SITES OF NOVA SCOTIA
(Outer Bald Tusket Island)
A BRIEF HISTORY
This web page is
an information supplement to
the Birding Sites of Nova Scotia guidebook.
following historical snapshots are provided:
Note from the Nova Scotia
Bird Society (current owners of the island)
A Short History of an Island Nation
An Expedition to Outer Baldonia
Note from David Currie (from the Nova Scotia Bird Society's Sanctuary
& Scholarships Trust Fund)
Outer Baldonia (Outer Bald Tusket Island) is an interesting
story. The Nova Society Bird Society was conveyed this island on
December 28, 1973 from Russel Arundel of Virginia and The Nature
Conservancy of Canada, and one dollar was the sale price.
The Bird Society owns it as well as Middle, Little Half, and Mossy Bald
Islands. The Bird Society then erected a sign which states:
Earle E. Arundel
Breeding Bird Sanctuary Conveyed to The Nova Scotia Bird Society By
Nature Conservancy of Canada. Hunting permitted in Season
The stone building is still there and as of the last survey in 1987, by
Ted D'Eon, was in pretty good shape, but the wood parts were
extensively rotted. There was no need to restore or maintain the
building from a Bird Sanctuary point of view. Ted's grandfather
was one of the mason's who worked on the building when or just before
The Prince of Baldonia stayed there.
One of the conditions of the ownership transfer was that the island
continue to be used by specific people named in the deed for pasture
land for sheep as long as those specific people lived. It also
stated that there would never be interference of the tern colony that
was once there. In 1987, there were no sheep on that island at
the time of the survey and it not known if this island is still being
used for this purpose.
In 1987, there was no evidence of a tern colony, nor petrels, however
there was a pair of Ravens raising a chick in the building above the
ceiling joists. Maybe the prince continues to occupy the building
in another form.
A Short History of an Island Nation
by Vernon Doucette
Outer Baldonia. The very name conjures up a vision of a small
country in the Far East. A place where the humble locals drive
herds of sheep across the windswept plains. A people recently
liberated from the yoke of Marxist tyranny. They seek only to
keep a few warm beers in the larder and a yurt over their heads.
Like guano, this vision does have the whiff of truth about it.
Outer Baldonia is definitely windswept and sheep there are
plenty. Down East is closer to the truth than Far East while its
history owes more to Groucho than Karl Marx.
Outer Baldonia is an island located at the southern end of the province
of Nova Scotia, Canada. It's a four acre, cobble, drumlin of an
island, and its proximity to what was one of the best sport fishing
areas in the world is key to my tale.
In the 1940s, Wedgeport, Nova Scotia was proud to boast that it was the
"Tuna Capital" of the world. A series of tidal rips off the south
end of the nearby Tusket islands were teeming with tuna. This
abundance drew rich sportsmen and women from around the world, eager to
test themselves against the huge fish. One of these visitors was
an American businessman named Russell Arundel and it's with them that
the strange story of Baldonia truly begins.
Arundel was out fishing one day when a squall forced a retreat to the
lee of Outer Bald, a nearby island. Struck by the thought that a
shelter could be created that would allow passing such moments in
relative comfort, he soon arranged to buy the island.
A year later, ensconced in their island clubhouse, Arundel and his
friends initiated a joke that led to the birth of a nation. They
declared their island Outer Bald the "Principality of Outer Baldonia"
and in the heady rush of nation building declared taxes, inhibitions,
and double talk banned. Arundel assumed the position of "Prince
of Princes," and issued a declaration of independence. He also
created the great seal and crest of Outer Baldonia as well as issuing
the currency of the realm the "tunar." All of these accomplishments
were no doubt helped along by frequent visits to the "chemical
reception chamber" to further the export of one of Baldonia's major
products, empty rum and beer bottles. Upon returning to his home
in the states, Arundel placed a listing for the Baldonian consulate in
the Washington D.C. phone book. This led to his being
invited to attend the season's diplomatic functions. Not the
least of those invitations was to one held in New York City for
countries seeking membership in the then newly founded United
Nations. It's reported that Arundel attended a cocktail party in
his roll as "Prince of Princes" in a royal uniform decorated with a
sash of beer bottle tops and medals made of sardine cans.
