06 May 2007

And now for something completely different...

The phone was flashing when I came downstairs this morning. I hit the voice mail, and heard the voice of one Richard Smith, captain of the Canadian Coast Guard ship Matthew. He and the Matthew and a team of scientists from NRCan and the Canadian Hydrographic Service were out in the Minas Channel, doing ocean floor mapping using some very cool equipment. They had to put a scientist ashore in Scotts Bay this afternoon, and did I want to come out for a few hours visit?

Did I? You bet. I’ve never sailed on the Matthew, but I’ve sailed with Capt. Smith when he had the Hudson and had a great time. The Matthew does hydrographic survey and oceanographic work all around Atlantic Canada (and is named after the ship John Cabot used to explore the new world back in 1497). No doubt Cabot would have been speechless at THIS Matthew, with her two huge diesel engines, her arrays of gear for surveying the sea bed, her radars and radios and computers…even the gear used to create fresh water from salt.

So I scooted down to the wharf after lunch, and pretty soon the Matthew’s Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) came rocketing in to pick me up. Kindly, they brought me both a mustang survival suit and a hard hat (de rigeur on FRC excursions), and after a brief pause to don the suit (best done laying down on the wharf—I wonder what the people up on the roadside thought of some strange woman wrestling into a brilliant orange suit?) I scrambled down the ladder and into the FRC, and we headed out to meet the Matthew.

Well. Have I mentioned that we live in the land of the world’s highest tides? Tides that thunder down through the Basin, around the basalt sea stacks of Cape Split at a speed of around 8 knots? With whirlpools and ‘dancing water’ and wild waves turning every which way in the strange currents. When my better half was a fisherman, I was out in his Cape Islander more than a few times experiencing the awesome power of the riptides. Today, we didn’t go through the rips, of course, not in a small zodiac with two 50 hp outboards—we went out around, and the crew handling the FRC did a brilliant job. It was fun—like riding a bucking horse, or whitewater rafting, or as I teasingly told Capt. Smith, like driving on the back roads of Hants County (where he hails from). We bounced across a few waves, but it was safe, and I just sat back on the bow seat and felt the water dance around us and was happy.

Three hours is too short a time to really get a sense of what scientists are doing, and these scientists are certainly at the top of their game. I’ll have to talk further with a couple of them to understand more about what they’re up to, but that’s fine. I know that ultimately they’ll create better, safer charts for fishermen and other ships, for pleasure boaters and more; and they’re also getting a better sense of the underwater habitats of all kinds of fish, shellfish and other creatures.

Everytime I go out on a ship, I realize just how much we all don’t know about the waters that cover so much of our earth—and that so many of us live near. With scientists such as these, we are learning a little more. The current team on board the Matthew are working in various spots around the Bay of Fundy, hopefully seaming together data from other sessions up in this area, to make a clearer picture. One scientist showed me scars on the ocean floor made by icebergs—over 10,000 years ago. And those scars are still there! Gives some sense of perspective to our own lives…and to what damage we humans might do to our oceans.

Headed back home in my water taxi after enjoying supper in the mess with Captain Smith, and at some point during the afternoon, the sun finally decided to come out and the wind calmed. There are two main water behaviours out around the Split--either dancing water or (excuse me, but this is the term) "flat-ass calm." That's how the waters were as we came past Cape Split, the tide seeping back out towards low water. It’s been a few years since I’ve been out by the Split from the water, so had to snap a few photos of it as we zipped by…

And then, to finish off what was a marvelous day…the hepaticas are finally in bloom. Only about a month behind other gardeners, and several weeks behind regular scheduling here, but hey…at least they’re out. Maybe spring has remembered us.


  1. How interesting, Jodi! This is something that would never present itself as an opportunity here, that's for sure.

    And those hepaticas...beautiful. I've never seen any here, although we have them.

  2. It's sort of a tradeoff, Kylee; that body of water (and its mate on the other side of the province, the Atlantic ocean) are major factors in our cool, wet springs. But I couldn't imagine not living by the water, ever again, so I'll deal with late springs. Like my husband says when he looks out the back window every morning, "I have to make eye contact with the water before I can get on with my day."


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