Kayaking the Fundy Tides

Living along the shores of the ever-changing and mystical Bay of Fundy, it is difficult to keep her influence…well you know…at bay.

(excerpted from Maritime Leisure Living, July 2001 /
© Deborah Carr 2001)

The vibrantly-coloured kayaks skimmed the surface of the bay, paddles rising and dipping like wings, propelling us toward a destination that seemed ever distant.

Behind, only brief ripples marked our passage, our sea prints lost in the waves.

Ahead, over 40 kilometers of uninhabited Fundy coastline – the prominent cliffs and steep river egresses that both attracted the early settlers, then challenged their resolve.

With the sun and wind at our backs, we didn’t even realize we were battling a strong incoming current as we paddled along the bases of grey-green andesite cliffs, created by volcanic eruptions over 200 million years ago.

By this time, we had all become creatures of the ocean, riding the gentle waves with only a thin layer of fiberglass separating ourselves from a salty submergence into the sea.

Stress and life had been left far behind on the Alma shores and the elements of nature commanded our senses and directed our path.
Just yesterday morning…..

My stomach was in knots. It felt as churned up as the roiling grey sky overhead. Rain left the house ahead of me and raced up the coast, paving the way with puddles.

Just a clearing up shower, my husband would have said. Loading my gear and myself into the vehicle, I wished it would clear up my stomach. As I navigated the twists and turns of Route 114 towards my destination, I found myself reaffirming the wisdom of the journey.

Several weeks previous, I suddenly reached the painful realization that I had become complacently dependent upon having my hubby/best bud along on every adventure. After 13 years of blissful, contented marriage, with him ever present to fall back upon if necessary, I had become blatantly lazy.

In my previous life as a swinging single, being alone never slowed me down. If friends were uninterested or not available, I went au solitaire bravely, without a second thought. With the invincibility of youth, I took trips by myself, went to the beach, ski hills, nightclubs, even wandered through deserted parking lots at night without fear.

These escapades had been real confidence builders.

It was time to do it again. Just to prove I could.

So, by myself, I signed up for FreshAir Adventure’s guided coastal kayaking trip, which left Alma and ended up three days later in St. Martins.

It was my identity challenge. My mid-life crisis. My reaffirmation of independence.

Now the moment of truth had arrived, and so had I.

Strangers to start and friends to be, there were seven of us who converged at FreshAir’s headquarters in the little fishing village of Alma, fired up and ready to seek adventure and new experiences along the majestic Fundy coastline….
Biding our tide….

FreshAir Adventure co-owner Joe Miller was our guide and guru on the expedition which was to start in the picturesque fishing village adjacent to Fundy National Park and finish three days later in St. Martins. Our first night was to be spent at the Goose River wilderness campsite within the park, and the second night at remote Seeley Beach, part-way between the Fundy boundary and St. Martins.

Joe fired us up with a rousing welcome speech, comforted us with his impressive experience levels then showed us ‘Joe’s Way’ to efficiently pack enough personal gear for three days. Technically, what this meant was stuffing a towel, one T-shirt, one pair each of shorts, pants and sandals, two pairs of socks, a sleeping bag and a warm jacket (a change of underwear was optional) into a water-proof, roll-down-the-rim-type bag, then standing in it to push everything in real tight.

We geared up with dry sacks, life jackets, paddling jackets and paddling skirts, packed our gear then regrouped on the front lawn. We met assistant guide Rob Lemmon and his pleasant wife Carolin who were accompanying us. Our pre-launch briefing continued with discussions on first aid, communications and emergency procedures, then Joe spread out topographical maps to show us where we were going and what options we had for the trip.

While Joe and his partner, Alan Moore, offer a wide variety of partial and full day trips regularly all summer, they decide on specific dates each year for their four different multi-day kayaking adventures. These dates are selected to take best advantage of high tides at optimum times of the day. Tide times vary with each high tide being 25 minutes later than the previous one, and tide heights fluctuate according to the phase of the moon.

The real goal is to achieve a minimum carry of kayaks and equipment to the water’s edge. With Fundy tidal ranges of up to 15 meters, launching during low tide would result in a considerable portage over pebble beaches and inter-tidal areas with fully loaded kayaks which might weigh between 150 and 175 lbs.

After a mini-course in paddling techniques and safety, we novices paired up in double kayaks, with our guides in singles, then launched the boats. Carolin and I were to be partners for the trip and had equal paddling experience. We quickly decided that for today, she would take the backseat position and I would take the front so I could take pictures.

Paddling out of the glassy Salmon River estuary in Alma under overcast skies, one hurdle was already behind us. We had shared several good belly laughs and appeared to be well on the way to building strong group ties. Carolin and I soon fell into a comfortable silence and settled in to enjoy the ride.

Leaving the shoreline behind has a surprisingly calming effect. Whether it’s the soothing rhythm of the ocean or the sharp, salty perfume of the sea, something forces the tension and stress from limbs and worries, troubles, and anxieties depart for more solid ground.

We had the wind at our backs and managed to stay ahead of a band of rain showers chasing us down the coastline. Even those who had never kayaked before caught on quickly and were steering and paddling like old sea salts in no time at all.

Shortly the wind increased and the wide-bodied kayaks confidently crested the two and three foot waves, surfed briefly, then dipped into the trough on the opposite side. By now, we were confident of our abilities and our vessels, so enjoyed the roller coaster effect – yee-hawing over the really big ones and shaking loose the salt spray that splashed up onto our faces.

AT noon, we took a break at a small protected beach with shallow sea caves. It was a chance to stretch our legs. Following a lunch of fruit, bagels, sliced meat, humus and crackers, Joe gave us our first lesson on the world’s highest tides.

The Bay of Fundy has a unique shape; not only does it become progressively narrower and shallower as it heads inland, creating higher than normal tide height, but it is precisely the length required for the ‘bathtub’ or ‘seiche’ phenomena to occur. It takes exactly six hours for the tidal flow to reach the head of the bay, at which point it begins to ebb. As the water flows back out the bay, it reaches the Atlantic Ocean just in time to meet the next incoming tide. This meshing of tidal rhythms results in an increase in the height of the tide, much like the sloshing effect you can get when playing in the bathtub.

After having our minds and our stomachs fed, we were on our way once more. The band of showers had passed us and moved farther up the bay. The wind settled a bit and the sun began to peek through, changing the appearance of the bay from liquid mercury to a shimmering bejeweled seascape as the sun spots struck sparkles into the surface.

Cliff faces changed from a reddish colored sandstone conglomerate to sedimentary and volcanic rocks, many of them metamorphosed by heat and pressure over the millions of years of their existence in this place. The imposing coastline was interrupted by the numerous scattered pebble beaches, tucked between wooly mammoth boulders cloaked in rockweed and hugged by the sheer rockfaces.

We stayed close to the shoreline, exploring crevices and manoeuvering effortlessly around stone islands and outcroppings. With no sign of civilization, it was easy to imagine we were the first to see this isolated coast…..

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