Tuesday, August 4, 2015

North Channel 2015 - Home safe in Sarnia!

We made it!

After over 650 miles of sailing (which translates into well over 100 hours on the water) and 16 days we arrive back in our home marina in Sarnia.   We are tanned, tired and anxious to get home.  Ana did all the packing and most of the cleaning during the sail from Grand Bend this morning so in no time we have the boat unloaded, the van packed and we are on the highway driving at 125 kph back to Paris.  Life seems very different traveling at this speed, covering distances so rapidly, seeing the blur of cars whizzing by you, watching the clock.  It always takes a while to acclimatize ourselves back to the speed of life on land.

It feels as if we have been gone for months.  These sailing trips have a way of warping space and time, but in a good way.  And it feels like you have to earn every single mile you travel, unlike cars and planes where the miles whiz by quickly and effortlessly.

Our dear Bella Blue performed magnificently the whole way through and I feel like she is a member of our family.  Once again, she brought us home safely, and asked for nothing in return except perhaps the occasional clearing of spiderwebs in the rigging and sticky bugs on the transom.

Doing these sailing trips always leaves me with a real sense of accomplishment, especially as a father.  It is my opinion that any family who can survive in 150 square feet of space for 24 hours a day over two weeks without anybody suffering a black eye or being hurled overboard may be onto something.

We are now more than halfway through the boating season with August and September remaining.  We may do another one or two long weekend trips, but overall I am pretty happy with what we have managed to cover this season - especially considering the boat started the year in Port Dover and the weekend weather for most of May and June was terrible.  By the end of the season I expect we will have seen as much or more of Lake Huron than 90% of the local boaters.  But that was the reason we moved the boat here - to see and do as much as possible in one season.  At the moment we are not certain what we will do with the boat next year, but we are leaning towards taking her back to Lake Erie and doing a season in Port Colborne at the east end of the lake.  We would certainly like to explore more here, such as Georgian Bay, Lake Michigan and even Lake Superior, but it is such a large area that we simply need longer than a two week stretch to cover it properly.  So I think the next time we are here it will be a full summer trip when we can do the Trent-Severn waterway and fully explore all there is to see and do.

I created a Google map with the entire track of our trip, so if anybody is interested in seeing our exact route, please have a look at https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zCCq-j9b3euQ.klk-Y-BDgpNk&usp=sharing

So that's about it.  Now, back to a different reality...

North Channel 2015 - Grand Bend

We motor out of the harbour at 6:30, bid farewell to the salt mine and point the boat towards Grand Bend, which is 30 miles south.  The waves are big but coming from slightly behind the boat, making for a much smoother ride than the pounding you get when you are sailing directly into them.

We approach the main beach just after noon and sail by to see the massive crowd that has already formed.  I was hoping to be able to anchor out here and dingy into the beach, but it is much too choppy for that so we proceed into the marina and get tied up to a dock with the help of the dock master.  Once on shore the sun feels twice as hot so we slap on a touch of sunscreen and walk into town.

There is nowhere else like Grand Bend on a sunny Saturday of a summer long weekend.  In fact, if you had never been there, and were taken there blindfolded, plopped down on a beach chair, and then had the blindfold removed, you would not think you were in Canada.  The expansive beach with its soft, clean, light brown sand and the incredible turquoise water would leave no doubt that you were in the Caribbean.  But then you go for a swim and notice that the water is cold and there is no salt in it.  The beach is lined with sunbathers, people playing volleyball, kids playing in the sand, and large tent structures where multi generational Indian, Portuguese and Chinese families have set out full buffets of delicious smelling food and are laughing and eating.  So you follow the crowd and walk up the main street to find every stereotypical beach shop you imagine - vendors selling flip flops, inflatable beach toys, wake boards, t-shirts that say things like “I’m with Stupid”, hot dogs, candy floss, hats and sunglasses.  There are wild looking bars selling buckets of Corona beer for $25.  There are guys trying to talk you into taking a parasail ride, or renting a Sea Doo.  And the crowd, whoah boy.  There are scary looking bikers with their scarier looking wives riding pristine Harleys.  There are muscled, tattooed shirtless dudes with washboard stomachs everywhere you look.  There are hot chicks in bikinis strutting down the street, proudly displaying their ample assets.  There are Asian tourists taking photographs of everything.  There are Italian grandmas and grandpas holding hands and eating ice cream.  There are beer gutted, hairy dudes wearing Budweiser hats, and packs of lads with pencil thin beard lines, expensive sunglasses and flashy smiles looking to score.  There are families with kids and babies in strollers.  There are groups of bachelorette girls, already drunk, with Sharpie marker writing on their bellies.  There are fishermen carrying their rods and bait buckets.  There are posers on sport bikes winding up the engines.  There is a steady line of cars, from monster trucks to Lamborghinis to roadsters to souped-up Honda Civics to station wagons, some cruising the strip, others looking for impossible to find parking spots.

