Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Bella Blue Is Sold!

Today was going to be an interesting day. Tony and Angela’s buyer was coming for a sea trial at 10am and, if satisfied, would then be handing over a cheque for HQ2. We were hoping to hear from our potential buyers today as we were trying to figure out what to do next. Time was running short and we had a lot of miles between us and Sarnia, but still had a few more stops we wanted to make along the way. Our friends Justin and Heather had been in touch and were going to be passing through Collingwood tomorrow so we wanted to sail there to meet them, but if the buyers wanted the boat then that was not going to be possible as it was in the opposite direction. So we waited, and hoped that that HQ2 “sold” first so we’d get that free dinner!

Just before 10am we got a text message from Mark - Bella Blue was sold! I could hardly believe it. After a flurry of texts and discussion we decided to head out to Lion’s Head overnight tonight, then continue across Georgian Bay and back into the North Channel to deliver the boat to them in Little Current. Mark offered to give us a ride all the way back to Paris, then he could pick up the sailboat storage stands which were included in the deal. All in all, the whole thing worked out perfectly - we didn’t have to sail to Sarnia, we’d get a couple of extra nights in the North Channel, Mark would be able to spend an entire day with us in Little Current training on Bella Blue, and we had a ride home. Pending no unforeseen disasters, we would have the next few days to enjoy our remaining time on the boat, then be back at home in time for the weekend.

We celebrated the news by taking a long, hot walk into Midland downtown on the nice waterfront pathway. The downtown was in a state of massive construction as they were halfway through ripping up the entire street and sidewalks and replacing it with a beautiful, modern streetscape that looked to include cobblestones, parklets, bike path, room for trees, and outdoor furniture. As a result of this most of the stores were closed and the place was a disaster, but it was going to be a nice spot when it was finished. After downtown we walked two hot and mostly uphill miles to a big commercial shopping area where there were dozens of stores - a Winners, pet store, a bunch of fast food restaurants, and even a Superstore where we did our final grocery run.

After a taxi ride back to the marina we discovered HQ2 was sold, and that Ken and Sheila (friends of Tony and Angela’s…and ours too - Sheila was the keyboard player in our reggae band) had arrived to spend the night and drive them plus all their gear back to Brantford. We decided that our boat sales happened at precisely the same time, so no dinner was owed, but a dinner would indeed be shared when we returned home. What a turn of events - at the start of the trip neither of us had considered selling our boats, but here we were after an amazing few weeks exploring Canada’s best cruising grounds, with both of our boats sold and left up north, and rides back home. You never know what’s going to happen in life, so you just roll with it and keep things interesting.

Our final meal together as a group was awesome - mushroom pasta, leftover pizza, bbq chorizo, Caesar salad, and a nice glass of some scotch Ken brought. We talked and laughed and wondered how on earth they were going to pack an entire boatload of gear into Ken and Sheila’s small car, which already had two bikes strapped on top. Our buyer had a full sized pickup but we also had a ton of gear so it was going to be tight as well.

After a final group picture and hug on the back of Bella Blue, we pushed off the dock at 8pm, sad to be leaving our friends after such a great trip, but looking forward to the grand finale in Little Current. I checked the weather and it looked okay for the night run - west winds of 10 knots, gusting to 15, which might make it a little bumpy but nothing we couldn’t handle, plus the winds were forecasted to lighten up after midnight. The first few hours were lovely as we traveled northward up through the sheltered bay area, looking at the mansions onshore, watching all the fishing boats rushing in under the final light of the day, and enjoying the warmth of the dropping sun. At 10pm I went down for a nap, then woke up at 1am to the sounds of whistling winds and waves smashing into the hull. It was windy, definitely 15 knots sustained, so we reefed the main sail, and I settled into the helm while Ana went down below to try and get some sleep. Stella wanted to do a night shift so she came up after getting a few extra layers of clothes on, and a lifejacket, and we both tied ourselves on with ropes to the helm as the winds seemed to be increasing. By the time we reached the middle of Georgian Bay, we were getting pulverized. The winds were probably up to 25 knots at times with white caps everywhere, spray coming off the tops of the waves - some of the larger of which were in the six foot range, and little stabs of lightening off in the distance. The ride was awful. Stella stayed with me for nearly two hours, then went down and crashed into sleep quickly. Poor Ana was getting seasick again, but not as bad as last time fortunately, and tossed and turned down below, laying face down on the floor trying to find any sort of relief. Magnus slept like a champ, on the dinette, with his leg flopped onto the top of the table to stabilize himself and as far as I know didn’t wake up once, which was a good thing as he would have been sick for sure. We have not had much luck this trip with our overnight sails.

As we neared the western shoreline around 5am, we became more and more sheltered from the wind and waves and the ride improved. By 7:30 we were rounding the point into the Lion’s Head bay and I did indeed see an image of a lion’s head in the rocky cliffs of the point - it was quite a beautiful scene, but I could also have been hallucinating as I was tired beyond belief and having a hard time not falling asleep standing up. Ana helped me get docked on a finger pier caked with goose poo, then we went to sleep, thankful to be off the angry lake.

Monday, August 10, 2020


My man Brad arrived at 8:30 am sharp and within two hours he had the new control board installed and the boat’s AC system spewing clean, cold air. I felt so bad for Dan, our temporary air conditioner, as he was immediately packed away into the front berth and unceremoniously ratchet-strapped to the solid steel lightening conductor pole to keep him from flying around the cabin under sail. Dan did a fine job, and was a fine crew member.

Ana and the kids had gone to explore downtown Midland during the AC work, so when they returned we started cleaning up all the excess junk on the boat to get it ready to show. We moved a cartload of stuff onto HQ2 after they arrived, which made the boat look tidy and uncluttered. In the morning I had cleaned every single square inch of her exterior and by the time we were done she was looking absolutely magnificent; in fact, the best she has ever looked and even better than the day we bought her 11 years ago. I think I’m actually going to be a bit emotional when we eventually sell her and I have to hand over the keys, as she has been such a good boat for us. When our kids get older and have families of their own, I know they are going to look back at their childhood and the first thing they will remember are all the amazing days we spent on Bella Blue, with friends and family, on Lake Erie, on Lake Ontario, on Lake Huron, in both Canada and the US, and all those hard earned miles sailing when we were forced to work together, tolerate each other in close quarters, learn to be resourceful, learn to be prepared, handle difficult and sometimes dangerous situations, and be ever exploring new places, meeting new people, and always, always relying on Bella Blue to safely get us where we needed to go. She is going to be missed.

Ana whipped up us a lunch of a Portuguese home staple - potatoes mixed with hard boiled eggs, canned tuna, hot sauce, onions, and balsamic vinegar. Then we realized maybe it wasn’t the best meal to be making inside a small boat just before it is being shown to potential buyers. So we cranked open the hatches, got the fans running, and thought we had fully aired it out, that is until Magnus returned to the boat and said, “Well I sure hope those people coming to see the boat like tuna.” Ana lit a candle.

