Saturday, July 25, 2015

North Channel 2015 - Collins Inlet and Covered Portage

After hitting the snooze button a couple of times, we finally arise and shove off from the dock at 6am.  That pesky west wind, though not quite as strong as yesterday, is still blowing hard so we set partial sails and head north.  We pass Flowerpot Island and cruise right by the two rock formations that make this place famous.  I have no idea why they call them “Flowerpots”.  To me they look more like giant, poorly rolled, upside down reefers.  You can sucker tourists into paying $40 to see pretty much anything, as long as it sounds cool.
I set a north-east course to the eastern entrance of Collins Inlet and we move at a fine pace with the strong wind and gently humming motor.  We all pile into the cockpit and load up with sweaters, jackets, blankets, and I even grab a toque as it is windy and cold, but sunny.  Once we get into the far distant shadow of Manitoulin Island the waves subside somewhat and make for a gentler ride.
After 43 miles we reach the entrance and it is bordered with treacherous looking jagged rocks but the deep channel is clearly marked with buoys that show the way.  We cruise easily through the channel and are into a large bay full of islands.  With all the rocks and trees it now feels like we’re truly in northern Canada.  The only thing missing is a beaver crossing our path and a loon surfing our wake.
We find a decent looking spot to anchor for lunch, but can’t seem to get the anchor to stick, and the shifting wind is blowing us around so instead we continue on and Ana makes up some tuna fish sandwiches for us to eat as we sail.  The bay becomes more and more narrow then ends in a channel with marker buoys that are as little as fifteen feet apart so it is a relatively tight squeeze.  The channel then turns and opens into the Collins Inlet, which looks like a drag strip for boats, as it runs completely straight and has towering rock walls on both sides.  Stella checks the instruments and finds that the water is a balmy 25 degrees, which ignites great enthusiasm for a swim.  We follow the channel for a few miles then find a decent anchorage and stop for a dingy ride and plunge.  Ana and I sit in the sunny cockpit and enjoy a drink while we consider staying here for the night, but soon the bugs swarm in so we decide to continue a bit further to see if we can find something less buggy.  We travel to nearly the end and find some nice anchorages but there are already a number of boats there, so instead of trying to muscle in for space, we decide to continue to Killarney, which is a small town only a few miles away with plenty of boat slips.  The Collins Inlet ends in a terrifying, shoal ridden channel which is made worse by the three foot waves crashing in and 25 knot gusts, resulting in a miserable, but thankfully short passage.
We reach Killarney and travel slowly up the channel investigating what lies on the shoreline.  And what lies on the shoreline are marinas, small shops, a famous fish and chips restaurant and lots and lots of boats in slips.  I check the clock and it’s not quite 7pm, which gives us time to pass right through Killarney and go to an anchorage called Covered Portage, which we have heard is a must-do for any first time North Channelers.
I become so enwrapped in reviewing the chart to Covered Portage that I forget I’m the guy steering the boat and look up just in time to see the bow heading straight for the rocks beneath the big “Killarney” sign.   With ten feet to spare I swing the wheel back to port and just miss crashing into the rocks.  Lesson learned – don’t review charts when you are navigating through an unfamiliar channel.  Anyway, I apologize to the crew and continue north-west through pounding waves and lashing winds and beat a path towards our target.  As we arrive I see at least ten boats already anchored in the outer bay, so I glide by them and ease into the inner bay, which is a beautiful, circular cove surrounded by towering rock walls and forest, and perfectly sheltered from the punishing winds.  In fact, there is not even a ripple across the water.  There are at least fifteen or twenty boats anchored so we squeak our way through these and find a nice spot to throw out the hook.  Ana notices that a few of the other boats have put one or even two anchors out the bow and tied the stern of their boat to a tree onshore, probably to keep themselves completely stationary.  So we decide to do this.  It takes three attempts to get our anchor set properly, and remember that each failed anchor attempt causes a small dent in one’s marriage.  The reason for this is because one spouse is driving the boat from the stern while the other is putting the anchor up or down at the bow and this causes what Led Zeppelin once called a “Communication Breakdown”.  It’s always the same.  Anchoring causes breakdown after breakdown and they drive each other insane.  If your marriage can survive anchoring, then it can survive anything.  Instructions are screamed back and forth.  Failings in technique are pointed out readily.  There is indignation, belittling, scornful looks, evil eyes, exasperation, but eventually the damn anchor finally sticks and then there is a thirty minute cool down period, normally lubricated with gin and tonics.  Then everything goes back to normal.
But this time we also had to tie the boat to a tree.   I have quite a few ropes, but none are very long, so I tie three of them together which looks like it should be sufficient.  I toss the rope in the dingy and command the children to take their posts.  Magnus is assigned the port oarsman post and Stella will feed out the rope as we move away from the boat and approach the land.  I will be in charge of yelling orders and working the starboard oar.  Well we paddle like hell but the boat has swung away from the shore and the rope is too short by half.  So we double up on paddling in an attempt to drag the stern of the boat closer to shore but it just isn’t working so I have Ana fire up the boat and put her in reverse to swing the stern around.  We paddle like mad and are now able to reach the shore so Magnus and I jump out, nearly breaking our ankles, and wind the rope around a poor pine tree, getting all gummed up with sap in the process.  As I tighten the rope the boat gets closer and closer to shore but we are being devoured by mosquitoes so we leap in the dingy and paddle back to the boat, where Ana has supper waiting.  As we eat, we notice that the boat is now so close to shore that we can practically step off the stern right into the enchanted forest, so the anchor must have let loose.  We have a crew meeting and decide that the tree idea just isn’t going to work tonight so we load ourselves back in the dingy, retrieve the rope, give the boat a shove and drive back into the bay for another try.  This time we set out two anchors and they stick on the very first try.  Yay!
Darkness falls and the anchorage goes silent except for one sound – the sound of a sailor playing a beautiful and haunting song on a flute.  I don’t know which boat it was coming from, but it was a magical end to a 70 mile journey and 14 hours on the water.

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