ST. ANTHONY, N.L. - The island of Newfoundland boasts 9,656 kilometres of coastline, but few people can lay claim to having seen all of it, or at least most of it.
This past summer, St, Anthony's Randy Cull became a member of that exclusive club, circumnavigating the island in his 38-foot sailboat the Sea Barrel.
Cull, 56, left St. Anthony with his father Don and brother Dwayne on June 20. On Sept. 9, 43 ports and approximately 1,500 nautical miles later he sailed back into St. Anthony Harbour with a bucket-list experience he says was the adventure of a lifetime.
"It's probably the most fun thing I ever done," he said. "I've done some adventurous stuff, like snowmobile in Labrador and snowmobile in this peninsula here, but to go three months, or the best part of three months - it was a very good experience."
Along the way, he picked up and dropped off a total of 15 crew members, including friends and family. His wife Mary Ellen made most of the trip with him, but got off the boat several times to accommodate other passengers.
The highlights were too numerous to list. He touched on Fogo, Change Islands, the fiords and outports of the south coast and lower north shore of Quebec, sailing into St. John's Harbour basically just to say he did it and even visiting another country in the form of St. Pierre. But, despite all the spectacular scenery-which he described as "out-of-the-world beautiful"-the best thing, he said, was much simpler.
"If it was any one given thing, it was meeting so many good people," he said. "When I got back it felt like my batteries was charged up. I should have been drained down from all the beating around, but no, I had this positive attitude or something that, by the geez, there's some good people in the world."
The generosity of Newfoundlanders and Quebecers was just amazing.
"People catching your lines and loaning you their truck and giving you O-rings and whatever you needed, give you a feed of crabs or ice, they bring it on down, everything you can think of," he said.
"It restored my faith in humanity sort of thing. Listening to the news is doom and gloom and, geez, just gets on your nerves."
Cull bought his first sailboat 17 years ago after catching the bug sailing with friends. It was a 27-foot bare-bones craft that wasn't really suited for extended trips. He used it mainly for short trips around the Northern Peninsula and said it was a lot of fun, but he always had his eye on getting a bigger, more luxurious vessel.
Two years ago with retirement from his job as a regional facilities manager with Labrador Grenfell Health looming, he went shopping in upstate New York for a freshwater boat.
"That makes it a better boat because there's no pitting, or reduced osmosis because it's only in the freshwater up there and the lakes freeze over so it's only in the freshwater for four months a year, then it comes out," Cull explained.
He found the perfect boat in Champlain Lake, New York, just south of Montreal, a Hunter Marine with all the amenities. He named it Sea Barrel after his own nickname "Barrel." It boasts a 50-foot mast; canopy; 38-horsepower Yanmar diesel engine; all the latest and greatest in nautical navigation technology; sleeps four comfortably; has a full galley, bathroom and dining/chart room and everything needed for extended trips.
"It's like a camper on the water," Cull said.
They sailed the boat back to Newfoundland up the Richelieu River, then the St. Lawrence, along the lower north shore of Quebec to Forteau, Labrador, then across to Cook's Harbour.
"That was a good trip, it was myself and my buddy and our two wives," he said. "We were gone five weeks and we had a great time."
This summer's trip was better than double that and, of course, it would not be Newfoundland without some weather.
"When you're going on a journey like this, people say, 'I hopes you get good weather'," he said. "I said, 'Yeah, I'm going to get some good weather and I'm going to get some bad,' because when you're going for such a long time you're going to get good weather and you're going to get bad, you just gotta deal with it."
That included snow at Exploits Island and having to wait out the tail end of Hurricane Chris on the west shore of Trinity Bay.
The most hair-raising experience, though, was a freak thunderstorm that hit them sailing near Twillingate.
"The wind, it was probably 50 knots, and different directions, it was constantly changing, and the rain was just drifting, it was like a mini hurricane or something," Cull said.
He took it all in stride, though.
"You prepare for it," he said. "If you don't prepare for it you're going to be screwed, so you look at the weather, you look at the forecast, you know the capabilities of your boat, the direction of the wind. Sometimes it works for you, sometimes it don't."
Although circumnavigating the island was his greatest adventure, Cull is not planning a repeat trip.
"Nope, done that, got the t-shirt," he said.
That's not to say he is done with grand sailing adventures though. He wants to explore the north coast of Labrador and spend a year in the Caribbean while he still can.
"I don't take health and strength for granted," he said. "I'm feeling good, but I don't think I'll be like that forever and I'm fairly young and retired so I figured it was a chance to do it, so seize the opportunity of good health."