Then you notice your first clue - Poutine vendors.  French fries slathered in cheese curds and gravy, sold nowhere else but in the Great White North.  Oh yes, and the Canadian flag tattoos.  Everywhere you look you see them – they are on biceps, backs, stomachs, necks, calves, thighs, breasts and asses.  You are in Canada.

We walk down main street, stopping to browse at every second shop.  We work our way down to the beach complex where there is a huge kids play area and soaker pad.  The kids horse around in there for a while and we find a shady place to sit and do some people watching.  We try to go for a beach walk, but once we get down to the water’s edge, there are just so many people to weave through that we call it off, and instead go for lunch at the beach-side Gators restaurant.  For such an over-the-top tourist place, the food is better than you would expect, and the prices are very reasonable.

After lunch we continue browsing the shops, but this time we walk up the other side of main street.  Ana finds me a pair of sunglasses, nearly identical to the scratched ones I have for ten bucks.  The kids each buy a bag of mixed candy.  Ana buys a couple of small things.  I am shopped out nearly before I began, so I just loiter in front of the stores and look around.  When there are no more stores to explore, we walk back to the marina.

As we are crossing the main street we are passed by a young girl wearing skimpy, black lingerie bottoms and a top, but the top isn’t actually hooked on; she is just holding it over her chest.  There’s a skinny dude walking with her.  They both look high on something other than life.  The kids see them but it barely registers as they are more focused on scoping out an ice cream shop.

We do find an ice cream shop along the way and buy some cones and enjoy them during the walk.  Back at the boat we chill out for a while in the cockpit, enjoying the hot sun, but watching the threatening looking black clouds on the horizon, inching closer.  As the clouds approach, this causes a mass exodus of people from the main beach, and from the marina where we are docked we can see people packing up their gear, getting into their cars and queuing up to leave.  Soon those violent, cold wind gusts  arrive and start smashing the boats around.  But then, inexplicably, the black clouds circle around a bit, and then move south and all of a sudden the blue sky and hot sun return and we are back to where we left off!  Ana and the kids decide to go down to the small beach that is just a short walk from the marina, and I mix up a rum and coke and Cuban cigar and am left solo in the cockpit with a lovely setlist of music playing in the background.  All is good in the world.

Nearly one Cuban later, Ana and the kids return and as they are washing off their feet with the tap on the dock I see a big snake cruising on top of the water heading in their direction.  I call Ana and motion to the snake, hoping she will see it and distract the kids so that Magnus doesn’t notice it.  But she is further away and thinks it is a turtle so she calls the kids over to see it.  Magnus is temporarily paralyzed, but snaps out of it and doesn’t get nearly as riled up as I was expecting, although he does make a weak-hearted pledge to never swim in Lake Huron again.

There has been a steady stream of people returning to the beach, but the storm cloud once again appear on the horizon, then there is a mass exodus from the beach back to the cars.  Then the clouds  break up.  Everyone marches back to the beach.  This happens several times, and it’s hilarious!  In fact, it seems that we could sit here in our slip all day and keep ourselves easily entertained by watching all the activity going on around us.

It is soon time for the highlight of the day – sunset.  We walk down to the beach, stand together and are mesmerized by nature’s show.  There are many people there and there’s something inspiring about so many strangers being drawn together, on the beach, in this place, at this exact moment, to enjoy something so simple, and yet so dramatic.  The blazing red sun eventually drops into Lake Huron with a small flash and the show is over, but nobody is in a rush to leave.

We finish up the final evening of our sailing vacation by attempting to watch a full movie, but of course we just can’t keep awake.  Movies and sailing somehow don’t seem to fit together very well.

