Shipwrecks & Lore of the Fundy Coast

Latest update September 4, 2019 Started on October 17, 2018
sea

Nova Scotia is well known for it’s colourful seafaring history, complete with fireside lore of pirates, pillaging and hidden treasures. Shipwrecks are common in the Bay of Fundy, often accompanying stories of fleeing Captains and abandoned cargo.


In seeking to explore areas around Halls Harbour, Baxters Harbour, and Black Hole Harbour, we will be exploring underwater for evidence of prior human activity, with a concentration on near-harbour zones.

With the highest tides in the world, we can work with these forces to explore deeper during certain times.

October 17, 2018
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Debriefing

After posted our shark video to some Facebook pages, seeking insight from locals, we caught the attention of a nearby reporter.


He followed up, and brought us this:

https://www.thecoastguard.ca/news/regional/couple-explores-the-depths-of-the-bay-of-fundy-with-a-robot-345612

The season is short and the dive windows are narrow, but we are eager to get back out there in the spring and keep exploring.


With the hurricane season setting in, the boat was pulled from the water. It's time to rest and reflect and prepare for spring.

On top of that, the Trident is making a trip out to headquarters for a bit of a tune up. The people over at OpenExplorer are going to take a look at some anomalies we are experiencing with the unit, and get us ready to be back out on the water!

We have had some interesting dialogue surface, in person and in online offerings. In one case, a fella was eager to share his theories about Captain Hall's treasure in Halls Harbour, and we have learned of some exciting teams digging into local Myth or History stories, and lore of lost treasure.

Sharing what we are doing often presents us with ideas and concepts for other future dives and expeditions. We are all ears, and love an excuse for a good adventure. Whatcha got?!

Posts online point in all kinds of directions, and this winter we will put our feet up by the fire and dig through those, to guide our expedition.

It's not goodbye, just wrapping it up for the season.

Until the tide is high, and the seas are calm, The Laforges

In The Field

This footage simply illustrates the challenges with the current and conditions. This day was exceptionally foggy, except for the region right near shore. The surface was choppier than the day prior.


The result however was a dramatic current that would drag the Trident to the surface as soon as the tether extent was reached.

The footage shows the challenge of just getting to the bottom, a short exploration time and a forced resurface. Those are some massive currents, yet we were also firing on only 2 of 3 motors that dive.

The bottom sand features however show a natural sedimentary deposit with oscillations in the sand, and deposits of shell debris between the ridges. That would be representative of tidal current. This is in contrast to the straight-lined footage shared the day prior, adding support to the man-made causes of the other site and bottom marks.

The distance between the two sites is not far at all.

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How much could really sustain, being battered day in and out by the tides?


The shipwrecks database of Nova Scotia (https://novascotia.ca/museum/wrecks/) shows an extensive seafaring history, and the volume of shipwrecks is staggering. After a quick phone call to the Museums department, we learned the shipwrecks database represents a very small fraction of what is actually out there. All interesting and intriguing.

Unsure what to expect, we have learned that evidence of shipwrecks is often only seen in remnants of ballast. The rocks held in sailing ships' ballast were used to counter the forces acting on the sails. As wooden ships would have deteriorated, they often only leave evidence of ballast. And we are certainly in sailing ships' historical domain here in the Bay of Fundy.

These features would appear as piles of rock.

In this footage, we do encounter a pile of rocks. Is it evidence of a shipwreck, or rather simply autocthonous?

We set out to explore for evidence of past human activity, and this terrain brought to light many questions. Natural or Human-impacted?


The regular patterns on the ocean floor are easy to explain away as sedimentary deposits due to tidal currents. However, with closer inspection, the gouges appear to be more “square” in form, and complete lack any oscillation.

In contrast the area immediately following (still image attached) was more characteristic of what you would expect with variable oscillations in the bottom pattern.

With a history of trawling the area, it’s worth asking the question if this is evident of trawlers?

We reach out to the local community, and experts to chime in once again: what are we looking at?

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This footage seeks to establish a baseline of what is normal bottom terrain.


There are areas with vegetation and areas with rocks. Some areas are less green, and near the end there is a region of erratics on the ocean floor.

To correlate this to sonar data from the boat, we are now able to make some more sense of the terrain data that we read on the screen, and this footage that we see below.

