Monday, August 9, 2010

adrift on the world's highest tides and attempts at humour

my latest herald biggest & best column was in the paper yesterday - my misadventures on the shubie river with a busted engine and no way of signalling help. i'll paste it below.

i had pitched this series as a funny look at nova scotia's claims to world fame, but have discovered that i can't write funny. i try! when i went hunting for the biggest tuna in the world a few weeks ago, i had funny experiences and funny thoughts, but ended up writing about snark hunting, old men and the sea, and the ultimate futility of all things. you can read it here, if you want monday to grow even darker.

but like getting stuck on the shubie for almost 2 hours, it was a example of bad experience = great writing opportunity. i'm sure it's true for other art forms as well - nothing in life is truly a lost cause if you can write about it.

i shared this thought on the boat as we bounced around the waves. it was decided that my bad karma had resulted in our misfortune.

PS - if you do want to go tidal bore rafting - which is an amazing experience - check out the river runners. they were the group that came over to see if we were okay. i've rafted with them before and had a grand time.

Engine trouble on tidal trip is anything but boring


Adrift on the Shubenacadie River on a small, spinning, inflatable boat, a group of nine thrill-seekers bakes under the midday sun.

Our engine died an hour ago, at which point we learned that our vessel possessed no repair kit, no cellphone and no radio. We were up a suspiciously coloured creek and we didn’t even have a paddle.

"Hey guys, at least we’re all in the same boat," I say, pausing for laughter.

I get dirty looks.

Nine heads swivel to the unseen mouth of the river as we hear what sounds to be a fleet of jet planes roaring beyond the bend. It’s the sound of billions of tonnes of water storming across the Atlantic Ocean and jamming itself into the Bay of Fundy.

The tidal bore churns the water brown as the Shubenacadie collides with the highest tide in the world, hurling the river up more than 16 metres in a matter of hours. It’s the equivalent of pouring every river on Earth down the basin and it is coming fast.

"Hang on!" the guide shouts as our crippled craft twirls toward the abandoned pillar of an old railroad bridge.

We grip the rope ringing the boat like cowboys desperate to stay on a wild bull and brace for impact.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

A few hours earlier, dozens of amateur adventurers boarded the Tidal Bore Rafting Park and Cottages crafts in rural Urbania, Hants County, to collect thrilling vacation stories.

As we puttered down the river with the other Tidal Bore boats, my writer’s imagination naturally turned it into a journey into the heart of darkness. Though, with the fresh air and clear skies, it was more like a floating into the lung of lightness.

Towering cliffs fenced with trees hid the farmlands, maintaining the primordial illusion of an ancient world. Bald eagles sat on dead trees, watching us pass. Our guide told us that contrary to their fierce image, eagles are in fact more like vultures and scavenge corpses.

She also told us the river is treacherous, shifting with each tidal mauling so that what was clear passage yesterday is fatal territory today. Moments later, there was an awful clunk, followed by an awful word.

"We’ve lost our propeller," our guide said.

She shouted ahead to her fellow guides. They shouted back, and then vanished around the bend.

"Someone will come and get us," she said, sitting down with only the slightest trace of doubt.

Ninety minutes later, we were officially tidal bored. The world’s highest tide moves fast but watching the process up close is akin to watching the world’s tallest tree grow.

The tide was high but we were holding on. It crept past my ankles as the boat took on more water. Eagles circled overhead.

Then, came that roaring.

When the Fundy tide hits the tipping point, the incoming torrent accelerates to four metres per second, overwhelms the out-flowing river and smashes it back upstream. The Minas Basin actually tilts under the immense load.

As we approach the two-hour mark of our lonesome drifting, bouncing off the railroad pillar and heading for the rapids, we spot boats on the horizon. A supervisor for a rival rafting company checks that nobody’s had a heart attack. He pulls away, but keeps an eye on us.

Eventually, a Tidal Bore craft motors beside us and we hold the two boats together as the mechanic hangs over the back to fix our engine.

After teasing our guide, the mechanic drops his wrench into the river. Luckily, he has a spare. Minutes later our guide revs the engine, tells us to hold on tight and slams the boat into the lunging waves of the tidal bore.

The sudden motion is electrifying and the blender river throws us over the wave, only to smack us with a following crest.

We tear up the bore for 15 minutes, but the river is already exhausted. The incoming tide overpowers the current and the water runs smoothly inland.

We putter to the edge and step out, glancing back at the deceptively calm water hiding its secrets — and its wrenches.


Jon Tattrie is a freelance journalist and the author of Black Snow and The Hermit of Africville.

© 2008 The Halifax Herald Limited
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