North Channel 2015 - Goderich

The day begins early for me at 4:30am as we push off the dock.  The water is still choppy from the previous day’s wind, but there is a bright full moon that leads the way.  This morning I have to keep on close watch as there are many fishing boats out in the lake – I see at least 20 of them in the first 15 miles which is a stark contrast to most of the days we have sailed, surely because we are now much closer to shore.
The wind is blowing at an average of 15 knots which is pretty good for sailing, but the wind is shifting around making a confused mess of the waves and providing for a very rough ride.  I have both the main and head sails out and the boat is heeling like crazy with the edge rail coming close to dipping into the water.  This is always fun for the guy at the wheel but wreaks havoc for the crew down below who get pelted from side to side and rammed around.  It’s pretty hard to eat a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios on a 45 degree angle.
We arrive in Goderich around 1:30 pm.  It is very easy to spot because it has the largest salt mine in the world on its shores located in a deep water harbour,  and there are huge buildings there that serve as a useful navigational aid.  We get a slip at the Maitland Valley Marina, which is located right beside the commercial marina.  It is small, a bit run down, but very homey place, and they have a pool.
The young man working the marina is quite different than the standard issue dock hand.  He is well spoken, articulate, cheerful and competent.  After helping us dock he demonstrates to Magnus how to properly secure a line to a cleat.  We spend some time talking with him and find out he has been here for three summers, works 70 hour weeks, already has an engineering degree, and is enrolled in a law program.  I would have stopped at the engineering.
He gives us a ride into the town centre and a guided tour along the way.  We have been to Goderich once or twice before on day trips years ago, but this was before the tornado of 2011 that ripped their iconic downtown to shreds.  It was an F3 tornado and caused in the neighbourhood of $150 million in damage to the town.  The town centre in this planned community is a unique giant octagonal roundabout and unlike any other in Canada.  You can walk around and around all day long and never have any clue what direction you are facing or how many times you have completed the circuit.  One time I paced the octagon while Ana was shopping and reported back to her that I found at least three cool Irish pubs.  But it turns out it was just the one, and I have the memory of a goldfish.
We have lunch at the one and only Paddy O’Neils.  Magnus and I grease it up with burgers and fries while the ladies go for pasta dishes.  We then take our newly acquired calories and expend a few of them walking the octagon.  The kids and I hang at a book/toy store while Ana scours the clothing shops for deals.  The town centre looks great as nearly all of the shops have installed fancy new street side signs and awnings.  Though the century old trees are all gone from the central park, which used to provide such lovely shade in the summer, it has been replanted and the new trees are growing quickly.
We enjoy a nice walk back to the marina.  Back at the boat I realize it’s 4:30 – quitting time – so I crack a beer and enjoy a nice end to the work week I didn’t participate in.  But I do think about my colleagues back at the office slamming shut their laptops, overturning their inboxes, gathering up their lunch kits, and racing out the office door and out to their cars without looking back, anxious to kick back and enjoy the long weekend.
I am actually mentally prepared for the trip to be over.  We are in the home stretch now and Sarnia is no longer so far away as we’ve been doing some long sailing days and making the miles.  Ana and discuss our vacation and agree that one week away from work is not long enough to have a real break.  Two weeks gives you enough time to clear your head, stop counting the days, and really get away and feel what life is like without the cloud of work hanging over your head.  The single week trips we normally do to a resort in the Caribbean during the winter months are certainly a lot of fun, but it always seems like we are in a race to relax.  I think about my colleagues and most of the people we know and I really can’t think of many who ever take two consecutive weeks of vacation.  An obvious reason is that many people only get two weeks of vacation a year (damn you Ontario!) so that is completely understandable as half of those days are easily taken up by time you need just to get personal things done.  That leaves one measly week.  But then you also have people who have worked with the same company for years, and therefore get four weeks plus or school teachers who count their time off in intervals of months instead of days.  Why not take longer trips?  Maybe people are simply broke and leave no budget for vacation, or maybe most just don’t like being away from home for that long.  It certainly works for us.  In fact, it makes our family thrive.
The rest of the evening is spent chilling on the boat and we all retire early, ready for the last full day of our trip tomorrow sailing to Grand Bend.