Of note, for Trident users, this could appear as an atypical dive as the ROV continues to move backwards instead of forwards. This was our final solution to the drag imposed by the massive tides. The boat on the surface is drifting, while the flow underneath is guiding the direction the robot travels. Erratic movements are the result of trying to overcome those currents. We anticipate the stability will improve over time, with pilot experience.

An interesting part is the exemption of things we predicted we would find. It's a lobster fishing harbour, and while the season has been closed for 3 weeks, we still expected to see lobster on the floor. Perhaps they are there and are not visible, being under vegetation, etc.

The other expectation came from data shared on the Nova Scotia Beach Garbage Awareness Facebook page. The people over there have been doing an exceptional job of documenting the beach debris. Based on this data, we expected to see an accumulation on the ocean floor. While there remains bits of rope in site, we didn't see the volume that we anticipated. Some questions arise, such as:

  • Is the debris that accumulates more seasonal, seeming to come in more with the winter tides?
  • Is the debris that which floats and therefore is washed ashore instead of sinking to the ocean floor?

More questions. More avenues to inquire about, and ask out there for insight.

Please comment below and discuss if you have a perspective to share.

It's always impressive to have animals approach the Trident.


And see them doing their animal thing in their animal habitat.

Sharing this snippet just for the smiles. :)

This footage was captured during the same dive as the shark dive, during the flight between Cranberry Point and Huntington Point. The ocean sunfish was found during ascent at Huntington Point.


Again, we welcome collaboration and insight on this video. One comment we had while describing this experience, was related to the boat damage a lot of these fish sustain. It had us looking back over the footage to examine the face and along the edges of the fish.

In terms of scale, ocean sunfish are huge, and we do often see them on the surface horizontally. In size, they often compare to our kitchen table.

As per Wiki: The ocean sunfish or common mola (Mola mola) is one of the heaviest known bony fishes in the world. Adults typically weigh between 247 and 1,000 kg (545–2,205 lb). The species is native to tropical and temperate waters around the globe. It resembles a fish head with a tail, and its main body is flattened laterally. Sunfish can be as tall as they are long when their dorsal and ventral fins are extended.

On another topic, it's interesting to note that Nova Scotia has been experiencing more and more tropical fish to the warm summer waters. This is problematic for the fish, as ocean temperatures quickly plunge to winter levels, and the species are unable to survive.

The course of this dive involved a drift between Cranberry Point and Huntington Point, out of Halls Harbour.


The dive involved progressing along the bottom as the Trident navigated across the terrain. This segment of the dive was captivating as as shark/dogfish approached the ROV, and was located directly out from the Halls Harbour Lobster Pound Restaurant.

The footage was shared on Facebook, asking for community insight or specialists to share their knowledge about this animal. Most responses indicated it was a dogfish.

Wiki states: Squalidae, also called dogfish sharks, dog sharks, or spiny dogfish,[2] are a family of sharks in the order Squaliformes. Dogfish sharks make up the second largest order of sharks at 119 species. They have two dorsal fins, each with smooth spines, but no anal fin, and their skin is generally rough to the touch.[1] Dogfish tend to have slender bodies with a pointed snout. These species are also known to be more compact in comparison to other sharks. As the species reaches adulthood, males usually measure in at a maximum of 39 inches (990 mm), while females typically measure 49 inches (1,200 mm) long.

It's fair to say the scale and size is difficult to determine. Our experience with dogfish is only from catching them on our lines as kids, and they were certainly much, much smaller than this specimen.

We continue to be interested in feedback and would welcome qualified insight to confirm identity of this shark.

SUMMARY OF FIELD TESTING


Prior to running in the open water, we explored Halls Harbour to experience flying the ROV.

We quickly learned a simple switch from indoors to outdoors meant that visibility on the display screen was hampered under bright sun (under a blanket was the solution to this). We managed to then fly mostly in the evenings, with lights on the Trident in order to be able to coordinate what we were seeing on our screen, to the location of the Trident under water.

With the speed of the Trident (fast) and the strength of the currents (mighty), it's easy to quickly loose track of where the ROV is in relation to the surface. Having the bottom as a reference point was significant, to orient us. Looking ahead to open water dives, this will continue to be an issue until we gain more dexterity maneuvering the Trident. Here is where the skills of a video gamer on our team could likely be an asset!

