A Journey to Sable Island with Adventure Canada, June 2016

Image above: On Day 6 in the afternoon, we travelled along the north shore in the zodiacs, and had a great view of the island. We rafted up near the western spit where we could watch seals in the water and spectacular waves crashing over the tip of the island. Photo Elizabeth Leadon

Day 1 – Boarding the Ocean Endeavour

Boarding early afternoon in St. Johns NFLD. It was quite easy for me as I was the first one there.

My luggage was already tagged, as they provide those for you early on. Luggage is quickly and discreetly searched. Then carried onboard by a steward. I was greeted by a crew member and shown to my cabin.

An afternoon tea was set up in the small lounge/library area. There was coffee and tea, small sandwiches, sweets as well as fruit punch.

First impression, the ship is quite nice, simple decoration more homey than glamorous! So far, the staff seemed very nice, smiling and saying hello. I thought it was going to take some time to find my way around. But it was not too bad after the first day.

After everyone was on board they started to prepare to get under way. We all gathered in the lounge and were given out muster stations and instructions. Basically briefed about what to expect and life on board. This was followed by all of the lifesaving drills. It was pretty well organized. The ship then got under way and they served dinner.

For meals you can sit anywhere. There is a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to the dining room. It is mandatory to use this!

Supper is table service. They have sample meals at the entrance so you can see the meals they offer that night. There were several choices of starter, a soup, and your choice of meal, including a vegetarian entrée. This was followed by a choice of dessert. There also is bread on the table. Wine is for purchase, by the bottle or glass. The bottles of wine were fairly priced, cheaper than a restaurant and they had one or two on special each night. They keep this wine for you for the next night so you do not have to drink it all in one night. I found all of the wait staff very nice. After dinner the presentation was a bit of a run-down of things to come during the week as well as a demo how to get in and out of a zodiac safely. This is very good to pay attention to.

Day 2 – A Day at Sea

There is a wake up call each morning at different times depending on what is going on the next day. A cheery crew member informs you of the weather, where you are and briefly what is going on that day.

Then breakfast. It is a buffet, with made to order egg dishes. It is a typical breakfast buffet. Toast you own bread product, fruit, cheeses, meats, yoghurt, cereal, etc. As it is spread out over and hour or two it is not a mad rush.

This day is at sea. Mostly clear with medium seas. They have talks and activities. Parks Canada gave a talk on Sable. How and why it became a park and a brief history of the island. There was a talk on photography. Next, we were called with our muster group for rubber boot fittings. These are very simple rubber boots. The ladies’ boots are really not very high, meant only for keeping your feet and ankle dry. You are assigned a locker, no door on this. It is only meant for the boots, you can hang wet gear in there but keep in mind it is not secure. (I did not hear of any issues of anything going missing, however.)

There is a clear hot soup available for anyone needing something between breakfast and lunch. (But there are always cookies, coffee, tea and ice water available). Lunch is a buffet with a few hot dishes, as well as salads, and desert choices.

Welcome aboard afternoon tea

This night was the Captain’s dinner reception. We had complimentary bubbly, and hors d’oeuvres. There were several eves that we had a complimentary drink. But snacks were handed around every eve before dinner as we gathered in the lounge to discuss the day. We were introduced to the heads of staff, and of course the Captain who toasted the crew. After another nice dinner, we had folk music and some story telling. There was a piano player singer on board, who played most evenings at some point.

Above, the Compass Lounge and the Nautilus Lounge

Day 3 – Anchored off Sable Island

After a slightly rough night at sea we woke up anchored off Sable Island, but it was too rough and too foggy to go ashore. The Adventure Canada team members were very careful in this regard. They go out to assess the situation. A beach landing would have been too risky. So, we had a talk by Don Bowen on grey seals. Followed by questions. People were very interested and asked so many questions that they were cut off. This was to give time for the next talk. There were talks on the history of Sable and it inhabitants and one on horses. During these talks the fog started to clear, so we had a fast lunch and were given the all clear to go ashore.

