Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shooting the Shubie

A few months ago, there was a conversation between a few of us who kayak about this very cool event that was coming up in June that doesn't happen very often.  It was an organized event called "Paddle to the Sea".  I didn't know much about it, but it did sound intriguing.  The idea was to kayak with the tide, from Shubenacadie to the Bay of Fundy

As most of you know, the Bay of Fundy is world famous for having the highest tides in the world.  The tides are powerful and there are several businesses based on the Shubie river for Tidal Bore River Rafting.  Well, this event was really the opposite of river rafting up the river.  We were riding the tide out of the river which you wouldn't experience anywhere else in the world, because no one has these amazing tides.  Why wouldn't someone join this event...  The plan was to start inland, at Shubenacadie, paddle 40 mms toward the bay of Fundy with the flow of the tide.  You end up in Maitland, where the biggest challenge would be getting out of the water due to the long walk through the mud, to get to shore.
One would visualize a lazy paddle down a peaceful river, with eagles flying overhead and deer standing on the banks.  Well, thats what Robin, Janice and I envisioned.  Well, until Janice emailed me one day and said... "are you bringing your skirt with you, someone told me the Shubie can get pretty rough".   I told Janice I wasn't going to bother.. because the tide was going OUT, not it... we would just be going with the tide!  After that, weird stories started popping up.. and my imagination was getting the better of me.. and I started to get really scared... rapids... swirls.... high waves... winds... tidal bore...
Our boats, all lined up.  We even got numbers.. I am #87.
It was explained that the spotters would want to make
sure that all boats were identified as they paddled by.
Robin and I waiting to get started.
But, common sense would take over.. and I would settle down again.  It was a yoyo effect...
Getting a jump on the crowds, we dragged out boats down early.

And then.. the adventure began.. June 10... early in the morning.  We arrive in Shubenacadie around 9 and we are very impressed with the amount of kayaks already laying next to the dock.  The people were milling around, dressed in everything from shorts and sandals to the totally cool and sexing full body kayaking outfits.    We unloaded all our gear and then Terry and Bill drove our cars to Maitland, 50 km away.  They caught the shuttle bus to come back.   While we waited for them, we were somewhat impressed and very relieved to see that many (over half) of the paddles were what I would call "my age, or older" and there was even a little dog, going on this paddle.  What was I worried about.  We started joking about how worried we had both been, and we decided we were going to have to really "embellish the experience when we were done, so that Janice would think it was a terrible experience, since she backed out at the last minute.   Robin and I decided to get out boats in the river before the guys came back because we wanted to get a jump on the crowds.  Once the men got back, they were one of the first onto the dock and into the water and we started paddling around 10:15.

The Freakin WIND
 We hit the river with a determination, not to lightly paddle, because the head guy said if you don't paddle with purpose, you might not make it to the end of the river before the tidal bore.  This statement seriously affected my attitude about this river.  Its the first time that possibility was ever raised, but it started to play with my mind.  We started paddling and we were ahead of everyone except maybe 10 paddlers who had started off 10-15 minutes before us.
it wasn't long before the winds started blowing and around every corner a renewed sense of how long this paddle was going to be if those winds did not let up.
One of the many paddlers we ran into that day all had the same complaint and most said it wasn't going to get any better.  Within the first hour we have several kayaks and canoes pass us, most of them were double paddlers (2 in the boat) but lots of very serious single man boats too.
Paddling through chocolate Milk

 I had that feeling that if we weren't the last people in the river, we wouldn't get caught by the tidal bore, and so far we were ahead of about 40 paddlers.  The water was a lot rougher than we ever imagined and the wind took any advantage away from us that the current would have given us... but we persevered.   4 hours of paddling was our goal because that's what buddy told us we should be able to do it in...

Less than an hour into it, we hit our first big "swirling eddys".  Robin got trapped in one, and I wasn't far behind her but we seemed to manage to get free with some creative paddling but it left us shaken and scared.. We didn't take our eyes off of the ripples that were coming at us, looking quite innocent but hiding these swirling washing machine currents.  Minutes later, we were tiptoeing through another powerful set of "ripples" and I took the wrong path and ended up in a sideways twirl and my skeg was sticking in the sand while the fast moving waters twirled me around and around.  Robin steered clear and Terry had to come back to ram my kayak to stop me from twirling.  Once I got my skeg up, I was at the mercy of the waves but with Terry's help I got turned around.  I was totally scare but really mad too, I wasn't letting that happen again.  There are no pictures of these events, but thanks to a video someone took of the day, you can get a sense of the waves and water.  Its posted at the end of this blog.  The many times that the wind seemed to calm down, we  were able to take in the beauty of the shore line, the rocks were gigantic, the mud was amazing but more important was the high water marks on the rocks. Quite impressive and awe inspiring.

