The low-lying bank in front of me opened to reveal the distant horizon of James Bay. I’d been 14-days on the Kesagami River which meets the larger, Harranana River just before the bay, creating a large and beautiful estuary. Tomorrow, I’d begin my 40-kilometer ocean paddle, followed by 20-kilometers of upriver travel to reach my finishing point at Moosonee.
Moments into looking for a site, I learned that camping in the area is terrible. The ground is soaking wet, and treeless for about two kilometers back of the coast. And it’s not easy to tell how far the tide comes in. Taking extra caution, I dragged my canoe and gear aways back of where I thought the high tide mark was. I ended up settling for terrible spot, and was still a little nervous I’d wake up under water.
I thought I had the tides all figured out when I was ready to tackle James Bay the next morning. I quickly figured out that I did not.
Here’s what I learned:
• High tide represents the tidal maximum, which is the exact time the tide begins to go out. When paddling on James Bay, high tide means, get close to shore! I’d though high tide meant I had plenty of time before becoming stranded was a concern.
• There are two high tides and two low tides in every 24 hour period. High tide come in an hour later with each passing day.
• In August, when I was there, the second high tide hits after dark. This means that after I got stranded in the tidal flats, I could not camp where I was, or I’d get swamped during the pitch black of night.
• Earlier in the summer, paddlers who get stranded on the tidal flats of James Bay often just camp there. It’s not a huge problem when the next high tide doesn’t roll in until the following morning. It’s still not recommended though.
• If the incoming tide is accompanied by a strong north wind, it can come in in a 3-foot wall.
• If you survive that, because of how shallow the flats are, the accompanying waves will bottom out at their troughs making paddling very difficult.
•The tidal flats are walk-able. I’d heard stories about the mud being knee deep. It’s not like that in the area I was in. I find it’s easiest to drag my canoe with a tumpline. However, in some areas on the flats, the mud is so sticky that carrying is a necessity.
People have died on the tidal flats. I didn’t want to be one of those people. So, I bit the bullet, and carried / dragged to shore.
After the long portage, I camped on top of a drift pile. It was not a comfortable spot, but it was a lot better than the night before.
The tides would only allow me to make it 10-kilometers the following day. I was relieved when I arrived at Netitishi Point to find a beautiful beach site with a nice breeze keeping the mosquitos at bay. It’s the only dry spot between the Harricana and Moose River. More relieving than the great site though, was that I finally figured out what was going on with the tides.