Rehearsing in the Harbour also provided the reassurance that if things went poorly (like we lost the ROV), then the harbour would empty out in a short few hours and we could manually retrieve it.

Thankfully, that was never the case. We did however loose one of the two salt water weights, used to maintain neutral buoyancy in salt water. The community supports online were helpful with solutions using a nut and washers of equal weight, and spelled out the method to construct this with epoxy. Thankful for online collaborators!

For those not familiar with the tides on The Bay of Fundy, it's important to take a moment to illustrate how this works, and how it impacts the expedition. Twice a day the Harbour fills and empties, going from high to low every ~6.25 hours. The boat floats at the 8.5m mark. The amplitude of this cycle varies, meaning some tide cycles rise to a height of 13m and some only rise to 10m. That means that at times, in 6.25 hours, the height of the water changes by 13m vertically. It's extensive! The boat floats beyond the 8.5m mark, so the duration of time on the water also changes based on whether it's a "high" high tide, or a "low" high tide. As the high tide times shift day to day, the window when the boat floats also shifts. Some days these opportunities happen at night as well.

All that being said, we have about a ~4 hour window a day to be on the water. That window also needs to coordinate with weather. Under fog, we are not able to go out. In choppy water, we are not able to fly the ROV due to extensive drag and lack of control.

There are days that work out perfectly, and those become the MUST FLY days.

What we further learned is that the incoming tides have clear visibility while the receding tides immediately silt and visibility is reduced. That means that of that float time, we are reduced to have the available time for a quality dive. Tight windows for all of it.

July in general was spent working on the preliminary flying issues and gaining proficiency in flying the ROV, while mostly in the harbour, or at night off shore at low tide.

As the conditions improved into August, we were met with a small setback as the motors seized. The salinity of the water means that the motors need to be flushed every fly. A lot: fully submerged and motors running for a duration of time. The launch of the expedition was set back as we waited on delivery of the new motors.

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Preparation

Canada Day in Halls Harbour brings out the celebrations and displays, and we were on hand with our Trident to introduce her to visitors and the community.


Quick demos on the gear initiated a lot of discussions and we certainly value the collaborative approach that involved the community. We often heard, "I have always stood at the shore and wondered what was out there.". Well, us too.

We were presented with lots of questions and some things to consider:

  • the currents and tides will bring a layer of challenge to our maneuverability.
    It then was framed that we are in the HIGHEST tides in the world, and will deal with those exceptional forces as a component of our expedition.

  • the visibility changes as the tides come in and recede. This was brought up in relation to the Minas basin and the silt that is churned up with each tide. This flow pattern is evident in aerial images, and it remains to be seen how the sedimentation impacts visibility.

The event allowed us to gather insight from the community, and to question and pose queries together.

What we really value is the partnership that comes with this citizen science form of inquiry. We know we won't have all the answers, but we may have directions to head and wonder about together.

Join us and chime in. We would love to hear your ideas and thoughts!

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One of the excitements that comes with the internet is our ability to connect to places all over the world, even when we aren't there.


Nova Scotia is an adventure traveller's dream, and the province does a good job of planting webcams all over the place, to keep us all connected to this special place. Lucky for us, we have one right on the harbour, to sneak a peek and check out the view any time we want.

It's hard to explain just how giant those tides are, and how impressive that water is! Check out the link below to keep checking in our harbour, the boats (floating when tide is in, or resting on the ocean floor when out), and maybe even watch for us practising with our Trident off the wharf!

https://www.novascotiawebcams.com/en/webcams/halls-harbour-1/

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Let's talk about what could be out there, and some regional concerns.


Nova Scotia is a known international location for shipwrecks. Historically, the first European settlement in North America began in 1605 in the Bay of Fundy, at Port Royal. (1604 can be argued). To put it in context for international readers, Jamestown, Virginia was 1607. That's not to say exploration wasn't happening before that time, but placing our location in a historical context: it's got a lot of seafaring history.

Shipwrecks databases exist (On the Rocks), and they go back to 1583, but in speaking with representatives I have learned they only represent a small fraction of what is out there. Complete data is not publicly available.

