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.

North Channel 2015 - Gore Bay

Today is the main day of the festival and we have a lot to do.  We begin the day with a visit to the marine centre, which has a big used book sale happening on the main floor, several commercial galleries on the second floor, and a nautical museum on the third.  It is a lovely building and an outside deck offers an outstanding view over the bay.  At 10 we walk over to the registration area for daredevils wanting to try out the “rocket boots” that are available for the day.  They are allowing a maximum of 8 people to each have a 30 minute run with these nifty boots that are connected via a giant hose to the exhaust port of a Sea-doo and basically allow you to fly.
Of course, I put my name down, fill out the waiver, pay my ten bucks and the organizer tells me to suit up and get in line as there are only two people in front of me!  So I return to the boat to get my swimsuit and then line up on the dock to watch amateur hour while I await my chance to make a fool of myself.  The system works like this.  You first become David Lee Roth by jamming your fleshy body into a tight wetsuit that is three sizes too small and hugs your body bulges most intimately.  After I sing the chorus of “Panama” I strut to the end of the dock where the rocket boot coach presents said rocket boots and asks me to step into them.  Now this is where you become Gene Simmons because these boots are about 24 inches high and look decidedly dangerous.  I strap them on and now with the Van Halen jumpsuit and the Kiss sex boots, I really do feel like a rock star and I am ready to rock and roll every night and party every day.  Except that right around then I lose my balance, flop down onto the dock and collapse like a clubbed seal into the lake.  The frigid waters causes my body parts to shrink so now the wetsuit fits much better, and the rocket boots have ignited and are producing positive thrust, pushing me through the water like I’m riding a dolphin.  I’m directed by the guy on the Sea-doo to move out into the wider part of the bay and then he tells me to hold on and hits the gas which controls the amount of thrust delivered to the boots.  The first couple times it pushes me up but I’m so damn wobbly that I flop over and can’t get up.  He tells me to slow down and use exaggerated movements.  I soon get the hang of it and, just like that, I am transformed into Tony Stark in his Ironman suit.  After experimenting a bit I’m able to move left and right, forward, and backwards a bit, but that usually causes me to somersault into the water.  As my confidence grows, the operator offers a bit more thrust, and now I’m hovering six feet above the water and it’s not just amazing; it is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced.  I start to get cocky and do a dive down into the water, get pushed underwater by the rocket boots, and then arch my back and shoot straight back up into the air and manage to hold it!  I repeat this a few more times but soon the operator sees where it’s headed (likely a triple back flip, knee to the face, twisted back and finished with a face plant into the deck of the nearby sailboat) and shuts me down.  By the time I return to the dock I have decided that our family needs to buy a Sea-doo and rocket boots and will do so at the first available opportunity.
While I was queued up on the dock the kids had gone down to the bouncy castles and had a good jump, so next on the schedule was the cardboard boat race.  Until now I had never considered the feasibility of building an actual, floating vessel out of just cardboard and duct tape, but now I know that is it certainly possible.  Before us was a large collection of cardboat boats and lifejacketted sailors of all ages.  There didn’t seem to be any rules or design principles, other than the one strict rule that the only allowable building materials are cardboard and duct tape.  The starting gun goes off and the boats are launched!  Some sink immediately.  Other are half filled with water by the time the participants get themselves into the boat.  Others are floating well and being propelled across the water in a foamy frenzy by exited paddlers.  The participants have to paddle out into the bay about 100 meters, round a buoy, and then paddle back.  Along the way at least half of the boats either capsize, break apart, or simply absorb so much water they sink to the bottom.  In an incredible act of persistence, one team consisting of an older lady and a child are upright and paddling hard, but their boat is completely underwater so you can only see their heads, shoulders and paddles.  I hope their boat was named “Never Give Up”.
We spot David, Jacque and Parker in the crowd and walk over to say hi, just as the race concludes and the triumphant team drags their waterlogged cardboard schooner from the water and does a victory wave to the sizeable crowd.  We ask them if we are still on for a visit at their boat this afternoon and they are.  But before that we walk downtown to visit the town museum, which is located inside an old jailhouse.  They have a large collection of items of local interest including Indian artifacts, newspaper clippings, household antiques, stuffed animal heads, old childrens toys and even a full sized horse carriage.  There is also an art gallery in one section of the museum, except for one corner of the room which has a mock up of an old fashioned dentist office complete with the metal chair and foot operated drill.  Ouch.
