Newfoundland/Labrador Day 17: Lighthouse, boats, and local entertainment
A full day in Twillingate is a full day. Icebergs, lighthouses, museums, a winery, and dinner theater.
While Twillingate is still a fishing community, it has made significant efforts to cater to a growing number of tourists who arrive via the relatively new causeway which connects it to the mainland. When commercial cod fishing was effectively ended by government decree in 1992, Twillingate began to redefine itself as a tourist destination, in part by claiming to be the “Iceberg Capital of the World.”
If what I saw again today is any indication, the little village in the cove may deserve that title. Everywhere where I went on the island today icebergs of all shapes and sizes could be spotted, some almost next to the shore and others far out on the hazy horizon. Hundreds of floating ice islands is an amazing sight, though everyone says that this year’s crop of icebergs is above normal. They also say that as Greenland continues to warm dramatically and shed its glaciers, a “normal” iceberg year in Iceberg Alley will be far above the “normal” of 10-20 years ago.
I went back to the lighthouse I saw yesterday because I wanted to see the exhibits inside. As luck would have it, as I was getting ready to go in the lighthouse I struck up a conversation with the Canadian Coast Guardsman who is the only staff currently at the lighthouse. Dennis (an easy name to remember) had been born and raised in the area and had returned a couple years ago as a lighthouse tender. Heavily tattooed and wearing his uniform with a decidedly non-military nonchalance, he explained that he is one of two tenders who work 28 days on and have 28 days off and work a 40-hour week. The lighthouse and fog horn are automated and maintenance is largely farmed out to the private sector. His job, he said, was to monitor the emergency band radio when he was at his office. The rest of the time, the lighthouse is on its own. He explained several lighthouse facts to me: Each lighthouse has its own distinct light and foghorn signal. The number of light sweeps per minute and the duration and frequency of the fog horn are different for each station. We talked for about half an hour and I knew a lot more about lighthouses when we finished than when I arrived.
All the buildings on the site except the lighthouse tower and Dennis’ office were sold a few years back by the Canadian government to the town of Twillingate for $1.00 for them to use as a museum as long as the new owners maintained the property. Good idea. Rather than simply recreate a “lighthouse keeper’s” museum, the town and the historical group that run it decided to gut and refurbish the main structure and create a proper museum with changing exhibits. The current exhibit features boats and boat-building over the years, beginning with pre-European Indians and continuing through the demise of handmade wooden boats and the growth of fiberglass boats. I hadn’t thought about how important boat building was in a fishing culture nor how different each boat could be based on its specific use and the boatbuilder’s special skills. I learned about kayaks and canoes, dories and punts and schooners and cruisers. The exhibit was well-done and the underlying theme bemoaned the loss of vital, historic boat-making skills with the advent of fiberglass and the end of commercial cod fishing in Newfoundland. There are, however, a small group of craftsmen dedicated to preserving and carrying on the art of boat building mastered by their fathers, their grandfathers and their great grandfathers.
I climbed the relatively short lighthouse tower and saw, as the Coastie said I would, a panorama of most of Twillingate island and many islands, bays and coves beyond. And LOTS of icebergs.
One minor glitch today on the motorcycle following the lighthouse visit. It wouldn’t start. Wouldn’t even turn over. But I had plenty of power from the battery. I tried the alarm override PIN # I had set up to bypass the fob, and it started up. So it must be the fob, but I just replaced the battery about 2 months ago. I returned to my B&B a spare fob was stowed in my pack and it started the bike. But then the other fob appeared to be working as well once the second one reset the system. Will keep my eye on it. Fortunately I had some practice a few months ago starting the bike when I didn’t have a fob, so that came in handy, Brian.
I went to one of the docks where kayak tours were available but the cautious entrepreneur said it was much too windy to get out on the sea today. Maybe tomorrow. If no kayaking, I’ll probably take a zodiac boat tour of the icebergs. I want to get up close and personal and get some ice for tomorrow night’s glass of Jack
Another local museum on the other side of the island was more in the nature of a typical local museum with an eclectic collection, including a polar bear that was shot and killed in 2001 when it wandered through town. I actually learned about cod fishing, curing, salting, packing and shipping. That knowledge probably won’t come in too handy, though, since I’m retired and don’t plan to take up cod fishing. But, hey, you never know.
There are no grapes grown on the island, but there is a winery nevertheless where they use local berries to make fruit wines on the premises. I picked up a small bottle of Moose Juice which Marilyn and I will share on my return unless it breaks inside my luggage before then in which case I’ll probably just chew on my socks and shirts until the flavor’s gone.
Dinner theater tonight to end the day. It was fun but not over-the-top fun. Some singing and skits using local talent. Best part of the evening was table conversation with dinner partners, one of whom had been born in Newfoundland and spent 50 years sailing the seas on various vessels and could tell me more about cod fishing to fill in the gaps left by the museum. Cod tongues may be in my dining future.
I’m hopeful I’ll get on the water somehow tomorrow. Forecast is still calling for 70% chance of rain of Sunday which will have an impact on any riding plans I have.
Watch out for the polar bears and I’ll do the same.