Sunday 3rd September 2017 – THE HOLY GRAIL …

kyle reid alphabet fleet harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017… of ship spotters everywhere, and here she is, in all that remains of her sad glory.

This is the Kyle and she is probably the most famous ship in the whole of North America.

As Labrador and the coasts of Newfoundland opened up at the turn of the 20th Century, someone by the name of Reid started a regular shuttle service along the coasts serving most of the isolated habitations.

You need to remember that the network of roads in Newfoundland and Labrador is a comparatively recent phenomenon.

kyle reid alphabet fleet harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017He had a series of ships built in Scotland and on the Tyne and named them after places there, in alphabetic order, and these ships became known as the “Alphabet Fleet”.

The most famous of all of these ships was the Kyle. Built in 1913, she was not the biggest, but she was certainly one of the fastest. And she was certainly the strongest, being specially reinforced for fighting her way through the ice up the Labrador coast.

She was the longest-lasting too.

With modern shipping regulations, the abandonment (voluntary or otherwise) of many isolated communities, the start of the modern road network and marine disasters in the treacherous waters, the Alphabet Fleet diminished quite quickly, although Kyle survived and passed on to the whaling trade

kyle reid alphabet fleet harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017At the end of her working life in the late 1960s she was moored up as discussions were taking place as to her future.

But one night in 1967 she broke free of her moorings and ran aground here at the head of the bay at Harbour Grace.

And here she sadly remains, and will remain here until the end of time, I imagine. It’s impossible to refloat her, as she’ll break her back and attempts to sell her for scrap have been met with the most vehement opposition by the inhabitants of Harbour Grace who see her as the symbol of a bygone age.

But The Kyle is not the only famous symbol of Harbour Grace – it’s quite a famous little place.

And its main claim to fame is the role that it played in Transatlantic air history.

newfoundland canada septembre september 2017You are reminded about that by the presence here of a Douglas C47 Skytrain, the freight version of the DC3 Dakota.

This is CF-QBI “Spirit of Harbour Grace”, built in 1943 and had an eventful 50 year working life firstly with the US Air Force in North Africa and then with a variety of small businesses, spending many hours in the air around Newfoundland and Labrador.

When she was finally laid up in 1993 she was donated to the town as a static memorial to the aeroplane heritage of the town.

harbour grace airfield newfoundland canada septembre september 2017And this is the reason for the claim to fame of Harbour Grace’s footprint in the history of Transatlantic Air History.

There were a great many attempts to fly the Atlantic in the period 1919 to 1939 – some of which succeeded and many of which didn’t.

And many of those attempts took place from the improvised, hastily constructed air strip here.

newfoundland canada septembre september 2017The sad thing about it all is that, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, we’ve visited many sites from where these early flights left, and there is nothing much left today

Here at harbour Grace though, it’s probably the best-preserved of all of the early Transatlantic airstrips and it was somehow very pleasant and satisfying to be walking in the footsteps of people like Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post.

harbour grace airfield newfoundland canada septembre september 2017But we were lucky though.

It’s clearly not an airfield up to modern standards, and a radio listening post was stuck on here during World War II.

After that, it was left to decay and would have been completely overwhelmed by nature had not a spirited campaign by local people not led to its recovery and restoration.

Last night I’d had a good night’s sleep at Donald’s – his sofa really is comfortable – and after breakfast we had another really length chat.

So comfortable had I been that I was even able to go off on another ramble, although it wasn’t a very pleasant one. I was in something of a panic. I’d arrived in Portsmouth (and Southampton) and I needed to be at the airport – presumably in London or somewhere like that. It was early morning and my flight wasn’t until about 13:30 but even though it seemed as if I had plenty of time, there just wasn’t the transport to take me there. For example, a train leaving at 06:45 didn’t arrive until 12:40 which was far too late. it was just totally bizarre for London (or Birmingham, or even Manchester) wasn’t anything like that far away.

While I was there I took advantage of Donald’s shower (which was beautiful) and he bunged my clothes in the washing machine which was really nice of him.

It goes without saying that I appreciated the hospitality.

tow bar tray st johns newfoundland canada septembre september 2017Stocking up on fruit, veg and breadat the Dominion Superstore later, I noticed this handy device.

That’s the kind of thing that I need if ever I change Strider for a smaller car. It can sit in the rear of the car until I go off on my travels and everything can be dumped on there and chained down.

And so I made a mental note.

Having done the shopping, I left St John’s on the Trans-Canada Highway and headed off in the direction of Harbour Grace, the Kyle and the airfield, stopping to make myself a butty on the way

And having done what I needed to do, and booked a room at a motel in Carbonear, I set off through the town.

belle carnell clam harvester harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017There’s a big port here – which used to be one of the bases for the Alphabet Fleet of course, but now it’s mainly fishing boats that tie up.

And that includes the massive 3600-tonne clam harvester Belle Carnell, based out of Halifax.

Built in 2004 she was previously the Norwegian Siddis Skipper.

peter eastons fort customs house harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017he most famous of all of the Harbour Grace inhabitants must surely be the pirate Peter Easton.

That’s the Customs House from the 1870s there, but it’s said to be built on the site of Easton’t fortress.

he would think nothing of sailing out with his men to capture a Spanish treasure fleet, and his men became the richest pirates on the North American seaboard.

He himself retired in luxury to the south of France and ended up as Marquis of Savoy.

church of the immaculate conception harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017This however was not so pleasant.

It’s the Church of the Immaculate Conception and despite being a place of worship (and it’s a Sunday too) it was all closed up, the gates were chained and there was a “Private – No Trespassing” sign on the gate.

I shan’t go in to all of this because I’ve said it so many times before. You all know that it’s an attitude that totally dismays me.

memorial to transatlantic flyers harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017Instead, we can admire the scenery.

The museum with the flight log of the airfield was, as you might expect, closed. But in the grounds was this sculpture to commemorate the Transatlantic flyers, particularly those who lost their lives in the attempt.

Europe, the destination of most of them, is right out there, 2000 miles away to Ireland with nothing in between.

harbour grace newfoundland canada septembre september 2017But yesterday I mentioned just how beautiful Newfoundand was, and showed you a photo to prove it.

Today’s photo, looking right across Conception Bay here, merely underlines it.

I was lucky with the weather too because despite the wind it had turned out to be a beautiful day.

And so I shot off down the road to Carbonear and my motel for the night.

Tea was pasta, tinned vegetables and tinned soup all mixed up in the slow cooker – and delicious it was too. I’ll do that again.

And despite having so much to do, I’m so tired that I’m off for an early night.

See you in the morning.

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