Wednesday, July 29, 2015

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.

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