Time And Tide

By Tux Turkel
Published: August/September 2013

A region infamous for outsized tides also brims with history.

Photo of Tux Turkel
Photo: Tux Turkel
Tux piloting a 16-foot Starcraft through Letete Passage in New Brunswick.

It was a couple of hours before high tide as I backed my 17-foot Polar Craft bowrider down the sandstone beach into Passamaquoddy Bay. Timing is everything in this stretch of New Brunswick, Canada, where tides range up to 28 feet. I figured I had the situation covered. But the beach had a very shallow incline and, even with the water well past the trailer's wheel hubs, we couldn't budge the boat off the bunks. Normally, there'd be time for contemplation. But as I stood there considering my options, I could see the saltwater rising steadily toward the rear tires of my tow vehicle. Soon it would be up to the brakes. Quickly, we put down the swivel jack and disconnected the trailer from the car. Then I drove to higher ground. In a few minutes, the water was high enough to float the boat. We pulled the trailer up the beach by hand and re-hitched it to the car.

Trailer boating can call for decisive action when you're dealing with some of the highest tides in the world. With the water level rising or falling the height of a house every six hours or so, the shoreline in Passamaquoddy Bay is always on the move. Passamaquoddy Bay is a protected bay on the western edge of the Bay of Fundy, which separates New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It's a wild, wind-swept place of remote islands and big, cloud-specked skies that create a backdrop for forested hills and red sandstone bluffs.

Just finding a good place to launch a boat can be a challenge. Once afloat, the threat of rocky shoals, dynamic tides, and changing weather demands special attention. Preparation is critical because services are few and far between. Boating in the bay means topping up the tank en route and maybe toting a spare gas can or two. Don't look for a dockside gasoline pump; there isn't one. And yet, boating here offers unexpected pleasures. The hub of this region is St. Andrews by-the-Sea, on the U.S.-Canada border, 130 miles from Bangor, Maine, and a few hours up the coast from Acadia National Park.

Photo of whale watching tours in the Bay of Fundy.
Photo: Tux Turkel
Whale watching tours in the Bay of Fundy.

St. Andrews is a charming resort community, dripping with the history and architecture of the British Loyalists who fled America and the New England colonies in 1783. It offers the best of both worlds. Morning could find you launching at the ramp in St. Andrews' active harbor and searching for migrating whales in the Bay of Fundy. By afternoon, you could glance at the harbor while playing the back nine of the Algonquin Golf Course. A spouse might be touring Kingsbrae Garden, a 27-acre estate garden considered one of the best in Canada, or checking out the shops and galleries on Water Street. At sunset, you might be enjoying drinks at the Algonquin Hotel and studying the menu for a gourmet meal.

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The World's Highest Tides

Twenty-eight-foot tides? Passamaquoddy Bay seems dynamic, until you head farther east in the Bay of Fundy, where New Brunswick meets Nova Scotia. There the head of the bay narrows and splits to form the Minas Basin and Chignecto Bay, where the tidal range can reach an incredible 50 feet. These are the highest tides in the world. Experts explain the extreme tide by calling the Bay of Fundy, "the world's largest bathtub." Two factors are at work in this 180-mile-long tub. First, the bay gradually tapers and turns shallow, which restricts tidal flow. Second, the natural rhythm of the bay is such that the time it takes for the water to fill is roughly the same as it takes for water to flood in from the adjacent Gulf of Maine. The combination of these two rhythms, called resonance, amplifies the tidal range. Scientists compare it to a child sloshing back and forth in a bathtub. Each wave is higher than the
one before it.

 

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