Mark and Kelly arrived right on time and we liked them right away. Kelly was a teacher and Mark was a cop, so they were public sector leeches just like me and we got along famously, sharing tales of water cooler slapsticks, union scams, long lunches, dereliction of duties, pension entitlements, and retirement at 47. We had so much to discuss.

Since we had the time, and they didn’t seem to be in a rush, we showed them every system on the boat, from top to bottom. Well not the bottom, as we didn’t have enough masks and snorkels to go around, but definitely the top and insides. Kelly had sailed quite a bit, but not for many years, and Mark had never sailed before. After speaking with them for a while, they seemed to be the exact type of buyers we were hoping for as they were not hard core sailors, not interested in racing, but were looking for a comfortable and manageable sailboat they could use to learn to sail and to share with their family. After the boat tour we asked them if they wanted to take it out for a sail, and they agreed so I motored her out of the marina then gave Mark the helm. And we honestly had the best sailing of the trip as the wind was steady, the sun was shining, we weren’t actually going anywhere, and we weren’t in a rush. At one point the boat was heeling rather steeply and I looked over at Mark to see his reaction. In cases like this, the most likely outcome is the newbie turning white, shitting his pants, clutching wildly at the lifelines, screaming like a little girl, and vowing to never step foot on a sailboat again, which can be really good and is what we use normally use to get rid of friends and family we don’t care for. But in this case we did want them to enjoy themselves and buy our boat. Mark was smiling and when I asked him if the heeling bothered him, he just said it’s what he’d expect for a sailboat. Good man!

We returned to the marina and I docked it in ass-end first like I always do to show off, and surprisingly it didn’t fail miserably, then we talked a bit about price, timelines (which in our case were short indeed as we were starting our return journey to Sarnia the next day and their home marina would be Little Current in the North Channel). They then said goodbye and that they would be in touch soon. We felt quite good about their visit, but it was entirely possible that they would decide it was just not the right boat for them. So I really wasn’t getting my hopes up, and I always find it’s better to assume the course of action you least desire will happen, then you aren’t too disappointed when it does. But in any case, we really liked them and thought they would be excellent new owners for Bella Blue.

With all the hard work done, I headed over to the marina’s fine pool, and Tony and Angela joined me shortly thereafter, but Ana took a pass. The pool was interesting - it had a three foot deep shallow end, then a steep transition to the rest of the pool which was five feet deep. Angela figured out that if you started running underwater right at the bottom of the transition, you could run full speed and your feet would keep slipping and you could never make it anywhere. So the three of us lined up and started sprinting like hell, in a heart pounding race to nowhere. I said, “This sort of reminds me of my career at the City of Brantford.” This brought a chorus of laughter from the HQ2 crew, as they thanked their lucky stars their destinies had taken them nowhere near the public sector.

Because it was so nice and warm outside we decided to order Domino’s pizza to avoid cooking and heating up the boats. The pizza was not great, which infuriated Magnus as he is very loyal to Domino’s, but it filled the gap and at least the scenery from the picnic table where we ate was quite nice. We felt surprisingly exhausted after our late dinner so packed it in early for the night.

Watermelon Anchorage to Good Harbour on Webber Island then Midland

The damn cold weather finally broke and we were rewarded with a perfect morning. Quiet anchorage, glassy water, the sound of birds, warm sunshine heating up the bay water and the smell of instant coffee being brewed up on Bella Blue. It had been at least five days of cool, overcast weather so this was a welcome and overdue change.

I heard back from my AC guy and incredibly he had found a new control board and expected to receive it before Friday! So we arranged for the serviceman Brad to drive down to Midland Friday morning and install the new unit, then we could show the boat in the afternoon with a properly functioning AC. I love it when a plan comes together.

We did a 23 mile sail to Good Harbour on Webber Island, following the small craft route the entire way and fully enjoying the journey on such a warm and pleasant day. The closer we worked our way into Georgian Bay, the more numerous the cabins became, and soon the gaps between cottages were fewer and fewer. I was simply shocked at how many cottages exist in this area, and we learned that some of the oldest ones have been here for over a hundred years, so the government selling off public land to private owners has been happening for a very, very long time. To me, it does seem strange that individual people own entire islands. It doesn’t seem very Canadian to me, as we are such a bunch of socialist animals, but that’s probably just because I don’t own one of them; otherwise I’d be perfectly fine with it.

The anchorage was beautiful and nearly deserted when we arrived (only 1 group of 3 boats tied up together) so we grabbed pole position at the deepest and loveliest end of the bay and set anchor. As usual, it took a couple of attempts, but we finally stuck it then went for a swim and enjoyed the warm, delicious water. Soon a whole flock of boats arrive and started dropping anchor all over the place, but they didn’t try to deke me out and we maintained control of the end of the bay. HQ2 soon arrived, tied up to us, then we resumed goofing around by hanging hammocks on the boat, leaping off Bella Blue’s cockpit arch with the Prestone rope swing, paddeboarding, dingying, having beers and snacks, and enjoying the gorgeous weather.

Around 5pm, we pulled anchor and left HQ2 there for the night while we continued on the 14 miles to Midland, in order to be ready for the AC guy and potential buyers the next day. We travelled through Honey Harbour en route and had a nice, relaxing sail, arriving around 7:30 in Bay Port Marina - one of the nicest marinas we’ve ever seen in Canada, then assembled a delicious dinner of BBQ pork loin, corn, boiled potatoes and green salad. Just now I realized how often I mention food in these journals, but trust me man, any food cooked on a boat tastes twice as good as a similar thing cooked on land. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is.

Gilman Bay to Watermelon Anchorage in 12 Mile Bay

It was a cold, wet, and dreary morning and we didn’t get going until 10:30. Our plan today was to sail south-east towards the Beausoleil Island region, but the winds had really picked up and the weather forecast had deteriorated. Regardless, we sailed on, following what is called the “Small Craft Route” which is a path marked on the nautical charts that navigates you safely through the thousands of treacherous rocks, reefs, and shoals that allows you passage without having to go out into the wide open area of Georgian Bay, which was scary today with the north-west winds whipping up huge, confused waves with white foam flying off the top of them. We had a taste of that as we passed through one exposed area, and were happy to get into the more sheltered parts, until we realized the channel was extremely tight in spots and one mistake would send you crashing almost instantly into rocks. I was nervous with trepidation as we passed through these, hoping that my trusty diesel would not fail me. This was another moment of the trip when the nervous anxiety takes hold and you start doubting your choices, but are still secretly enjoying the thrill of the risk and the uncertainty of the outcome. When we perhaps a third of the way through our route, we decided it was just too dodgy to continue, so after a 12 mile run, we turned into 12 Mile Bay and were rewarded with….a beautiful bouquet of 8 floating birthday balloons! Like pros, Ana and Stella leaped on deck, prepared the boat hook, and effortlessly snagged up the prize. This was by far our largest balloon catch ever.

