There is an enormous fog bank sitting off the Atlantic Coast. According to pilot from Maritime Air Charters it is larger, formed earlier and is lasting longer than most years. We were warned that only 50% of the time does the flight leave on schedule and that we would need a couple of ‘buffer days’ on either end of our scheduled departures. They had not been able to get a plane into Sable for six days, so we were hoping the trend would change in our favour soon. Not worried, we opted to spend the day seeing the sights and sounds of Halifax.
We started with a tour of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which has an excellent feature on the history of Sable Island, including some of the rescue boats used in the 1800’s by the Humane Establishment to rescue shipwrecked sailors. Of particular interest was the breeches buoy which used a zip-line type of contraption which was sent by rocket launcher to the wrecked ships. Only if all other means failed did they dispatch a rescue boat, towed by horses to nearest launch location. The rescue boats were especially equipped with baffles designed to self-bail in the wild surf.
After sampling some of the seafood treats along the docks we returned to our accommodations hopeful for the next day departure. Darren was staying with friends while Joan, Claudia and I were staying in the resident’s rooms at Mount Saint Vintcent University.
The rooms are very small, no TV, phone or air conditioning but at $40/night it seems like a good way to save money and its just for a day or two.
We received bad news again today regarding the weather. The fogbank was as thick as ever and there was no break in the forecast. We were told not to stray more than an hour or so driving distance away as the weather could change unexpectedly and we would be called in for our flight. The fog retreated away from the coast a little allowing some decent views so, we decided to take a run out to the renowned Peggy’s Cove to photograph the lighthouse and surrounding coast. By mid-morning weather was so nice it was difficult to believe that Sable was fogged in, but 100 miles out in the Atlantic things were very different.
We checked in every three hours in case of a change but we were told it did not look hopeful for a flight out today. It was only then that I began to get an idea of how much of this difficulty was weather and how much was government policy creating obstacles for us. We learned at this point that the manager of the coast guard, whose job it is to receive us is not permitted to work any overtime. That means he works from 8am to 4pm and if our flight does not leave by 2pm he can not receive us! This rule is as a result of a government decision to designate Sable Island as a non-remote location. In other words it is part of the local constituency! Still not discouraged we re-planned our day. Darren and I took off in a car borrowed from his friends in Halifax, and Claudia and Joan chose to explore more of the city.Though the light was flat and sky lacking any interesting detail, we managed to get some interesting images of the local fishing scene. We spent hours trying to get a view of Sambro lighthouse, running up and down gravel roads and traipsing through brush, but to no avail. A drive down the coast through Mahone Bay, on to Lunenberg and down to “the Ovens” gave us a real sense of the photo possibilities. We took some shots along the way, but inwardly we were hoping we would be back during better light. The Ovens sea caves were particularly interesting with their dramatic cliffs and twisted trees. We were out at last light around 9:30pm and then the hour’s drive back into town made for another long day. At our last check-in with Maritime they told us there might be a small window of opportunity for a flight out in the afternoon the next day. That was a nice bit of news as we were all getting anxious to get to get to a prime destination.
For those of you that have not seen the Sable Island docufilm “Chasing Wild Horses”, the BRAVO special by fashion photographer Roberto Dutusco, I highly recommend it. For anyone that has already seen it you should know that the horse in the movie that appears to be very lame (in fact has a broken leg) is still alive and well four years after the film was made. Although Roberto is not a ‘horse person’ per se, he certainly captures the mood of the horses and their environment, and his passion for the animals really comes through.
Reflecting back on my short time with the Sable Horses, I too have fallen under their spell. Their remote and amazing environment should be protected at all costs. I was prepared for the worst on coming to the island. Visions of starved and lame horses in all states of condition crossed my mind. Nothing could have been more opposite. The horses were in excellent health, sound and managing beautifully without human interference. Certainly, there were exceptions and I did see the occasional skeleton, but in context, life and death in the wild can often be much more brutal than on Sable Island. In fact I will remember the Sable horses and their fascinating environment as a place of peace and prosperity. As with such special places on earth, we can only hope that its pristine nature is preserved for generations to come. I hope to return to the Sable horses, perhaps in winter, to continue their extraordinary story. You should join me….