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Part One continued: The Caribou
North Sydney–Port aux Basques
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The drive north was actually a rather pleasant amble along a mixture of rural roads, through what can only be described as a variety of one-horse towns before later hitting the main highways for parts of the drive. With no significant time pressure, we took the chance to call in en-route at Caribou from where Northumberland Ferries operate the crossing we would be using a few days later over to the eastern side of Prince Edward Island. We arrived in North Sydney in plenty of time for the 2300 Marine Atlantic sailing to Port-aux-Basques in Newfoundland and checked in about four hours prior to departure at a terminal which was already so full of waiting passengers that we initially thought that maybe there was another departure due before ours. This was not the case however and it seems that it was more a reflection of the upcoming fully-booked overnight crossing. A request of the check-in lady for recommendation of a decent spot for dinner met with the suggestion of Rollie’s Wharf just around the corner. Pulling into the parking lot, we noted the sign which advised “Bring your fiddle every Thursday night. JOIN THE FUN!”. Our good fortune knowing no bounds on this trip, the night in question was indeed a Thursday and there were fiddlers aplenty lining up to entertain. To be fair this was no simple ‘anyone have a go’ karaoke fiddling but actually something of a group session whereby any underperformers would be quickly exposed to the watching, mostly local (and they were ‘very local’ at times) crowd.

Heading out for a post-dinner stroll we walked along the pier behind Rollie’s and there, just coming into view, was our vessel for the night, the
Caribou of 1986. All three of us recall a picture of this ship when brand new in Ships Monthly’s ‘New Ship News’ and it is intriguing how she grabbed all of our attentions back then. She is undeniably a most striking and smart looking ferry, particularly in the classy Marine Atlantic livery. Along with her sister, the Joseph and Clara Smallwood, the more freight-oriented Leif Ericson (ex-Stena Challenger) plus the ‘Searunner’ class freight ship Atlantic Freighter (ex-Tor Felicia/Stena Grecia) the Caribou maintains the lifeline link from the Canadian mainland to Port-aux-Basques. This route is a year-round operation taking about six hours in Summer, when a hectic rolling schedule is introduced; winter crossing times are extended slightly. Between June and September the Joseph and Clara Smallwood sails three times a week to Argentia rather than Port-aux-Basques and a glance at her deckplan revealed that this ship, nearly four years younger than the Caribou, was rather modified with additional reclining seats and more couchettes at the expense of slightly less cabins but more overnight capacity overall, presumably to better equip her for the rather longer 14-hour crossing time. One ill-informed and soon rebuked member of our party suggested that perhaps the ship’s unusual dual name was due to her being named after a pair of famous local siamese twins but of course it actually comes from the first Premier of Newfoundland and his wife. [continued below]
Top: The Caribou arrives at North Sydney, 29 June 2006
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Click above for a Caribou deckplan (2006)
Above: The Caribou's functional and tidy aft cafeteria.
Above: The Killick Bar/Lounge on the Caribou stayed busy until the early hours.
Above: The ship's reception desk, located just off the 'Viking Square'. Picture courtesy Richard Seville
Above & below: The Humber Lounge (above) and an associated side lounge (below) typify the remainder of the seating spaces on the Caribou, forward of the Viking Square. Picture below courtesy Richard Seville
Above & below: The remainder of the overnight accommodation is made up of fairly spacious cabins (above) and the popular couchette berths (below). Picture below courtesy Richard Seville
All four current Marine Atlantic ships operate as double deck loaders and have the associated twin-level linkspans to feed the two full freight decks. Inside the passenger accommodation however it is rather surprisingly spartan with the only general areas of note being on Deck 5 with the aft cafeteria, a bright but functional space, and the Killick Bar just forward of that which, with its live band and generally dark outfit was quite fun, being rather boisterous and absolutely heaving from boarding until about 2 am. Just forward again is the ‘Viking Square’ off which the reception, small shop, playroom and a rather fine model of the ship can be found. The playroom was in use providing a decent quiet sleeping area for some cabinless passengers. Next up is the ‘Exploits’ Lounge with a combination of reclining and fixed seating and the semi-enclosed Humber Video Lounge adjacent. Some forward cabins complete this, the main passenger deck. The two decks above feature a couple of open-plan couchette lounges which seem very popular. The two decks below (either side of the upper vehicle deck) have a variety of spacious cabins, several of which are outside but windowless.

Arrival in Port-aux-Basques was prompt the next morning at half past five. In the cold light of day, the grim state of some of the
Caribou’s outside deck was fully revealed with, in particular, a magnificent little corner on Deck 6 where a smashed ceiling panel, pitted decking, rusted-through door frame and a door seemingly unpainted since new came together in a glorious symphony of decrepitude. One felt like leaving a little rosette behind as, whilst the Princess of Acadia offered a more consistent array of rusting, this ship’s special efforts in selected spots was utterly peerless and worthy of recognition. [continued on next page]