Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather

by Christy Anselmi /
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Oct 31, 2022 / 0 comments

This summer, my husband and I undertook a move. A relocation from Massachusetts to Arizona has been undertaken by others, no doubt. We decided to make things a little more interesting than a direct route. We headed north. Our circuitous route is winding us through Newfoundland, Portugal, and North Carolina. When one would think to take the southerly route from the Carolina’s to Arizona in the winter months, we will make Bugs Bunny’s famous right turn at Albuquerque to get to Bozeman, Montana. Then, we’ll drive to Arizona. Our 100 pound Golden Doodle, Kipper, was not consulted in the making of these plans, but we plied him with treats for the first three years of his life to the point he considers us his pack and blindly follows our direction. Our two sons weren’t consulted either. But, given that they abandoned us in their selfish quest to get a college education, we felt at liberty to leave a note on the front door explaining why other people now live in their house.

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather

Regatta Day is a big deal in St. John's, Newfoundland. It is actually a big deal for communities outside of St. John's, where well-known multinational mega pet stores several miles outside of St. John's center close for the Royal St. John's Regatta, as I found out. Restocking Kipper's pork jerky treats will have to wait for my next road trip into St. John's. Regatta Day is like the Sundays of the 1950s, when everything is shut down so you can spend the day with family and friends and pray...for your favorite rowing team to crush the competition.

John, Kipper, and I got up early on Regatta Day to be amongst the first people cheering on the rowers. The first groups that row tend to have category titles like "the 60+ mens thermal engineers division" or "retired quilters division." With no strong connections to any team, we thought going early would allow us to be a part of the day's excitement without muscling our way through crowds that by mid-day can swell to many thousands.

We drove the hour into St. John's without incident and parked directly across the street from the lake where the races take place. What a cinch! The vendors had their food trucks parked around the lake. The "games of chance" booths (translation: carnival games) were lining the walkways. The local radio station had a platform near the starting line. And the award podiums were ready for the winners. Having arrived thirty minutes after the scheduled start of the first race, it felt peculiar not to see any boats in the water. 

Statue of a rower at Quidi Vidi Lake. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather

Statue of a rower at Quidi Vidi Lake in Newfoundland

Maybe we were at the finish line and the rowers would be cruising into view any minute. Though we knew we wouldn't be with the throngs of people that flood in by mid-day, there didn't even appear to be any eager parents or spouses waiting at our imagined finish line ready to snap a picture. In fact, the only other people at the Regatta Day lake were taking leisurely strolls around the lake or handing their young children bread to throw to the contented ducks floating on the unrippled water. Hmm.

Stopping a man in a shirt with Security written on the back provided us with the answer. At 6:00 am that morning, the officials announced the postponement of Regatta Day due to weather. A gentle breeze rustled my hair as I raised my sunglasses in response, "I don't know much about the sport of rowing, but is it best to wait out the beautiful weather and row in a hail storm?"

Slightly disappointed, but nervous that race officials had consulted their Farmer's Almanac and knew that when cows turn head to tail the night of a westerly breeze on the eve of a moonless sky meant a gorgeous day in Newfoundland was instantly going to turn into tormenting gales, we returned to our car and drove home. (I did go back the next day by myself and saw the Regatta.)

Regatta Day. From Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather

Regatta Day got on its way the next day

Weather plays a significant role in many people's lives, but for some professions, watching the weather and making decisions based on it is critical to livelihood. (Notable exceptions are 1) weather forecasters in San Diego, California, 2) chess players.) For ranchers and farmers, weather can make or break your income for a year or longer. I observed weather induced hand-ringing watching the furrowed brow of my rancher father-in-law wordlessly stare at a cup of coffee for hours. When questioned, I was told that he couldn't swath today because of the pending rain on Friday. It being Monday, my inquisition continued. If he were to swath today (a sunny but low breeze 65 degree day) and leave it down on Tuesday and Wednesday (projected to be low temperature cloud covered days), then bale on Thursday, the hay wouldn't have had enough of the right conditions to dry properly. You see, the cut hay has to dry before you can bale it. If you bale it while still damp or wet, it will mildew or spontaneously ignite due to the heat energy it produces when clumped tightly together. Duh! For ranchers and farmers, paying attention to—and timing certain jobs according to—the weather is critical.

Being incessantly curious and plopping my life down on an island of fishing towns made it pretty likely that I would learn something about fishing before it's all over. I've learned that salmon and trout are the primary catches in lakes, rivers, and ponds in Newfoundland. By regulation, you can't catch a salmon if your paperwork says you are meaning to catch a trout, and vice versa. A game warden may come around and check your license—and the fish that you catch definitely will!

Fishermen have to be keenly aware of the weather, too. Water temperature, outside temperature, direct and indirect sunlight, and moon phases (not kidding) affect a fish's desire to chomp on your alluring lure. Newfoundland positively BEGS you to fish it. I don't fish, and I find myself thinking, "If I were a trout I would totally buy real estate in that lake, or that one, or that one..."

