Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Whale Watching in the Bay of Fundy

Going to see the whales itself is an adventure and so was getting to Westport on Brier Island. First, we had to set the alarm which in itself is not part of our now normal life, then travel 200 miles (300 km) to get there.
We set off, per plan, in beautiful sunny weather to drive surface (no highways) up the middle of the island to the Annapolis Valley; there was not much to see but it is more relaxing than freeway driving and we got to see houses, farms and the little town of New Ross. We just had to stop to take a photo – County Wexford in Ireland also has a New Ross. First stop was Kentville a big town on the west side of Nova Scotia; we parked the car and headed to a coffee shop. A most delightful, friendly lady served us, once again we admitted our accents were Irish but that we now reside in the US; as is usual the Irish part is focused on - she said she would brew fresh coffee for Tom and brought it to our table and engaged us is a loud chat (so all could hear) asking how did we get to Kentville? How long were we staying? Where were we going?

From Kentville we drove to Fort Royal, a quaint little town and on towards Digby a town at the neck of the Peninsula on Bay of Fundy. On our way we came across the Annapolis Tidal Power Plant which owns and operates one of the few tidal power plants in the world and the only one in North America. We just had to stop; a docent gave us a most educational talk on how they generate electricity for twelve hours every day; 3 hours when the sea is flowing and fills the reservoir and 3 more as the tide ebbs. The best part of the story is that they purchased (for research purposes) a state of the art underwater turbine, the latest in technology that had been tried and tested in other waters. The turbine was anchored in a deep narrow passage; a year and a day later they recover the turbine to discover it had worked for a little over 24 hours before the Fundy tide ripped its blades apart. The turbine had been tested in tides up to 6 knots; they discovered that the depth the turbine was at had an 8 knot tide – the tidal scale is like the earthquake scale, one number up is double the previous number. We were proud to learn that they purchased the turbine from and Irish company!
We continued on west to Brier Island though towns called Middleton, Waterford (again mirroring Ireland), Kingston and Paradise with the sea to our left and mountains to our right; cascading over the mountains we spotted a thick bank of fog which reminded us of Highway 280 on the way to San Francisco - a Deja Vous moment! To get to our destination we had to catch two ferries; one onto Long Island and then another one half an hours later at the other end of the island to Brier Island. On reaching the first ferry there’s a heavy sea fog with visibility down to 100m. No problem to the ferryman and we reach the village of Westport to learn at the cruise company office that they have no record of our overnight reservation. Smartphone to the rescue, Tom had the email string on his phone; the Inn was full but not to worry Penny Graham the cruise company owner installed us in their big Guest house which is usually rented to families but we had it all to ourselves. After settling in we went to the local (only) hotel which is perched on a high hill for dinner. We were seated at a window but as the fog was by now a peasouper all we could see were lost seagulls.

Rain and strong winds greeted us the following morning which resulted in the whale watching being cancelled. So we decided to stay another night as the morrow looked like it will be a better day. Penny had organized breakfast for us at the Lighthouse Café where we met a man who was doing research on the Mountain Avens a rare flower considered native to New Hampshire but discovered in a nearby Brier Island bog. Intrigued we headed round the island to find the bog; we also found the flower! We walked to two of the islands lighthouses - there are three on this little island. Fishing, once a substantial industry in the Maritimes is now almost non-existent so local fishermen now catch lobsters which does not provide them with much of a living. We did observe a relatively large fish farm in the bay, not very popular with the locals.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, a really lovely day so off we headed with Penny as our guide into the Bay of Fundy to watch the whales in their summer feeding ground. Humpback Whales are obviously a very social mammal; all those we saw stayed so close to the boat that the spray from their spout almost wet us; a fellow passenger asked “are we watching the whales or are they watching us?” They had no fear of the boat which allowed us to spend 3 hours going from one group of whales to another.

The privilege of observing these large Cetaceans up close was well worth waiting for and gave us a very memorable day to treasure. Adele made a little video which, once we work out how to post it we’ll upload to YouTube and let you know on a future blog; we will post photos in a day or so. 

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