We have a few groceries to get so we let the kids go back to the boat on their own to play some games.  It is so nice having kids at this age who are able to take care of themselves.  Then they don’t always have to get dragged along to the boring things we need to do.
We return to the boat and lounge in the cockpit for a while, enjoying the hot sun, cold drinks, and a terrible band playing in the beer garden, each player strumming away in a different key.  I spark up a beautiful Partagas Cuban cigar, then after one puff mishandle it and drop it into the water.  It takes off like a torpedo somehow, and disappears beneath the dock, never to be seen again.  As punishment for wasting such a magnificent smoke I did not light up another one and instead had to relish the memory of the two puffs I did suck out of the lost, rolled soldier.
Here’s the beauty of being a guest in a foreign marina.  A lady walks up the dock with two drinks in her hand, stops at our boat, hands us the drinks, and tells us they are having a drink mixing competition and that we should try out her entry, called the “Creamsicle”.  Of course it is delicious, and she stays for a quick chat then disappears down the dock.  People in marinas are so nice – everybody is on holidays so are in a good mood, nobody is in a rush, everyone is helpful and there is a friendly, jovial atmosphere, especially when it’s thirty degrees and sunny outside.
Around 3pm we walk over to David and Jacque’s boat and David gives us the rundown on a few of their favourite anchorages.  He has owned his boat for 27 years, and before that had a sailboat, so they have cruised these waters many times over during that period.  Stella and Magnus fall in love with their dog Parker and they take him down for a swim at the boat launch.  We spend a few hours with them and have such a great time.  They are from Toronto and their boat is a magnificent 42’ trawler - a real beauty.  David gives us the full tour, including crawling right into the engine room and seeing all the systems in action.  It makes our sailboat interior feel like a broom closet.  The only thing missing is a hot tub, but when I mention it I’m pretty sure it started David thinking.  I learn Jacque has a taste for gin and tonics, and I also learn that I have been using the wrong tonic.  When she asks me what tonic I use I say, “I dunno.  That Canada Dry stuff in the yellow can.”
She says, “I used to use that crap but not anymore.  Ever heard of Fever Tree tonic?”
I said no.  And I knew what was going to happen next.
“Would you like me to make you one?” she asked.
“Yes please,” came the predictable answer.
“Do you want a single, or double and do you want the regular tonic or the diet?”
“Just make it good.”
That made Jacque laugh.  And she did make it good.  Damn good.
We put a plan in place to meet up the next day at either John Island or Beardrop Harbour, both about 20 miles or so north-west of Gore Bay.  We try our best to convince them to join us at our boat for Sheppard’s pie but they have their hearts set on the fish fry.  But as we return to our boat we realize we are practically having dinner together anyway, because the fish fry is in the pavilion directly behind our boat – we just have to talk a bit louder to hear each other.
There is a big dance tonight at the hall in town but we opt out and instead enjoy a nice, quiet evening in the marina.

North Channel 2015 - Benjamins to Gore Bay

Everybody wakes up happy, but how could you not in such a beautiful place.  In fact, we think this anchorage rivals the nicest ones we visited in Thailand last year during our catamaran charter.  It is Canada at its best and makes one feel proud to be Canadian.
The kids make peace with each other and I am sent down to scour the depths and retrieve the One Ring.  A little background information is in order here.  I am known as the Village Diver as I have a particular knack for finding personal property dropped into bodies of water.  Over the years some of the items I have retrieved from the bottoms of lakes and oceans include eyeglasses, car keys, sunglasses, utensils, marine barbeque parts and, most recently, my dad’s iPhone that he dropped into 15 degree water off the sailboat at our Sarnia marina.  I’m not sure why I am good at this; all I usually do is put on a mask, dive into the water, swim to the bottom, and I end up right on top of the lost item.  We all have our own special little talents.
