John and I were working below, tied up to the dock in Hermitage—a place that doesn’t get a lot of visiting boats—when we heard a thump on the deck. Poking his head out the companionway, John was met with a bag of perch fillets, from fish caught in the bay that day, landed from a speedboat across the wharf from us. John, our benefactor and the fish buyer, gave directions for cooking the fillets, and then jumped back on the dock to continue moving fish crates around.
Over the last 20 years of sailing in Newfoundland, we have been the recipients of this kind of generosity many times. In fact, it used to happen more often than not…until the last few years, that is. Now, I want to make very clear that it’s not that we expect to be given free stuff; the issue to us is that the change is symptomatic of a growing reserve that we have noticed in outport Newfoundlanders over the last while.
So why the increased reserve? Could it be because there are more boats visiting Newfoundland than ever before and therefore the locals are getting jaded? Or could it be that TV and the internet have reduced the feeling of isolation in these communities and therefore visitors are not that interesting anymore? Absolutely, these are part of the change; however, the inherent generosity and friendliness of Newfoundlanders makes me think that, sadly, it’s the behaviour of some of the people on those visiting boats that’s also contributing to the change.
Let me share a few experiences John and I have had to support my supposition:
- Tied to a dock in Port-aux-Choix a number of years ago, John and I were having a grand chat with a group of fishermen on the wharf. Up bustled the skipper of a sailboat tied to the other dock. Totally ignoring the fishermen, in fact talking right over them, he demanded that John review the weather with him for his upcoming passage to Nova Scotia.
- When we were in Port-aux-Choix last year, getting ready for the passage to Greenland, the woman at the office and the driver of the truck both acted very evasively when John inquired about getting diesel. We finally found out that the driver was hesitant to fill sailboats after a yachtie had thrown a wobbler when a few drops of diesel stained his teak deck. We had to convince the driver that we wouldn’t respond like that before he finally consented to fill our tanks. Once reassured he was friendliness incarnate.
- This summer we were stunned when the skipper of another sailboat in Ramea, while we were chatting with some locals, relayed the story that his father (or brother) had taken a wooden shield from one of the local communities just after it was closed out (an incredibly difficult thing to go through for the inhabitants) and had kept it on his bedroom door for years until it finally went missing.
- Dressed in his work clothes, John was on the dock at Billings Diesel & Marine in Stonington, ME a few years ago when a visiting sailor bustled up to him. With no lead-in, the yachtie demanded to know where the showers were. “The guidebook says there’s showers and I can’t find them. Where are they?” Speechless, John pointed out their location and the yachtie stomped off. You see, he thought John worked at the boatyard and that’s how he treats boatyard staff.
- On a number of occasions we’ve seen sailors practicing “ambush photography”. In other words, they don’t bother to chat with the locals or make any sort of connection with them, they just start taking pictures, as if they were at the zoo.
This sign has not become a souvenir, just because it has fallen off the pole it was attached to and there is no one around.
We sailors are incredibly fortunate to be able to access so many amazing places. Please, don’t treat the locals as if they are nonentities, our servants, or exhibits at Disneyland. And don’t take their stuff for souvenirs—it’s stealing.