And then there are the provincial regulations on ship wrecks and diving. The thoughts and directions taken on this "provincial resource" have been changing in the past few years. The article below spells it out well, details the concerns, and suggests changes going forward. While we love the idea of protecting the sites and shutting down access, as is now the case, the article makes a great case from a looting perspective.

While we don't expect to find a wreck, we are in fact working out of harbours that historically had a shipping history. The massive tides however suggest to us that discoveries would be well worn and have truly faced the elements as the volume of that water changes twice daily.

Ultimately, we have no idea what we will find. The area has a long history of human impact. There is a solid wreck history in the region. The lore in the harbour tells of pirates and captains with rogue personal history. It's the stuff storybooks are made up of!

And it's exceptionally polarizing. Take an example of Oak Island, which has both passionate followers and die hard treasure hunters, and at the same time large critics and naysayers.

We can all agree it's a great adventure to go look under the waves and get eyes on the bottom. Let's go!

https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/looters-likely-scouring-sunken-treasures-off-nova-scotia-experts-warn-1.4371713?fbclid=IwAR2Q-elZkKg4Nhatv9Ws2nbophqR8izBKnxPqHEauCv-nxCXcaXtzkkSMOs

It's here!!! Thanks to the SEE initiative, our Trident arrived at our doorstep and was eagerly unpacked, explored, and quickly dunked in the tub.


Prior, we explored an OpenROV and often struggled with the tweaking to make it behave as we expected. But the Trident. Hook it up, and drop it in. LOVE the ease of this wee beast.

We went ahead and got the controller as well and find the interface smooth and intuitive. I am not sure if it was planned this way, but even the packing foam was perforated to fit perfectly in our OpenROV Pelican case. Seems like everything was considered in this design.

So, now with it all working as we expect, with the excitement of the summer mounting, it's time to find a pool that will let us fly :)

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While the winter Canadian weather keeps us from being out on the water, the planning continues with dreaming and research.


An interesting finding has been the presence of Hooksett Discs in the harbour, and their documentation at reportdisks.org. It's startling to consider that a water treatment plant in Hooksett, New Hampshire accidentally released between 4-9 million of these contaminated discs into the Merrimack River in N.H. in 2011. They are now being found throughout the Atlantic. The wonderful people over at Nova Scotia Beach Garbage Awareness have brought this to our attention!

The question that comes to mind is, if they are being found on our shores, then will they also be present on the seabed? Will these discs be found with our Trident when we go out exploring from the harbour?

Stay tuned, and we hope to find out soon!

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Buried in piles of snow, it’s easy to spend our days dreaming about that warm summer out on the Bay of Fundy, exploring with our Trident. However the planning and progress doesn’t stop with the weather. This week we both completed our Maritime Radio Course. There may or may not have been a competitive bent to our efforts ;), but we are all feeling much more confident in our emergency radio skills.


After quizzing us endlessly and rehearsing our calls together, we are feeling that the kids may have learned this just as well as us. Blaise can perform an expert MayDay call, and Pearle has a real knack for that Phonetic alphabet.

That stage done, checked off the list.

Other research has also come to light about the more distant history of our coast. Wedged between Grand Pré and Annapolis Royal (Port Royal), this shore would have been actively visited in the 1600’s, with perhaps Acadian settlements dotting the shores. More research will need to be done, but certainly there is a long seafaring history out front in The Bay.

Counting down until we can discover more, and get under the waves!

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Sharks and Turtles, Marine Mammals, and all things Entangled. Reports of all of these things have been on the rise and media reports are more and more frequent in Nova Scotia waters. Even in our harbour, we have seen whales and ocean sunfish, while neighbours tell stories of watching sharks from shore. Hilton is a great white shark of fame in the area, entanglements are more frequent than anyone would like, and posters asking to report sea turtle sightings are posted at the wharves. In preparation for such things, Canada has several reporting mechanisms, which I have parked here in case of future need. In the case of Shark sightings: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/sharks/info/sightings-eng.html Interesting to note the sharks we could expect to see in Nova Scotia: basking sharks, porbeagle sharks, spiny dogfish, blue sharks and shortfin makos. Marine mammals, sea turtles and entanglements: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/mammals-mammiferes/report-rapport/page02-eng.html

In continuation of the permits discussion, the Department of Fisheries responded:


Thank you for your inquiry. I reached out to a contact within DFO, their only concern to raise was that if you damaged fishing equipment the fish harvester could hold you liable for this damage. I also reached out to Transport Canada as they regulate drones. The only enforcement that they thought might be applied would be something along the line of local enforcement officers potentially charging you with public endangerment, mischief or nuisance if you use it near swimming areas.

