My first Newfoundland kayak adventure

Published on June 21, 2014

There’s no need to be bored here in Newfoundland, despite the old RDF. That’s rain, drizzle and fog for anyone who hails from away, because if you’ve lived here through at least one spring equinox you sure as hell are quite familiar.

Yes indeed, we get our share of nasty and stay-indoors kind of weather, but you know what? I think it inclines us to appreciate the sunshine so much more. And besides, you can always tie flies, paint a bedroom, plan an adventure or fix the toaster, when it’s not fit to be outdoors, or you could just invest in some new fandangled breathable rain gear and defy the gods.

The gods smiled one day a week or so ago — sent us a wonderful gift of warmth, sunshine and light winds. All together in one day, my God how can this be? You can’t waste a day like that. Early June does not bestow such a blessing either frequently or with much intensity.

What to do? It would be a grave sin not to partake of the offering.

Fearing a minute or two of boredom, my most dreaded calamity, I recently purchased a river-running sort of recreational kayak. My buddy Cameron Gosse has paddled one for half a decade and enthusiastically and frequently proclaims its wondrous utility and potential to explore the outback and otherwise tough-to-tread locations.

So, prodded on by his “b’ys, you got to get a kayak” urgings, though a haze of pipe smoke and clouded dark rum judgment, I committed to taking on yet another outdoor hobby — as if I need something else to do. It’s funny how finding time in spring and summer seems so easy compared to snowshoeing in mid-February. Then there’s the reality of cutting grass, readying for salmon fishing, and home repairs occupying your non-employment time totally and grudgingly.

My new kayak hung from the beams in my garage, awaiting a christening.

The christening

Back to our early June benevolent climatic gift.

Cameron texted me upon hearing the wonderful weather forecast. It read simply and succinctly, “Rocky River tomorrow — wicked forecast?”

Holy Lord, I’ve got a dump truck load of topsoil sitting in the yard that needs spreading. Promises to one’s self and others — even those proclaimed under influence of icy cold winds and warm toddies — warrant serious consideration, in spite of real world reality and seasonal yard work obligations.

On a winter’s night at the cabin we had hatched a plan to kayak Rocky River from Whitbourne to where it meets the sea near Colinet. Noting my kayak has never been wet, this might seem like an overly ambitious first run. Fair enough, but I’ve logged plenty of river miles in a canoe, and a substantial amount of time kayaking flat ocean water in Florida. Put the two together and I should be able to figure out a kayak in running water relatively quickly, at least well enough to handle a somewhat tame river.

Then again, I’ve never been known for a conservative or cautious nature.

Cameron and I launched where Hugh’s Brook crosses the road in Markland, There’s a nice grassy spot there to park a truck and get geared up. We weren’t on the water long when we encountered our first series of rapids. Holy Lord, this thing is manoeuvrable, was my first impression.

A 10-foot kayak can turn on a dime, wicked for picking your way around rocks and running the deepest channel. With a longer canoe, you need to mentally run the rapid before actually doing so. Once in the current you are committed to the chosen track, at least that’s my take on it. I’m not even close to a whitewater authority.

I found that with the kayak, I could alter course in an instant and make my way through more instinctively than in a canoe. I think I might be hooked on this, especially if I include a fly rod in the mix.

We stopped and pulled our kayaks ashore on a grassy point where Hugh’s Brook flows into Rocky River. It was time to rest a bit, drain water from our boats, and indulge in a pipe.

The early morning fog had lifted and the sun warmed our faces. What a wonderful day not to be teaching physics or painting a bedroom. I pulled down the front of my hat to shade myself and soaked in the ambiance of trees, blue sky, puffy drifting white clouds and flowing water.

This is the life.

I noted this would be a wonderful spot to set camp on a potential overnighter. Maybe then there would be time to fish and explore higher up in the Rocky watershed.  

We had nearly two hours behind us into what we expected to be a five or six hour float. Our boats departed the shore with renewed vigour in each and every stroke of the paddle.

Rocky is a bigger river and we fully expected to run some exciting rapids — not life threatening, but enough curling whitewater to tingle a few neck hairs. We were to be a bit disappointed on that count. New to this river-running kayaking game, we had miscalculated the flow data on the website.

They give flow rates for a bunch of rivers all across Newfoundland and Labrador. Based on what some other kayakers had posted on Facebook and the flow graphs, we had concluded five cubic metres per second to be plenty of water for a decent river run.

It wasn’t.

I’d say from recent experience that you need a flow rate at least over 20.

What should have taken us five hours ended up chewing into eight hours of paddling and dragging. Kayaks can slip over some pretty skinny water, but still we ended up getting in and out of our boats at least 40 or so times to pull our boats over shoals and gravel bars.

Still, we had fun, including a fine scoff of moose sausages and beans by the side of the river.

The scenery was spectacular and we got treated to a smorgasbord of waterfowl, the highlight being a very close encounter with a mother Canada goose and her goslings. Wow, that was amazing; well worth the sweat and sore muscles.

I can’t wait to do it again — in higher water, that is.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted

at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.