It was still a bit rough, and there were some wet landings. But it was a bright day and a pleasant temperature. I was last off the ship as I helped some passengers get their gear on. The crew is very competent getting people off the ship and into the zodiacs, as well as out of the zodiacs and on to the beach. In rough seas this is harder than is sounds but I still felt safe. There were various hikes planned – short, medium, and long, but you could also stay on the beach. This is what I chose to do and ended up helping an elderly passenger see some things. I told her about the bones on the beach and managed to get her to the edge of the dune to see some horses where I took some photos for her. She was 80+. It was almost a lifelong dream for her to go to Sable. She did it!

Hikes were up bald dune, over to south beach, and some fresh water ponds. Medium hike just went up bald dune, fresh water pond and back out to North beach. Short hike just up and down bald dune. A few people just mulled around the beach taking photos of seals and horses.

Back on the ship we had our re-cap. People were given chances to talk about what they had seen. This is when you see some of the emotion people have for Sable. “It was the best day of my life” someone from Ontario said. There are of course always some tears as it is truly a dream come true for most of the passengers. Some have saved for years, for some it was a retirement treat. No one was disappointed. We saw lots of seals, horses and foals, gulls, sparrows, bones on the beach and wildflowers. People were curious and wanted to see some of the infrastructure on the island (this of course is not included in the trip yet).

Day 4 – On Board Activities

Too rough to go ashore, but it is clear and bright. So we had some talks, on oceanography, bird tracking, and photography. Also, an oil and gas exploration talk. There was some poetry writing, and even a watercolor class. Adventure Canada always has a plan what to do if we are stuck on board. But there are plenty of areas to sit, read or chat. Nothing is mandatory and no one is in your face – it is very laid back. I did find some talks were better than others, and people seemed a bit more interested in the Sable related talks with slide shows. As different talks were going on at the same time I just walked around to see what was better attended. People were certainly curious and asked questions about the natural history of the island and the Gully. This day the ship did crepes with fruit and ice cream mid-afternoon. This helped to lift spirits. This evening Canadian Geographic hosted a Canadian trivia quiz. There were teams of various size. It was quite fun. I am pleased to say I was on the winning team.

Day 5 – Going Ashore, Getting Wet

This morning it was still a bit choppy, but we were going to go ashore. They did warn us we might get wet. It took a longer time to get to the beach, as we had to time it with the wind and the waves. There were several different options for hikes, long ones for the energetic, guided ones to talk about the plant life on the island, one photography hike, and a medium hike to the south beach. I brought up the rear of this hike talking to guests and pointing out interesting things. We saw some ruins, with rusty bits of stove, and broken china fragments, that someone recognized as a pattern their grandmother had. There was also a hike for a few people who were interested in picking up some beach garbage with Zoe Lucas. There really was something for everyone.

We went back to the ship for lunch. The seas then calmed and we got ashore for more time on the island. This time people were given a bit of direction, but could basically go around on their own. We repositioned the ship further west. Mostly people obeyed the rules. Some went a little further than they should have but they made their way back. That night we had ghost stories of Sable Island complete with spooky music and low light.

Day 6 – Along the Shore in Zodiacs

Once again it was too rough to go ashore in the morning. So we had more talks. Parks Canada, Danny Catt a photographer, Don Bowen and a passenger/guest whom had worked on the island in the 60’s as a weather tech. But in the afternoon, we were able to load up the zodiacs and go for a tour. It was a darkish day with heavy swell. But everyone that wanted to go had a great view of the island. Seeing the curious seals in the water that was clear to the sandy bottom was a thrill.

To see horses running down the beach, it really was perfect. It was a bit cold and damp, but most people were troopers. We rafted up the zodiacs near the western spit where the waves converge it was very dramatic. We sat in our zodiac with the engine idling and the young grey seals came in quite close and put on a show. A special moment was when two young grey seals surfaced together and touched noses – it really looked like they had a little kiss! The people with me now had a new love for the grey seals and they were thrilled to see them up close. Everyone was pretty happy. We had made it ashore several times during the three days. Unfortunately the elderly lady previously mentioned did not make it back ashore. It was really too rough, as she was somewhat unsteady on her feet. But I think she still had a great time. This night we had a singsong, which was fun and lots of people participated.

Day 7 – Leaving Sable Island

We left the relatively calm waters off Sable and set sail for the Gully. The Gully is a protected marine habitat. It is usually a restricted area, but because we had some sea bird researchers on board we were there with the official capacity to do a survey of marine mammals and sea birds.

