Sunday, August 9, 2009

North Channel (Jul 31 to Aug 11)

Killarney, founded in 1820 but only accessible by road since 1962, is considered the entrance into the North Channel. It is a small village but caters to boaters by having water access to many services – the LCBO (liquor store) has its own dock. Mention that you’re going by Killarney and you’ll be told to stop for fish and chips at the bus. We came through shortly before noon on Friday of a holiday weekend – no dock room for fish and chips. Instead we cruised on through and went to the “don’t miss” anchorage at Covered Portage Cove a few miles away. It’s a beautiful place with high granite walls. We launched the dinghy and made the short trip back to Killarney for lunch. Joe pronounced these the best fish and chips we’ve had. After we got back to the boat, we took the dinghy to shore and climbed to the top of the hill overlooking the cove. The view was great – and risking bear attack – we picked some blueberries. Another “must see” is the Pool at the end of Baie Fine. Instead of the mostly gray granite we’d been seeing, the hills here are white quartz. From a distance, it looks like there is snow on them. The guide books mentioned that this was a beautiful, sheltered place to anchor. The biggest drawback being that it is filled with weeds. They’re not kidding, as became quite apparent when we saw others pulling up their anchors. After we got anchored we were visited by a big snapping turtle. It may be that people feed him from the boats, because he kept hanging around. Joe even got him to bite on his fishing lure. He bit it in half. We decided not to go swimming. A few days later we learned that the turtle – possibly dubbed Humphrey – greets most boats when they arrive. The next morning we hiked up the hill – a bigger hill than the last – and had another great view of the anchorage below. The bonus here was Topaz Lake – and more blue berries for Joe. The wind really picked up while we were up there and once we got back to the boat Joe decided that the anchor was not holding. This is a problem with anchoring in weeds. The other problem is getting the weeds off the chain and the anchor. It turned out to be about a three hour job to pull and clean the chain and anchor, move to the other side of the Pool and anchor again. This time adding lines from the bow and the stern to trees on the shore. We kept position nicely for the night but had to go through the whole weed removal thing in the morning before we left. Well, Joe had to remove the weeds – and clamor up on shore to retrieve the lines from the trees. In the rain. ..light rain. Anyway, we got going and got a call from Fred and Linda checking on our location. Turns out we were both heading the same place at the same time. We came out of Baie Fine, which looks like a fjord – high hills on both sides of the narrow bay - into the wide open waters of Frazer Bay. The wind was kickin’! After crossing the bay and waiting for a swing bridge that only opens hourly, we arrived at Little Current on Manitoulin Island. Okay, we’ve been on waterways for months that basically don’t have tides or currents. So we’re thinking that these folks up here don’t know what current is to begin with, and they named it Little Current. It is evidently mis-named - BIG Current would be better. Between the wind – which causes the current – and the current, docking there is an adventure. Joe rose to the challenge and we got settled in for a one night stay for provisioning and pumping out. Little Current is a good provisioning stop – nothing is very far, and the grocery stores will deliver. The biggest drawback was having to walk up the hill to get cell service! The next morning, however, the wind continued to blow. Actually, it increased to 35mph with higher gusts to 45mph. Between that and the swirling current, we decided to stay put. The following morning was still a bit scary getting out, backing out of the slip then backing sideways to the current in the narrow fairway. Joe didn't hit anything and we were off. Another place we’d been told to stop was Kagawong, which calls itself Ontario’s prettiest village. I don’t know about that, but there is a nice trail along the river (creek!) to Bridal Veil Falls.
The falls are definitely the best we’ve seen on the trip and are also a popular place to swim. It was in the mid-sixties – the air and the water! We’d decided to make it a lunch stop, but had trouble finding a place to eat. A young man in a shop said that the trailer up by the falls has really good fish. So, we hiked up, had fish and chips – we’ve finally learned to order double fish and split small chips(fries). From Kagawong we’d hoped to make it to the Benjamin Islands, but the windy conditions made Logan Bay on Clapperton Island a better option. The landscape there reminded us more of North Carolina than Canada – no visible rocks – just a flat island with trees on it. The next morning we were ready to try the entrance into the Benjamin Islands. There is a passage between some small islands/rocks that went just fine. Once we got into the harbor in the area between North and South Benjamin, I got out on the bow to watch for rocks as Joe cruised the area looking for a good place to anchor. I did a less than stellar job as Carolyn Ann slightly touched the top of a rock - so much for the bottom paint. We learned that we’d actually arrived too early in the day. As we poked around, more boats left. Once