No matter how small your nation, like others, Outer Baldonia was sucked
into the whirlpool of Cold War politics. An article published in
a Soviet literary magazine denounced Outer Baldonia and slandered
Prince Russell Arundel as a "Western imperialist." Accused of
"savagery," the Outer Baldonian diplomatic corps sprang into
action. They issued a formal protest and invited the disgruntled
Russian journalist to visit O.B. and experience the truth for
herself. "Getting out of Russia is her problem," Arundel is
quoted as saying.
After a long run, Arundel's cover was blown. Newspaper and
magazine articles splashed the "truth" of the matter across their
pages. The phoenix-like rise of Baldonia came to its end.
The tuna are gone, and all that remains of the once great Baldonian
empire is a sadly neglected stone hut and a few precious notes and
articles. Those are enclosed in a box and kept in the back closet
of the Yarmouth County Museum.
But for all those who have ever dipped their paddles toward a distant
shore and when upon landing felt gripped by a desire to claim it for
their own, let the memory of Outer Baldonia be alive in your
hearts. Let its spirits free your mind and raise your voices in a
cry... "Hail Baldonia!"
Vernon Doucette is a professional
photographer and Greenland enthusiast.
An Expedition to Outer Baldonia
by Christopher Earl (Chris Earl is CEO of a biotech company
In 1948, an avid sports fisherman transformed Outer Baldy, one of Nova
Scotia's Tusket Islands, into a principality where there were no
strikes except those of the tuna and no poverty except in vegetation...
This time, with our group, Vernon Doucette was determined to paddle to
Outer Bald Island. In each of the past three years, with other
groups of kayakers, he had tried to reach this outermost island in the
Tusket Island chain. All these attempts had to be abandoned
because of bad weather that compounded the risks from treacherous tides
and rips. Though Outer Bald Island is only eight nautical miles
from the southern tip of Nova Scotia, and just three miles from the
shelter of Big Tusket Island, the transit is possible only under
optimal conditions of wind, weather, and tide.
The appeal of Outer Bald Island goes well beyond the challenge of
braving fast water. In the late 1940's the island's owner was
an American sports fisherman named Russell Arundel, who used the island
as headquarters for tuna fishing with his friends. In an idle
moment Arundel declared the island to be the independent Principality
of Outer Baldonia. Arundel did a wonderful job of organizing all
of the official trappings and proclamations appropriate to such an
imaginary realm of leisure and adventure. His elaborate
imagination led to an exceedingly well-executed hoax on the diplomatic
corps and State Department in Washington, D.C.
The movement of water in and out of the Bay of Fundy - trillions of
gallons making the round trip twice a day - creates powerful currents
in the waters near the bay's mouth. Although the tides in the
Tuskets are only 13 feet, current traveling through channels between
the islands feeds the 40 foot tides in the Bay of Fundy. Around
the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia the entire ocean behaves like a
swift-moving river many miles wide. Paddling technique thus
requires a challenging combination of whitewater and ocean skills.
Our group was led by Tom Bergh of the Maine Island Kayak Company, with
his partner June O'Neill and Vernon Doucette as associate guides.
The six other ardent paddlers on the trip were Pat and Kathy Wyman of
Leominster, Mass., Chris McManus from Westport, Conn., and Rudy
Staroscik and my wife Abby and I, all from Philadelphia. We
listened to Vernon's tales of Outer Bald, and quickly adopted his goal
of reaching the island as our own.
We had the good fortune to be the guests of Vernon's family and, by
virtue of the customary hospitality of the Acadian coast, of the
fishermen of the Tusket Islands near Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, for a
week's kayak adventuring. Our home was a small fishing shanty on
Big Tusket Island, wedged in among a few dozen similar houses lining
the Tittle, a narrow sluice of protected water between Big Tusket and
Harris Islands. Perched at the head of large wharves stacked high
with thousands of lobster traps, the deserted shanties awaited the
November launch of lobster fishing season. The shanty was
generously loaned to us by George Jacquard, a friend of the Doucette
family. George had kindly ferried out a good portion of our food
and drink in his motorboat the day before, leaving our kayaks
light. Our welcoming party on Big Tusket consisted of four wharf
cats who had mastered the art of looking miserable and hungry (despite
being quite fat).