North Channel 2015 - Port Elgin and Southampton

OK, let’s have a look at Port Elgin with a clear head.  The marina is very large and well protected.  There is a long beach to the south of the marina that looks very well utilized.  There are at least two lakefront restaurants, both look to be heavy on the carnival food and light on nutrition so we may have to search elsewhere for lunch.  Behind the marina is big park that is surrounded by railroad tracks and a mini steam train that travels by every thirty minutes or so and is filled with people.
We have breakfast in the boat and are all relieved that today is not a sailing day as there is a twenty knot west wind blowing that has kicked up some very large waves.  We get ourselves checked in and paid up with the marina staff and decide that we will actually remain at the gas dock because the heavy wind will make it difficult to get docked anywhere else.
We lock up the boat and begin our walk into town.  We pass a steady succession of tree-lined residential streets with houses ranging from small cottages to multi-unit rentals to century homes to large new builds.  In somebody’s yard is a beautiful 1962 Plymouth for sale that is baby blue and has an immaculate interior.  I tell the kids this would be a perfect first car for them, but then that leads to a discussion on driving rules, high school, getting jobs, girlfriends, boyfriends, and I just have to cut it off there because the whole conversation is making me anxious.  Those problems can wait, let the kids be kids while there is still time.
The town center is 11 blocks away and is full of shops and very busy with slow moving traffic.  We check out a few shops and find a sushi restaurant, so stop in for lunch.  We are all big sushi fans so we order up a sizeable meal and consume all that nice raw fish and rice.  This trip has been good for food and we have been eating quite healthy fare.  We’ve stayed away from the fast food and have actually eaten out a lot less then we usually do during our boat trips.  But one thing that really suffers on these trips is the amount of exercise we get, which is minimal.  All of those hours spent sailing and confined to the 150 square feet of living and sleeping space does wonders for muscle atrophy so we try to at least get some walking in during our shore breaks.
After lunch we explore the other side of the street and find something brand new – an automated French fry vending machine.  So much for the healthy eating, let’s follow up that sushi with a French fry chaser!  Ana puts $2.50 in the machine and it leaps into action.  Through the glass front we can see a collection of cut potatoes drop into a small vat of hot oil, where they bubble away for several minutes.  A wire basket then scoops up the fries and launches them into the stainless steel slide.  While this is happening another arm has knocked a paper tray below the chute and it slides into place just in time to catch the golden delicious fries coming down the slide.  Magnus opens the plastic window, reaches in and retrieves the perfect French fries!  There is even a tray inside the machine with packs of ketchup, salt and pepper, so we squirt on a bit of ketchup and start eating.  The fries are delicious and we stand in wonder at this marvellous invention.  “No,” I tell the kids, “You cannot get one for your birthday.”
During one of the clothing store stops I had called our friend Andrew’s mom Carol, who lives with her husband Tom in Southampton, which is located only a few miles north of Port Elgin.  She offered to pick us up at 4:30 and bring us back to their place for a drink.  We make a final stop at the small grocery store and pick up a few supplies and then walk back down to the boat.  The kids and Ana walk over to the beach for a swim while I remain at Bella Blue with a cold beer and a few sailing magazines I’ve been meaning to read.
At 4:30 sharp Carol is at the dock.  She gives us a long, slow tour of the area in and around Southampton.  Her family has deep connections here and she has owned a cottage steps from the lake for over 25 years.  We arrive at her house – a beautiful, giant, newly constructed house in a subdivision just outside of town – and meet up with Tom her husband.  We have met then both several times at our friend Andrew’s place, but it has definitely been a while.  We have a great time with them having drinking on their deck and enjoying appetizers while the kids explore the yard and forest nearby.  Carol is one funny lady and has an endless stream of stories, while Tom mainly sits, listens, and throws in the odd hilarious comment.  Carol even shows us her collection of Andrew pictures, which I capture with my camera to be used as future blackmail material.
At the end of the night we are sitting in Carol’s car in the driveway getting ready to leave.  A creature wobbles out of the bush and slowly walks between us and the neighbour’s house.  “Is that a racoon?” Ana asks.
“I don’t think so.  I can’t tell what it is, maybe a big skunk?” I reply.
“It doesn’t have a stripe.  Must be a raccoon.”
“Wait, I think it’s a porcupine!” I finally decide.
I have not seen a live porcupine for 20 years, and Ana and the kids have never seen one.  What a strange looking creature!  I open the door of the car to run over and take a picture of it, but he disappears around the far side of the house next door.
