Saturday, July 25, 2015

North Channel 2015 - Little Current

This is the most beautiful anchorage that Bella Blue has ever experienced.  It is 6:30 am, dead calm and all I can hear is the sound of loons calling.  Magnus wakes up early and we decide to go for a hike.  We paddle the dingy into the nearby shore and stomp for a while through the trees.  The mozzies are wide awake and attack us with a ravenous northern fervour.  We get back in the dingy and paddle all the way across the anchorage to the other side where there is a towering rock face we are hoping we can climb.  And we do find sort of a path and scramble our way up to the top and snap some fantastic photos overlooking the entire anchorage.  We also find a spread of wild blueberry bushes so we gather up a sample to take back to the girls.  The only suitable satchel I can come up with is my left sock turned inside-out.
We are a little sad to leave the anchorage but perhaps we will spend another evening here on our return journey.  We haul in the anchors and slowly meander our way through the boats and out into the open lake where the wind is blowing hard right in our face.  We are going to a town called Little Current today which is the gateway to Manitoulin Island and the location of a unique swing bridge that allows both land traffic and boats to pass.  We follow the Lansdowne Channel and it is thankfully well marked with buoys as there are reefs and rocks to hit everywhere I look.  There is a steady stream of power and sailboats going in both directions.
The wind is relentless and we battle it the whole way under motor power only.  Thankfully the waves are not that high so the ride is relatively smooth, but the 20 miles seem more like 40.  We finally arrive at the swing bridge and notice that the west wind has created a strong current, at least 4 knots, making me wonder if the name “Little Current” is meant to be ironic, or perhaps just somebody’s idea of a little joke.  Now if I had done my research I would have learned that you do not want to arrive at this bridge at 2:10, because the bridge only swings open for boats once an hour, on the hour.  I guess that’s why five boats in quick succession passed me a mile or two back.
So I shut off the engine and let the current wash us downstream while Ana serves up sandwiches and we enjoy lunch in the cockpit.  After floating half a mile I power her up, drive upstream to the bridge, then drift back down, and we repeat this until the hour approaches.  The entire bridge pivots on a giant cylinder in the centre and slowly swings open.  I slam the throttle down and we charge full speed into the raging current beneath the bridge.  Progress is slow, and the boat is thrown from side to side by the current.  I expect there have been more than a few boats that have been rammed into the steel and rock pilings.  As we clear the bridge I look back to see two sailboats about a mile back powering at full speed to catch their window of opportunity.  But as soon as we have cleared through, the operator instantly swings the bridge closed again, and I can imagine the exasperated moans coming from the poor sailors behind us.  I hope they have sandwich supplies on board.
Ana calls into the marina and they assign us a dock number.  We are practically sideways approaching the dock as the current has its way with us, but she slowly spins around and we ease into the dock with only a small crash of the bow hitting the wooden boards.  The dock hand assures us this was the smoothest docking of the day as the combination of wind and current has provided for some horrible docking episodes.
Little Current is a nifty little town.  The municipal docks span nearly the entire length of the downtown area and the waterfront is beautiful.  I pick up the “Ports” guide for cruising Lake Huron from Wally’s Marine, which is sandwiched in alongside the docks, and I believe I met Wally himself, who was sitting on a chair yelling orders at his staff.  I think he has been there a very long time.
We spend a couple hours exploring the town.  Magnus gets an overdue haircut and the ladies get some retail therapy in the form of a new pair of shoes for Stella.  There is a neat department store called Turners and the second floor features an amazing gallery of art, publications of local lore, clothing, marine charts, nature books, and a bunch of Canadiana stuff, but not junk like dream catchers and maple syrup, but interesting things like moccasins, carved walking sticks, paintings, sculptures, cards and the like.  I’m tempted by a 300 page book on North American mushrooms, thinking I will become a great mushroom hunter, but when I scan through the index and can’t find the word “hallucinogenic” I put it back on the shelf.
We find a grocery store and pick up supplies including one of those nice roast chickens for dinner, which scuttles our original plan of going out to a restaurant.  Roast chicken, veggies and fresh bread on the boat trumps dinner out anytime.  We do the “boater march” which is where each crew member carries two or three plastic shopping bags (and usually a case of beer, but not this time) and you walk around aimlessly until you find the path back to your boat, which we eventually do.  After a nice dinner Ana takes off with a giant bag of laundry while I stay back and do some dingy repairs with the help of Magnus.  Stella has met another little girl on the dock and they are busy playing soccer in the marina park.
I meet the girl’s father and he comes on board to show me a few interesting anchorages on the map.  He is sailing with his wife and two children and they are based out of Kincardine.  He is sailing on a 44 foot sailboat that was custom built in 1988 by his parents and a local boat builder.  He takes me over for a tour of his boat, and the highlight is the 78 horsepower John Deere diesel engine he affectionately calls “The Beast”.  It is a rugged, heavy, powerful boat built to withstand anything the oceans can throw at it.  He sailed to Germany and back with his father shortly after it was built, but since this is has been on the Great Lakes.
After Ana returns our new fiends join us on the Bella Blue to polish off those Tuborg tall cans that Tony and I bought back in Tobermory, and we swap sailing stories. The kids are thrilled to have other kids to play with, and they are very close in age so they all get along well.  It is close to midnight when our friends leave, so we gather up all the empties, find an available bed and are finished for the night.

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