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it's surprising that, considering how large the island of Newfoundland is, two of the most important historical places to visit are situated just a few miles apart. We've just been to one of them and the other one is our next port of call. Then again, that's hardly surprising as it also concerns the crossing of the Atlantic by air - but this time we are talking about radio waves.

biscay bay cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

We have to head eastwards out of Trepassey in order to reach our next destination, and we can't say that we are disappointed by the scenery along this road.

This is not the Bay of Biscay of course but Biscay Bay, something quite different. To the left of the photograph (the east side of the bay) we have Portugal Point, and to the western side we have Mutton Cove, he said sheepishly. I can't pull the wool over your eyes.

But never mind sheep for a moment. I've seen them already today. Along this stretch of road I have also seen cows and a vegetable plot. All of that is certainly worthy of note.

portugal cove south cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Just a few miles further on, I come to the settlement of Portugal Cove South, and it's here that I need to be as I'm planning to make a detour off the main road.

The road sign here should give you a clue as to where it is that I'm going. And if your memory is anything like as good as it might be, there might be a little light going on inside your head and a little voice whispering "Titanic" in your ear.

the drook abandoned fishing village cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Along the road down to Cape Race are the sites of two former fishing villages. This is one of them, called The Drook. According to local legend it was inhabited for 100or so years, with the local inhabitants being engaged, as you might expect, in fishing with the odd bit of looting and pillaging of shipwrecks thrown in for good measure.

The curing of the fish was done at home but when the huge fish plant at Trepassey was opened it was no longer economically viable to live here and cure one's own fish. One may as well live in Trepassey, set out for the fishing grounds from there and land the catch directly at the processing plant.

Mind you, the closure of the plant at Trepassey in 1991 might have led some people to reconsider the potential that home-curing might have to offer as a form of income-generating activity, but today the village is simply a collection of summer holiday homes, so I am informed.

tilted stratified rock plateau cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Here is the most magnificent example of a syncline or a tilted stratified rock plateau that I have ever seen. This was well-worth a photo.

In many cases the tilted rock plateau would be caused by either compression of the strata due to closing movement of the various techtonic plates of the earth's crust or else by geological upheaval by volcanic action. Not that I know much about this kind of thing but compression of the plates is what occurs to me just here.

And while I was stopped taking this photograph I became engaged in conversation with a couple of people carrying wicker baskets and scanning the ground very closely. Of course I had to ask what they were doing. No point in noticing things if you don't follow them up.
"Looking for cranberries" said one of the aforementioned
"Are you having much luck?" enquired our hero
"There's not very plenty of them" replied the aforementioned
Hmmmm - "not very plenty". What with "alrightee" alreadee this morning, I could quite get to like living here.

Apparently the intention of the locals is to make cranberry jam should they find enough, but the crop this year has been disappointing.

As for the "very plenty", that's a phrase that I came across later. Margaret Baikie, a "liveyer" from the Hamilton Inlet in Labrador in the second half of the 19th Century used the phrase in her memoirs, also to describe berry-picking.

stratified tilted rock plateau syncline cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

The view of the other side of the headland is if anything much more spectacular. Not only for the evidence of what seems to be the syncline but the view in the background of the various points and headlands.

It's not easy to tell which points and headlands they might be but I suspect that the one on the middle distance is either Cape Mutton or Powles Point, and behind it is the southern part of the Avalon Peninsula on its way down to Cape Freels.

lighthouse cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

And so I go round the bend "only just now?" ...ed and here we have the lighthouse and ancillary buildings here at Cape Race. It's this, or rather one of the ancillary buildings, that has lured me on from Portuguese Cove South.

Having said earlier that the first landfall in North America for ancient mariners coming from North-West Europe in the days of sail would most likely be Trepassey Bay, its interesting to know that the whole coastal area along here is littered with shipwrecks. Everywhere that you seems to have a placard recording some other event of a shipwreck that happened, although I haven't seen any physical evidence, such as I did at Point Amour on the Labrador coast.

