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.

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