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The Bay of Fundy
By Charles Shugart Jr.
"Not very good, eh?" he replied; "this is the first time I've ever fished here."
"Where do you live?" I inquired.
"Over in Blacks Harbour, eh? About ten miles from here."
"How long have you lived there?" I continued.
"More'n fifty years, eh?"
Welcome to Canada, one of my favorite foreign countries to visit.
Taking the ferry to Deer Island, I drove right out to the campground next to the "Whirlpool," set up camp and watched for the high drama of the swirling water. Nicknamed "Old Sow," the 300 foot diameter whirlpool is the largest in the world, although it is not the most dangerous. Different currents and extreme tidal changes cause the spinning water. I disconnected my trailer and explored the small island. Opting not to take to take a whale–watching boat trip, I mostly rested up, enjoying the peace and tranquility of my perfect little campsite–with–a–view.
Leaving Deer Island I took the road to Blacks Harbour and continued my leisurely scenic drive on the alternate coastal route, stopping at a couple of interesting fishing ports along the way. Rounding a curve late in the afternoon, I saw a sandbar that extended about half a mile into the small bay. An unpaved road led out to the end of the spit where a couple of fishing boats had been left "high and dry" by the outgoing tide. There were no homes nearby, so I figured it might be a nice place to free–camp for the night.
Coming to the end of the spit, I found a level place for my trailer, stopped and walked back to where some fishermen were working on a boat. This being the Bay of Fundy, the tides were sufficient for them to anchor boats at high tide and wait for the water to retreat. As the water level dropped, they would "block" the boats to keep them from tipping over. When the tide was low enough, they'd work like crazy at whatever they were doing: scraping or painting the hull, working on the propellers, etc.
The next morning dawned with a low–hanging fog. Grabbing my camera, I happily clicked away as the fog lifted, revealing a sunlit grove of trees across the narrow channel. Then I returned to my rig and drove off. Waving at me were the same men from the previous evening. It was only 8:30 in the morning, but they were already at work; the tide waits for no man.
Continuing up the coast, I came to Saint John, the oldest incorporated city in Canada, 1785. Much earlier, in 1604, Captain Samuel Champlain had entered the Saint John estuary and named the river. I had read about a unique place in the heart of town called the Reversing Falls. It sounded compelling, so I negotiated the city streets with a purpose. Near its mouth, the Saint John River flows speedily through a fairly narrow gorge that thousands of years of erosion had cut through the granite rock. When the tide is going out, the river tumbles over rock ledges, creating the so–called "waterfalls." There is actually a considerable amount of tumbling through the gorge because the tidal drop can be 50 feet. I waited until the incoming tide so the full effects of the "reverse" would be apparent. Then it arrived! Although technically a "bore tide," and not a reverse waterfall, still, it was cool. (Note: a bore tide occurs when the incoming tide overcomes an outgoing tide–or river–and creates a wave.)
Beyond the town of Sussex, a turn onto highway 114 took me to the Hopewell Rocks, with its Flower Pots. Luckily I arrived at 10:15 A.M., just in time for low tide. On my way down to the beach I asked an employee what the expected tide would be on this medium–fine day.
"About forty feet," came the answer.
I spent two and a half hours wandering around among the Flower Pot Rocks, enjoying their unusual shapes. The "Pots" had been part of the sandstone and conglomerate rock cliffside, but massive tidal changes and other forces of erosion had worked their magic. Those sections that were resistant to erosion remained, separated from the cliff because the surrounding rock had washed away. Grasses, bushes and a few small trees grew on the tops of the 50–60 foot high Flower Pots. Wildflowers were there, too, judging by the name of the rocks, but standing at the base I was just guessing about that.
I found no problem with the fact that there were several dozen other people wandering around among the Flower Pots. In fact, I welcomed it. I used them as pictorial elements for size comparisons. "Stand there, please, I need you for a sense of scale. No, no, don't look at the camera; I don't even know you."
All things considered, it was another pretty neat location.
The most dramatic place I found to see changes from low tide to high tide and back was in Digby, Nova Scotia.
Why do places like the Bay of Fundy get such extreme tidal changes (occasionally more than 50 feet) and other places get hardly any change? Let me give a few of the main reasons:
Rift and glacially–carved bays such as Fundy are often long and deep. If they're aligned in the right way, incoming waters tend to be greatly influenced by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. As the tremendous volume of water moves in, and the sides of the bay become narrower, and the bottom of the bay gets shallower, the water has nowhere to go but up. (Note: the amount of water coming into Fundy at high tide is greater than the amount of water flowing into the ocean from every river in the world–combined.) The bay has an opening that is 50 miles wide, which permits incredible amounts of sea water to begin the 190 mile journey to the ever–narrowing "end–points." In a quirk of geographical fate, the amount of time it takes an incoming wave to get to the end of the Bay of Fundy and return to the ocean coincides with the time between high and low tides – 12.4 hours. Combine these factors and the Bay of Fundy becomes the world's most perfect place for the occurrence of extreme tidal changes. And there are roads and towns all along its edges.
Crossing into Nova Scotia, I followed the Bay of Fundy south and west, looking for good places to observe the tidal change. The highway eventually led me to the town of Digby. Stopping at the Visitor Center, I asked about a good place where there was a considerable tidal change, and where I could photograph it. The nice lady said, "Right here in Digby. It's not the greatest change, but you can go to the docks and observe the vertical aspect of it."
To which I responded, "Not the greatest? About how much, then?"
She consulted her chart and said, "Only about forty–five feet tonight–at seven–thirty."
I drove to the docks where the fishing boats were tied. The tide was going out and I still had a couple of hours, so I prowled and watched, and waited. Finally it was low tide.
At 7:30 I was standing at the edge of the dock, looking straight out at the tops of the long radio antennae of the fishing boats. And down to the boats themselves. Wow! This is vertical!
Walking around, I took a couple dozen photographs trying to illustrate how low the water and boats were, relative to the dock.
"Camping" in a mall parking lot that night, I awakened early the next morning and was back to the docks for the next low tide, some 12 hours after the previous one. The sun was better this time, so I again photographed the boats and dock at low tide.
I piddled around town waiting for high tide–about 6 hours hence. Then back to the docks for more photos. High tide was visually boring, and served only one purpose: to give a frame of reference for low tide. The contrast was the thing.
There are many places to observe the extraordinary tide changes along the edge of the Bay of Fundy, and I watched it at several of them. But my favorite was in Digby, Nova Scotia.