By Christopher Lockyer and Jarrod Gunn McQuillan
The Paddler ezine: http://joom.ag/PS3b/p60
While the east coast of Canada has not always captured the same attention as some other paddling destinations it certainly offers some of the most diverse and exciting sea paddling around.
The Canadian maritime Province of Nova Scotia is no exception and is quite possibly the highlight of the region. From the exposed and varied Atlantic coastline speckled with island archipelago’s to the dynamic and powerful waters found in the Bay of Fundy featuring the largest tidal range in the world, you are certain to find a world class paddling venue.
When you focus in on the upper part of the Bay of Fundy you will find a myriad of large tidal estuaries where the large tides interact with fresh water rivers. Of these, the Shubenacadie River is of greatest interest to the paddling community. The Shubenacadie River is part of a large canal system that was started in 1826 and competed in 1861 creating a historically significant connection from the Bay of Fundy to Halifax.However, paddlers are drawn to the river due to the impressive 55 plus foot tidal range recorded around the corner from the river at Burnt Coat Head. During one tidal cycle the Bay of Fundy sees up to 100 billion tonnes of seawater moving in and out. This phenomenal volume of water is more than the combined flow of all of the world’s fresh water rivers. This water travels with a significant velocity and when it meets the constriction offered by the Shubenacadie River excitement is sure to be created for the rough water enthusiast.
The tidal bore
The local paddling community refer to the Shubenacadie River as the ‘Shubie’ or the ‘Shubie Tidal Bore’. The put-in is found in Maitland, Nova Scotia and is timed with low water. The nearest primary port for tidal predictions is on the other side of the Bay of Fundy in Saint John, New Brunswick. Low water at Maitland is four hours after Saint John; however, this area can be quite unpredictable and can run much earlier or later than this ‘rule of thumb’ calculation. The next factor to consider will be the tidal height difference with anything above 22 feet making for a great day on the river and above 24 feet the velocity of the current will increase and enhance the features as well as the level of challenge for paddlers.
Upon arrival you will be met with expansive views of tidal mud flats and a relatively benign looking river. This creates your first obstacle, as you will need to navigate down the soft muddy shoreline to reach water. Some folks prefer to slide down in their boats to save their footwear and add to the excitement. After your shoreline ramble and you get afloat you can watch the mouth of the river for the arrival of the tidal bore. As the tide begins to turn you will often see birds scatter as the water begins to push its way up this muddy drainage and replace shoreline and sand flats with seawater from the Bay of Fundy.
As the water mixes with the riverbed considerable silt and sediment is suspended within the water column to the point that surface light will not penetrate, of significance to a paddler should you capsize. The tidal bore itself can be fickle and does not always form, however, when it does form you can enjoy a wave of chocolate milk averaging 50 feet wide and reaching a maximum height of six feet forcing its way up the river and covering everything in sight. If the bore does not form, your day is certainly not over as the majority of the fun is found as you work your way up river on the variety of tidal races and overfall features that form.
There are anywhere between ten and 13 locations where tidal features will form along the Shubie and these features can change as the powerful tides flush water in and out and move and shift the river bottom from year to year. However, most of the main features are consistent and reliable. Only a few of these features will be highlighted in this article.
Tidal features are created as water levels rise and begin to fill the exposed riverbed, steadily increasing the velocity of current and as it passes over sand bars and veers around bends in the river. The astute paddler will use patience, timing and continual awareness of their surroundings to scout play spots along the length of this 12km run.
A paddler’s success will surely be enhanced by pairing up with knowledgeable paddlers from the area as the location of tidal features are first exposed with the recognition of subtle changes to the surface water and the trademark ripples that begin to form as an indicator of where waves will soon build. The water will start to mover faster under your kayak and you find yourself paddling in high gear to keep pace and hold your position on the river. As the current speed increases, so do the waves. Like a beach wave, the waves build and build until they are higher than twice the depth of water under them and then they start to curl over.
If you are lucky enough to experience the tidal bore you will be well positioned as this is also home to the ‘Sand Bar’, which is the first area that tidal features can form. There is often a delay for these waves as you wait for the water levels to rise. This will require holding position by paddling against the flow or working your way towards the shoreline. While waiting you will surely be amazed by how quickly the water rises and you will literally watch shoreline disappear before your eyes. The patient paddler will be rewarded with a great warm up, as the Sand Bar set offers some of the more forgiving waves to be found on the river, a great precursor for what is to come.
The next prominent feature is the ‘Killer K’ and often provides some of the largest waves on the river. On larger tides the water in this area moves very fast and the waves become steeper and can exceed 10 feet in height. These waves often have a foam pile on top of them adding to the challenge and excitement. The savvy paddler will fight to stay at the front of the wave train for the best chance of grabbing smooth chocolate rides as the quality of waves degrade as you move upriver on this feature. The area proves to be a wonderful training ground as the upriver portion provides a confused, foamy chocolate mayhem testing the most seasoned paddlers skill set.
The last and most unforgettable area to grab waves on the river is called the ‘Power Line’ and provides the closest rendition to a standing wave that this constantly changing river has to offer. As this feature is near the end of the run a paddlers endurance be put to the test, however, if fit and up to task the compensation will be a smooth brown wave that allows the paddler an opportunity for a fluid ride carving back and forth in excess of 20 minutes at the best of times.
A paddlers run on the Shubie ends playing in the large eddy line formed by the prominent steep river bank on a bend in the river referred to as ‘Anthony’s Nose’. At the end of a fast-paced exciting three-hour ride this is a great spot for working on ferry glides, breaking in and out and refining white water manoeuvres in long boats.
Be prepared to have sore face muscles from smiling after this adrenalin filled paddling experience. The Shubie gives you a great physical workout and a great deal of enjoyment. The take out for the Shubie is a place called Green Creek and a well-placed shuttle will leave you will plenty of time for you and your mates to recap your run on the Shubie.