Carol shout out to Tom, who is standing at the front door, and tells him about the porcupine.  Tom slowly turns, returns inside and closes the door.
“Where’s he going?” I ask.
“Probably to get his shotgun,” replies Carol.
We leave before the porcupine hunting expedition gets underway and are soon back at the boat.  We bid goodbye to Carol, thank her for the lovely evening, and call it a night.

North Channel 2015 - Port Elgin


We glide out of Killarney shortly after 4am under a clear, starry night.  The marina looks beautiful with the LED lights outlining each of the docks.  Once we are clear of the harbour Ana goes back to bed after I get my lifejacket on and tie myself into the cockpit.  This is something we always do when only one of us is on watch.
I have a course set for Tobermory and I don’t see any other boats for hours.  Though the day started out completely calm, the wind slowly starts to build and by the time we are approaching Tobermory there are three foot waves and the wind is right in our face.  Our original plan was to stop in Tobermory for a pump-out, diesel and groceries, but we decide instead to skip it and head directly for Port Elgin, which is down the east coast of Lake Huron and the first major stop from Tobermory.  The entire trip will be approximately 104 miles so it is going to be a long sailing day, especially with the choppy seas.
Though the boat is getting belted by waves, the kids sleep in until 9:30.  Magnus is in the aft cabin with his head next to the straining diesel engine and Stella is in the v-berth slumbering right through the rising and crashing of the bow into the waves.  That’s the advantage of starting kids when they are young – it all just seems normal to them.  It makes our lives much easier.
I am able to keep a cell signal most of the time and there has been a wind warning and squall warning issued until 6:30 pm.  Hopefully we don’t catch it, but if we do then we’ll just reduce sail and ride it out.  Magnus starts feeling a little seasick so he pops a Dramamine pill and it sends him almost immediately back to sleep.
The day lumbers on, the wind continues to blow, and the darkening skies to the south start to threaten.  We have a faint cell phone signal so I take the opportunity to upload a bunch of journals to the blog site.  That eats up a few hours, but time still seems to drag by and the kids are getting restless and bored.  Those dark skies finally meet us head on and we are hit with a big rain storm and strong, gusty winds.  Some of the waves are getting to the two meter level so the boat is getting rocked about, and since we are heading into them there is a fair bit of pounding as the boat rises up one wave and smashes down into the next.
It is 7pm and Stella is asking me every ten minutes how much longer it is to Port Elgin.  She is driving me crazy.  I decide it’s time to shake things up so I put on “Uptown Funk” – the latest pop music juggernaut – and challenge the kids to a dance competition to try and break their Great Lakes Funk.  Well, their sour mood has poisoned their sense of fun, so as the only participant in the challenge I give it my best.  Most of my regular moves are hard to pull off because of the boat heeling and rocking, so I look even more awkward and rhythmically challenged than normal.  But I do manage to get a couple smiles out of Stella while Magnus keeps his eyes glued to the video playing on his pc and is silently thankful none of his friends are around to see this.
After dancing for what seems like an hour, but was sadly only five minutes, I abandon that line of entertainment and get back to my position at the helm, leaving the rest of the crew to mellow down below in their stew of discontent.
We are finally within visual distance of Port Elgin and those last four miles are a killer.  The closer we get, the further away it appears, and I swear the trip log and clock are running in reverse.  I grit my teeth, concentrate on the task at hand, and muscle through those last few miles as the sun is beginning to set behind me.  We finally reach the harbour and motor slowly into the gas dock where we are shocked to find about a hundred people sitting in lawn chairs and on benches or walking around eating hot dogs and ice cream.  They are all there for the nightly Port Elgin show – the sunset.  Now normally when there is a sizeable crowd on the dock, it’s when you flub every part of the landing process and make a complete fool of yourself.  I feared for this today because it was a long, hard sail and we were all tired and cranky, and this is never a good recipe for a successful docking.  But you know what?  It was fine.  No problems.  And we were completely ignored by every single person on that dock, almost as if we didn’t exist at all.
We get the boat tied up then eject the kids and tell them to go explore the beach while we make supper.  I take a few snaps of the setting sun, which is sensational with the backdrop of storm clouds.  Ana cooks up a delicious meal of Mahi, corn, beans and salad and we eat with conviction.  This highly anticipated feeding knocks my lights out and I am sleeping by 10pm.  I don’t know what happened to the rest of them, but as I was heading to bed Magnus was getting the Pictionary board set up...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

