Tuesday, July 21, 2015

North Channel 2015 - Sarnia

July 17th, 2015.  Lake Huron.  The annual Olson family sailing trip.  Oh yeah.
This year’s sailing season began in May, when I moved our sailboat Bella Blue from Port Dover, across Lake Erie, up the Detroit River, through Lake St. Clair, then up the St. Clair River to the city of Sarnia, which rests humbly at the far south end of Lake Huron.  I was joined by my dad and two brothers, which was the first time the four of us had been on a trip together for 19 years.  We had an excellent voyage and kicked off the boating season in fine style.  But after spending four glorious seasons exploring the wonders of Lake Erie, why did we feel compelled to move the boat?  Quite simply, it was time to discover a new Great Lake.  Living where we do in south-western Ontario provides easy access to three out of five of these freshwater oceans and we want to sail all of them.  Though we have no plans to leave our home anytime soon, we felt that it was the right time to move on to the next lake, and what better lake to explore than Lake Huron with its 30,000 islands and 5000 kilometres shorelines.
 We chose Sarnia’s Bridgeview Marina to be our new weekend home as it is a 90 minute drive from our house, is situated directly on the American border (think cheap US suds...) and is simply a top class marina.  When we were searching for a new base on Lake Huron our initial inclination was to choose between Grand Bend and Bayfield, both of which are amazing seaside towns and less than two hours from home.  But when we went to check out their marinas we just weren’t that impressed.  During our investigations somebody we met suggested we consider Bridgeview Marina in Sarnia, so we made a trip there and after a warm welcome and guided tour by the marina manager Mike we knew it was the right place for us.
The day the boys and I sailed into Sarnia was gorgeous, hot, cloudless, and the perfect launch into an expected beautiful Canadian summer.  How wrong I was!  It would be two full months before we saw a daytime high anywhere close to what we experienced the day we arrived.  Though Ana, the kids and I still travelled to the boat nearly every weekend, the days were characterized by unseasonably cold temperatures, frigid north winds, torrential downpours and docks that were practically deserted except for us.  Since we weren’t able to enjoy much time on the water, we spent a lot of time exploring Sarnia and Port Huron, which is her US sister across the river.  Sarnia has the unenviable claim to fame of being home to the largest petrochemical processing centre in Canada.  “Chemical Valley” is a three mile stretch of oil refineries, chemical plants and other sorts of industrial monstrosities that feature tall smokestacks with fire shooting out of the tops of them.   But as usual, the places with the worst reputations are usually where you find amazing culture, friendly and humble people and lots of hidden gems if you are willing to spend the time exploring.  So that’s what we did and we were not disappointed.  We found festivals, shows, antique markets, cool shops, coffee houses, a horse racing track, farmers market, pubs and, most importantly, an Olive Garden restaurant in Port Huron which is literally a ten minute drive from the marina.  And since that is Ana’s favourite restaurant we have become Saturday night regulars.
Directly beside the marina is a nine hole golf course so Magnus and I bought golf clubs and begin most Saturday mornings with a round of golf, while the ladies cruise around Sarnia checking out garage sales.  As a kid I spent many summers at our family cottage in Fishing Lake, Saskatchewan and an integral part of those summer days was playing at least two rounds of golf per day.  So I was very happy that Magnus took an interest in golfing, and Stella too is very excited to start too once she gets a bit older and strong enough to clobber those balls.
So though we enjoyed our May and June weekends in Sarnia, the weather was an absolute bust.  In fact, we had planned an extra long weekend sailing trip up the US coastline for the last weekend in June, but the weather forecast was so atrocious that we threw in the towel, flipped the middle finger to Sarnia and instead took a driving trip down to Pittsburgh, Washington, Annapolis and the Finger Lake region in upstate New York and had an amazing trip.  Thankfully, as soon July arrived the temperatures went up and summer really began.  We spent the first two weekends on the water in glorious sunshine exploring the lake, river and did even manage to make that long weekend trip up the US side.
So here we are on Friday, July 17th ready to embark on our annual two week sailing trip.  We bolt out of work at 4:30 sharp, go home to load up our gear, and arrive at the marina by 7:30 and the boat packed and prepped for the ride.  Our plan is to leave tomorrow morning at 4am and head straight up the middle of the lake for 143 miles to reach Tobermory, which is at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula and serves as the gateway to Georgian Bay and the North Channel.
After readying the boat and cleaning off five pounds of bird droppings from the topsides, we meet up with our dock friends Rick and Patty and invite them into the Bella Blue saloon for a Friday night drink.  They are local Sarniavians (Sarnittes?  Sarnappians?  Sardines?) and Patty serves as the Lord Mother of our dock.  Her responsibilities include organizing the annual potluck breakfast and Canada Day BBQ, official greeter, gossip verifier, and most recently, chief boater lobbyist who has convinced marina staff to provide fresh Timmy’s coffee and doughnuts every Saturday morning in the gazebo....for free!  Rick and Patty are lovely and pretty much the only people with whom we have struck up a friendship, firstly because they are so cool, and secondly because they actually spend time at their boat on the weekends.  The docks have been literally deserted most weekends and we really haven’t been able to figure out why.  Bad weather, sure, but there were still hardly any people on the docks during the past two beautiful weekends.  We think that most are locals and therefore just come down to the marina, jump 0n their boats and take off, then return when they are done and immediately go home.  Or maybe they come down during the week when we are not here.  It has been one of the biggest differences from Port Dover, where most of the boaters were not local and therefore stayed on their boats all weekend, which provided for a very active social scene.
Our guests part company with us around midnight and we pack it in shortly after that, wanting to get a few hours of sleep before our planned early morning departure.

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