Each summer, I challenge myself. One of those challenges is to do something I’ve never done before. This summer, that something was tidal bore rafting. If you’ve never done this, all I have to say is, “Do it!”
I’ve thought about it and talked about it for many years, but I never took the plunge and jumped into the boat. It looked wild, wet and thrilling, something I knew I’d love. The benefit of living in Nova Scotia is we have the highest tides in the world on our doorstep.
The Bay of Fundy is the waterway between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. What makes the tides even greater for tidal bore rafting is the water squeezed into Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay at high tide. The rafting experience begins at Maitland and continues for several miles along the Shubenacadie River.
The company we went with was Fundy Tidal Bore Adventures. Kyle was our captain. As instructed, we arrived an hour before departure, checked in, secured our valuables with staff, got fitted with a life jacket and listened to a briefing of how the day would unfold.
Note: Anything not secured to your body will wash away. Take nothing that can’t be secured in a zipped pocket. Don’t wear clothing that dangles or slips off in a hurricane. That means no ball caps, sunglasses, scarfs or dresses. When it comes to footwear, don’t wear flipflops, slip on sandals or rubber boots. Loose-fitting footwear will be lost within the first five minutes of riding the tidal bore, and your boots will fill with water.
Ideally, wear shorts that fit well (belts are good to keep them on), T-shirt and sneakers. Choose old clothing because by the time the ride is over, everything – and I mean everything right down the wax in your ears – will be drenched in saltwater, sand and mud.
I had an old cell phone I use to take pictures sealed in a ziplock bag. I took it out only to take photos during calm times. Never when we were riding the waves. During those times, it was in my shorts’ pocket that had a zipper.
Don’t believe you’ll hold onto something when hitting the white water. You’ll be lucky to keep hold of the boat. Anything loose in your hands will be gone.
Getting Under Way
Once we were assigned to a team (and you will be a team out there, pulling those who go overboard back into the boat and ensuring everyone returns safely) and a captain, we started down the grassy hill to the shore. At low tide, the water was a few hundred feet from the shore. To reach the boat, we descended stairs, then crossed the mud flats. By the time I was in the boat, my feet were already muddy and wet.
We entered the Shubenacadie River beneath the Maitland Bridge on the 236 Highway. The old pillars of a long-gone bridge added to the scenery. Heading towards the mouth of the river and Cobequid Bay, the overcast day produced a slight breeze. It was warm, low 20s, and humid. A perfect day to be on the water. Ten or 12 boats made the trek and were soon joined by boats from other rafting companies. Guessing, I’d say there were 20 to 25 boats on the water. It was about six miles to our destination to the jut of sand we were to wait on for the tide. Along the way, we stopped to mud slide in the red mud.
The First Adrenaline Rush
Upon arriving at the sand bar, we were told the tide would be there in about 15 minutes. Several other boats had already landed and people were walking around. I had no sooner got out of the boat and walked away when a woman on my team sunk about a foot into the sand as if she’d stepped in quicksand. The person she was with helped pull her out, and I made a wide circle around the ‘sand hole’. Then I sunk. It was like the sand was eating my legs. I dropped to my knees and crawled out. Before I stood, someone yelled, the tide is coming. That’s when I realised the tide was here and softening the sand, making it difficult to walk on.
We scrambled to the boat, struggling to get through the soupy sand and by the time we were secured, the water had risen several feet. I am quite aware of how fast the tide rises here, and my adrenaline was racing until I was in the boat. There’s no time to dawdle – just get into the boat as quickly as possible.
How fast does the tide rise? I don’t know the exact rate and I’m sure it’s different at different times of the year, but I’d guess it’s almost a foot a minute.
Entering the Tidal Bore
The first wave we encountered coming in from the bay was about a foot high. One wouldn’t think that dramatic but when that much water is squeezed into a narrow river, the current becomes strong, white caps are created and one would think it was a stormy day on the ocean, which turned out to be a reasonable comparison. The boat we were in was a Zodiac with a high-powered engine. The captain stood at the stern to direct us into the biggest waves he could find. Within the first five minutes, everyone was drenched. I was in the bow of the boat, sitting on the rim and holding onto the rope with all my strength.
This is a good time to mention that a healthy dose of upper body strength was ideal for keeping me in the boat. I carry buckets of water every day, swing a hammer, shovel dirt and carry lumber. I knew my arms were strong and on this day, I was glad they were. They were the only things keeping me attached to the boat when mammoth waves washed over me.
Sitting in the front is the best position. While I took the full strength of the waves and had more waves go over my head than those in the back, the thrill of the adventure is the challenge to overcome the strength of those waves and not fall off. It’s also the best view. During the tour, we switched up several times so everyone got the experience of being the wave breaker.
Zodiacs Don’t Sink
While waves breaking over my head and forcing me to hold my breath for 5 to 10 seconds at a time until they passed was a rush, the first time the boat filled with water was an OMG moment. I thought we’d sink. It didn’t help that we continued to hit waves full on and add water to the boat. This meant when waves hit me, I floated and without the ropes, I’d have been overboard.
However, this was part of the adventure. Once a series of waves ended, the captain directed the boat to sweep away the water.
On the way to the rafting location, my sister and I had discussed how long the actual ride would be where we’d have to hold on tightly. We guessed maybe 30 minutes. We were so wrong. It was more like three hours of the four-hour tour.
How many times did someone get washed overboard? Five times. All were recovered quickly and safely. At any given time, I’d look across the swirling water at other teams and see someone being dragged back into a boat.
Given the number of boats on the water, the number of people falling overboard, the turbulent water and the goal of hitting the best waves, I give praise to the captains operating the Zodiacs: there were no accidents, not even a close call that I knew of. While three competing companies were on the water, everyone worked together to ensure everyone had a great time and returned safely.
After almost three hours of clinging to a boat, we reached a calm spot where anyone who wanted to could go for a dip. Dozens of people took advantage of the swim, and it looked like a shipwreck with heads bobbing on the water and speeding away with the current. After a mile or so, boats collected their crew and either headed for a mud slide or back to the dock to unload and shower.
By this time, the tide was in and the before and after photos show how high it had risen.
Real life adventures provide me with experiences I transfer into my writing. If I ever write about someone hanging onto a shipwreck and being battered by waves, I have somewhat of an idea of how it feels. Salt gets into every crevice and while I had attempted to keep my mouth shut to keep the water out, it didn’t matter. I took in a lot of salty water.
Do I recommend Tidal Bore Rafting? Oh, yeah!