I’ve been to Prince Edward Island (PEI), one of Canada’s maritime provinces, many times (I’m originally from the east coast myself) but on my most recent visit I wanted to experience something that was really PEI. An authentic island experience…..and I think I found it.
When I stumbled upon By-the-Sea-Kayaking on my computer, I was compelled to book myself and 3 friends on their ‘clam digging experience’ in hopes of finding us all kayaking along the red clay shores for which the island is famous and digging for clams with our pants rolled up above our ankles, sun shining. It sounded very PEI.
Arriving into the village of Victoria, PEI we surmised pretty quickly that it was one of those towns that probably had just one stop sign, one pub and one lighthouse. It was raining and the thought of getting out of the warm, dry car to climb into a wet kayak and paddle out into the ocean seemed suddenly quite unappealing…..but my group of four emerged from the car nonetheless. We were early and the pub at the end of the wharf was beckoning us. We made a mad dash from the car to the pub and settled into a table overlooking the ocean. I ordered a local beer (Gahan) that was infused with blueberries and a cup of seafood chowder deciding that if I indulged in a little comfort food it might help me muster up the desire to brave the rain and the waves. The blueberry beer was surprisingly good and the chowder warmed me up. We were ready.
Paul, our guide, greeted us with a smile and handed us life jackets – he’s a man of few words. We quickly suited up in our kayaking gear and helped carry the kayaks down to the beach. After a very quick tutorial on how to set up our seats and steer the kayaks, we were off.
The water was calm as we paddled along the shore and then straight out into the Northumberland Straight. We could see the Confederation Bridge in the distance, too our right, and somewhere far beyond us, behind the fog, was Nova Scotia. It was all as I had imagined, hoped, that it would be. I love being on the water and I was among close friends. We bravely (or stupidly) handed our cameras and phones across the water to one another to take photos and slowly followed our guide, who was now WELL ahead of us, away from the shore.
About a half-hour later we started to get a bit skeptical of ‘the plan’. We were supposed to be kayaking out to a large sandbar to dig clams but we were heading farther and farther away from land and there was no sandbar in sight. Just then, Paul stopped paddling and jumped out of his kayak. Expecting him to start swimming I was surprised when I realized he was simply standing in knee-deep water. We caught up to him, tied all our boats together and hopped out beside him. “The tide’s going out and the water will be at our ankles in about 5 minutes” he said. “In 15, it’ll be gone altogether”. And it was.
Slowly but surely a giant sandbar revealed itself and while we were surrounded by water on all sides, our clam-digging oasis was vast. I later learned that it’s called the Tyron Shoal. It started to rain again but no one seemed to notice. We were determined to find clams. The promise of fresh clam chowder back on the beach was the carrot dangling in front of us.
It took a few minutes for us to catch on to tell-tale signs of a clam lingering beneath the sand but once we recognized the divots in the sand, our bag started to fill up. I had no idea they would be so big. Maybe I was expecting something more along the size of a mussel but these seemed big to me. A huge bald eagle joined us on the sandbar for a bit, staring at us and I couldn’t help but wonder what we must have looked like to anyone who might have been able to see us from land; standing out there in the middle of the water, seemingly walking on water.
Eventually Paul announced that he didn’t like the looks of the clouds that were moving in and so once again we were back in the kayaks and heading to shore. The beach, now fully exposed by the low tide, was covered with oysters. This place was a seafood haven!
It started to rain hard so we ran back to the pub for another round of Gahans and waited to get the call that Paul was ready to teach us how to prep the clams for our chowder. The ‘call’ came in the form of his friend biking over to the wharf and tapping on the pub window to get our attention. I love small towns.
The rain turned to drizzle as we shelled and cleaned the clams and added them to the chowder that Paul had prepped that morning. Then the hot bowls of clam chowder were passed around. It was delicious, of course.
By the time we pulled out of Victoria the sky was clearing, the sun was starting to set and we spotted a rainbow arching over the land and into the ocean. We felt like we’d had a truly authentic island experience, rain and all.