These days of course the first notice that the mariners would have of land would be the beam from the lighthouse just here. And how welcome would that have been after many of the vicissitudes that these mariners would possibly have suffered out in the Atlantic during the days of sail?

atlantic ocean lighthouse cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Yes, that's Cape Race and its lighthouse just there, and if you look very closely at the horizon, then always assuming that you have excellent eyesight you can just about make out the coast of Southern Ireland. That is just a mere 1900 or so miles away.

As an aside, the RMS Titanic is out there too - just 360 miles or so away. And a couple of miles down as well, whatever is left of her after the salvors have finished salving, or whatever it is that they do.

coast view north cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

One of the important things to do while I'm here is to go out for a walk onto the headland that is Cape Race. You can't come as far as the lighthouse and not go the rest of the way.

This is the view looking along the coast northwards in the general direction of St John's. And it wasn't particularly the view that caught my eye, but the height of the waves being driven onshore by this howling gale that we were having.

coast view south cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

This is the view looking southwards from my vantage point at the tip of Cape Race towards Shingle Head and Mistaken Point. You can see what I mean about the gale and the height of the waves breaking on the shore. There is nothing at all eastwards of this point to slow down the gale and the sea for about 1900 miles until the tip of Southern Ireland.

As an aside, you might be wondering about the next landfall due south of this point. There might be the odd atoll somewhere alomg the route but the next mainland is somewhere round about the border of Brazil and French Guiana.

coast view south high waves storm cliff cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

A close-up view of the southerly coastline gives a much better view of the height of the waves. Now that is what I call impressive.

And it was here that I fell in with a lady from Florida - a birdwatcher. "Did you fall out afterwards, or did you clamber out?" ...ed. It seems that she makes her living leading eco-tours around all kinds of various places.

She spent some time chatting to me about birds and all that kind of thing. I spent a great deal of time telling her about my birdwatching activities too, but as they concerned a different type of bird to those in which she was interested, she expressed little enthusiasm for my discussion

But now let us turn our attention to the Cape Race and its world-famous radio station. You knew all the time that this was why we were here.

marconi radio station cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

You might be forgiven for thinking that the buildings on the left are the buildings of the famous Marconi radio station here, but that is not the case. When the Marconi radio link was dismantled following the successful laying of the Transatlantic telephone cables and the evident superiority of the telephone network became apparent, the famous and historic radio station here was simply bulldozed into the ground.

This is in fact a replica, built at a later date and now a museum, although many of the exhibits have had to be scrounged from well-meaning donors, souvenir collectors and supporters of the museum - most of the original and genuine artefacts having suffered the same fate as the buildings themselves.

The museum itself was staffed by a couple of interesting women who were most helpful and generous with their time. And that was nice of them as they weren't even supposed to be there. The museum was closed for the season as you might expect whan I am on my travels. They had simply turned up to collect the mail when they were immediately set upon by tourists, which just goes to prove my point about the ridiculously short tourist season around here.

How are they going to boost the economy of these deprived areas and bring cash in from outside when they close all the attractions for 8 months per year or however long - or short - it is?

Many people such as Yours Truly like to travel out of season when the schools are back in. But there isn't any point when everywhere is closed up. The motels, bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants would welcome the influx of extra cash from the tourists coming here in the quiet times of the year. The Tourist Board needs to give them things to do, and that involves getting out there and doing some pro-active salesmanship in the international tourism market, not just folding the arms and shutting the door in a fit of depression and gesture of defeat.

Now I said "set upon by tourists", and note the plural because I was not alone. You remember that earlier today I was Holyrood Bay . As I was arriving, a car with New Brunswick plates was just pulling away. And when I arrived at the fort at Trepassey the same car was once more pulling away. And here it was at Cape Race. The two ladies in it were tourists too, and they wanted to learn more about the radio station here.

