Sandstone cliffs jutted out of the waves, the fog snagging on each crag like eiderdown on a branch. Another cormorant skimmed the hematite-colored water. I inhaled deeply, breathing in the medicinal tang of the blue spruce clinging to the ruddy rock above me. Our guide, Bruce Smith, had challenged me to come up with one word to describe the Bay of Fundy, and I was struggling with the task. “How about ethereal?”
Smith cocked his head and smiled, as if he too understood the dramatic, elusive quality of this part of New Brunswick. Throughout our three-day paddle, I tried to quell a gnawing sense of deja vu. One minute I’d see a scene straight out of a Chinese brush painting, half expecting a robed monk to pad up a gravel path toward enlightenment. The next moment, I’d feel as though I had been transported to the misty coast of Oregon or Washington.
What kept me convinced that I had landed in Canada was the unspoiled, unpopulated nature of the region. Except for an occasional conversation amongst ourselves, our group spent the entire trip bathed in silence, something that most East Coast sea kayakers only dream about. Fundy features frigid waters (around 45 degrees Fahrenheit), hazardous currents, and extreme weather-all of which conspire to keep most folks away.
We had put in just after a high tide. Because of the dense fog, Smith kept us close to Deer Island in a reach called the Quoddy River; larger boats prefer the deeper channels, and he wanted to avoid unnecessary encounters. A mature harbor seal surfaced, its soulful eyes unblinking. About an hour later, as we glided between Deer and Hardwood Islands, a porpoise made apostrophes in the water with its inky dorsal fin.
Rounding the northern tip of Deer Island offered us a chance to see the world-famous tides of Fundy at work. I got caught in the current, and as I fought my way back to the group, I understood how one wrong move could sweep a boat out into the center of the bay. What looks like flat water often hides a cauldron of boils, including the world’s largest natural whirlpool. Fog also makes unexpected appearances. Before putting in, brush up on your navigational skills, and consult one of the area’s excellent guides for a briefing on tides, chart updates, and shipping channels.