North Channel 2015 - Killarney

Once again, it is an achingly beautiful morning.  All is quiet in the anchorage except for the sound of birds.  In fact, it’s so quiet I refrain from peeing off the back of the boat so that I don’t break the magical silence of the morning hour.
Stella is awake early and looking for breakfast so we make a round of oatmeal and load them up with the fresh blueberries we picked yesterday – delicious!  There is some talk of hiking back to Topaz Lake for a morning swim, but we decide instead to pull anchor and get an early start for Killarney, which is only about 20 miles away.  The ride back down the Baie Fine channel is marvellous and Ana is at the helm which leaves me to ride at the bow of the boat looking into the crystal clear water.  We stop about halfway up Narrow Bay for a quick morning swim and bath and the water is a balmy 25 degrees.
We travel south across Frazer Bay towards Creak Island and Badgeley Point.  Between these is the “Hole in the Wall” – an extremely narrow channel that can only be passed with high water and a boat with shallow draft, but which offers a shortcut to Lansdowne Channel.  How could I resist?
As we enter the channel I power the engine down to near idle.  As we’re sizing up the channel we see a good sized power boat coming through and as he passes by us I ask him how much water is in the channel.  He says five or six feet, which is more than enough for us.  We slowly move towards the hole, and the water gets shallower as the channel narrows.  Ana is at the bow of the boat having a near panic attack as we pass through the tightest part of the channel, which is only about six feet wide and five feet deep.  Any move right or left could potentially ground us so I keep her straight and true and we pass through without a scrape!
That was to be our only excitement for the trip as the remaining miles through the Lansdowne Channel are trouble-free, besides a little tricky manoeuvring through the channel markers.  We arrive in Killarney on what must be the hottest day of the summer – 33 degrees.  Ana has reserved us a dock at the Killarney Mountain Lodge and the dock hand is there to catch our lines and guide us in.  Our friends Mika and Robin and their kids Gavin and Kirstin whom we met back in Little Current are also docked here and it is Kirstin’s birthday today, which is why Stella was keen to get to Killarney as soon as possible.  This is the only marina in Killarney with a pool, so we get our swimsuits on, walk over to the pool area and find our friends already there enjoying the cool water and hot sun.  It is also the only marina in Killarney with a helicopter pad, and along the way we see a family and their dog disembark from their 58’ Sea Ray power boat (driven by a hired captain) and walk over to the helicopter that is waiting for them.  I hear the dad say, “Hon, are we sending the dog home in the chopper?”  I say make him walk.
After a quick chat with our friends I go for a stroll around the lodge and I am surprised at what I find.  Besides the pool, they have a huge games room with a billiards table, ping pong, dozens of games and books, and a large shuffleboard surface with those long sticks you use to propel the discs.  So much potential for injury!  There is a big tv room with leather couches and a huge, white tablecloth restaurant with a classy menu.  There is also an octagonal lounge area with an imposing fireplace in the centre, huge windows, dozens of comfy chairs and loungers, and an expansive bar.  There are stuffed animal heads hanging all over the place, giving it that special Canadian touch.
Ana and I leave the kids in the pool and grab the laundry bag from the boat on the way into town.  We find the laundry right beside the General Store so we load up two machines and then continue our walk.  There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to Killarney, but it is a neat place.  We pass the famous Herbert Fisheries who reportedly make the best fish and chips in the world.  They use fresh lake whitefish and a very thin batter as opposed to the English pub style fish and chips that are usually 95% batter and air.  I am looking forward to trying it tonight.
We continue along the main street to the Sportsman’s Inn, a recently renovated historical landmark in Killarney.  Most of the boats tied up at the marina are 60 foot plus – probably a sign we have entered Wankerville.  Our suspicions are confirmed when we visit the attached marine store and there are a couple arrogant jackasses lipping off the staff.  We decide not to purchase the $9 bags of Doritos and instead walk back to the laundry, switch the clothes from the washers to the dryers and return to the pool.
We have another swim and then return to the boat to enjoy an icy G&T.  Stella and I sit down on the red Adirondack chairs at the end of our dock and watch all the water vehicles going back and forth.  Here comes a kayaker.  There goes a paddleboarder and his dog.  There’s a dingy full of kids.  Here comes a giant power boat, followed by a sailboat, followed by a canoe.  And look at this – here comes the marina’s mobile pump out vessel with a giant waste tank, gas powered pump, and two staff who look like they would rather be doing something else.  Anything else.  We decide the boat’s name should be either, “Pump a Dump” or “Honey Bucket”.
Around 5:45 our friends pull up in their dingy and we walk over to Hebert’s to see if they really do serve the best fish and chips in the world.  There is a substantial queue and most of the inside and outside tables are full of people eating.  There is a huge “Fish and Chips” sign on the building leaving no mistake we have come to the right place.  There is also a menu board there with an exquisitely simple listing.  You can get a large fish and chips or a small fish and chips.  Or you can just get fish.  Or just get chips.  Makes ordering a breeze.  We order two large and two small and as I’m waiting for it I hear a lady in line ask the server, “Excuse me.”
“Yes?” the server replies.

