The great thing about ferryboat rides is that you can take a
bicycle with you instead of a car. No reservations, no waiting, easy
on the pocketbook and the climate. You walk aboard and sail away to
another land. Maybe see a whale in the bargain!
This summer an opportunity opened for us, a silver lining so to
speak. Our business of renting canoes and kayaks to tourists had been
shipwrecked on the reef of soaring insurance rates. Being both
employed by the school system for ten months of the year, we found
ourselves anticipating a vacation that would be long on time for
adventures, but somewhat short of funds. Our planning centered on
bicycle tours combined with ferry crossings.
The map was our menu of land / water connections--Saint John to
Digby to Briar Island, at the mouth of Fundy Bay; Gondola Point to
Harding's Point to Evansdale, on the Saint John River; Letete to Deer
Island to Campobello; and of course, Black's Harbour to Grand Manan,
the island in the sea. These previews led, in the course of our
summer, to a series of trips. Each lasted between two and four days.
Sometimes we carried camping gear. More often than not, we sought
lodging at night. The last of these vacation trips, in the bright eye
of memory, seems to have happened only yesterday.
This past summer, when August smog and high temperatures made all
physical exertion seem unreasonable here on the mainland, we bestirred
ourselves one morning to go in search of cooler air.
Bikes are loaded into the van, and we drive to the ferry landing at
Black's Harbour. A long line up of cars and trucks, all hoping to
board the modest sized vessel Grand Manan V, extends inland from the
terminal. Considering ourselves exempt from their predicament, we park
the van and proceed to seek out a ticket. Anxiety arises when we fail
to discover an official entry to the terminal. Then a crew member
waves us down the ramp to the vehicle deck, and we park the bikes
against the inner hull of the ferry. We will pay for the round trip
when we board for the return passage. (The total cost for two will be
less than twenty five dollars.)
Hazy morning sunshine puts a glow on dark rocks and wooded islands
as we leave the mainland. Fishing vessels and herring weirs (giant
corrals for trapping schools of fish) abound in the waters surrounding
Black's Harbour. This is the sardine capital of the world and,
unapologetically, the company town of Connors Bros. Ltd.
As land slips away behind us, fog closes in and our dream of
breathing cool air comes true. The crossing will last an hour and a
half--plenty of time to relax, read a paper, look at maps and
brochures of Grand Manan. The cafeteria serves coffee in real mugs, a
definite touch of class.
"Porpoises!" calls Peggy from the upper deck. Even in
this fog her eyes are sharp for signs of life in the water. Our
cousins in the sea and we mammals from the land keep sight of each
other for several miles.
Suddenly, out of the grey void, cliffs and a lighthouse appear. The
fog begins to disperse. Sunlight gilds an outline of wooded hills.
Boats, a harbour, and houses come into view. This time, we'll get to
see something of Grand Manan!
We are carrying no camping gear and, in this peak season, we've
made no reservations. Once ashore, we are torn between our need to
nail down a bed for the night, and the more immediate enticements of
the harbour. Fishing vessels, schooners and tour boats are all
preparing for their day's adventures.
Hastily, we sign on to a waiting list for a whale watch excursion,
to begin in one hour. Mounted on our wheels, we roll through the small
village at Flagg's Cove. "No Vacancy" signs greet us on both
sides of our route. Our urgent quest takes us in separate directions.
Mark spots a "Vacancy" sign and swings into the motel
just as two cars simultaneously arrive. It doesn't take him long to
park his bicycle by the office door, and Mark gets to the head of a
lineup for the last available room.
Meanwhile, across the road at the Information Bureau, Peggy is
booking a reservation at the Marathon Inn. Reunited, we compare notes,
and the Marathon is our choice. Now, we are free to explore.
In quest of adventure, we come upon a bakery. Gourmet coffee and
organic flour are boasted of in the signage. Also, non-acceptance of
plastic cards for payment is mentioned. With a jolt, we realize that
we've landed on this shore unencumbered by ready currency. We scrape
together enough change for a snack, which largely compensates in
delectability for what it lacks in volume. We learn that the nearest
(and only) bank machine is ten kilometres away, on the main road
running the length of the Island. We have acquired a mission.
At home, the radio had advised us to stay indoors, and to breathe
as little as possible. Here, the air feels and smells fresh. Such
hills as we encounter are easy to surmount. Traffic is not heavy, and
includes other cyclists, most of whom seem to be from here. Roses,
cat-tails, and a panorama of sea islands attend our route, as we pedal
by the broad Castalia Marsh.
Lawn ornaments are highly evolved on Grand Manan. Lighthouses and
wind driven ducks abound. We are brought to an astonished halt by two
miniature schooners chasing each other around a horizontally mounted
bicycle wheel. Their sails jibe and tack in perfect accordance with
the wind that propels them, and neither boat ever gains an inch on the
other. This marvel of art and ingenuity is watched over by a black
retriever. Mark constrains his desire to reattach a cord trailing from
one of the schooners.