When I was a youth, several friends were trapped by the tide at Blomidon and clung to the side of a cliff all night. Stranded by swift moving tides, I spent a cold, stormy night on Boot island some years ago with two companions. On a lesser scale, a miniature tidal bore on a stream feeding the Cornwallis River once caught me on a sandbar and in an instant the water was over my boots.
While these were minor calamities - more tragic tales can be told - these incidents taught me to respect the waters of Minas Basin. Rising 10 and more meters in the space of an afternoon, the tides of the Minas Basin are swift and relentless. Those tides have been called "spectacular," "awesome" and even "treacherous," but Avonport astronomer Dr. Roy Bishop may have provided the most fitting description.
In a recent talk at the Kings Historical Society, Dr. Bishop remarked that the Minas Basin tides are "literally the eighth wonder of the world" and should be better publicized. "We have a tourist attract, the highest tides in the world," Dr. Bishop said in effect, "and no one talks about it.
"Most of the time we take the tides for granted," Bishop added (an observation the majority of us Minas Basin dwellers will have to agree with). "The only time we really take notice is when something spectacular happens, such as an exceptionally high tide or when a dyke floods."
It's impossible to discuss the gravitational effect of the moon on the ocean without using the arcane language of science. But while he used illustrations and a smattering of math and physics (of which I understood nothing) in his talk on the Minas Basin, Dr. Bishop explained in layman's terms what has always been a mystery to me - why some tides are higher than others and what caused some disastrous tides in the past.
Dr. Bishop likened the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy to a giant bathtub from which water sloshes into the Minas Basin. And "slosh" it certainly does. In its journey up the Bay, the tide passes Cape Split at a speed of 94 miles per hour. The volume of water that moves up the Bay is massive. Dr. Bishop said that the water flowing past Cape Split at tide time is equal to the volume of water in all the rivers of the world.
Cape Split is well-known for its tremendous rips and whirlpools and it's a popular local attraction. But one doesn't have to venture over the trail to the Cape to witness the awesome tides. The government wharf at Hantsport has the "most spectacular tides," Dr. Bishop says, and is the best area to view the daily rise and fall of the Minas Basin. At times the tides at the wharf reach 15 meters.
As for what causes extremely high tides, Dr. Bishop explained that several factors must coincide or combine. Low barometric pressure, the moon being at its closest point to the earth, and strong southerly winds can combine to produce tides that break over the dyke walls, which happened as recently as 1977. When the south winds are extremely high during this combination of meteorological factors, the result can be disastrous. The famous Saxby Gale of 1869 - which flooded hundreds of acres of dykelands, destroyed homes, railways tracks and bridges, and set back the development of this area for years - is a prime example.