“Do you serve anything besides fish?” she asks.
“Uhhh.  Chips?” comes the unintentionally witty reply.
“Oh.  Nothing else then huh?  Ok.  I guess I’ll have the fish and chips.”
The meal is delicious.  Neither the fish nor chips are greasy and the food is not over-salted.  Plus it is served piping hot.  Is it the best in the world?  I can’t remember having anything better.  And there is not a scrap of food left over when the four of us are done eating.
We go for a walk around town to let the food settle, but also to try and free up some room for ice cream, although the kids never seem to have a problem with that.  We find what Mika calls, “the field of broken dreams” – a small, overgrown patch of land with abandoned boats.  One of them even has some trees growing up through it.
Our walk is cut short by attacking mosquitoes so we high-tail it to the ice cream shop, get some dessert, and then return to the dock and soak up the last of the days sunshine.  We spend a while in the games room after this, but everyone is exhausted after a hot day so we call it a night and prepare for tomorrow morning’s early departure for Tobermory.

North Channel 2015 - Baie Fine

We are up at 5:30 and underway shortly after that.  Today marks the furthest point away from Sarnia we will be – about 250 miles – and now we will begin the long journey back.  Our route today will take us 60 miles so it is going to be a long one, especially since there is no wind to give us additional speed above the engine power.
I take a few photos of the glassy lake surface and sun as it is rising.  What a beautiful morning.  We have really lucked out with the weather on this trip.  It is possible to get atrocious weather, even at this time of year, so having a string of 30 degree days is a nice touch and makes the trip that much more enjoyable.
We cruise east through what is called the Whalesback Channel, round a narrow pass at Little Detroit and then proceed south-east through the McBean Channel.  We pass north of Fresnette and Fox Islands and continue all the way to Rouse Islands, and then turn south into the Wabuno Channel and finally into Little Current where we stop for a pump-out and diesel.  We make it there for 11:30 so have just enough time to get over to the bridge for the 12:00 opening.  From here we travel east past Strawberry Island and then turn north-east across Frazer Bay to the entrance of Narrow Bay.  At the end of this long bay we finally enter Baie Fine (pronounced “Bay Fin”) which is a slender channel leading to a completely secluded and protected anchorage called The Pool.  We arrive at 3:30pm, get anchored, then hop in the dingy and paddle over to the footpath that will lead us up to Topaz Lake.
We push our atrophied bodies up the rugged path for about a mile and reach the lake.  Since we did not see anybody else on the trail we are surprised to find a large number of people at the lake including a big group of goofy, giggly teenage girls and I have no idea how they got there because they did not arrive by boat.  I suspect they must have hiked in and their camp councillor couldn’t take it anymore and ran away like a madman through the bush.
Topaz Lake is slightly acidic, but enough so to kill off all living things so the water is incredibly clear, cold and deep.  I’m a little disappointed that we forgot to bring a mask, but nonetheless we find a space on the rocks to leave our bag and shoes and we all jump into the refreshing water which instantly cleanses us of the day’s grime.  Magnus and I swim over to the steep rock face that serves as the diving platform and scramble up the rocks to the 4 meter tower.  It’s a rewarding kowabunga as we fly through the air and plunge feet-first into the depths.  I swim back over to where Ana and Stella are but Magnus stays to have a few more jumps.  Before long, people start leaving and soon we are the only ones left, so we take a few minutes to enjoy the quiet and take some photos of the lake before drying off and heading back down the trail to the dingy.
Back at the boat we get to work on supper.  Tonight we are having grilled steaks, foil pack potatoes and salad.  Incredibly, this is the first time we have used the bbq on this trip, having made most of our meals on the stove, in the oven, or in the form of various fillings on bread or in buns.  The meal is delicious, and after we eat we sit out in the cockpit and enjoy a drink while the kids fish for crappies, sunfish and gobys and use up some of those worms we bought back in Tobermory, which seems like such a very long time ago.
When the kids tire of fishing they hop in the dingy and take it out for a paddle.  Magnus has become quite skilled with the oars so he takes his sister for a royal swamp tour, paddling right into the reeds at the end of the bay where they retrieve a purple pool noodle!  They deposit it back at the mother ship, and then continue on to the other side of the bay where they land and explore the rocky shore.  It is so quiet and calm that we can hear Stella laughing the entire way.
After dusk we hear a bit of commotion and look outside to see the tall ship from Gore Bay arriving.  The captain’s shouts and orders break the serenity of the bay and they seem to have a tough time getting anchored.  They arrive right at mosquito hour so I feel sorry for the chaps who were ordered to dive in the weedy water, swim to shore and tie the boat up to some trees.  I shut the hatch and we say goodnight to Baie Fine.