we’d finally anchored in about 27’ of water (with 275’ of chain out), even more boats left, opening up some prime anchorages. Finally settled, we took a sweep around in the dinghy looking for that pesky rock. The ones that I had spotted turned out to be 10’ deep; we finally found one that was only about 3’ deep. How we managed to cross the one wrong spot…! Anyway, we took the dinghy to South Benjamin and landed it on the smooth granite. This island is different than any we’d seen. It is pink granite that is very smooth and rounded rather than craggy – some of it looks more like sand dunes. The pink color doesn’t show much in photos because of the layer of lichen covering it, but when walking you can see areas that are lichen-free. In the evening we were finally treated to a beautiful sunset. The next day was just beautiful – seventy degrees and sunny. We loaded up the dinghy and, with Fred and Linda following in theirs, we toured the Benjamins and nearby Croker Island. The turquoise water hasn’t really materialized, but I’ve never seen clearer water. The people with cottages on the islands use it for drinking water – some filter it, some don’t. We found a sandy beach on Croker Island and, once Joe and Fred got the fire going, cooked hot dogs – a traditional North Channel activity. After lunch, we continued our tour around the south end of South Benjamin – oohing and aahing the whole way. Again we feel like this was one of the high points of the trip. After dinner, Fred and Linda joined us for fresh blue berry cobbler and another great sunset. We had decided that there was nothing left in the North Channel to top the Benjamins, and were also anxious to get back to the US, so we decided to head toward Drummond Island the next morning. O-dark early, Joe awoke to the sound of chain scraping on rock. He didn’t think we were actually dragging but couldn’t go back to sleep. We pulled anchor and left the harbor about 6:30am under skies that had turned ugly again. It was a long day, in and out of choppy seas and drizzle, but nothing major. Drummond Island is the traditional place to clear customs. When we got nearby, Joe called for instructions. Turns out that we had all the paperwork we needed to check in by phone – no hassles! We anchored in turquoise water at Harbor Island.
We were awakened early the next morning by a terrific thunderstorm. Compensation for all the fireworks we keep missing, I guess. Lying on the foam-rubber mattress seemed like the safest place to be, so we just stayed put until it passed. Then we made a short run to DeTour Village on the UP of Michigan where we could swap out our Canadian money and pick up a few groceries.
The next day was our last stop in Lake Huron, which Georgian Bay and the North Channel are part of. We arrived at Mackinac Island Marina late in the afternoon and had to drop anchor for a while to wait for a space. Young America arrived a short time later and were sent to an auxiliary dock because the marina was full. Mackinac Island has been inhabited for a long time - first by Indians, who considered it sacred ground (the turtle changed by Gitchi Manitou into an island), then it was a center for the fur trade, later fishing, then became a tourist destination beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. For the most part, motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island. During the summer horses, bikes and feet are the primary modes of transportation. In the winter they allow snowmobiles. Actually, late winter is the only time those who live on the island can come and go on their own schedule - by snowmobile across the "ice bridge." They save their Christmas trees and, when the lake is frozen hard, the trees are "planted" in holes drilled into the ice, marking a highway for the five mile trip to St. Ignace. Just one of the tidbits we learned when we took a carriage tour of the island. We passed, but didn't go into, the Grand Hotel which has been in a couple movies and claims to have the longest covered porch in the world- and charges you $10 to cross it. We stopped at Arch Rock which was formed by glacial action - or maybe an Indian princess' tears. There is also Fort Mackinac which changed from US to British back to US hands. We decided not to tour it, but could hear the bugler and cannon fire several times a day. There are also lots of B & B's with beautiful gardens - recycled manure has a lot to do with that, they say. While the carriage tour took us up and down some big hills, there is also a flat path about 8 1/2 miles long that circumnavigates the island. We'd considered biking that, but the weather looked iffy in the morning so we passed on it. As usual, by late afternoon, the sun was shining!
After all the secluded areas in the North Channel, it was strange to be among the crowds, but we enjoyed our short visit - glad to be back in the US of A. (it's not always updated at the same time as this one, but I catch up eventually!)


John said...

Some of the best pictures yet! Roasting in the Florida heat has me drooling for a trip north. I guess I will have to "settle" for Napa Valley labor day weekend rather than a trawler ride through Lake Michigan ;-(. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I remember sailing in the North Channel while I was at Camp Hayo-Went-Ha when I was younger. It was by far the best trip I've ever taken. Your pictures and descriptions brought back such great memories. :)