This morning I was flipping through The Maclean’s Book of Lists Vol. 2. (in stores now) when I noticed Cape Broyle, Newfoundland, gets top mention two pages in a row.
On page 252, Justin Trudeau lists diving into the icy waters off Tar Cove in Cape Broyle as his No. 1 favourite swim. Turn the page and Olympic paddler Adam Van Koeverden lists Cape Broyle and Newfoundland as the top place to paddle.
“Justin and his brothers were tough,” remembers Stan Cook. “It was early May when he hosted his bachelor party here and he and his brothers stripped off and went swimming with flakes of snow falling on their shoulders. They laughed the whole time while out swimming in the ocean.”
Van Koeverden’s biggest memory seems to be the devil clearing his throat. That’s when air gets sucked in and then expelled from a particular 30-metre rock formation near Cape Broyle Narrows.
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“Look up my buddy Stan Cook,” Van Koeverden says. “He runs and operates Stan Cook Sea Kayak Adventures. … He’ll take you out to touch an iceberg, or paddle through the caves called the Devil’s Nostrils.”
It’s no surprise to Stan that Cape Broyle steals two top spots in the Maclean’s Book of Lists. He’s known for 20 years that this Southern Shore outport is the centre of the kayaking universe.
“Twenty years ago when my sister and I were scouting for a place to set up shop, we paddled a lot of coastline, but once we got to Cape Broyle, we knew we’d found it. We brought my father down there and he couldn’t believe it.” Cook is referring to Stan Cook Sr., who has been canoeing and paddling this island since 1970.
“Kilometre for kilometre, Cape Broyle is one of the best paddles in North America,” says Stan Sr. “Caves, beaches, arches, waterfalls. It has everything. The harbour has over 20 km of coastline. And it’s safe.”
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“Safety is everything,” says Stan Sr. “Fun — Safe — Easy is how we promote ourselves. Anyone can come up to Cape Broyle and kayak. Even if you’ve never kayaked before. Even if you’re 80 years old. Even if you’re afraid of the water. We’ll teach you how to have a safe and fun time on the bay.”
Every kayak that goes out with clients in it is a double kayak. The Cooks, who take out thousands of paddlers every year, ensure at least one licensed guide for every three double kayaks.
“The harbour is so protected because of the way it’s shaped,” says Stan Sr. “Cape Broyle is eight or so kilometres from the ocean. The prevailing wind is southwest. The way the wind blows, one side of the harbour is usually protected.
“Plus, I swear it has its own weather pattern. You can have poor weather in St. John’s, but it’s lovely in Cape Broyle,” he says. “Sometimes there can be fog all the way up the shore and then you get to Cape Broyle and it’s clear as a bell.”
“The two-hour go-and-tow option is the most popular,” says Stan Sr. “You get to paddle double the distance and then you don’t have to paddle back. Ninety per cent of the time it’s a southwest wind at your back going out, so later, when you’re tired, you don’t have to paddle back in with the wind in your face.”
I got to experience this last month when I drove No. 2 and his girlfriend down for an afternoon on the bay. No. 5 and I stayed behind eating ice cream at Riverside Restaurant, just a short walk up the road from the Cooks’ repurposed store. After playing on the beach and picnicking on the wharf, Stan Sr. declared it was time to go round up the go-and-towers. He threw a life jacket at me and another smaller version at No. 5.
“Come on,” he said. “We’re going out in the boat.”
The boat is the yet-to-be-christened My Guardian Angel. It’s 22 feet long and six feet wide, double gauge aluminum — perfect for the job of retrieving tired kayakers. It came off the William Carson, but that’s a story for another day. Or better yet, you can head down to Cape Broyle and Stan Sr. will recount it for you himself.
The first time I kayaked with Stan Sr., way back in late spring 1996, we headed out St. John’s Narrows and took a spin around that giant iceberg that had grounded off Fort Amherst. He’s just as mischievous now as he was then.
“I like to take people to the Cathedral at Kettles Point on the south side of the harbour,” he says. “If you make it through the confessional, your sins are forgiven.”
Once we got installed in My Guardian Angel, Stan Sr. encouraged No. 5 to sit right up front in the bow on a yellow equipment bag and hold on to the rope. No. 5 proudly sat like a maidenhead until Stan Sr. put the bow and No. 5 directly under the chilly waterfall at Spout Cove.
Needless to say, when the sea water hit, No. 5 jumped off the bag rather quickly. After the initial shock, though, No. 5 wanted to get doused again. He was thrilled with the experience. He was even more thrilled to see his big brother and girlfriend out in Freshwater Cove, a two-hour paddle out the bay. My Guardian Angel waited for the paddlers to clew up their investigation of the arch in Gentlemans Cove and then, one by one, Stan Sr. and his trusty guides took the paddlers safely on board and towed their kayaks in a colourful line back to port.
All the kayakers had those silly, satisfied grins plastered on their chops as they took their benches along both sides of the boat. They, like Adam Van Koeverden and Justin Trudeau, agree that Cape Broyle is the best place in Canada to hang out on the ocean, be it in a kayak or for a brisk swim in May with snowflakes falling on your head.
Susan Flanagan is a journalist who had fun reading some of the 322 lists in The Maclean’s Book of Lists, Vol. 2 (www.macleans.ca/bookoflists) and can’t wait to try Rod’s Restaurant in Clarenville which made the list of the 10 best pit stops. She is also looking forward to her next paddle with the Cooks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.