Day 14 |
Sep 16, 2011

Havre St. Pierre, Canada

By Chris Srigley, General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 58˚ 14’ 12” N, 63˚ 36’ 31” W
Weather: Overcast with clearing skies

At sunrise this morning, the Silver Explorer passed through the magnificent Mingan Archipelago en route to our port of call, Havre St. Pierre.

As Captain Alexander Golubev and his officers on the Bridge pulled us alongside, Staff Captain Håkan and the deck team readied the gangway for an early start to our day’s activities here on the north shore.

With two activities planned for the day, it was an early start for groups three and four. Accompanied by Robin Aiello, Hans-Peter, Juan Carlos, Elliott Neep and myself, the groups disembarked the Silver Explorer at 0730. Walking a short distance across the pier we boarded a local vessel that would take us across the bay and into the Mingan Archipelago where we would explore two of its islands, Quarry and Niapiskua.

Set aside by the Canadian government in 1984 as a National Park Reserve, this archipelago is a treasure trove of natural wonders. Limestone cliffs filled with fossils of life from long ago, now covered with a rich and diverse flora and fauna, tell a story spanning millions of years. Today they tell us this story.

After a short safety briefing, such as the one we do here on board the Silver Explorer, our Captain pushed off from the pier. Heading into the wind and gentle swell, the vessel gently rolled to and fro as we made steady progress to our first stop – Iles Quarry.

Several guests along with the Expedition Team braved the biting wind on the upper deck for the forty-five minute ride to Quarry, enjoying views of Osprey, Gray Seals and many Gulls before some succumbed to the cold and joined the others who had gathered in the warmth below.

Arriving at Iles Quarry we were greeted by two enthusiastic Parks Canada guides, eager to share their passion and knowledge of the island’s splendor.

Splitting us into two groups, we headed in opposite directions exploring the various habitats. Along the way our guide explained each habitat and how the rich flora survived. Along the shoreline, we saw Oyster leaf with its waxy coating protecting it from the salt spray. Within the Boreal forest, lush mosses and lichens thrived in the light-starved environment.

Traversing the island along perfectly built boardwalks, we ended our walk with a short stop at the ranger’s hut for coffee and snacks before once again boarding the vessel for the thirty-minute ride to our next destination.

As we excited the sheltered bay of Ile Quarry, the winds had pushed away the clouds revealing a brilliant blue sky and bathing us in the warmth of the sun. With our backs to the wind, the outer decks did not seem too harsh as they had on our journey out from the mainland. We could sense however that the winds were increasing as our tiny vessel continued to roll in the increasing swell.

Pulling alongside the dock at Ile Niapiskua, we were once again greeted by our two guides and separated into the same groups as before. Here, the highlight of our visit was the majestic limestone monoliths. Carved over millions of years these natural sculptures shapes set your imagination free to envision what you will. Turtles, eagles heads, maybe even a bust of former United States President Nixon!

Once again sheltered from the persistent winds, it seemed a calm and sunny day on Niapiskua. However a glance into the open water soon made us all well aware that its velocity had continued to increase. The odd whitecap had been replaced with a foaming sea.

Boarding the vessel we said goodbye to our wonderful Parks Canada guides and made our way towards Havre St. Pierre and the awaiting Silver Explorer where we were to return for lunch onboard before joining another local guide for a tour of town.

As we rolled through the swells on route, a call came over the radio ‘Aiello Aiello, Conrad’. It was our Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink contacting Robin Aiello with news of the afternoon. Unfortunately with the winds now gusting up to thirty-five knots and higher the captain of the second local vessel that was to take groups one and two out to the islands had wisely chosen to cancel. There was no way for them to make the trip safely. With this, the entire afternoon was cancelled and the Silver Explorer made ready for an early departure from Havre St. Pierre.

As the lines were drawn and Captain Golubev prepared to push away from the pier, the winds continued to increase thus making maneuvering the ship difficult. In the interest of safety Captain Golubev quickly made the decision our departure would have to be delayed. Once again the lines were set and the gangway set so guests could head to shore if they wished.

Moving quickly, Conrad decided to make a plan with the local agent for a small cocktail party ashore at the craft market across the pier. Guests could head over and enjoy a drink and have some small appetizers before returning to the Silver Explorer for dinner and departure.

Put together in the blink of an eye by the local agent, the cocktail party was a success. Live music arrived as Robin, Tim and Clare helped set up the appetizers and Luciano and myself prepared the cocktails. Shortly after the first guests arrived.

While all enjoyed their time, word quickly spread through the party that our departure had again been delayed by the persistent winds. 9:30 was set and we all returned to the Silver Explorer in anticipation.

With the winds continuing to blast the shoreline it remained unsafe for our departure. With the port set to close, the Silver Explorer would have to wait until at least 0400 before we would be able to pull in the lines and depart for Quebec.

As I headed to bed, the wind continued to blow. Would we still be alongside when I awoke in the morning or would the winds have subsided and allowed for our departure? Only time would tell.