Feeling confident we won't be in the way of fishing gear, and we will aim to connect with those local fishermen before setting off so they can understand what we are up to.

Swimming areas, which are good and cold most of the time, won't be an issue.

It's overall good to know that we don't face policy obstacles going forward.

Permits.

Ever wonder who to call? So did we.

Do you need them?
What is regulated and what are the rules for this underwater exploration in Nova Scotia?

I reached out this week to Nova Scotia Environment and got the following response: "No permits are required from NS Environment if nothing is being disturbed or taken."

They did suggest checking in also with Canada Fisheries & Oceans and the Coast Guard and Navigable Waters.

With a call to Canada Fisheries & Oceans, we were directed to the Navigation Protection Program, a department within Transport Canada. They deemed this not fall in the jurisdiction of Fisheries and Oceans but would look closer into Marine Safety and Security and get back to us if there was an issue. After a week, no response.

The next question involved the process we could take to remove something from the seabed if it is found (and we fully agreed it was never to be a lobster trap, nor lobster!). The helpful woman at Fisheries & Oceans suggested reaching out to Communities, Culture & Heritage to discuss the parameters of the Special Places Protection Act.

Communities, Culture & Heritage proved to be a valuable resource. We learned that only marine archaeologists can remove artifacts from underwater. In fact, removing artifacts or even treasure hunting (on land or sea) is illegal across Nova Scotia (exempt from this law is Oak Island). I learned that the shipwrecks directory at On The Rocks is the closest the public can get to shipwreck location data, as the potential for looting and treasure hunting prevents anyone beyond archeologists from accessing the database.

Now, back to Coast Guard. The Coast Guard and Navigable Waters had a live "contact us" link, which sent enquiries to the Department of Fisheries (same thing? Who knew!?). An email enquiry to them so far has returned nothing.

Summary: it doesn't sound like we will need any permits to operate our ROV. As per the norm, without a lobster fishing license we can not touch traps nor remove lobster. Any big discoveries will need to be reported to Nova Scotia Museum. Rocks and geology may be removed as long as they have not been carved by humans (eg. arrowheads).

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One aspect of Canadian ocean exploration is the seasons, giving us lots of time over the winter to ready plans. From our Open ROV we learned to pre-test systems well before launch, and we aim to be prepared for a flawless initial flight.


Our family vessel, permits, courses, and research will be pivotal until the summer brings ocean access. We will share our learnings here as they develop.

The boat was the last boat built in Halls Harbour and has a dear sentiment to be afloat here. Moored up against the Halls Harbour Lobster Pound, she is on constant display.

Halls Harbour is the 3rd ranked location for coastal tourism in Nova Scotia, (#1 Halifax, #2 Peggy's Cove). There are ~200k visitors to the wee village each year. Along with the boat, we have also made Halls Harbour our summer home. The nearby harbours of Baxters Harbour and Black Hole Harbour are accessible as well and also contain historical lore.

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Expedition Background

The tides of the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world with 14m (45.5’) tidal ranges, creating ever changing navigational hazards. It’s easy to believe that wrecks are out there.


Public databases indicate general locations for many shipwrecks, but that database is estimated to only contain 10% of what is actually there.

Visits to Halls Harbour and the evening Ghost Tours bring stories to life of Pirates and lore all along the coast. Captain Hall remains a historical legend of Halls Harbour. It’s known that during the American revolution, pillages were common along this shore. It is also said that Norwegian pirates held the largest treasure bank nearby, only 200 years ago.

With our boat, we aim to seek out some of these legends and see if there is even any evidence of human activity out there under water. Finding a wreck would be a fabulous discovery. Finding an unknown wreck would be even better.

Our goal is to chase the tide and continue to go deeper out of the harbour, as the waters recede. If we find nothing, we will certainly serve to educate our kids about oceans, the ecosystems, and our need to be advocates for ocean protection.

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