Wind blown hair but still smiling.
We thought we had 1 hour left... ugh
 This sounds easy but the fast moving waters were playing havoc with what direction the kayaks would go in, plus they sand and water were beating on our legs and feet.    We then had to jump into rapid moving currents without letting the kayak get turned against the current... but once we got in.. it was FAST moving and quite exciting.. mostly because we were moving a far distance in little time... 
Bill walking a sand bar, Robin paddling just beside him
The bridge with the tide rushing in...
 Never got a picture of the Bridge because I couldn't let go of my paddles long enough to get my camera out.  We were constantly paddling or correcting our direction.  The bridge was full of eddys, undertows, fast moving rapids, and swirling waters... no time to take a break. 
This was the bridge we couldn't take a picture of.. it was the day
before at low tide... 
  Another hour past the bridge we came upon our last rescue zodiac sitting watching for paddlers. 

He buzzed over and said we have 2 1/2 miles to go.  That sounds not too bad... but his second statement did me in... you have "35 minutes" before the tidal bore arrives.   Oh dear God.  He said he thought we could make it but I knew there was no way, in these winds we were going to make it that far in 30 minutes...  but we tried... we paddled for 30 minutes, non stop, no thinking, no looking around.  Head down, paddles in a good rhythm and when we looked up... we felt like we hadn't even gone a mile.  The other really unnerving thing was that the zodiac was following us in... and then... he passed us....   and then... he stopped... he hollered over the water sounds and the wind... "the bore is on its way..  you have 5 minutes.......  better get to shore!"  And we did.... not just us... there was about 10 kayaks and canoes where we landed, and we say kayaks dotting the shore lines all the way up the part of the river we could see.
Waiting for the Tidal Bore to arrive

We hauled in and up the shore and sat on the rocks, tired, sore and disappointed that we didn't make it to the end.
Coming right behind them... the sun is shining on the bore line.

Blisters... my gloves just did not help.
As we sat on shore, we laughed with all the others who were stuck, all of us commenting on how this was not what we were expecting today..  We had paddled 5 hours and 20 minutes, and we were ahead of at least 30 boats.  Those 30 boats were pulled in at the bridge apparently, because if you hadn't past the bridge by a certain time, you weren't making it to the end.  Our little troupe of 10 or so kayaks were sort of on the cusp.
As we sat watching the tide go past us, we were entertained by zodiacs taking groups of paying customers up the river to experience the tide in a different direction.  We waved and laughed wondering what they thought of this bunch of tired out paddlers littered all over the shore line of that last bend in the river.
Below is a Google picture of the last bend in the river.  The red line represents where we were stranded and where we had to go to finish the trek.  Believe it or not, that red line is 2.5 kilometres... we never would have made it.  You can see the sandbars that we had to paddle around, which just added to the distance we were paddling.
3 people and 3 kayaks were picked up every 15 minutes by our hero, the rescue zodiac and taken to the ramp at the River Runners dock.  It took well over an hour for us to get rescued and there were plenty along the shore long who waited longer than that...

All in all, it was an amazing adventure.  The first few rapids and swirls had my heart racing and panic stirring, but by hour 4,  we were taking the rapids and fast currents with gusto and purpose.  To get to the end.  A new paddling friend and I cut through some blood rushing rapids like we were pros, and then laughed afterwards, saying that 3 hours before we would have been scared to death... but now.. piece of cake.
Robin, Donna, Bill & Terry
Happy to be back on land, full from the lovely lunch that was put on for us, and tired from the day, we hit the road for the 2.5 hour drive back home.   We thought we might stop for  supper and a beer, but we were so darn tired, we just wanted to get home.  We stopped at Tims for a coffee and cookie and then hit the road again for home...

a few days a after the paddle ~ this amazing video ~ showed up on youtube... and I was there... that was my paddle.


GailM. said...

OMG, that is so interresting.. Nice to have the maps.. I had no idea where you were.

mvm said...

Hats off to you, I don't know how you could paddle for so long. Your arms must have been like jello! I would never be brave enough to do that. What an adventure.