We sailed into an unnamed anchorage on the south side of the bay and found six other boats already there, seeking shelter. We anchored and HQ2 arrived shortly thereafter and tied up with us. A planning and scheming session ensured and thankfully Ana looked out the window as we were talking and noticed that our anchor had dragged and we were only 20 feet away from a rocky shoal. We leaped into action, pulled anchor, and moved into a much better location, then each dropped an anchor, plus an aft anchor to hold us in place. As we were trying to get anchored a crusty sailor lady was standing on her bow, staring at us and yelling when she felt we were getting too close, as it took two attempts to get the anchor set. A bit later on, Tony heaved severed chunks of a watermelon carcass overboard, thinking the pieces would sink, but instead they behaved just like little green boats, and floated their way right past her vessel and over to the powerboat behind her, which was the perfect setup to blame the lake pollution on the crusty sailboater, if such a thing would become necessary. Plus it provided the missing name for this anchorage - Watermelon Bay.

We decided to stay put for the night, so we had to think up something to keep us busy - movie night! We had brought along a projector and Tony had some white shrink-wrap, perfect for a screen. So we got to work constructing the theatre in the salon of HQ2, which was more complicated than you may think; it involved multi-meter 12 volt system testing, mobile inverters, blown fuses, jury-rigged electrical connections, re-constructed fuses with copper wire and tinfoil, Bluetooth speaker connections, auxiliary speaker cable, USB keys, HDMI cables, exacto knives, strategically placed pins, piled up boxes, lots of tape, and then a short photo op when we realized the setup looked just like one of Dexter’s kill rooms, so Tony grabbed a knife and Stella played the victim. That whole operation took about three hours, but it was time well spent.

Stella and I took a dingy ride to explore the bay, then we all joined forces to create a magnificent dinner on Bella Blue - pork kebabs, BBQ chicken, spaghetti squash, noodles, and lots of the finest boat-friendly boxed vino. We finished in time for Tony and I to “Skip The Dishes” and slip away for a cigar on the rocks, something we’d been planning for several days, and Magnus took on dingy chauffeur and photographer duties, and entertained us by doing wild 360’s, then for fun we grabbed a tree floating by the shore, loaded it up on the dingy, and hauled it back to the boat like a war prize. We got into a little bit of trouble for that whole episode, but movie night (Spy Game) turned out so spectacularly good that all was forgiven (I think). It also helped that Ana was contacted by a potential buyer and we had an appointment to show Bella Blue in Midland in two days! It’s nice when a day finishes with joyful events.

Parry Sound to Gilman Bay

Angela and Tony did the unthinkable and took off before us, as we had to wait for the HVAC guy to show up and diagnose our AC issues. So we bid them farewell with the hopes of meeting up later today in an anchorage if all went well. While waiting I had enough time to walk downtown and get myself a haircut. It was supposed to be an appointments only place, but the barber welcomed me in, put me in a chair, and starting buzzing. As I sat there enjoying the sights and smells of the barberia, I noticed something in front of me that I’d only ever seen in my dreams. It was a vacuum hose coming out of the bottom of the counter with a switch beside it. Sure enough, when the cut was done, she pulled out the hose, flipped the switch, and sucked every last piece of hair clippings off my head, ears, neck, shoulders, and face. Why the hell doesn’t every barber shop have one of these??? It seems so obvious, and I’ve even asked barbers over the years why they don’t just vacuum up all that horrible annoying hair instead of only brushing half off it off? After getting a great haircut, isn’t it horrible leaving a trail of tiny hair pieces everywhere you go for the rest of your day, not to mention getting it all over your hands, face and clothes, then the rest on your pillow overnight if you forget to rinse it out. I wish I’d taken a photo of it, best invention ever.

My man Brad showed up around 1:30, looked at our AC and discovered the start relay had burned out and taken out the control board too. But the good news was he was able to jump the wiring and get the system running and confirmed it was in excellent operating order besides the control board. So the next problem was going to be finding one, as I knew the company who made ours was no longer in business. But he said he’d pass the details to his boss and he would try to find one. At least I knew what the problem was now, but suspected the part was simply not going to be available and I’d need to buy a new system.

We had lunch on the boat, then finally left the dock at 2:15, giving us enough time to zip across the bay for a diesel fill and pump-out at Big Sound Marine, then sail the 2 miles to make the 3:00 opening of the Rose Point swing bridge, on the way to the south channel exit from Parry Sound. Well, our dock hand was competent, but very chatty, and provided us with much more local folklore than we needed at this particular time-sensitive junction of our trip, slowing down the pump and dump process, and leaving us with just enough minutes to make the 3:00 swing. But as I motored Bella Blue away from the dock, something sounded wrong with the engine, and sure enough there was no water coming out of the exhaust. Dammit!! So I spun her around and high-tailed it back to the dock, and just as we glided into it, the engine overheat light came on and the engine shut down. I pulled the engine compartment open. The raw water belt was fine, so it was either the impeller or the water intake. I took the easier one and pulled off the intake filter. Jammed with weeds! I dumped them out, gave it a rinse, screwed it back on, fired up the engine, confirmed water was coming out, then gave the thumbs up to the crew and we were back underway. It was 2:50 so I slammed the throttle down, raced as fast as we could, and arrived at the bridge at just 3:05, but there was no sign of it having opened, so we pulled up and tried calling the bridge on the radio. No answer. So we waited. But no dice. So we pulled into the nearby marina to wait for the 4:00 opening. At 3:55 we were back in position waiting for the swing. 3:00 and nothing. 3:05 and still no swing. So we called the operator and were told, “No swing until 5pm, only every 2 hours.” Dammit! Back to the dock, waited another hour, then finally made it through, and on the way through saw two small signs, one saying the bridge opens every hour, and the other saying it open every two hours, neither of which were remotely visible from the waiting area. Damn government sloppiness.