Our story begins with the laying of a Transatlantic Telegraph cable on the Atlantic sea bed back in the 19th Century. The company that owned the cable immediately secured a monopoly on the transmission of transatlantic communications traffic, and they were as jealous of guarding their monopoly as others were keen to find a loophole in the legislation.

We then turn to the Italian Guglielmo Marconi, who had been experimenting with the transmission of Morse Code by the medium of radio airwaves, and about whom we shall talk in due course. Once Marconi was satisfied that it was feasible to transmit morse code messages by radio, even over the comparatively-short ranges that he had covered to date, he then set out to convince shipowners that it was a useful, if not essential idea to have his morse code transmitters and receivers on board ship, to give and receive inter-nautical messages about the navigation of the ship and the weather and waters through which the ship was to pass, and other communications vital to the safety and efficient operation of the ship.

Another idea was to promote radio transmission as a marketing tool for passengers, to entice them on board ships fitted with the apparatus so that they might be able to communicate (at their own expense) with their friends and colleagues onshore, in the same way that the internet is used as a sales tool in most hotels these days as being a means of communicating with family, friends and work while away from home.

In view of the limited range of the early transmissions, messages would be sent long-distance by the means of bouncing them via the radio operators from ship to ship to shore station to shore station until they arrived at their intended destination.

Marconi reached an agreement with most shipowners that they would install the equipment on the ships and he would supply the operators at his own expense, handling the inter-nautical communications between ships and shipowners free of charge and earning his revenue from the fees for the private communications of the passengers. Of course it was stated in the contracts that the inter-nautical communications would receive priority.

Cape Race was the Marconi station nearest to the North Atlantic shipping lanes and it was the first landfall of messages transmitted to the North American shore from ships at sea. From here the messages could be transmitted on to the ports such as Montreal and New York amongst others by bouncing them along the relay stations set up at salient points within range of each other, in the same way that the messages had been bounced from ship to ship across the Atlantic.

Cape Race became famous due to the fact that it was the shore station that first picked up news of the Titanic's collision with an iceberg and whilst much of the rescue effort was co-ordinated by the radio operators of ships in the vicinity, whatever land-based rescue effort that was coordinated was coordinated from here.

But that is all something of a popular illusion, because the role of the Marconi radio station here is much more sinister. In fact it might be argued convincingly that the Cape Race radio station was one of the major factors in causing the accident.

As the Titanic was steaming on to its appointment with destiny, many other ships in the area to where the Titanic was headed were rather concerned about the weather, having seen icebergs along the "Track", the agreed route that ships followed across the Atlantic. Messages concerning the position of the ice were being passed from ship to ship by the radio operators and there is no doubt whatsoever that the Titanic received most, if not all of them.

Early in the evening the ice messages received by the radio operators on the Titanic were being passed to the ship's officers, quite correctly in accordance with Marconi's written instructions that inter-nautical messages should receive priority even though they were transmitted free of charge. Captain Smith discussed some of them with a representative of the owners of the ship, who was on board, and even with some of the passengers.

But once Captain Smith had retired fot the evening, the operators began to concentrate on the commercial traffic. Signals concerning the ice and known to have been received by the Titanic were not passed to the officer of the watch on the bridge and other messages were ignored. Bride, one of the Titanic's radio operators, gave evidence at the enquiry into the sinking that he had ignored a message warning of ice in the vicinity of the ship as it was transmitted while he was writing up the accounts for the company's commercial traffic, but that he wasn't concerned as he would "catch it later".

Finally, when a ship close by broadcast an urgent message about the presence of ice in the vicinity, the Titanic's radio operator curtly told him to
"keep out - I am working Cape Race!"
In this kind of circumstance some kind of disaster was a foregone conclusion. Those seven words sealed the fate of the Titanic and could rightly serve as the epitaph of the ship.

