Wednesday, July 29, 2015

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.

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