Fortunately the swing bridge delay was promptly forgotten as the the rest of the trip through the south channel was simply magical; impossibly narrow passages, many twists and turns, beautiful lakeside cottages, dozens of boats on the water - barges, bowriders, sea-doos, speed boats, working boats, even a small tug with an Azores flag flying, and such beautiful northern scenery. It seems one never tires of rocks and trees. We motored down past Sans Souci Island and past Harry’s, the famous fish and chips restaurant on Frying Pan Island, but sadly had no time to stop for a feeding. We continued into Half Moon Bay and past so many islands - Emerald Island, Pennsylvania Island, Moon Island, Flint Island, Moon Island, and finally into Gilman Bay, where we found HQ2 anchored solidly in the south end of the bay with hundred foot lines winding out both sides of the boat tied firmly to trees. This boat was going nowhere. However, our trusty companions were nowhere to be seen so I pulled out my 150 decibel air horn and gave it a quick, but earth shattering blast, and two stunned bed heads instantly appeared, shocked, then leaped into action and caught our lines as we glided in. So this is what it’s like to arrive second! Up until now the tortoise has beaten the hare at every anchorage, so this was a rare treat, and a wonderfully chosen spot.

As we shared our stories over happy hour and snacks by lantern light on HQ2, we learned that the massive, rich portions of fish and chips at Henry’s for their lunch stop had rendered Angela unconscious and pushed her into coma territory. It seemed her system could not handle all that whitefishy goodness, and was not even awoken by Tony’s one man comedy show trying to dingy dual hundred foot lines into the bush with a swinging boat and massive stomach pains from his own lunch overindulgence.

So after an action packed 20 mile sail, we gathered, we laughed, and we planned for tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

What’s That Sound? Parry Sound!

We knew yesterday was going to be tough to beat so today we focused on boat maintenance, shopping, and planning out the coming days. The weather forecast called for overcast skies and a bit of rain later in the day so we were happy spending another day here. After a rather slow morning the ladies went out to explore the shops of downtown Parry Sound while Tony and I did boat stuff. I dingy’d over to Sound Boat Works in search of the owner Gerry who knew all about fixing sailboats. I’d been trying to troubleshoot our AC unit and hit a dead end as there was no power making it to the compressor, which meant it was probably a control board issue and that’s about where my electrical expertise ends. I found Gerry, explained the issue, and he gave me the number for Todd - a local HVAC expert who did work on boats. I texted him and he actually replied (surprising as it was a civic holiday), and said he’d do his best to line somebody up to come and see the unit tomorrow.

In the meantime, Tony had gathered up a mountain of gear from HQ2 and I helped him pile into in the parking lot, then we waited for Nelson who had volunteered to transport it all back to Brantford since he was traveling there later this week. Nelson arrived and we allowed Tony a sad moment to say goodbye to all his invaluable gear, which included a leaf blower, an unused television, and a big stick Magnus had found in the bush back in Kincardine and stashed on their boat.

Tony and I then walked into town to meet the ladies for lunch. As Magnus had already bought himself a Subway sandwich he took a pass and chilled out on the boat. We went to the Bay Street Cafe, got a table inside, then realized this is the first time we’d been inside a restaurant since meeting Tony and Angela for lunch at the Cobblestone in Paris back in March! Damn the COVID. The meal was terrific, especially the deep fried Mars bar Stella was supposed to share with Angela for dessert, but all she got was a small bite as Stella greedily gobbled up the entire thing and was looking to lick the plate clean until Ana reminded her of something called table manners.

Ana, Stella and I then went to the Bearly Used Bookstore to browse through their collection of 250,000 used books. I could have stayed in there for an entire day, or perhaps week, but settled on a 30 minutes visit and walked away with two books. Stella found a fifty year old “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” which was about six inches thick and weighed several pounds, but we left that one on the shelf. After this, we took the long walk back up to Walmart to pick up a few things, which was really only an excuse to go for a long walk. On the way back we took the pedestrian bridge over the Seguin River, which just happened to pass by the Trestle Brewery so I nipped in and grabbed two sixers of their finest IPA and ale. The view from the brewery was quite amazing as it looked over a beautiful part of the river which includes rapids and two small waterfalls.

Happy hour on the dock was kicked up a notch as we had decided to skip dinner and focus on snacks, so we had all sorts of goodies, not to mention the craft beer. It was all going well until Magnus started feeding a duck corn chips, then all the duck’s mates showed up and there was a little gang of them taking food from his hand, off his foot, leaping up out of the water, causing quite a ruckus. At one point Magnus went inside Bella Blue, then the ducks swam away, but as soon as he reappeared, then spotted him instantly and raced back, like mindless worshippers.

With that, we finished off a comparatively slow day, but were looking forward to moving onto a new destination tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Holriques Meet the Bradshaws

The weather forecast today called for torrential rain, which came true as we woke up to what seemed like buckets of water being dumped on the sailboat. After breakfast Tony and I took apart the console of his boat to diagnose a beer fridge issue. Loose wire! We fixed that like champs then vacuumed the entire upper deck of HQ2 as they had an interested buyer coming at 11 to view the boat. Interestingly, this man’s family had actually owned this exact boat some twenty years prior, so they weren’t sure if they was just a nostalgia trip or somebody who was serious. While Tony and Angela were busy fluffing HQ2, Ana and I donned full rain suits and braved a walk into downtown to look for some goodies to bring along to our dinner party tonight. That’s right - we had been invited to a dinner party at our friends the Bradshaws, who have a cabin at Otter Lake, which is just a short drive from Parry Sound and used to own a fuel company and some gas stations (including the one where I filled up the propane tanks yesterday). There really wasn’t much open in town, except the LCBO which still had a damn line-up of people wrapped around the corner. Tell me something’s not wrong when you have a town with a bunch of empty buildings and closed businesses and yet the government-run monopoly is thriving. Free the booze!

Ana didn’t really find what she was looking for, but did find a couple of modest hostess gifts, then we topped it up with wine and beer packed into a cardboard box, which seemed like a great idea for carrying back to the boat until the damn thing started disintegrating in my hands and all over my rain suit during the soggy walk back. Upon returning we discovered that the HQ2 buyer was serious indeed and wanted to buy the boat! So they had arranged for a sea trial the following weekend in Midland, giving us just one more week with Tony and Angela to maximize fun.

Our friend Monica picked us all up at 2pm and we drove back to their cabin to meet up with her husband Nelson, their three beautiful daughters, Nelson’s sister Stephanie and her three sweet kiddies, as well as Nelson’s folks Brenda and David. We first got a tour of Nelson and Monica’s cabin, which they had recently renovated from top to bottom, and it was lovely and perched up on a hill with a stunning view over the lake. They then walked us down a forest path to the boathouse, which looked like a cabin in itself and was filled with all sorts of treasures - huge soaring exposed beams, a classy polished wood boat, bubblers, cool inflatable docking pads, mounted sailfish and bass, an antique fuel pump, paddle boards, composite dock chairs, and really was the coolest boat house ever. We when proceeded up to Nelson’s parents cabin (also lake front and real classy) and met them and Nelson’s sister for the first time - all such lovely people. We got right to it, drinking fine craft beer and wine, visiting, laughing, demolishing charcuterie boards, discussing everything from politics to horses to schooling. We all felt like old friends to me.

