We made landfall at Cape Chidley, the northern tip of Labrador, two days ago after a blessedly easy crossing of Hudson Strait with its fearsome combination of tides that can run up to seven knots, violent weather, ice and frequent fog.
As we approached at dawn, the black mountains of Labrador appeared out of a thin mist rising vertically from the sea with jagged rocks at their base over which a huge swell from a gale to the north was breaking—a landfall that certainly had the potential to justify Cartier’s name for the place.
Two hours of careful navigation through the rock garden that surrounds it and we were anchored in snug Bowdoin Harbour, named after Macmillan’s Arctic exploring schooner that is now a sail training ship at Maine Maritime Academy. Particularly fitting since Hannah Gray, our crew for this segment of the voyage, is sailing master at MMA and has sailed extensively on Bowdoin as chief mate.
Yesterday we started south through the barely charted and intricate inshore passage between the feet of the Torngat Mountains and the line of skerries that lie just offshore. Sunlight breaking through a scudding overcast and an offshore breeze that blew away the fog let us see vista after vista of this stunning glacier-formed land. Green carpeted valleys alternated with vertical black rock faces towering several thousand feet into the clouds. And our view was up close too since the route is rarely more than a mile and often less than a quarter mile offshore.
Today we are anchored behind a moraine spit at the mouth of a fjord. The rushing sound of a stream tumbling down from the heights competes with the lapping of a slight swell on the gently shelving beach to provide us with background music.
And just a few hundred yards away a polar bear has spent an amazingly warm day dozing and sunning him or herself. (I’m not getting close enough to determine gender!)
This is my third trip to north Labrador. I first saw this land from the deck of Morgan’s Cloud 18 years ago and after three visits I can say conclusively that, for me at least, Cartier was wrong and the Labrador Inuit right, for they call their homeland Nunatsiavut, which means Our Beautiful Land.