Our first two days were spent watching the conditions, practicing
ferries and eddy turns in the swift currents of the Tittle, and
visiting islands near our Big Tusket base. Vernon, who is a
professional photographer, kept snapping
pictures of us weaving among the piers. As we paddled to the
nearby islands that lie outside the main tidal channels we got our
first taste of the force of the water and experienced the flavor of the
island fishing community. While a few of the larger islands are
wooded, most of the islands in the Tusket chain have been cleared for
lumber and firewood, and are kept entirely bald by squadrons of sheep
set loose to graze. From Big Tusket you could hear a constant
sound - between a roar and a whoosh - from the rips at the south end of
the island. We found this noise both fascinating and sobering.
People in the tiny villages on other islands were not the least
surprised to see us. They had heard about us on the VHF
chatter. We began to suspect that the fishermen were keeping a
close eye on us: No matter where we went, our position was more-or-less
known. We figured this interest reflected their curiosity about a
bunch of urban Americans braving the big water in ludicrously small
craft, and their concern that at some point they might have to come
fish us out.
On Tuesday evening the weather radio forecast light winds and minimal
swells for the next morning. We de- cided to make the run for
Outer Bald Island. Low tide at Yarmouth would be at 7:15 a.m.; to
avoid the strongest currents we needed to be on the water by 7:30,
since we expected that it might take 3 hours to reach Outer Bald.
Wednesday morning the winds were indeed light. It was a perfect,
sunny day. We struggled out of our sleeping bags at 6:00 and were
on the water by 7:45. The group was prepared for its
adventure. We were all paddling boats well adapted to rough water
- Nordkapps, Arluks and Romanys. Abby and I were in an Aleut Sea
II made by Howard Jeffs, which is as steady as a battleship in rough
water. Dressed in wet suits, we had a full complement of safety
equipment, including 3 VHF radios, flares, tow ropes, pumps, warm
clothes, hot drinks, spare paddles, charts and compasses. Most
important to our safety was the leaders' experience with rough water
rescues and their judgment about what risks to undertake. The
rest of us were able intermediate paddlers who could rely on solid
boat-handling skills and experience in a range of conditions.
We paddled south through the Tittle to the end of Big Tusket Island,
and found that the sea was already well under way in its west-bound
trip toward the Bay of Fundy. We began to ferry south, paddling
hard into the current, pointing the boats southeast on a bearing of 140
magnetic. The current was already reasonably strong. We
were ex- periencing what we confirmed later that evening, that the tide
in the islands runs an hour earlier than Yarmouth. Nonetheless,
in this first part of the trip we had islands behind us where we could
fetch up if the current overwhelmed us.
As we ferried across the current, we lined up landmarks in the distance
- a ledge of rocks, then a huge red buoy, then Middle Bald
Island. As long as the near landmarks did not appear to be moving
forward against the more distant markers, we were holding our own in
the current. It felt as if more than half our effort was devoted
to maintaining our lateral position; the remaining fraction of our
energy inched us closer to our destination. Several times we had
to turn upstream and sprint to regain position. Tom and Vernon
herded most of the group like sheep dogs in a tight pack.
Nonetheless, Chris McManus, the only one of us who had eaten Cheerios
for breakfast, managed to stay a half mile ahead of the pack for nearly
the entire crossing.
We reached Inner Bald Island by 8:30 - much more quickly than we had
expected, particularly given the hard upstream paddle. We could
see Outer Bald Island in the distance, a barren wedge building from sea
level in the northeast side to low bluffs in the southwest. We
took advantage of the eddies on the lee side of the island for a break
from hard paddling. We hugged the western and southern shores
before speeding up and injecting our boats back into the current.