I jump in the water and start searching.  I almost immediately spot a crayfish crawling on the bottom so I dive down, carefully grab him so that his pincers can’t get me, and bring him up to show the rest of the gang.  Now what would have been really cool is if the crayfish had been wearing the Ring of Power around his neck, but that was not the case.  I leave the crayfish crawling around on the dingy and continued my search.  It takes a while, but I eventually spot the glistening ring on the lake bottom and feel a magnetic pull, as if the ring wanted to be found.  I dive down, outstretch my trembling hand and retrieve the ring.  I burst through the surface of the water, hissing “My precioussssss...” but through the snorkel it really doesn’t sound like much at all and the rest of them probably just thing I am choking on muck.  Anyway, the One Ring is snatched from my grasp by Magnus, which is fine by me as he will end up being the one looking like Gollum.  Magnus puts on the ring and disappears.... into the water to do some snorkelling.  After five minutes he paddles over to me in a frenzy saying, “Dad, the ring fell off!”  No problem for the village diver, I swim down right on top of it, grab the wretched ring, then swim back up and hand it to his mother and say, “Keep it secret.  Keep it safe.”
After all that excitement we pull anchor and go for a nice slow cruise around the whole island.  At one point we wiggle Bella Blue through an impossibly narrow channel bounded by rocks that we had spotted yesterday and I vowed to conquer.  We pass carefully through another narrow channel that separates the north from the south Benjamin islands and find a huge bay full of anchored vessels, probably about 30 of them, from sailboats to big powerboats to trawlers to tugs.  There are also a few paddleboarders and kayakers cruising around on the flat waters.  We realize that all the “smart” boaters took the north anchorage because of the southerly winds, but since the winds were so slight we ended up practically alone in our special spot and avoided the crowds.  Sometimes inexperience pays off.
We complete our circumnavigation of south Benjamin and set a course for Gore Bay.  It is a straight, 20 mile shot south-east so I lock in the heading on the autopilot and Ana and I relax in the cockpit, each with a book and hot coffee and we agree that life couldn’t be better.
Gore Bay is a small town on the northern side of Manitoulin Island and though the name would give the impression it’s a bit violent and brutal, it’s nothing of the sort.  It is a lovely little northern town and we happen to arrive on day 1 of Harbour Days – a three day festival of drinking, eating, soapbox derbying, tall shipping, slowpitching, theatre-ing, cardboard boat racing, glow partying, pancake breakfasting, beef on a bunning, jet boarding, fish frying, kite flying, classic car showing, beer gardening, rock and roll cover banding, jumpy castling, and a whole lot more.  Actually, not a whole lot more, that’s pretty much the whole list of activities I read off the brochure.
We walk down to the marina office to pay for our dockage and find the home of CYC Canadian Yacht Charters and their nice big marine store which has loads of boating supplies, fresh coffee, smoked fish and a seating area with a magazine exchange.  The dockage rates from marina to marina seem pretty consistent at $1.75/foot which is not too bad.  The waterfront area in Gore Bay stretches quite far and is centered around the public docks and CYC, but also has gazebos, a marine centre with a museum and art galleries, a large kids playground and plenty of green space.
The walk into the main downtown area is a mere two blocks and there we find a classic Main Street with all that you would expect.  Ana and Magnus zero in on a shop having a massive sidewalk sale that spills out onto the street, while Stella and I explore Main street, scoping out a place for lunch.  We meet up at a coffee house/sandwich shop and enjoy a round of delicious toasted paninis.  During lunch we read through all the activities happening this weekend for Harbour Days and decide to spend Saturday night as well.  The weather today is beautiful, clear and hot and while tomorrow looks to have a few scattered showers, it will still be warm.  Finding such cool little town is an integral part of our sailing trips.  Also, when you are a boater you can have a completely different experience than visiting by car, from your arrival by water, to the completely distinct culture that is always found around the docks.
After lunch we return to the boat for a chill out session then at 6:30 we walk back into town for the first of the Harbour Days events – a glow dance party for kids!  But the organizers haven’t forgotten about the adults, because the glow party is being held in the basement of the Canadian Legion, so we send the kids downstairs with their two dollar entry fees, give them a few bucks to spend at the canteen, and then we pass through the doors of the Legion.  You can go into any Legion in Canada, from Victoria to Regina to Thunder Bay to Halifax and find the same thing – an ancient shuffleboard, a pool table, a non-fancy television, beer-stained carpet and a whole bunch of locals elbowed up to the bar drinking cheap Canadian lager.   Everybody knows each other and you don’t remain a stranger for long because people want to know your story.
