Surprises in the waters around us here in Digby

As Simple as That - a column by Jonathan Riley

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
Published on August 28, 2014

The waters around us hold many surprises.

I got to thinking about this Tuesday while I was sloshing around in a life raft with a mannequin, a Coast Guard summer student, and about 50 litres of water the crew inadvertently let in when they launched us.

I was playing the part of someone adrift at sea in a Coast Guard training exercise and the original plan, from Halifax, was to drop us off near Goat Island and let us float around until someone found us.

But Dean Robinson, the commanding officer with the Coast Guard Cutter Westport, knew that wouldn’t work; so they tied us to a channel marker off Cornwallis.

This was about two hours before high water and the current through the channel kept the little rope taught as a tightrope. If they hadn’t tied us up, we would surely have drifted to Annapolis.

Now I thought I knew a thing or two about tides and currents but I had no idea that the big flat Basin I look out at every day was moving so fast and so steady.

The Basin is the backdrop for the Wharf Rat Rally – visitors and residents alike equate Digby with that view of the wharf and marina, scallop boats and sailing boats, the large expanse of relatively calm water, surrounded by low hills, the North Mountain stretching off into the distance.

Sunrises in Digby are spectacular, fog and mist occasionally add mystery, the tides make sure the view is constantly changing, constantly new, constantly different.

And now and then some mackerel or a whale or sunfish or a few dolphins wander into the Basin, fishing boats bring in yellow lobsters, red lobsters, blue lobsters, giant lobsters, and albino lobsters, they bring a rush of herring and therefore seagulls, we get yachts from all around the world and sometimes cruise ships, a navy boat and more often the Coast Guard cutter stops over.

These are some of the amazing things about our waters we all know about and, to a great extent, take for granted.

This week however I have been surprised by a few things.

The first was phosphorescence or glowing plankton in the water.

The Bay of Fundy and the Basin are alive with plankton right now – that’s why the whales and herring and mackerel are here – again we all know that.

But the last few nights, thanks to the lack of moonlight, the plankton have been putting on a show when disturbed.

Every canoe stroke makes a flash of light, if you swoop your blade forward through the water, it looks like Tinkerbell is sprinkling pixie dust – you can even see it by simply tickling the water with your fingers.

If I work hard and get the canoe really moving, the wake glows, which is how most people see it – in the wake of fast moving boats.

Sadly, it isn’t bright enough for me to photograph, so you’ll just have to believe me or set out on a calm dark night to see for yourself.

Another surprise for me, just outside the Basin, was a huge pod of dolphins near Point Prim. Ralph Cummings took a bunch of my family and a bunch of his out for a Sunday cruise and we had the show of a lifetime out there.

It is hard to be sure, but at least 80 dolphins were breaking the surface all around us – maybe the same pod they saw in Grand Passage a few weeks ago.

I was sitting on the bow of the Randi & Brianne, my feet hanging over the side, looking straight down at dozens of them.

Most surprising for me, was to see young dolphins, baby dolphins if you will, maybe a meter in length, swimming beside the adults, which are closer to three meters long.

They jumped and dove and broke the surface sometimes six at a time. An amazing show.

The last surprise, I’m more hesitant to talk about, let alone write about.

I was out for a long night paddle from Smith’s Cove to Cornwallis to enjoy the phosphorescence Monday night.

Once the darkness truly settled in, near 10 p.m., I splashed and laughed at the sparkling water, and then when I paused for a moment, I heard it.

Something was splashing out in the middle of the Basin, smacking the water like a breaching animal hitting the surface.

And sending up a big phosphorescent splash.

Seals? Dolphins? Pilot whales? Humpbacks? I have no idea.

All I know is, those beautiful waters are full of unending surprises.