Blanc-Sablon, QC to St John's, NL Canada
Our journey from coast-to-coast was almost complete, all that was now required was a short hop over the Strait of Belle Isle and we were in Newfoundland and then a few short hops over to St. John’s. But on the way we had some items to check off of our “to do” list, the first one being to see an iceberg.
Flying into Blanc Sablon the previous evening, we had the typical 5intheSky competition underway, with a pack of Smarties going to the first person to spot an iceberg. Scanning the horizon Ian picked one out from afar, however the celebration was short-lived as we flew closer and the gleaming white iceberg in the waters between Newfoundland and Quebec turned out to be the MV Qajaq W, the 300 passenger/120 vehicle ferry connecting Blanc Sablon and St Barbe, NL.
Not to be deterred, we logged on to the handy iceberg finding website https://icebergfinder.com/ to see if there were any bergs in the area. We had a decided advantage hunting bergs over those on land or at sea, and after determining there were a few of the icy mountains off the coast of NL near St. Antony, we were off to find them. We crossed over into Newfoundland and stopped at Saint Anthony airport (CYAY) to put cameras on the AirVan in anticipation of encountering some icebergs. We then flew east to the community of St. Anthony and found 3 icebergs bobbing offshore, medium sized with 50-150’ of ice showing. We circled for photos, keeping a watchful eye on the notorious sea fog hanging a few hundred meters further out to sea. We later learned that the number of large icebergs seen in the waters around Newfoundland was decreasing, maybe a result of a warming climate.
Our next destination was an island off of the north shore of Newfoundland called Fogo Island. We didn’t have a real reason to go there, other than it sounded cool and it had an airstrip. We followed the coast south from Saint Anthony and then crossed White Bay toward Seal Cove. There was a solid breeze of 15-20 knots blowing offshore, and we all agreed we wanted to minimize the time over the open water. Following the north coast, we flew eastward over hundreds of islands in Notre Dame Bay, then across Friday Harbour, which afforded very picturesque views of Twillingate just to the north, although I don’t think we got any photos that did it justice. On a track from Twillingate to Fogo Island, if the GPS failed and you overshot Fogo Island it wouldn’t end well, as the next fuel stop would be Ireland about 1,600 miles away. Thankfully we didn’t miss Fogo Island Airport (FOGO) and landed on runway 28 in gusty 20-25 knot winds. We would have loved to stay and explore Fogo Island, the largest of Newfoundland’s offshore islands, but the airport was deserted with no taxis available, and when we checked out the local lodging, Fogo Island Inn https://fogoislandinn.ca/ we went WOW twice, once for the cool design of the inn and again for the prices, clearly not within 5intheSky’s budget. I am sure there are other options for lodging on Fogo Island, but we had another stop on our “to do” list.
We departed FOGO, crossing to the main island north of Gander, then punched CHG2 into the navigation system and headed south-east enroute to Harbour Grace, a 2,000’ long grass airstrip only about 20 nautical miles (by air) west of St. John’s. The airstrip was constructed in 1927 by locals eager to support the pioneering efforts by pilots attempting to fly across the Atlantic, the most famous of those being Amelia Earhart. The Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) notes a 65' rock at the end of the runway. When you arrive and see it "in person" it's a touch more intimidating than it sounds. We landed at Harbour Grace in typical Newfoundland gusty 20+ knot winds, over the rock and onto the downhill, damp grass airstrip. Not the ideal location for an airstrip, but I am pretty sure it was a very welcome sight to the early aviators flying with map and compass with few if any other options.
Non-Pilot Tip: In Canada, pilots use the Canada Flight Supplement (the CFS) to help plan their flights. It is updated regularly and includes information on every airport, including runway length, services available (such as fuel), hazards, communication requirements, etc. If something changes at an airport before a new CFS is published, or there is a temporary change at an airport that is important for pilots to know about (such as a runway closed for maintenance), then a NOTAM is published with this information (NOTAM = Notice to Airmen).
After flying across northern Canada and into Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, it’s hard not to be in awe of the early pilots who ventured into these areas. Almost none of the information we have available to us today was available to these early aviators, particularly regarding weather, and options for assistance or search and rescue were pretty well nonexistent.
We bumped our way down the Harbour Grace airstrip and took off for St. John’s International Airport (CYYT). It would be fair to say Ian was a little nervous flying into the controlled airspace of a large airport, having spent almost all of the past 3 weeks flying with little to no other aircraft on the radio. We were cleared into the zone to join a right downwind for runway 29 and landed uneventfully. The thing is with big airports, depending on where you need to get to, it can be a long drive (we pilots for some reason call it a “taxi”) on the ground after landing. We asked for directions to temporary (itinerant) parking, which there didn’t seem to be any, and after some taxiing in circles we found a quiet spot and shut down the AirVan engine to figure out the next step. As generally happens, we bumped into a local pilot, who suggested we call another pilot, who helped us out by providing us a parking spot for the AirVan for the time we were in St. John’s. We also met Andrew, a young local pilot who offered us a ride into town and later returned to make sure we were “Screeched In”….. After reaching St. John’s, Newfoundland, the 5intheSky team had successfully flown across Canada, logging 62.2 hours of flight time covering 6,427 nautical miles (11,900 kilometre) of the country, stopping at 51 different airports of all sizes. As a reminder of just how big Canada is, departing from Toronto, Ontario and flying south for the same 6,427 nautical miles 5intheSky has covered, would take you to the northern boundary of Patagonia, Argentina….