A vivid image of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau sprung to mind as I confirmed our next family outing.
I must have seen Cousteau’s picture in an old National Geographic magazine growing up and recall how rugged and cool he looked aboard his Zodiac boat. We were about to experience our own Cousteau-worthy Zodiac adventure and could hardly wait.
With the weather and tide well coordinated in advance, we registered and geared up for our trip in Advocate before boarding the boat with our guides Werner and Else Marie Ostermann in Spencers Island. Spencers Island is where the famous ghost ship Mary Celeste was built in 1861. The ship’s entire history is quite fascinating, but it was in 1872 when it really captured the world’s imagination.
The Mary Celeste was discovered heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar under full sail with no one on board. The weather was fine, there was six months worth of food and water on board, and the crew’s personal belongings and valuables were left untouched. The only things missing were the crew of seven and a lifeboat.
Thankfully, I didn’t consider the story of the Mary Celeste that much prior to our departure and climbed aboard the handsome looking boat rather fearlessly. My only concern for the day was that we were going to be on the water for about four hours with no toilet onboard. I was pretty sure that my wife Sara and I would be OK, but I wasn’t so sure about our nine-year-old son Jaden and seven-year-old daughter Lienna. We could only wait and see.
Despite the fact that it was a beautiful sunny day we were encouraged to dress like we were going on a ski trip – with snow pants and all. We soon discovered why as we began to pick up speed on the open water. The temperature was a lot cooler than I would have guessed, but we were all well prepared.
Rounding Cape D’Or we could see tidal rapids beginning to form. The rapids are known locally as the Dory Rips and they occur at the narrows of the Minas Channel between Cape D’Or and Cape Split. It is here where the tidal flow of the Bay of Fundy is the most powerful (more powerful than all the freshwater rivers and streams in the world combined in fact)!
Before setting out we had the option of exploring Cape Split or Ile Haute. I had been to Cape Spilt by boat before as a child while accompanying my dad on one of his scuba diving excursions. So I was keen to see something new and indicated my preference towards Ile Haute.
Ile Haute (High Island) was named by Samuel de Champlain in 1604, and is a remote island about eight km off the coast off Cape Chignecto. The island had a manned lighthouse from 1878 until 1956 when it tragically burned down and was replaced by an unmanned steel tower. Ile Haute has since remained uninhabited and has been transferred from the Canadian Coast Guard to the Canadian Wildlife Service in recent years.
The more than eight-km. boat ride from shore took about a half an hour on open water. We sat quietly in anticipation as we watched the distant island grow larger as we got closer and closer. The island and its 10-metre cliffs were even more impressive than I had imagined and within minutes we had our first wildlife encounter as a bald eagle greeted from its perch high up in a tree.
Else Marie and Werner shared several fascinating stories about the island’s history including one of hidden pirate’s treasure believed to be buried there. As we rounded the point at the far end of the island we were excited to see a curious seal pop up to greet us. Then we saw another … and then another … and another. They seemed surprised to see us, but I suppose it’s not that often that they would have visitors there.
Jaden and Lienna were thrilled and our heads were all on swivels as we tried not to miss a thing. The seals were popping up everywhere that we looked to say ‘hello’ and the island itself was so grand and exotic that we could have spent hours there. However, there was more to see so we headed back toward the mainland to get a closer look along the Cape Chignecto coastline.
Cape Chignecto is Nova Scotia’s largest Provincial Park and is by far one of the most stunning. It’s known for its backcountry hiking with views high among the cliffs, though we were fortunate enough to get a unique perspective on the park from the water. We were in awe of the incredible sea stacks, caves, archways and secluded beaches. It was truly a geologists dream.
On our return we experienced another highlight when Werner pointed to the sky at a peregrine falcon near Cape D’Or. Peregrine falcons are the fastest members of the animal kingdom (reaching speeds of over 322 km/h) and they are incredibly rare in Nova Scotia. I was so excited and felt privileged to have had the opportunity to see one.
We got a beautiful view of Cape D’Or Lighthouse and later of Spencers Island lighthouse as we completed our wonderful boat ride and returned to shore. After a quick washroom break (yes, we all made it through the entire trip without any awkward pit stops at sea) the kids decided that they wanted to climb to the top of the lighthouse before determining our supper plans.
Sara and I were removing our life jackets and the cool neoprene boots provided for the tour when a couple of motorcyclists touring from Ontario came to speak to us. They asked us about our trip but appeared even more interested to know where we got our stylish waterproof boots. A budding trend in motorcycle fashion maybe?
We were all getting hungry as we turned to the nifty little beachside café onsite at Spencers Island. Unfortunately, the sign outside said that they could only accept cash. On the bright side, we had the option of returning to Advocate to the Wild Caraway where we enjoyed an amazing sunset meal outside overlooking the harbor. It was a great end to an awesome day.
Many thanks to Advocate Boat Tours for an adventure of a lifetime. We’re told that they will begin full operation in the spring of 2014.
Devin Trefry is the marketing director of the Central Nova Tourism Association. He lives in Debert. firstname.lastname@example.org