I mentioned earlier that the cable company had secured a monopoly of transatlantic communication and guarded that monopoly jealously. But reading into the report of the Board of Trade's enquiry into the Titanic disaster, what became clear to me, even though nothing specifically was mentioned about it in the report, was that Marconi had strategically placed his radio operators on board ships and was using them to bounce messages across the Atlantic in an illicit challenge to the cable company's monopoly. Cottam, the radio operator of the Carpathia gave evidence at the enquiry of the sinking of the Titanic that the shore stations were bouncing messages across the Atlantic for the benefit of "the Marconi press", as he put it.

The lengthy discussions between ships about the deteriorating weather conditions had caused a backlog of commercial messages. Evidence was given at the Enquiry that Captain Smith was showing a great deal of interest about the ice, discussing the messages at length with a representative of the owners who was on board and also with various passengers as I have mentioned.

But once the Captain was off the bridge then the commercial considerations took over and the radio operator began to work the commercial messages with the total disregard of the inter-nautical messages even though the presence of ice and the concern that it was causing the other ships in the vicinity must obviously have been something of which he was aware, and the consequences of which he could hardly have failed to realise.

It's for this reason that the radio station at Cape Race played a much more sinister role in the Titanic disaster than is popularly thought.

Talking of Marconi and the Board of Trade enquiry into the sinking of the Titanic, Marconi gave evidence that he considered that the operators on the Titanic had been distracted by the noise in the background all about the ship and the Committee took this on board (to use a nautical metaphor) However Marconi was being somewhat ... errr ... economical with the truth.

compressed air diaphone two tone foghorn cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

Just here are the remains of a diaphone - a compressed-air two-tone foghorn that emitted an audible warning every couple of minutes, loud enough to be heard well out to sea. It's just 100 yards or so from the radio cabin so how loud would that have sounded in there and how distracting would that have been to the radio operators?

Its position isn't unique either. If you had been with me last week at Point Amour on the Labrador coast , one of the relay stations that Marconi set up to bounce the transatlantic messages up and down the coast of North America, you'll remember that they had one there as well. It seems that a diaphone was a regular feature at this kind of site, yet Marconi never mentioned this to the Commissioners, and they never asked about it.

One thing about which I was interested was how the power was generated to run the radio equipment. Did they have mains electricity out here back at the turn of the 20th Century? Apparently not - it was petrol generators that were used to power the equipment.

Today of course, taking one glance at the weather, wind generation would be the obvious answer and it totally bewilders me why it is that these coastal settlements and installations such as here don't have a battery of wind turbines close by to provide the power. The Newfoundland coast is crying out for them. Just think how much electricity they could generate with the wind just here, and what opportunities they are missing.

There's no reason why they should not have had them back at the turn of the 20th Century either. Wind Turbines were certainly known back in those days. E.E.Reynolds, in his biography of the explorer Nansen , records how once the Fram became thoroughly embedded in the ice, "a windmill sic was rigged to drive the dynamo for the electric light". And that was in September 1893.

radar station cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

The lighthouse and the radio station are not the only man-made objects to see out here on Cape Race. There's a radar station operated by the Northern Radar Company, and in the photograph just here you can see some of the latticework.

There are no details here of what kind of radar station it might be, and so I'll have to have a good read of my Most Secret War by R.V. Jones. The author devotes a considerable time to the discussion of radar stations and I'll have to see if I can extract sufficient details to tell you more about what kind of station I think that it might be.

portugal cove south cape race newfoundland canada october octobre 2010

I'm glad that I went out to Cape Race, and so is Strawberry Moose who insists on having his photograph taken at every available opportunity.

The drive out to Cape Race was magnificent and the scenery certainly spectacular, there was no doubt about that, but the road out there would not have been out of place up on the Labrador Plateau. what I found totally hilarious in fact, and I'm still laughing about this, was that at one point a huge 4x4 GMC Silverado inching its way down the track pulled off to the side to let me pass. And I'm in a Chrysler PT Cruiser too.

Whatever next, indeed?

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