St. Anthony, in the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, is just about as far North as one Approaching Our Iceberg can get in Newfoundland without extraordinary effort. It's so far North that the patches of snow we see on the hillsides will remain until early August. And Newfoundland is so far East that it has its own time zone, four and a half hours later than California. This part of the province is known as Iceberg Alley. Calving off the Greenland glaciers, the icebergs take two or three years to be swept up in the Labrador Current and make it south to the North Cape of Newfoundland. Whenever the weather is clear we can see icebergs looming offshore. The local people are quite accustomed to seeing them, to the point where they are surprised to see tourists suddenly yelp and point.
Watching the weather report (foolish, because it is seldom accurate) we decided that our best opportunity for outdoor activity would be the day we arrived in St. Anthony, so we arranged for an after-lunch two-hour boat ride to look for whales, seabirds and icebergs. Of the three, the last was the most successful -- it was a thrilling experience.
Our boat held 24 passengers and three crew and moved quickly out of the harbor toward the spot Our Iceberg Closer where three whales had been spotted the previous day. We were told that capelin (sardine-sized fish beloved as food by whales) had not yet been spotted in our area; the greater number of whales will follow the capelin as they swarm up onto the beaches to spawn (and generally to die). We did spot several species of sea birds, including eider ducks whose numbers have been shrinking in recent years; Ducks Unlimited has been placing nesting boxes here and there to encourage breeding, and has been pretty successful. We also saw murres and the ubiquitous kittiwakes, nesting on an island as they always do.
We had been watching for icebergs and had spotted some off in the distance. We were surprised to hear how far away they actually were; the air is so clear up here that icebergs ten or twenty miles away can be seen, if they are tall enough.
Then we saw Our Iceberg. We headed directly for it, drawing closer and closer, until we could make out details like melting snow running diagonally down its flank. As the bergs approach Rear View Newfoundland, sooner or later they drift or are blown into some little cove or bight where they remain through the summer, slowly melting until they disappear into the ocean.
During this time, pieces of iceberg occasionally drop off. They are called "growlers" (the larger pieces) and "bergy bits" (the smaller ones) and are a hazard to navigation (as are the bergs themselves, since they're not shown on the charts.) These bergy bits are collected by fishermen who love to put them in the coolers in their boats; a small commercial activity is harvesting bergy bits and bringing a boatload of them into St Anthony harbor, where they will be processed for drinking water. The next day at lunch we noticed a sign in the restaurant advertising vodka made with iceberg water. Since the iceberg water has been building up over thousands of years, it is said to be free of pollutants. Side View
The largest icebergs can be as high as 240 feet. Ours was perhaps 25 feet tall: a small one. But it didn't look small to us. We circled the iceberg. The water is so clear that we could see under the surface where eighty percent of its mass spread out, looking pale green against the deep blue ocean water. It sat, immense and silent, as we snapped photos and marveled. It was much, much larger than it had appeared from a distance, much larger than we could have imagined.
Icebergs are clearly visible at great distances in daylight. It was 11:40 p.m. on a clear but moonless night when the Titanic struck the iceberg in 1912. Icebergs were spotted by the lookout, but not evaded. This day the skipper and crew of our cruise boat kept a sharp watch for bergy bits, but another boat had just returned from harvesting the ice that had separated from Our Iceberg.
Returning to harbor we passed a sea cave where years ago an unlucky fisherman had lost his boat while chasing the capelin. The good news is he was rescued after 6 nights in the cave. We passed some seabird nesting spots, and shivered in the stiff breeze (the locals were happy the temperature was in the double digits). But we hadn't been as cold heading out to see Our Iceberg!