We reached Middle Bald Island half an hour later, and again paddled up
the calm water on the lee side. We chugged from our water bottles
and had a snack.
We then launched our final leg toward Outer Bald Island. From
this point on there was no land between us and New Brunswick, so
failing to keep up with the tidal current was not an option. As
we left the southeast tip of Middle Bald, we paddled into a small rip,
and stayed to the west edge of it to avoid fighting the larger
waves. We worked hard to stay even with Outer Bald, and not lose
ground. Finally we slipped into an eddy in a cove on the north
side after a final burst of hard paddling. We had reached Outer
Bald in only two hours of strenuous effort, an hour faster than we had
Vernon landed his Nordkapp first, formally welcomed each of us to the
Principality of Outer Baldonia, and bestowed honorary
citizenship. We rested briefly and then set out to explore the
island. Unlike the other Tuskets that have been overgrazed by
sheep, this island was covered with a solid mat of asters (only a few
of which were in flower), interspersed occasionally with queen anne's
lace, tall grasses and vetch. An old stone lodge made from
cobbles - the sportsmen's original clubhouse - stood at the crest of
the island. Inside, the wood floor and walls had completely
rotted. We could see in the dim light that the stone fireplace
carried the initial A, the only remaining ev- idence of the house's
former owner and its erstwhile glory as the Capitol of the nation of
The bleak, timeless outer islands of Down East Maine and Nova Scotia
can elicit sentiments both mystical and frivolous in their
visitors. Perhaps the ghost of Arundel inspired his guests with
adopted the initial A - made by holding thumbs and forefingers of both
hands in a triangle - as the secret symbol of Outer Baldonia. The
symbol was flashed upon the successful completion of any subsequent
endeavor and it became the mystic greeting among Outer Baldonians.
We spent a time of rest and reflection looking out on the ocean and its
foaming rips in the distance, grateful that we had not set Seal or Mud
Islands - 10 miles further south - as our goal. We proceeded back
to our boats. By now the tide was high and slack, and we were
hungry. We set our course to the northwest for the Spectacle
Islands, which had protected coves where we could easily land. We
reached the Spectacles quickly and had a relaxing lunch. As I
napped on the beach, I shared the warm stones with thousands of black
spiders. Some found my wetsuit, as it absorbed the sun's
radiation, an even more pleasing place to bask.
On our return leg we headed for Murder Island, supposedly named after
an old story of a drifting schooner that had run aground there with its
crew slain. Though we had the outgoing tide against us, the
weaker current between the islands allowed us to relax and reflect on
our newly won status as intrepid Outer Baldonians. Our reverie
was interrupted by a gleaming new speedboat coming straight at
us. When it drew along side we found it contained Charles LeBlanc
and Vernon's parents. They hailed us gaily, saying they had just
been looking for us at Outer Bald Island, but the fishermen's chat on
VHF had led them to "les kayakers" near Murder Island. They told
us we'd find a big pot of chowder on the stove back at the
shanty. After being assured that everything was fine they waved
goodbye, saying they'd be back home in about 15 minutes. It made
us feel like fierce pirates diverted from their pillaging by their
mother's voice calling them in for a bath.
We continued on quietly through Ellenwood Channel, past Ellenwood
Island. We had stopped on the island the day before and met
Donald and Betty Smith, an elderly couple who have spent their entire
lives sustaining them- selves from the abundance of the islands and the
ocean. They still work hard at fishing and harvesting seaweed for
the local processor, Acadian Seaplants Ltd., and depend on their own
effort and ingenuity to carve an existence from nature.
Mrs. Smith is well known to have a kayak herself and to paddle it
among the islands.
Upon our return the Tittle in late afternoon, we landed our boats,
peeled off our wet suits, and rehydrated on Keith's Ale, a Nova Scotian
brew far superior to pallid Molson's. We then prepared for the
Changing of the Kelp. The piers were covered with flora and fauna
that enjoy the smorgasbord of nutrients that are brought by the fast-
moving currents. In addition to the ubiquitous rockweed the
underwater sections of the piers were covered with colonies of hydroids
- relatives of sea anemones and jellyfish - and large clumps of kelp.