Nelson put together a five star BBQ effort - two kinds of sausages, perfectly cooked sirloins, and this delicious, buttery fresh corn mixture scorched in a cast iron pan on the grill. Combined with the salads and sides we feasted like champs around a custom build Mennonite table for 12. Dave started the meal with a fine blessing then we tucked in and kept the conversations going.

“So what are your plans for tomorrow?” Dave asked us.
“We’re coming back here,” I responded quickly.

Everyone thought that was pretty funny, so I had to pretend like I was kidding. After dinner we settled into the couch for some more chatting while the kids goofed around with the youngsters and the three lovely dogs. Tony and I had brought some cigars for the men, but we didn’t quite get around to those, so hopefully Nelson and his dad can have a nice lakeside smoke together this week.

We said our damn non-hugging COVID goodbyes which are a sad substitute for the real thing, and left with some new friends. I can’t say I’m surprised at how amazing Nelson’s folks and sister are, knowing him and Monica.

Back at the boat we immediately started making a list of people we knew in the area who had cabins, or people we knew who may know somebody in the area with a cabin, and also brainstormed some creative ideas to befriend locals with nice cabins as quickly as possible, as these dinner party invitations were really working out well for us.

Collins Inlet to Parry Sound

Daybreak on a sailboat is a magical experience. First, there is darkness with a million stars overhead blanketing the night sky. Every direction you look offers blackness, unless the moon is up, which sheds some light on the seascape. You may see lights if you are close to shore - lights from wind turbines, navigational markers, lighthouses, other boats, or the nuclear glow of light pollution radiating from a city or town. But it is dark and what lies directly in your boat’s path is a mystery. Then, an hour or more before dawn, the sky begins to ever so slowly lighten in the east. The change is slow, but unstoppable. If you look up there are less stars visible. Then the east starts to glow red and orange, and only the brightest stars and planets are visible, and usually a cold chill takes over the air, but it doesn’t last long. The reddish orange glow increases in intensity and expands north and south, and keeps strengthening until the rim of the glowing red ball peeks over the horizon, then rises surprisingly quickly, extinguishing any remaining starlight or moonlight. The sky is aglow, then as the sun rises, the sky turns blue, and the path ahead of your boat is lit. Daybreak has arrived. The chill leaves the air and is replaced with the warming rays of the sun, which burn off the morning dew from the boat and start heating up the surfaces. The frequent nighttime feelings of fear, dread, anxiety, and uncertainty are replaced with optimism, hope, and confidence. It is the start of a new day.

As Ana and I pulled anchor at 4am and untied ourselves from HQ2, it was dark indeed and the path out of Collins Inlet and to the open waters of Georgian Bay was strewn with treacherous rocks, reefs, and shoals and we only had the chart plotter to guide the way. This is a risky thing to do, as all it takes is for the chart plotter to fail and you are left blind in the dark, so we kept the windless on in case we needed to quickly drop anchor. We made it out okay and I was very happy to reach the open waters.

And thus began our first experience with Georgian Bay, technically the north-eastern part of Lake Huron, but it could have very easily been dubbed a Great Lake in itself. Our destination was Parry Sound, about 75 miles to the south east, and we were quite excited to be moving into a more populated area, with much larger towns, more things to do for the kids, and completely new to us as we’ve never really visited any of these towns by car or boat.

Today was the first day of the trip we’ve sailed with completely flat waters. You may think to a sailor this would be unappealing, but for us motoring on a still day across glassy water is a real pleasure. No heeling, no upchucking, no tending sails, no punishing wind burn on the face, with the only downside being the relentless hum of the diesel, which we’re used to because most of the wind we’ve had on the trip has been directly in our face so we’ve been motoring frequently anyway.

The long entrance to Parry Sound harbour was a frenzy of small fishing boats, large cruisers, long distance kayakers, canoes, sailboats, float planes, paddle boarders, speedboats and sea doos zipping around the dozens of islands, rocks, and marker buoys which seemed to be scattered haphazardly. I’m sure it all made sense to the local boaters, but for somebody new to the area, it required close attention to navigate in safely. As we neared the Big Sound Marina I radioed in on VHF channel 68 to get directions for dockage and was rewarded with the best radio etiquette and docking instruction I’ve ever heard from a marina. Andy the dock master guided us in perfectly, caught our lines, introduced himself and the marina, gave us some information on the area, and was the epitome of a well trained and responsible dock hand. HQ2 arrived shortly after us and the competence of the dock staff was the first thing Tony mentioned to me. Well done Big Sound Marina! We need could use a lot more Andys on the lakes.

After 77 miles on the water, we were ready for a break, but instead of that we grabbed our two propane tanks, called up the local taxi company, and were off into the metropolis of Parry Sound. The main road entrance into the marina was bizarre - it was a rough, gravel, back alley path which wound around the back of the main building with nothing but a tiny sign partially obscured by trees identifying the marina. Just outside of the marina was a huge performing arts centre called the Stockey Centre and a Bobby Orr museum, right on the lake front. Downtown was just a short distance away, and on the way there we saw the main tourist marina with float planes and tour boats, several restaurants, and a craft brewery. The main downtown area was nice but many of the stores appeared closed or vacant except, of course, the LCBO which had a lineup of people snaking around the corner.

The driver dropped us off at Bradshaw Fuels (remember that name) and we filled up the ten pound tanks, then left them sitting at the side of the gas station while we walked further up the street to pick up supplies. First stop was at the Shopper’s Drug Mart for…I”m not sure what, then we walked a bit further up the main street to a shopping centre with a Dollarama, Walmart, Home Depot, and a Pet Value. Stella and Magnus went to look at the furry critters while Ana and I did some grocery shopping at Walmart. Every single person we saw was wearing a mask, sanitizing their hands, and keeping their distance, and they all seemed very comfortable doing it. This is the new normal and these folks up north seem to be doing a lot better job of it than we are back in Brantford…but hopefully that has changed since we’ve been gone.

We taxi’d back to the marina with our tanks and groceries, packed everything into Bella Blue (Ana’s job, not mine…otherwise the buns would likely get squashed into flatbreads) and then sat down for a happy hour drink. Tony and Angela recent sold their sign company, so we asked their expert advice in crafting a “for sale” sign for our boat. They said they’d had a lot of customers who did exceptionally well with cardboard signs and electrical tape letters so we put Magnus to work designing a highly detailed, professional-looking sign with the finest materials and European-level craftsmanship. The sign was so good that we attracted a customer just as Magnus was pasting it to the side of the boat. It’s good to have friends in the business.

