The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  FALL 2003











In this issue

Front Page


Labrador Tragedy

Robert Service

Fall Packet


From the Editor


Back page





Part  1  2 

Black Spruce Journals

                                                                                                                                                           STEWART COFFIN

This huge chute on the Romaine River was on Che-Mun's cover in Outfit 79.



The upper Naskaupi River was a series of waterfalls, gorges, and heavy rapids. The portages were difficult, with no trace of trails. Our wood & canvas Chestnut Prospector canoes weighed 85 pounds at the start, but probably close to 100 pounds later on. Our food rations, which were slim to begin with, were now being rationed, as we were well behind schedule. It was quite an arduous journey, at least by my standards.

We changed partners each day, so sometimes our personal belongings ended up in another canoe. I much preferred paddling with Dick. One time, while Dick and I were in the lead, we had been running heavy rapids and had pulled ashore to carry around an impassable pitch. We looked back and saw that Jay and his partner had capsized while trying to land. It looked like they had things under control with the help of the other two, but then I spotted Jay’s and my personal pack bobbing down the river in midstream. I immediately leapt into Dick’s canoe, which was empty and hauled up on shore at the foot of the pitch, and started after it. There was no time to explain to Dick. He may not have been very happy to see me paddling off with his canoe, but I figured he would understand, and there was no other choice.

Even paddling solo I could not power ahead because of the continuous heavy rapids, but after an exciting chase of several miles I finally caught up with the pack. It was too heavy to lift so I towed it to shore, emptied all the contents, and started a fire to dry things out. I then discovered that I was part way down one side of a long island. In order to avoid the possibility of my companions coming down the wrong channel and missing me, I hiked to the head of the island and erected a signal, making good use of my bright red paddle blade, with a note attached. An hour or more passed without any sign of my companions, and I was beginning to wonder where they were when they finally pulled in. When Jay spotted his belongings drying by the fire he ran up the bank and hugged me.

 Nearing the end of our tumultuous journey, one day I was paddling with Peter Garstang on the last major rapid when we had a slight mishap while rounding a huge boulder near shore and rolled our canoe over. Everything was easily rescued except my paddle. This was serious because our party had started with three spare paddles and we had already lost all three in previous mishaps. I raced down the shore for what seemed like miles looking for it. Completely exhausted, I climbed a hill for one last look before giving up and turning back when I spotted a faint flash of red far downstream in an eddy. Those ugly plastic paddles of mine were not very rustic or traditional in appearance, but there was yet another instance where the bright red color saved the day.

Our last camp was just beyond the mouth of the river on the shore of Grand Lake. Every night of the trip, after Jay was asleep, I had turned on my little transistor radio. But except for the first night, dead silence. Here on the lakeshore not far from Goose Bay, the Happy Valley radio station came booming in loud and clear with some great country music. To this day, whenever I hear “Cryin’ Time” with Buck Owens and his Buckeroos and those sad lyrics, “I can see that far away look in your eyes,” it takes me back to that last camp. Lame, half starved, and nearly a week overdue, all I could think about were the comforts of home. At this point, I had seen enough canoe tripping to last me for a long time, and oh how I yearned to be back home with Jane and our three little girls.

Buck Owens was followed by a newscast, and this is when things really got interesting. Around the campfire next morning, with a little help from me, the conversation turned to the Republican National Convention which was then ongoing, and in particular whom Richard Nixon might choose for a running mate. Four of my companions were Canadian, yet they were more interested in U.S. election news that I was. I said that I thought it would be Spiro Agnew, whom none of them had even heard of. I offered to make a $10 bet, which Jay immediately took me up on. Imagine their surprise when we got to Goose Bay the next day and my “prediction” proved to be true. None of them ever knew my secret. Jay promptly forgot the wager, but if he ever had offered to settle, I guess I would have declined his offer and revealed my secret.

A few years later the completion of Orma Dyke reduced the upper Naskaupi River to a trickle, and Seal Lake is now reported to be mostly mud flats. All things considered, I think we were very fortunate to have traveled this historic route when we did.




 Fall 2003         Outfit 114 

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