I order up some drinks and also pay the bartender two bucks for the use of the white cue ball.  I rack ‘em up and the game is on!  Ana takes the first game.  I take the second.  I am about to win the third game and actually start my victory dance after the black ball drops, but then the white ball drops too, turning my victory dance into the loser’s shuffle.  Because it’s such a lame way to win we agree on a final “winner take all” grudge match and I win that one.  So I guess in the end it was basically a tie.  But at the Legion, everyone’s a winner baby.
The kids have a ball at the dance party.  Magnus makes a friend named Cole and during their conversation Cole mentions a friend of his named Zander.  Back in kindergarten Magnus had a friend named Zander, at least until he lent Zander his favourite plastic griffin and Zander lost it.  He left Magnus’s school shortly after that but Magnus has never forgotten this brazen robbery and he is sure that this is the same Zander and he has fled to Manitoulin Island to avoid prosecution.  Magnus is hatching some sort of plan to liberate the griffin, but then I convince him that there is no possible way Zander has managed to hang onto that griffin all these years, and it was likely sold off at his grandma’s garage sale years ago.  While Magnus accepts the likelihood of this, I also accept that this is the very same Zander – his eternal nemesis.
We were told that the restaurant Buoy’s on the waterfront is the only game in town, so we walk over there and, as expected, have to wait a while to get a table.  They have large outdoor patio that is chock-a-block so we opt for an inside table where the wait is shorter and will be less buggy later.  The restaurant is in a minor state of chaos, which is probably its regular state, with the few servers they have running all over the place, and even helping out with cooking the food.  So we roll with the punches and sit down at an empty table and wait patiently.  They have a nice library of books and games so Magnus and I play a game of chess while Stella does some colouring and Ana browses through a few books.  It’s not until we finish our chess game that our server Kyle takes our orders, and he even tells us a joke that involves rice, a bottle of glue and a sailing ship, but we only get about half the punchline – the other half stumps us.  Turns out this is a strategy to keep the customers occupied while it takes them 90 minutes to prepare pasta!  But hey, we are vacation so who cares.  We would discover later that Kyle doesn’t actually work here, he was just filling in for his sister.  In the interim we strike up a conversation with a couple beside us, who are from Toronto and here on a 42’ trawler.  I can tell from their faces that they have some stories to tell.  Just as we are getting into it, Kyle appears and asks me, “Do you want shrimp in that pasta?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, “I guess.”
“Well you can have it with shrimp if you want.  We have lots of them.”
"Tell you what Kyle.  Because I can’t even remember what I ordered I will leave it to your expert judgement.  Just make it good.”
Our next door table mates like my response so it seems they may want to be friends.  We’ve made some of the best friends of our lives as a result of a table to table conversation in a restaurant somewhere in the world.  So you never know.
Our food arrives, but it’s been so long since we ordered that we’re not sure who gets what, or if the order is even right.  We each grab a plate and dig in and it is very good.  I was too full of cheap Legion lager to even have a drink with dinner so I wash down my fancy pasta with plain old water, very unusual for me, but it seems to work.  We continue our conversation with our friends, learning their names are David and Jacque and they have a black Lab named Parker.  They offer to show us a couple of good anchorages on the chart and invite us to stop by their boat tomorrow.
We pay the bill, walk back to the marina together and then part ways.  We return to our boat and discover the festival beer garden tent is situated directly behind our dock and is jammed with people.  The live band is actually pretty good and cranking out some decent cover tunes.  I’m tempted to go over for a quick drink, but once we’re inside the cozy Bella Blue we instead fire up a movie and watch it to sleep.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

North Channel 2015 - Benjamin Islands

I wake up early, swallow a couple little white candies and walk up the dock to showers at the marina facility.  It is a beautiful morning, cloudless, and a bit windy, but not nearly as bad as yesterday.  Once everybody else is up, fed, and watered, we throw off the dock lines and motor over to the fuel dock for diesel and a pump-out.  It seems I inadvertently cut in the queue because a big Coast Guard ship I thought was leaving harbour was actually waiting and he honks his horn at me angrily.  It’s not good to piss off the Coast Guard as he might be the guy pulling us off the rocks tomorrow.