With that, the day was wound down and we retired to the cozy and comforting belly of Bella Blue.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Collins Inlet

Magnus jumped into the water for the morning bath, then nearly ran across the top of the water back to the boat like a cartoon character as the subsurface temperature was under 19 degrees - 8 degrees less than our last swim. I nearly chickened out, but then psyched myself up by going down below in the v-berth at the front of the boat and sprinting through the cabin, scaling the steps, racing through the cockpit, then launching myself cowabunga-style into the icy waters. The heart-stopping pain only lasted for a few seconds, then I had my morning bath and felt most refreshed.

The anchorage was, of course, beautiful in the morning, so we had a leisurely breakfast and goofed around until 10 or so, then pulled anchor and sailed east through the Killarney channel and continued onto the west entrance of Collins Inlet - a 15 mile long river like passage that is only accessible during high water years, like this one. Stella was in command of the helm today and she navigated us safely with only a little help from Ana and I.

There were a surprising number of boats, both meeting us and passing up, as we crossed the channel. Some parts of it became very narrow and it felt just wrong being there with a sailboat, but the depths were good throughout. We stopped halfway through and anchored for lunch, then continued onto the end, and turned south into the larger bay which was clustered full of islands, rocks and shallow spots. The wind was blowing strong from the south-east, and we had a tough time finding a good anchorage, checking out at least four potential ones before finally deciding on the east side of Toad Island. I didn’t much like the anchorage, but it was the best option we could find and as we were lining up for anchoring I pulled the boat in too shallow and we felt a slight bump of the keel as it hit rock - Bella Blue’s first contact with the North Channel! I simply reversed out into deeper water and we stuck the anchor on the first try then HQ2 tied up alongside us.

As we progressed through happy hour drinks, the winds died and we were left with a reflective and glassy lake surface. We took a moment to recognize this would be our final evening in the North Channel, and Tony and I decided to light up Cuban Partagas cigars to acknowledge the milestone. One of the empty aluminum cigar tubes accidentally plopped into the water and began slowly floating away with the current. Stella looked at it, went down below in the cabin for a while, then came back up and could still spot in the distance. She told us she felt terrible that we polluted the lake so she jumped in the dingy by herself and motored out to rescue the cigar tube. After retrieving it she was so happy with being able to solo the dingy that she started it up again and went for a ride into the island, got off and then did some exploring. While she was gone, we hatched a plan. Magnus had given Tony and Angela a miniature rubber man named Brad, as a travel companion for HQ2. We decided it was time for Brad to set out on his own journey and make his own way in life, so we jammed him into the cigar tube and then Stella wrote a note explaining he had been thrown off his last ship on suspicions of mutiny, of which he was mostly innocent, but was COVID-free and looking for a new home. She also left our email address and asked that the new owner please contact us to let us know Brad was all right, although why we’d care after ejecting him from our boat and stuffing him in a cigar tube was a little hard to explain. Stella put the threaded top on the tube and Magnus lit a candle then dipped it in wax to waterproof it and then Brad and his waterproof vessel were ceremoniously hurled overboard. We wish you luck Brad. Bon voyage!

Kira Bay to Covered Portage

Today was a travel day so we pulled anchor at 5:45 am and set sail for Little Current, 47 miles to the east. The lake was nearly empty of boats so I set the auto-pilot and cracked open the laptop to do some writing. It hasn’t been easy finding time to write during this trip - the days seem to start very early and are full of activity. You would think traveling by slow sailboat would provide many hours of quiet time for solitary pursuits, but there is always a lot to do. Planning out your course, setting up waypoints, trimming the sails, scanning the seascape for boats, monitoring your course, looking for floating water hazards, eating snacks, cleaning the boat, preparing meals, monitoring the VHF radio, fixing things that inevitably break, and the list goes on. But today, I made the time to write.

We arrived in Little Current, got pumped and dumped, then tied up at the free public dock to fill our water tanks, plug into shore power to charge phones, and allow us time for a quick grocery shop. While there, a couple walked by and asked Ana about the boat, and when she mentioned it was for sale they were interested so we told them all about Bella Blue and took them onboard for a tour. We don’t know if they are seriously interested, but it was nice to show the boat nonetheless. When a person makes an unannounced visit, leaving no time for the owners to “fluff” the boat, I think they get a much better indication of what the boat is really like to sail and live on, with all its flaws and imperfections, but also the many features. I will be sad to see her go if she sells, as this boat has taken us to so many incredible places, so many times, and provided several lifetimes worth of memories. Plus a lot of scars on my hands, feet and legs.

From here we pushed on an additional 20 miles to meet up with HQ2 in the Covered Portage anchorage, just west of Killarney, arriving around 7pm, making for a long sailing day. We were really happy to see them again and to be back with our trusty cruising partners. They were already anchored in a great spot so we tied up with them and cracked a beer for happy hour. This anchorage is stunning; you first reach the outer bay then enter through a narrow channel then it opens up into a small inner bay completely surrounded by tree-covered hills and steep rock cliffs, giving it a “covered” feel. It is probably the second most popular anchorage in the North Channel so there were at least 25 boats anchored in the inner and outer bays.

Ana, Stella and I went for a slow dingy ride around the anchorage then as mosquito hour was really winding up, we retired into the boat for refuge, played a game of Kaiser, then collapsed into sweet sleep.

Kira Bay, All Day

The original plan was to leave this morning to rejoin HQ2, but after seeing the kids having such a spectacular time together, we just couldn’t break it up so were invited to stay for another day. Everybody was up by the time Ana and I dingy’d into shore, and Kira was busy making bacon and wild blueberry pancakes for breakfast using those berries we picked a few days back in the Benjys.

Ana and I grabbed coffees and set up on the loungers by the water with books and spent a lovely hour relaxing and reading. The cabin library included a book on Canadian inventors and it was fascinating. Canadian inventors have been responsible for creating nearly every piece of communication technology that exists in the world today - from wireless voice transmission, to fibre optics, to radio, to pagers, to the internet, and even the personal computer. Other Canadian inventions include peanut butter, commercial jets, the snowmobile, sonar, lacrosse/hockey/basketball, the jockstrap to protect the aforementioned testicle-crushing sports, the electric wheelchair, botox (you’re welcome, Hollywood), IMAX, Standard Time, insulin, the electron microscope, plexiglass, the electric oven and Easy-Off oven cleaner, the Robertson screw, and so many others. A man named Reginald Fessenden, whom I’ve never heard of, was the most prolific Canadian inventor and received hundreds of patents in radio and sonar technologies. But the common theme running through all these inventions was the lack of follow through. In the vast majority of cases, the commercialization of the inventions was bungled or the inventions themselves were stolen, ripped off, sold early for a ridiculously low figure, abandoned, or otherwise wasted. And most of the inventors had to move to the US to get the financial support they needed and bring their ideas to market because the Canadian government and investors would not support them. The ones that didn’t ended up penniless. It is a happy story, but also a very sad one.