We had noticed on the past two evenings that the kelp, not
surprisingly, waved horizontally in the current. The fronds
pointed south on the ebb tide and north on the flood. We wondered
what happened between tides. Did the kelp droop? Did it
wave slowly around in a circle? How long did the whole process
take? Consumed by these questions, at 18:30 we collected on the
end of the wharf with a pitcher of margaritas and awaited slack tide,
expected around 19:00.
We were amazed at how quickly it all happened. Around 18:45
floating pieces of uprooted eelgrass and rockweed began to slow their
southward progress; the kelp waved lazily toward the middle of the
Tittle and then drooped. The hundreds of small fish swam around
aimlessly. Then, in just a few moments, everything changed
direction. The floating seaweed reversed course; the kelp pointed
smartly to the north, and the fish started swimming south. It was
18:55. We were elated. We had seen the moment - the exact
moment - that the tide changed.
We spent the next few days exploring, continuing to absorb the
isolation and peace of the islands. Tom and June, on a dare,
succeeded in rolling the Aleut Sea II - a triumph of synchronized
sweeps. While they were practicing, Rudy spotted them in a VCP
Pintail, ready to do an eskimo rescue. As they missed an attempt
to roll up the Aleut, Tom grabbed Rudy's bow from under water and
managed to capsize Rudy as well. With total aplomb, and no loss
of hat, camera or composure, Rudy rolled right back up. Tom
grabbed his bow again and this time righted the Aleut; June bobbed up
sputtering. The spectators on the dock cheered.
We spent Saturday morning cleaning out the shanty. We had noticed
on our arrival that however humble, this house was immaculate: the
ancient wood-fired oven did not have a scratch or stain on its pure
white enamel. Vernon warned us that if we did not leave the house
"Acadian clean" it would be known throughout southern Nova Scotia that
"les kayakers" are big slobs, and neither we nor any other kayakers
would be welcome again in the islands.
The fear of the Lord having been put into us, we straightened and
scrubbed and swept. When we finally had taken all our gear to the
boats, and removed the last visible residue of our visit, Vernon
disappeared into the house with a rag and a broom, emerging twenty
minutes later with a smile, saying the house would pass
inspection. Just as the house was locked, June suddenly leapt up
in alarm: trapped inside was the dry cat food she'd obtained for the
ravenous wharf cats that had been gorging on our leftovers all
week. Vernon tiptoed back into the house, retrieved the Friskies
for distribution among the kitties, and we were ready to leave.
We were seen off by several fishermen who had come to their shanties on
the weekend to work on their gear. By braving the water and not
losing anyone in the course of the week we had won some respect, but
the fishermen still said they wouldn't be caught in one of our boats.
IF YOU GO. . .
Without the hospitality of the Doucettes and their community,
the trip would certainly have had a very different flavor for the Outer
Baldonians. We were very lucky to be able to focus entirely on
paddling and not worry where we would camp, or whether we had enough
provisions, or where we would seek shelter in a squall. Even with
these elements assured, the seas around the Tuskets are a challenge not
to be taken lightly. The conditions in the Tuskets, particularly
the outer islands, demand preparation and respect. Conditions
change extremely quickly with the tides, fog and weather. The
currents often run far faster than the hull speed of even the fastest
kayak; you realize here more than anywhere, that the sea is truly the
master. The inner islands, which are more sheltered, make a
wonderful paddling destination and camping sites are plentiful.
Respect for private property and good camping ethics create good will
for you and others that follow. Note that Outer Bald Island is a
Bird Society island and should not be visited during nesting season!
Saturday evening we were invited by the Doucette family to the country
and western dance at the Canadian Legion Hall. We were first
trounced at pool by Vernon's father, an amateur player with
professional skill, and then went to the dance. At the dance, we
told Vernon's mother how impressed we had been by the attention and
generosity of their community. She replied, "Yes, it's a special
sort of place. But just think, if you didn't know someone here,
you would drive right through."