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather
Fishing is a way of life in Newfoundland

When John went fishing the other night with fishing guide Todd, they started out around 7:00pm. Todd knew that as the temperature of the water goes down the party really gets rockin'. Apparently all fish are from Spain, because they tend to eat around 8:30pm after a decent mid-day nap, with the party picking up 'round about 10:00pm and lasting 'til 7 in the morning. John has fished with a rod all his life and knows a thing or two about the process, but this night they were fly fishing. With a beautiful cast that even made the hatching mayflies turn to see who the new guy was, John convinced a trout of its authenticity. Blinded by the fact that it was pitch black out, John only noticed a tiny tug at the last minute, got rattled under pressure, and yanked the fly out of the fish's mouth. No dinner for Christy tonight.

Now there are rowers and anglers, and then there are are commercial fishermen. Hiking with Kipper one day, I met Skipper Glenn. I was passing Skipper Glenn on a section of the trail that had a view of the water. My courtesy comment of, "Beautiful day and lovely view," brought out in my fellow hiker a mumbled, "Yes it tiz. Used to be out on da wahter near every day when I was yoonger," (Irish accent included). Stop walking. "You were? Why were you on the water every day?" Glenn proceeded to tell me that he started on fishing vessels at age 5 with his father, and was captain of his own vessel by age 18. He had a crew of approximately 5 and didn't tolerate laziness. The summer he fished on a vessel off of Greenland was the hardest stretch, for the rigor of the work. Then there was the time he fished in a hurricane. Well, ya see, he knew the hurricane was coming. Everyone did. But when he said he might try to fish it, a buddy said, "You can't fish in that."

That's all it took. A dare. Glenn checked his riggings, slipped his moorings, and went out to sea. He said he came back with a good catch that day while the other men lost a day of wages. He only lost one man overboard in all his years as captain, but they got him back. "Do you miss it?" I had to ask. "Nah. It's a hard day's work and a yng b'ys (boys) game."

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather
Permanently placed wreckage in Harbour Grace, NL

John and I had the best weather the day we drove The Irish Loop. The loop is 312km (193.8 miles; I added the .8 like marathoners won't let you forget the .2, because that .8 is when I REALLY had to pee!). The drive takes you to some of the earliest European settlements on the island and one local favorite whale viewing "beach." (When a Newfoundlander says "beach," don't picture the coast of Florida. More like the floor of a granite mine.) 

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather
A typical Newfoundland beach

St. Vincent's markets itself as the "Whales' Playground." Apparently the mommy and daddy whales had errands to run or household chores to do that day, because no one took their kids to the playground. It was a cold, gray, foggy, drizzly day, so maybe not the best weather for taking your calf to frolic for the people.

But it was the BEST weather day for going to a very remote lighthouse! Not one to stay on the well-worn paths, I directed John to veer off to St. Shotts at the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula. Our paved road soon turned into a gravel road which turned into a very rocky, bumpy slow-going gravel road. Not deterred, we forged on, at which point I noticed that if we continued to the end of the road, the navigation map on the dashboard of the Jeep showed the road going into the ocean. Well, that can't be...let's check it out!

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather
Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather
Some places in Newfoundland confound Google Maps

The road ended at a lighthouse. All lighthouses sit on rocky ledges, and this was one of those ridiculously high rocky ledges. To make matters more interesting, this lighthouse and rocky ledge were covered in dense fog. The steady wind and light drizzle only added to the eerie feel. We sat in the Jeep for a second to convince ourselves that we were in fact on ground, though the navigation dot showed us in the ocean. We pricked up our ears when we heard the low, haunting drone note of the lighthouse, warning ships to steer clear. "This would be the best place to have Halloween, " John, ever the Halloween lover, observed. We had passed no one on the gravel road, so it only seemed right under these conditions to walk around. An information display declared "approximately 70 recorded shipwrecks" in this location. It wouldn't surprise me if some of those occurred AFTER the erection of the lighthouse, complete with 1,000 watt light bulb, projection lens, and foghorn. If there are mythical sirens still luring sailors to their doom, this is surely one of their stages. 

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Newfoundland Weather
A siren's main stage


Please click the photo below for a collection of my Travel with Awe and Wonder columns:

Travel with Awe and Wonder: A Compendium

Christy Anselmi, the Travel with Awe and Wonder Editor for Wandering Educators, taught kindergarten and first grade for 13 years in public schools in Atlanta and Massachusetts. She took a two year diversion to teach and learn in a Montessori school in Bozeman, Montana and a 10 year sabbatical to raise her own children. Christy has an abiding interest in early childhood education and how to provide developmentally appropriate experiences to engage young people in connection and communication. Raised by parents who got Christy involved in travel at a young age, she developed a curiosity about what is around each corner. Married to a Wyoming man who developed his own wanderlust after years in the Army, the two (along with two sons) have lived in five states (Georgia, Montana, Utah, Kansas, Massachusetts, and soon to be Arizona) and one country (Germany). Christy is a life-long noticer of intriguing scenarios, phrases, and ironies in everyday life. Finally putting pen to paper, she has a growing passion for insightful travel-experience writing.