In search of icy giants in the sea

Laurie Snider
Notes from the Nest

On Day 2 of our recent trip to Newfoundland, we were up just after 5 a.m. and out the door by 6, as we had a four hour drive ahead of us. One of the reasons we’d planned our trip for late May, early June, was it’s the height of iceberg season. And as the thousands of travellers that flock to this wondrous island on a yearly basis are aware the area 250 miles east and southeast of Newfoundland is affectionately known as ‘Iceberg Alley’ for a reason. Our destination for the day Twillingate is also known as the Iceberg capital of the world.

This seemed like a decent enough reason to rouse us from our slumber before the cock could crow, or in our case the seagulls could squawk, setting out on the rambling road in pursuit of some icy sea-giants. We rolled into town in good time and were rewarded with a sharply tipped white beauty, sitting just inside the harbour. After taking a few snaps, scouting the Long Point Lighthouse and checking out this lovely little seaside town, we booked our afternoon venture with Iceberg Quest tours.

Dressed with toques, gloves and warm coats we set out with Captain Barry and first-mate Jamie as our guides to get up close and personal with this frosty, traveling, oversized ice cube. Ninety percent of the hundreds of icebergs that meander their way along the alley each year are vast chunks of 10,000-year-old ice, that’ve calved off glaciers in western Greenland and slipped into the ocean. It may take them one to three years to arrive off the Grand Banks, depending on wind, temperature and ocean currents.

During previous points in history, icebergs have gotten an undesirable reputation as troublemakers. On April 15, 1912, at 11:40 p.m, a very cold, calm night and four days into her Atlantic crossing, the largest passenger liner of her time, the Titanic, struck an iceberg 600 kms off the coast of Newfoundland. She sank in less than three hours, taking over 1,500 of the 2,224 souls on board with her. Afterwards, due to the enormous scale and scope of the tragedy, the International Ice Patrol was formed by 13 countries, including Canada, that’ve a vested interest in trans-Atlantic navigation. It’s operated by the U.S. Coastguard using radar, planes, ships and satellites to warn ships of the potential danger of icebergs, re-routing them as necessary.

These wandering behemoths come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. No two are alike, although some are more remarkable than others. On June 24, 1905 a mysterious looking iceberg off St John’s, was photographed by local artist T.B. Hayworth.

The towering, shimmering pillar of ice, dubbed the ‘Crystal Lady,’ bore an uncanny similarity to the Virgin Mary. The Petermann Ice Island, a berg over five times the size of Manhattan, appeared in 2010. It was clearly visible from space and had its own ecosystem of melt-ponds, waterfalls and wildlife.

In a fairly spectacular Hollywood turn before you could say, “Holy Galloping Glaciers Robin,” in 2014 an iceberg spotted in Little Bay islands, had an astonishing resemblance to the Dark Knight himself, Batman. It was nicknamed ‘Batberg’ and is certainly worth a peek on the internet. Another social-media superstar was the monster block of ice that parked itself in front of a charming bed and breakfast in the quaint port of Ferryland. Its photo was captured for posterity on a Canada Post stamp.

Entrepreneurial Newfoundlanders have even been cashing in on these icy mounds of frozen water. In case you wondered. iceberg ice is extremely pure and drinking it is encouraged. Its been fashioned into everything from soap, shampoo, bottled water for drinking, vodka and the famous Iceberg beer, crafted in Quidi Vidi. served in icy blue bottles.

Touring around our Twillingate iceberg in a boat was a delightful way to spend a late spring day and we were most fortunate to see many other bergs during the rest of our sojourn around the province. If viewing these icy marvels isn’t already on your bucket list, you should seriously consider adding it. They’re really ‘cool!’ An experience not to be missed.

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