North Channel 2015 - John Island

We’ve been listening to “The Moose” - a local FM station broadcast from somewhere on Manitoulin Island.  They play the exact same set list every day so you can anticipate with near certainty what song is coming up next.  But this morning they surprised me.  It’s a beautiful, clear day with a steady ten knot breeze pushing us along under sail power from Gore Bay to John Island.  We have The Moose blaring from all speakers and suddenly they crank out that crunchy guitar riff and scratching that is instantly recognizable as Ton Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina”.  Damn, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that song!  This instigates an impromptu and totally unexpected family dance party on the Bella Blue, and we are delighted when Ton Loc realizes Sheena is a man and says, “I don’t mess around with no Oscar Meier wiener.  You gotta be sure that your girl is pure for the Funky Cold Medina.”
Ana is in full texting mode with Jacque, updating her on our whereabouts and progress.  When we decided yesterday to meet up today, Jacque put a pork loin operation into motion.  I would normally thaw it, make up a good quantity of dry rub, then pat down the beast with the mixture and let it sit for an hour and then slow roast it on a grill.  Jacque introduced us to a cooking technique called sous-vide, but modified for boaters.  So what you do is grab the bucket you use to clean out your bilge, give her a quick rinse if you have time, then fill it up with lake water.  Then you install a generator and rewire your boat to allow the sous-vide machine to run for 48 hours straight, drawing massive amounts of current.  The sous-vide machine itself is basically a giant stove element with a pump at the end of it and a fancy LED display on top. You stick it in the bucket, along with the meat wrapped in airtight plastic, select the temperature you want your meat to cook to, and then it warms the water accordingly.  It is like a giant version of those little water boiling devices backpackers use to make coffee when they are too cheap to buy one.  You plug it into the wall, stick it in a cup of cold water, which it rapidly boils, and then you dump in some Sanka and voila – shitty coffee!  These little gadgets have been known to blow circuits and even burn down entire hostels when the backpacker forgets about that coffee he thought he wanted and goes out boozing instead.
One additional feature of the sous-vide machine is that it  that can connect to your iPhone so your pork loin can send you texts to assure you it’s enjoying the bath.  Or that the water is too hot.  Or that that boat is on fire.  Or that it’s really not comfortable with the thought of being eaten.  It is a wonderful communication tool.
We sail to the eastern side of John Island and just squeak through the entrance with two or three inches to spare between the bottom of our keel and the boulders below.  I am very fond of taking our boat through inaccessible places, and when David mentioned yesterday that it wasn’t possible to get through the eastern entrance the last time they were there, I couldn’t resist.  Once we get through the shallow bit the channel deeps and widens and reveals several nice looking anchorages.  There are a number of boats here already, but the high water levels seems to have consumed the nice swimming beach that that Jacque told us to look for.
We continue all the way through to the west end of John Island and veer northwards to Beardrop Harbour, which was our alternate meeting place.  We cruise by the perfect anchorage tucked in behind a rocky outpoint, but there is already a flotilla of boats anchored and rafted there so we continue right to the end of the bay looking for another spot.  We find two places that seem okay, but  the west wind picks up a bit and these spots are not well protected, so we turn west and work our way back up to the main anchorage to see if there is space for us there.  There is a small catamaran that appears to also be looking for a place to anchor, and we simultaneously notice that the flotilla of boats seems to be breaking up and leaving, or at least trying to leave.  Though my binoculars I can see a large trawler, a catamaran, a sailboat, and an ancient pontoon boat (perhaps the first one ever built) all tied up together with a mess of lines, bungee cords and fenders.  There are at least three anchors out and as many long lines tied from strategic points on the flotilla to rocks and trees on shore.  There is a dog up on the rocks holding a rope in his mouth, so he too may be playing a role in their anchoring system.
 With binoculars still attached to my face, I slowly turn, pretending to scan the horizon, but what I really want to do is to see what the guys in the catamaran are doing and if they think they are going to scoop my anchoring spot.  Technically, they arrived before me, but I had actually anchored closer to the flotilla, so to me it was a toss-up as to who had dibs on the sweet anchorage.  As I slowly and casually direct the binocular’s attention to the catamaran I see a guy on the bow of the boat, with binoculars, looking straight at me.  I offer a guilty wave that is returned in kind, and we both get back to spying on the flotilla, reassessing our respective positions.  While I have been doing all this strategic planning and reconnaissance work Ana has been making mortadella sandwiches (fancy bologna) so we sit back in the cockpit and enjoy some lunch while watching the anchoring antics before us.
The pontoon boat has broken free, and is now floating around the bay.  There is an older couple driving that one and they are towing a dingy that has a canoe bungee-strapped to the top of it.  I could also see a few large planters on their deck with what looked to be tomatoes growing out of them.  Very homey.  The flotilla had assigned one of their members to go ashore to be on tree rope duty, but he had been standing there a very long time watching the other members untangling anchor lines and sorting out which fendors and spring lines belonged to who.  The trawler breaks free of the pack, and the captain appears amazed, just like those of us watching.  So now we are down to two boats, and those guys take forever.  The same guy is still standing by the tree and the dog has gone to sleep on the rocks.  I can’t even tell what stage they are at, but it takes another thirty minutes before they are actually separated with everybody onboard, floating away from the anchorage.  By this time I’ve decided to let this one go because the cats on the cat obviously want it more than me.  Now there are three of them on the bow of their boat, all looking very intent on claiming the anchorage, with their fingers limber like gunslingers and ready to hit the windlass button to haul anchor.  I’m sure they looked over to me with their binoculars and saw me with a mouthful of bologna sandwich and a beer in my hand and made the correct assumption that I was out of the competition.
As the cat makes its move to claim the anchorage, David and Jacque suddenly appear, steaming hard in their imposing trawler, and for a minute it looks like they are going to ram that cat, split it in two, and victoriously take the anchorage.  As awesome as that would have been, and would have improved this story so much, they are much too nice for that, so they instead set anchor close to us (with no fighting, no insults and no apparent matrimonial damage) and once they have a solid hold, we pull up our anchor and tie up alongside them.
We are welcomed aboard and sit down in their main saloon to do what would you expect on a classic boat in a beautiful anchorage on a hot and sunny day – watch golf on tv.  David has a satellite connection and the PGA Canadian Open is playing on the flat screen.  It must be twenty years since I’ve watched any golf on tv, but I must say that I really enjoy it.  Ana cooks up a few of the homemade Portuguese chorizos we brought along and they make an excellent golf snack.
It’s soon time to take Parker for a leak so I give David a hand lowering the dingy from the top of the boat down into the water with the help of a nifty electric crane.  The kids and I pile into the dingy and we cruise into shore and land on the rocky island.  One of the guys from the cat is also there with his dog so we chat with him while the kids have a fantastic time throwing sticks into the lake for the two dogs to retrieve.  He asks me how I enjoyed my bologna sandwich.
We return to the boat and pick up the ladies to go for a hike and blueberry picking expedition at one of the points further into the bay.  We hike around the steep rocky shoreline and find a few nice patches of berries, but many appear to have been picked over by other boaters.  But we get what we can.  We walk right across the island to the north shoreline and Magnus and Parker jump in the lake for a swim.  On the way back to the dingy there is a tricky spot where we need to hop across a few slippery rocks to avoid the water pools, but Jacque takes a bad step and wipes out.  Her first concern is for her phone because she’s been expecting a text from the pork loin.  Fortunately the momentary dunk hasn’t damaged it, and the text comes through as expected, with the pork loin reporting that it would like to be removed from the hot water now then dry rubbed and scorched over a hot grill.  That sous-vide is some machine.
We return to the boat to begin the final dinner preparations.  Jacque hands me her camera and asks me to photo-document each step of the pork process, which I dutifully do, except the grilling part, as I was given the honour of actually doing the grilling.  We sit down and enjoy a remarkable meal, made that much better by the lovely company and beautiful setting.  The pork is divine and the unique cooking process has delivered a moist, pink texture that is flavourful and tender.  And the pork loin has stopped sending texts to Jacque’s phone.
We follow up dinner with fancy coffees, though there is a moment of matrimonial chaos when David and Jacque can’t seem to agree on the correct electrical socket to be used for the espresso machine.  And yet they have blissful anchoring.  Go figure.  I guess the sore points for couples on a boat are different for everybody!
After a most remarkable day we say goodbye to our lovely new friends, and retire to Bella Blue.  As we plan to leave at 5 the next morning we make sure all the rafting lines will be easy to untie, though I do promise David to give him an extra long honk from our high powered air horn just to assure him we got away safely.