The rest of the day was spent in an island way - walking, frog-spotting, powerboat rides, swimming, eating, drinking, and a volleyball rematch where the kids got their game together and whipped the adults properly. During a powerboat ride we visited their neighbours (several kilometres away as the lots are enormous) and saw the pile of beautiful cedar posts and 2x8x12s they had cut from their own cedar trees using a sawmill, which were being used to construct a new deck. I hadn’t even really noticed the towering cedar, pine and hardwood trees everywhere and the incredible value they represent on these lands.

We barely saw any of the kids the entire time we spent at the cottage. They were completely consumed with each other playing board games, volleyball, badminton, swimming, dingying back and forth to the boat, snorkelling, playing with the dog, watching tv, and really having the time of their lives.

It was a glorious day and we finished it with a sundowner then slowly gathered our things, said goodbye to our hosts, and dingy’d away for the last time. Upon boarding the boat I smashed my ankle into steering pedestal, cranked my head on the gangway, scraped my hip on the corner of the counter, then caught my finger in a hatch hinge. Being exposed to large, wide open, luxurious cottage spaces during a boat trip does have consequences.

Gore Bay to Kira Bay

We threw off the dock lines at 5:45am and were on our way westward to pay a visit to our friends Dave and Kira at their cottage, 23 miles away in a spot south of Barrie Island, near Helen Bay, but we’ve just been calling it “Kira Bay” to make things easy. Their kids Tula and Esme are the same ages as Magnus and Stella and they have gone to school together since kindergarten. The kids have been looking forward to this visit, which will give them a chance to spend some time off the boat and get away from us for some much needed space. Tensions have been running a bit higher than normal on the boat, a likely consequence of being jammed together in a very small space for 24 hours per day. And the very limited internet access doesn’t help.

The wind was blowing from the west at about 13 knots, right in our face, and the waves were sizeable so the ride was a bit rough and we had to motor into the waves. Once we turned the corner around Barrie Island we got on the happy side of the wind and put up the sails, which increased our speed and improved stability, albeit at a rather steep heel. The kids slept soundly right up until we were very close to our final destination, then I put Stella on the wheel so I could go down for a quick shower.

As we rounded Ned Island and finally got eyes on the likely cabin site, an unknown, wide-brim hatted figure appeared in a canoe paddling toward us. It was Dave! He pulled up beside Bella Blue in his birch strip canoe and we had a quick visit, then we anchored Bella Blue in front of their cabin and dingy’d in and were met by Kira and the kids and had big COVID-free hugs. It was so great to see them all. When they first told us several years ago that they had a family cabin on Manitoulin Island, and showed us where it was, I told Ana that we were going to sail there and meet them one day. And here we were! They gave us a tour of the cabin and it was far, far more elaborate than I had pictured - fully solar powered, UV filtered water, amazing huge kitchen, and such a cool design with exposed beams, rugged steel fittings, steel roof and lots and lots of space, which is tough to come by living on a boat. On the lake they had a big sundowner dock with lounge chairs and umbrellas, a longer dock leading into the water, with a slide at the end, and a floating dock anchored just offshore.

We had a huge lunch then went for a walk to explore the other buildings on the property, and the small beach area that was no longer there due to the high water levels. Dave and I then drove several kilometres down a twisty gravel road to the main highway to pick up Tony and Angela, as they had decided to catch a ride from a local driver instead of coming the long distance by boat. With perfect timing, we arrived at the locked gate just as they were being dropped off and then we all hopped back in Dave’s vehicle and returned to the cabin. The Henriques already knew Dave and Kira through work and social events, plus we all played in a reggae band together for a while. Yes that’s right, and it was a band destined for great things, until we got screwed by our agent, then there was the substance abuse issues, the relentless touring schedule, the inflamed egos, the in-band fighting, et cetera, et cetera. I guess you could say we followed the standard rock/reggae band playbook and blew the whole thing up, then just went back to our solo careers; focused mainly in basements and around campfires.

Tony, Dave and I dingy’d out to the bay to see a sunken ship while the ladies visited on shore. Actually, we left without Dave and he pointed us off in the completely wrong direction then paddled himself over to the right spot. Once we eventually caught on, we cruised over and helped him find the wreck then put on the snorkels and went for a look. It was an old steamer and we were able to see the boiler, many of the gears, lots of lumber and other bits and pieces that were hard to recognize. It was in less than 10 feet of water so very easy to see.

The rest of the afternoon spent together was lovely, except for when the kids challenged us to a volleyball game and the three of us men miraculously trounced them and felt real bad - especially since the stakes were dinner dish duty, so the unfortunate youngsters scrubbed pans while we drank beer. Kira put together a five star dinner with fried whitefish, fresh cut fries, seared ribeye steak, salads, and bottles of wine courtesy of the Henriques. If this is what living in the bush is like, I could get used to it. But it was no big surprise really as we already knew that Kira was a formidable cook.

Ana, Dave and I took Bella Blue out for a hard motor run to get the batteries charged up, while Kira drove Angel and Tony out to the road for their lift back to Gore Bay, then once back we settled in and played some music with the guitar and ukulele. Dave is an incredible musician and one of these guys who knows the chords and lyrics to hundreds of songs, which makes it easy for me to join in and just follow along. Trust me, if you are ever stuck around a campfire and run out of ideas for things to do, Dave is your man.

The kids decided they were all going to sleep on Bella Blue for the night, so packed in the dingy and took off. A couple of hours later Ana got a call from Magnus saying there was a lighting storm in the distance freaking them out so they jumped back in the dingy and got set up in the cabin instead. Ana and I switched places with them and spent a blissfully quiet and roomy evening on the boat, at anchor, with the beauty of Manitoulin Island all around us.

Spanish to Gore Bay

Spanish weather was a bit icky - chilly, windy, and the threat of rain hung in the air. Our original plan was to continue west towards Bear Drop Harbour and spent another night on the hook, but somebody on the crew (not going to say who) threatened mutiny if she didn’t get some clean underwear, because she likes to wear brand new clothes every day and god knows she didn’t learn that move from me. The laundry facility at the Spanish marina was closed, and the next closest one was 20 miles away in Gore Bay, so we adjusted the plan and set out southward.

The sailing was good and the winds were higher than expected, heeling the boat way over as we crossed the open waters on the way into Gore Bay. We were last here four years ago and just happened to arrive the evening before their annual Gore Bay Festival, which provided a crazy weekend of entertainment and events. There was going to be no such luck this year as all of the festivals had been cancelled (thanks COVID!) and the level of boater traffic was also way down so we arrived to a mostly empty marina and a whole lot of quiet.