We reached the gully at about 6 am. The whale watchers were up early and had their eyes on the ocean and in the air. Sure enough after a short time we started to see things. Pilot whales, northern bottlenose whales were seen, and white sided dolphins were in our bow wave for a bit. Various birds were spotted, and all this was recorded as part of the survey. Other than the dolphins, things were not very close to the ship. It was not very calm which made spotting these animals hard. But it was still exciting to hear someone yell (announce) whale at 3 o’clock, etc.

We did see some pilot whales and a couple of sperm whales. Although, I really did not see much more than the blow of the sperm whales it was still exciting to hear there she blows, and for everyone to gather to catch a glimpse, perhaps of a whale tail.

After we left the gully and had lunch. There were some fun and games on the ship. One of which was the first Adventure Canada triathlon, which was of course silly but fun to watch. Then a few talks. Offshore oil, and a talk about the horses on Sable. Another photography talk, more of a slide show of the photographers’ adventures. Beautiful photos. Also, there was a presentation about other Adventure Canada trips, which includes trips to the arctic, Greenland and Newfoundland. After another good meal, and a chocolate buffet we had the Theme night. Which was a bit of a silly costume party. Everyone had fun.

Day 8 – Saint Pierre, and on to Newfoundland

This was the last full day. We awoke off Saint Pierre, an island owned by France. Passengers had several choices of what to do, stay on the ship, disembark and walk or take bus to town on our own. Passengers could also go on a bus tour of the island, and have a bit of time on your own, or go on a hike. The hike was for people relatively fit as it was a bit steep and uneven in places.

I chose the bus tour. This gave me an overall tour of the island. There were not many opportunities to take photos as we were moving most of the time. But we did stop once or twice for a quick photo op. Back in town, things close up for an extended lunch. I did have a nice cappuccino and chocolate éclair. I also had a bit of time to look in some shops. It was a brisk walk back to the ship as it was a bit longer than it looked.

As we were leaving the harbor it was bright and sunny and quite warm. We were also treated to a pretty good viewing of a pod of killer whales. These were actually close enough to the ship to see. There were also some other whale spouts spotted.

The rest of the trip until dark was very beautiful. The rugged coast of Newfoundland was stunning. There were some staff and guest group pictures taken. A complimentary cocktail was served, and a toast given to a successful trip and visit to Sable Island. It was time for new friends to say goodbye. Although the evening had a bit of finality to it, it also had a bit of a party vibe. There was also a beautiful full moon, in our honour I am sure.

The Ocean Endeavour at St. Pierre

Day 9 – Disembarking

I felt again as I did on the way out of St. Johns that the seas were a bit rough during the night. We could see some ice bergs on our approach, so it was another chance for photographers to get some great shots of the harbor.

After we docked. We were informed of the order people would receive their final bills, pay and collect their passports. This was done in an organized fashion. With people who were flying out first etc. People who were flying out later cold have their luggage take to a hotel and left there until time to go to the airport. People who were staying on were offered day trips. These were at an extra cost. (I think). Whereas the tour of St. Johns at the beginning of the trip was included. The bus tour on St. Pierre was also included.

In conclusion I have to say it was a great trip. It is a good way to see Sable Island. It was very well organized but also very low key. Adventure Canada staff were quick to help people have a great time. The staff members on the ship were great. The ship, while not fancy, was very comfortable and clean. This type of cruise should appeal to most people, perhaps not the very young, or people who expect it to be a wild and crazy party boat. The majority of the passengers are middle aged to early retirees and yes seniors. With a few younger couples, as well as some young adult, teenagers of the above mentioned.

Some people I talked to were emotional to the point of tears during their experiences. Others had saved up for this trip for a long while. It was the trip of a lifetime for others. It was a retirement gift on lady had given herself. “A lifelong dream” fulfilled for others. Sable was a place “I wanted to go to all of my life”. People were on this cruise because they really wanted to see Sable Island. To see the famous horses, the seals and the varied bird life. I think for people who can afford it, it is a great way to get there with a little adventure on the high seas on the way.

Elizabeth Leadon
Prepared for the Sable Island Institute, 2016

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