The Northern Ranger is a passenger/freight supply ship that plies the waters between Black Tickle and Nain, Labrador. Map of route (Black Tickle is just SE of Cartwright). This is a classic coastal route, comparable with Norway's Hurtigruten, or Indonesia's Pelni ships. In its current form the service is not aimed at tourists (you have been warned); it is truly the lifeline for the local communities. But if you want to experience the Labrador as the local live it, don't miss this boat! Highly recommended.
I had an opportunity to take the ship from Nain to Goose Bay in August 2007. As there is very little detail about the ship available online, I have created this page to provide some detail.
Schedule and season
The Northern Ranger operates on a weekly schedule. It leaves Goose Bay Friday evening at midnight for Black Tickle, stopping in Rigolet and Cartwright. It returns to Goose Bay on Sunday. It then leaves Goose Bay on Monday afternoon for the northern ports of Rigolet, Postville, Makkovik, Hopedale, Nataushish and Nain, arriving in Nain on Wednesday afternoon. It turns around the same afternoon, returning to Goose Bay on Friday afternoon.
Many tourists will book a return trip from Goose Bay to Nain and back, but you could fly to Nain, stay for a few days, and then take the boat back, or visa versa.
Although the ship has an ice-strengthened hull, it can only sail up the coast in the short Labrador summer. Usually that is June to November, but a late ice year in 2007 forced a delay of the first trip to Nain until well into July.
The ferry's website does not reflect changes in the schedule due to ice. Even if you have reservations for an early sailing and it is cancelled, the operator won't notify you. Therefore, you should always confirm with 1-866-535-2567 if the ship is running on schedule.
The Northern Ranger was built in 1986. It has been well maintained, but the interior shows its age. However, everything is functional.
There is only one lounge to hang out in during the day. It can get rather crowded and rowdy, especially between Hopedale and Nain. So, if it is cold or rainy out you may have to hang out in your cabin. Bring some books.
There are three types of cabins on board:
You could also sleep in the lounge, but this is not recommended, as it can get quite rowdy during the trip to Nain, and your luggage may not be safe.
There is a simple cafetaria that serves four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a midnight lunch. The food is hearty, but simple, and somewhat bland. But the staff may surprise you with some typical Newfoundland dishes. Most people bring their own breakfast and some snacks, and stock up on extras from the stores in the villages along the way. If you're in the standard or luxury cabins, you can even fill up the fridge.
You can only book passage on the ship by calling 1-866-535-2567 (open business hours Newfoundland time, GMT - 2.5hrs). Prices are available on the web. It can be hard to get a hold of the reservations agent, because only one person takes the bookings. If she is out of the office, you will have to try again later. It is wise to book in advance, as cabins can sometimes be sold out. If you want a standard or luxury cabin, it is wise to book well into advance. In some years, most if not all luxury cabins are bought up by a tour agency as long as six months in advance, so to earlier you book them, the better.
The ships stops one to three hours in each port. Although it tends to follow the published schedule, sometimes they decide to leave early. You should always check with the crew when they expect the ship to leave (the deckhands won't always know either!). Sometimes the departure is announced upon arrival, but not always. However, the ship will blow its horn once half an hour before departure, so you will have some time to rush back to the ship. Note that the crew will start raising the gangway 5-10 mins before departure, so be sure to get back to the ship well before it leaves.