Sometime in the last hour a massive cruise ship has pulled in and is tied up at the dock.  It certainly seems strange to have a cruise ship on the Great Lakes, but here it is.  The gas dock staff instructs us to sneak in just in front of the cruise ship so we have a bird’s eye view of its grandiosity as we get pumped and dumped.
Today we are going to the Benjamin Islands, the premier anchorage in all of the North Channel.  We leave Little Current and follow the Lansdowne Channel south-west.  There is a steady line of boats going in both directions, probably en route to or from the Benjamins.  After an enjoyable, 21 mile and 2.5 hour sail we arrive and are not disappointed with what we find.  The islands are tree covered but with large areas of smooth, expansive rocks which glide down into the water creating steep drop-offs, making it possible to sail and even anchor very close to land.  There are at least a dozen anchorages which offer shelter no matter what the wind direction is.  We find a dreamy little cove with only a single boat anchored and decide on that fine spot for our temporary home.  We decide to do the double anchor/rope to a tree method, hoping for better results than last time.  And we pull it off without a hitch.  Well, at one point I tripped when I was trying to tie the rope to a tree on shore, and squashed a small bush, but escaped serious injury.  In fact the only repercussion was a thin coating of sap on my hands, feet and back which attracted a layer of pine needles.  I found a scrubbie brush back at the boat and spent twenty minutes sitting on the swim platform scraping myself off.
We all board the dingy and I paddle us over to the shore across the bay.  We seem to be the only cruisers in the North Channel who have a dingy without a motor.  But you see, we do not have a regular dingy; we have the Hydro Force – Marine Pro 2.  It is an extraordinary, twelve foot long piece of engineering excellence available exclusively at Walmart, usually in the camping section between the disposable barbeques and pool noodles.  Our friend Andrew was always jealous of the Hydro Force.  He had a standard issue dingy with a nice new outboard motor and thought he was pretty cool when he could zip around at high speed doing wake jumping and trolling for lake trout.  But then he would see me yank the rolled up Hydro Force from the rear cockpit locker of Bella Blue, where it didn’t actually fit, but somehow it did, though I had to use a winch to pull it out.  I’d unroll this mass of wrinkled rubber, lay it on top of the sailboat, then hook up my 12 volt inflator (also available at Walmart) and pump her up.  She would slowly take form, and soon the magnificent vessel was there for all to behold.  Sure, she has a few patches, and much of the rubber rail is falling off, and there are dots of Marine Super Goo here and there plugging the smaller holes, but all in all she is pretty impressive.  I’d launch her into the lake over the gunwales of Bella Blue and she would nearly always float.  The ingenious makers of this sweet tender has the foresight to construct collapsible paddles.  They each break down into several pieces and are screwed together with flimsy plastic fittings that don’t hold so well and are pretty close to disintegrating completely.  But besides all that, the oars are pretty solid, so I would gently piece them together and rig them up on the Hydro Force oarlocks and we are ready for business.  I would ease into her gently, as too much force would likely cause me to pass straight through the flimsy rubber floor to the black depths of Davy Jones locker.  Then the rest of the family slides in and we would be off.  Ana would usually sit in the back with a bag over her head so nobody could recognize her.  Magnus and Stella would sit in front and fish, at least until they got their hooks stuck into the rubber hull, at which point I would remind Ana to pick up more Marine Super Goo the next time she was at Walmart.  My spot was right in the centre where the water coming in from the leaks would collect and soak my arse, but that just made me row harder to get where we were going so I could wring out my underwear.  Rowing a dingy is a little tricky because there is no centreboard or fin keel so you can actually do continual 360’s while traveling in a constant direction.  If we were just on a pleasure cruise we’d paddle around for a while until either everyone in the marina had seen us and had a good laugh, or my back muscles gave out and the two kids had to jump in and flutter kick us back to the boat.  If we were on a mission, such as to get groceries in a foreign port, then we’d hightail it to the dingy dock, tie her up, go shopping, and then load the two hundred pounds of dry goods, wet goods, booze, clothing and toys into the Hydro Force until she was nearly underwater.  Then we all pile in and she would always remain just afloat.  To get back I’d need both the kids flutter kicking off the back, me rowing like hell, and Ana holding up her dress to try and catch some wind.  Now that kind of entertainment just can’t be had in a regular dingy, and that’s why Andrew liked the Hydro Force so much.
