Nathan Stanley and Steve Lake look at an iceberg in the North Atlantic off St. John's

Iceberg tours offer taste of last ice age

Six weeks after the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster showcased Iceberg Alley off Newfoundland, an early and plentiful show of the glacial sculptures is drawing visitors from around the world. Tourists from Japan, South Africa, Europe, the U.S. and across Canada are lining up for their chance to admire these mammoth relics from the last ice age. Huge white and aqua blue blocks carved by wind and waves into towering pillars, contoured slabs and smooth Henry Moore-like shapes now dot the province’s coastlines.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Six weeks after the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster showcased Iceberg Alley off Newfoundland, an early and plentiful show of the glacial sculptures is drawing visitors from around the world.

Tourists from Japan, South Africa, Europe, the U.S. and across Canada are lining up for their chance to admire these mammoth relics from the last ice age. Huge white and aqua blue blocks carved by wind and waves into towering pillars, contoured slabs and smooth Henry Moore-like shapes now dot the province’s coastlines.

Capt. Barry Rogers, co-owner and operator of Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours with his wife Carol Anne Hayes, says it has already been the best iceberg viewing season off St. John’s in recent years.

“Normally our season is the latter part of May and June. We’ve been doing iceberg tours since May 9, and with full boats,” he said of the vessel that’s equipped with a life raft for 75 people along with personal flotation devices. It typically carries between about 30 and 50 passengers, he said.

On a recent tour Rogers steered the boat through St. John’s Harbour, past the colourful clapboard houses of the Battery that hug Signal Hill, through the Narrows and out into the open North Atlantic. Cruising at about eight knots past Cape Spear’s iconic flashing lighthouse, the most easterly point of North America, it wasn’t long before we started seeing relatively small but hazardous hunks of ice or “bergy bits” in the water.

These rock-hard blocks of ice are feared by mariners for their ability to slice even the strongest hull like a can opener. Rogers said bergy bits are a major reason why he avoids night trips at this time of year.

Melting pieces of ice less than five metres long are called “growlers” for the sounds they make “like a saucy dog” as they release air, he added.

A bit farther out, the boat’s radar picked up something that we soon saw rising up from the water ahead of us. It was a tabular iceberg, about 90 metres long and 45 metres wide, flat on the surface where icy dust was visible alongside deepening crevices and cracks. Meltwater rushed off in places like small rivers.

“Awesome!” was the response from several passengers as Rogers asked what they thought.

“We’re looking at 600 to 700 feet of water underneath us right now,” the captain said, urging them to envision that 90 per cent of the berg’s mass is submerged.

Rogers described over a microphone how the big slab likely split from glaciers that cover much of Greenland. They form a thick ice coating that creeps down hills and ridges, breaking off with a booming crash as it reaches the sea. Resulting bergs are believed to be at least 12,000-year-old frozen samples of some of the purest water on earth. They float because they’re less dense than sea water.

Tourists are especially fascinated with icebergs because of Titanic and a surging interest in Newfoundland and Labrador thanks to a hit advertising campaign, Rogers said. The International Ice Patrol, formed after a relatively small berg sank the great ship on April 15, 1912, to this day reports the movement of sea ice for those navigating these dangerous waters.

“The biggest one I’ve seen and worked with, it took me around 35 minutes to steam around it,” Rogers said. “It was around 1.5 kilometres long.

“Every trip that we go out, they have a different shape to them. The contours are different. They could be a tabular type — the flat ones that you could probably land a big plane on — or they could be pillar types with beautiful spirals going up. And then you get the dry-dock ones, we call them, with a pool in the centre. In the sunlight, they’re just magnificent colours and folks love that.”

One crew member armed with a large fishing net captured a chunk of ice to chip into prehistoric cocktails.

“We sprinkle rum over the 12,000-year-old ice,” Rogers said. “Where else would you get to consume something that’s from the ice ages?”

If you go:

Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours with locations in St. John’s, N.L. and Twillingate, N.L.: www.icebergquest.com or 1-709-722-1888.

Northland Discovery Boat Tours, St. Anthony, N.L.: www.discovernorthland.com or 1-877-632-3747.

Iceberg tracker information: www.icebergfinder.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Clearwater County firefighter recruitment campaign deemed a success

A firefighter recruitment campaign is being considered a success by Clearwater County.… Continue reading

Dems say oust Trump or he’ll betray again; ‘He is who he is’

WASHINGTON — Closing out their case, House Democrats warned Friday in Donald… Continue reading

Senators may have to rein in activism in minority Parliament: new govt rep

OTTAWA — Independent senators may have to curb their enthusiasm for amending… Continue reading

Alberta woman charged with child abduction pleads guilty to lesser charge

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A woman in southern Alberta who was charged with… Continue reading

‘A little love can go a long way,’ says a Red Deer opioid user who supports overdose prevention

The OPS means higher survival rates and less needle debris, he adds

Fashion Fridays: The basics you need for your body type

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Jan. 22 Downtown House Senior Center (5414 43 St.) in Red Deer… Continue reading

Pearman: Bohemian Waxwings the consummate nomads

It is always a treat when a winter flock of Bohemian waxwings… Continue reading

Shots from stands, women’s 3-on-3 highlight NHL skills event

ST. LOUIS — Shooting pucks from the stands and some of the… Continue reading

Canada beats U.S. in 3-on-3 women’s game at NHL all-star skills competition

ST. LOUIS — Melodie Daoust and Rebecca Johnston scored to give Canada… Continue reading

Lowry, Siakam lead Raptors past Knicks for 6th straight win

Raptors 118 Knicks 112 NEW YORK — Kyle Lowry scored 26 points,… Continue reading

Dems say oust Trump or he’ll betray again; ‘He is who he is’

WASHINGTON — Closing out their case, House Democrats warned Friday in Donald… Continue reading

Senators may have to rein in activism in minority Parliament: new govt rep

OTTAWA — Independent senators may have to curb their enthusiasm for amending… Continue reading

Alberta woman charged with child abduction pleads guilty to lesser charge

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A woman in southern Alberta who was charged with… Continue reading

Most Read