Southwestern Newfoundland Weekend. Part 1: Ruins & Lighthouses

Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland (Map)

Summer 2011.


There was a holiday coming up, so I examined my to-do list & decided there was enough action down in Port-aux-Basques to occupy a long weekend.

Driving the 2 hours to the south, I arrived at these train maintenance building ruins about an hour before sunset. I couldn't have timed it any better.

I set my tent up in one of the buildings, instead of paying $140 for a motel in Port-aux-Basques.

Afterward, I climbed onto the roof & enjoyed a few Sam Adams as the last colours left the sky. I had recently purchased a cell phone, so I also discovered the beauty of playing music from a speaker device while you chill somewhere.

Relaxing on that roof to Paranoid Android, sipping on Summer Ales & watching the Cape Ray Lighthouse illuminate the land beneath a starry sky. It wasn't a bad couple of hours.

I drove into Port-aux-Basques the next day with hopes of maybe, finally, getting out to their lighthouse.

This would be the first island lighthouse where I'd ask for a boat ride without Nicole, so I was already nervous & defeated.

The thing with this lighthouse though, is that it is very prominent & well known. The tens of thousands of people who ferry into this town from Nova Scotia have all seen it, as you can't miss it upon arrival or departure. This isn't some obscure, insignificant lighthouse - it would be ranked high on a list of Newfoundland's most popular (lighthouses).

The prominence of this lighthouse gave me the confidence that I could ask for a solitary boat ride, without looking like a complete weirdo.

There is a long street which stretches along this coast, with 10 or 15 houses having their backs towards the lighthouse.

After my 3rd or 4th drive down the street, I noticed a boat coming in & docking at one of the wharves. I hurried to park the Intrepid and rush over, but the man had already tied up his boat and made it into his yard. Scurrying along, I came to his white fence and asked if he was the guy who was just in the boat...then awkwardly asked about some kind of deal where I could maybe pay to go over to the island...

He inquired, "well 'ow much money d'ya got b'y?"

"Well, it's not that far, I was thinking maybe..."

"You's a tourist aren't ya? You're supposed to 'ave lots of money!"

"Well no, I'm not really a tourist, I live on the Island..."

"Well okay fine." The fisherman laughs. "Do you know how to tie knots?"

(At this point, I thought he was trying to judge if I was a mainlander and/or if I'm worth a damn...but still, I wasn't about to lie to him, just in case our lives actually were going to be relying on my knot tying abilities...)

"Uhhhhhhh, no."

"Well I was going to let you take my boat, but if you don't know how to tie a knot...

Listen, I have some cod fish I need to clean. Come back in a 1/2 hour and I'll bring ya over to the lighthouse."

I was happy that I would be going to the island...but he was going to let me take his boat by myself!?! I was kicking myself for not knowing my knots! Oh how incredible it would have been to take the boat by myself across to the island!

Lousy lack of knot knowledge!

A half hour later, I returned to his house and the cod were cleaned. We boated across the channel of jellyfish & I thought I was about to rush my visit to the lighthouse as we approached. Instead, the fisherman joined me on the island & it no longer felt like I'd have to rush (to avoid inconveniencing him.)

We casually walked up & across the walkway, then over to a point where I counted the 116-year-old Channel Head Lighthouse - Newfoundland Light #51!

I obviously would have liked to have said that I've sailed the Atlantic Ocean, but it was a still good journey with this fellow alongside.

He had lived in Port-aux-Basques for a long time, so it was fantastic to listen to him point out historical sites from the lighthouse helipad ("see that house there, the top is newer as the ocean washed the original top off the foundation." "I went to school right there; you see where that building is, that used to be the school", etc., etc.).

The lighthouse island also has a deep channel, which comes very close to cutting the island in half. The walkway passes over a sliver of land which prevents this, but you still have the 30-foot-deep channel to your left as you go across the walkway.

As we passed by the channel, the fisherman told me about how he has seen storms with such strong surges, that you could see water crashing into, then out of this 30-ft channel, and over the island towards the Port-aux-Basques side.

That is some impressive oceanic storm surge.


Once back in town, I thanked the fisherman profusely and tried to pay him. He just laughed at me and told me to have a good day as he went into his fish cleaning workshop.

Good ole' Newfoundland generosity.

Anyway I had a ferry to catch. Time to drive the small amount east which is possible from Port-aux-Basques.

Onward to Part 2.


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Newfoundland Weekend. Part 2