We reach the shoreline, hauled the dingy up on land and go for a hike, which is almost exclusively scrambling up and down various rock structures.  We make it to the top of one rock cliff and are rewarded with a stunning view over the anchorage.  There are forested areas on the island but we can’t find any trails cut through them and the bush is extremely thick.  There are some parts of the shoreline that have deep wells in the rock that allowed for only a single boat to squeeze in and there are even steel rings drilled into the rock to serve as tie down spots for anchor ropes.  Of course, all of these are already occupied by boats as they are clearly the premium anchoring spots, but we aren’t too disappointed as our anchorage as just as good.
We paddle around to a few other areas of the island, the last of which has a little snake on the path that scares the bejesus out of Magnus.  He inherited his great grandfather Max’s fear of serpents and gets uncontrollably terrified at the sight of them.  So that was it for island exploring, and Magnus swears off further hikes and even swimming in the lake for fear that snakes might take periodic baths.  As the thermometer is rocketing up to 28 degrees today, I suspect he may change his mind about the swimming part.
We dingy back to the boat and get chairs and towels set out on the boat deck for a glorious afternoon sunbathing session.  I fall asleep for a while, laying there like a rasher of extra fatty bacon, waiting for the crisping process to happen, which it does.  I wake up a while later, groggy as hell, and stagger back to the shaded cockpit where I collapse on the nice soft cushion and lay there for a while trying to wake up and listening to all the forest and lake sounds.  There are a pair of chattering squirrels on shore bickering at each other, some loons calling in the distance, so many different bird songs it was hard to distinguish them, the occasional put-put-putting of a dingy engine and, of course, the sound of the water splashing up against the sides of Bella Blue.  It is a glorious day, and it occurs to me that it’s a Thursday and I am not at work.  This makes me smile and retrieve a cold beer from the fridge, then I actually laugh out loud a bit when I think again about not being at work.
The kids and I decide it’s time for a swim so we strap on the snorkelling gear and dive in.  The water is 21.5 degrees here, which is cold, but not bone chilling, and I’m able comfortably snorkel for twenty minutes.  The water is not as clear as in the main body of Lake Huron, but the visibility is nonetheless excellent and I can see at least fifteen to twenty feet.  The rock and mud bottom is covered with these funny looking little fish called gobies – an invasive species that have radically changed the ecology of the Great Lakes.  Two other such critters are the Zebra and Quagga mussels, and these small shells blanket many of the rocks lying on the bottom.  One thing I do not see are any sport fish, but I have heard it’s possible to catch bass, walleye and pike in these waters.
Some sort of situation develops between Magnus and Stella which centers around a ring Magnus found in the street gutter back in Tobermory.  He calls it a mood ring but it’s just one of those cheap, coloured rings you get in a plastic bubble from those vending machines at the grocery store that drive parents mad.  Anyway, he has been flaunting it around Stella, saying it’s his good luck ring, and taunting her because she doesn’t have one.  I’m surprised he still has it because it fits only onto his pinky finger, but it’s very loose and keeps falling off, but somehow we are always able to track it down when he loses it.  So Stella finally flips her lid and storms down below and convinces her mom to get her one.  Well, this enrages Magnus.  He found it so he gets to keep it, and it’s not fair that Stella will get to buy one.  In fact he gets so mad that he takes it off and flings it overboard and says, “There!  Now nobody gets a ring!”
Stella looks overboard and says, “Ha ha Magnus, it landed in the dingy!”
This further enrages him so he leaps in the dingy to retrieve the Ring of Power and destroy it once and for all.  But he discovers it didn’t actually land in the dingy and is at the bottom of the lake so says, “It’s gone for good.”
I do the smart thing and stay out of the melee and soon both the kids go downstairs pleading their respective cases to their mother, resulting in one locking herself in the v-berth and the other wrapping himself in a blanket and isolating himself on the couch.  See thing this for what it is – a great opportunity for alone time - Ana and I retire to the cockpit for happy hour and hope the passage of time will heal the wounds, but not before we finish our drinks.  By the end of the night the kids are at least talking to each other again, so I expect that by tomorrow things will be back to normal and I will probably find myself diving for a ring.