island and a little inlet that embodies the essence of remoteness. The land initially looks quite barren but upon closer evaluation is rich with a wide variety of lichens, mosses, heathers and a few small evergreens. A couple of seals peaked up at us from time to time and some shearwaters fluttered nearby but otherwise the bay was quiet and we were completely alone. It was a lovely evening so we dinghied into the shore for a quick walk and collected driftwood for a campfire.
Just to be sure we took some precautions against bears. As we chatted quietly around the fire we asked ourselves the following questions: “Could there really be bears on this island?” “How well do bears swim?” “Would they swim from the mainland?” Just as we were about to gather our things to head back to the boat a little mink popped its head up from between the rocks 2 meters away and stared at us for a few minutes. I’m sure that she found us as unusual and interesting as we found her.
The following morning we headed up through the fabulous ‘Squasho Run,’ a narrow passage between Hawke Island and the mainland. We had a strong current with us and the water was lovely and flat even though winds of 25 knots were rumbling outside on the ocean. About halfway up we glimpsed a dark and oddly shaped log floating ahead. Just as we moved to avoid it the log sprouted ears. And our questions from the previous evening were very quickly answered.
This log was actually a black bear.
That bear was travelling from Hawke Island back to the mainland and it was swimming with a strong and competent stroke. It looked rather small in the water but revealed a bulky powerful body when it climbed ashore, shook quickly and lumbered with incredible speed and grace up the side of the rocky hill. Wow, what a treat.