Gore Bay is the base for a company called Canadian Yacht Charters and they charter out a large fleet of boats for cruising in the North Channel throughout the summer months. Ana and I walked over to check in at the marina and I noticed that the listing of charter boats posted on the wall included a 2016 Gemini Legacy catamaran, so after settling up we went next door to the charter company (which doubles as a well stocked marine store) to inquire on the boat. The lady I spoke with didn’t seem to have any clue about the boats, and despite selling paddle boards also didn’t seem to know whether or not they sold paddles. Her colleague wasn’t able to help either and the whole operation seemed confused and in disarray. We went for a walk on the docks to see if we could track down the boat and did find one catamaran, but it was an older PDQ type. As we were looking at it another staffer from the charter company ran out to talk to us and told us he didn’t know anything about a Gemini but the PDQ was for sale, and that we could go onboard, but had to stay out of the starboard cabin as he was currently residing there. As we were boarding, some other staffer started yelling at us from office, then yelled at the guy who let us on and the whole thing was rather unprofessional. We were eventually allowed to look at the boat, and it was dirty, poorly maintained, and had a bad layout. Many boats were in storage on land so we took a stroll through there and did find the Gemini and had a good look around the exterior of the boat. Knowing that pretty much every boat is for sale, we returned to the office and spoke with the yelling man, who first tried selling us the PDQ and seemed very reluctant to even discuss the Gemini, but finally relented and called the owner, but was told it was definitely not for sale.

HQ2 arrived and we helped them get docked, then Angela and Magnus and I walked over to the marina’s laundry/washroom facility where Ana was already doing laundry. As we approached the building Ana came out, waved us away, and then told us there was an angry man who was swearing and accusing her of cutting in line. When I looked over he started swearing at us again and I told him to take it easy then he jumped up and was ready for a round of fisticuffs over his laundry spot. I ran over and delivered a flying side-kick to his solar plexus then walloped him with a flurry of punches, elbows, knees, roundhouse kicks and clothesliners. Through all the blood I noticed he was wearing a stupid Toronto Maple Leafs jersey so I pulled it over his head then speed bagged him in the face for a minute or two then finished him off with a perfectly executed DDT, just like my hero Jake “the Snake” Roberts would do. My crew all cheered then presented me with the championship belt, which I put on proudly, but not before mercilessly beating my unconscious opponent with it for good measure.

In reality, Ana wisely defused the situation and we walked away leaving the profoundly disturbed and unhappy man to fume and swear as he waited for our gitch to finish in the spin cycle.

As we walked way Angela said, “Welcome to Gore Bay.”

Our explorations in downtown Gore Bay were equally unsatisfying as many places were closed (including their fantastic Legion) and Magnus got yelled at in a convenience store for no good reason. We picked up supplies and rolled our shopping carts right back to the docks, in fact right up to the stern of Bella Blue and unloaded everything, then returned the carts and got set up for happy hour. A mink appeared on a partially submerged piece of dock and we watched as he dove down into the water, came up with a crayfish in his mouth, then proceed to disembowel it and munch up all the good pieces while leaving the claws and head in a tidy pile on the dock. He did this two more times and looked to be living a very good life indeed.

After dinner we took a walk with Tony and Angela and the kids through the marina dry docks again to see the Gemini (and had another strange and off-putting chat with the charter company guy who liked to yell) then walked a bit beyond the marina and found a nice craft beer place (closed), restaurant (closed) and an art gallery (closed). But our boats are always open so we returned and spent the rest of the evening chatting, enjoying dock Scotch, and watching a muskrat slide back and forth through water over and over and over again.

The Benjamin Islands to Spanish

My first order of business for the day was to go for a paddle board ride, but I didn’t get far into it before the damn paddle snapped in half. Chinese junk! I really thought it would have survived longer than a year, but at least the board itself is still in good condition. I used the half paddle for the rest of the ride, then returned to the boat and cooked up a big sausage and egg breakfast for my gang. Once we were all ready, the next mission was to scale the massive rock hill to the west of the anchorage, so we jumped into the dingies and motored the short distance over. Many of the boats that were anchored here had already left, or were preparing to leave as the weather today was windy and overcast. Plus it was Sunday so I imagine some poor suckers had to go back to work.

We climbed the hill and were rewarded with a magnificent view over the entire anchorage - the boats, the hard rock surfaces, the water lapping up against the shoreline, the thick forest. There may be some better fresh water anchorages in the world, but I certainly can’t think of any. Meandering through the forest with no particular destination was fun and we found dozens of patches of blueberry bushes full of berries, so Magnus offered up his bandana and we fashioned a satchel out of it large enough to collect a sufficient amount of blueberries for a future breakfast, maybe blueberry pancakes or blueberry oatmeal? Angela and Stella found some designer moss and fancy ferns so uprooted the whole lot in the hopes of setting up a botanical garden on HQ2.

After our walk we got both boats ready to go and left the anchorage through an impossibly narrow passageway to the west, then started making our way northward the 11 miles to the town of Spanish. Cruising around these parts is strangely scary as you have to navigate through channels that you normally wouldn’t sail anywhere close to with the expectation of hitting rocks, reefs or bottom. But here, many of the shorelines drop cliff-like into the water creating plenty of depth even though you may only be passing a couple of metres from the shoreline.

The passage takes us northwards, snaking around rocks and islands, passing shorelines thick with trees, deadfall, and wildlife, moving at a steady pace. At one point we spot something that seemed impossible - a small sailboat towing behind it a Sea Doo, then behind that was another Sea Doo, then behind that was a dingy. Now this would be completely normal if it was a powerboat towing this flotilla of planet killing carbon spewing machines, but a sailboat? I can only imagine it must have been a sailboater with even more powerboat tendencies than us.

The channel approach to the Spanish marina (or perhaps I should say “marina in Spanish” to avoid confusion) was narrow, and my attempt to shortcut it nearly ended in disaster as I watched the depth sounder go from 15 feet to 10 feet to 5 feet, then I cranked the wheel just before we plowed the keel into muck and managed to pull it into deeper waters. There were no less than four dockhands that helped us get docked in the strong wind and current, and they knew exactly what they were doing.

Ana and I walked over to the marina office to get checked in and buy some ice. The super friendly staff gave us the rundown - showers, washrooms and laundry were closed due to COVID, the town centre of Spanish was a 25 minute walk but there might not be much open today, and they did indeed have ice, and sold me two bags then gave me a free tote bag to carry it in. We picked up Angela and Tony and walked into town to see if we could find a grocery store, The town of Spanish is built alongside the Trans Canada highway and is not the prettiest village, but man are the people friendly here. The grocery store was closed, but we stopped into a surprisingly well stocked outdoors store for a few minutes right before closing time, then the only other places open were a convenience store and the Lucky Snack Bar, whose sign claimed it was “Known Worldwide”. Well, there were about 15 people standing around the place waiting for food and drinks so there must be some truth in that boast. We each got a single scoop cone, which turned out to be about four scoops impossibly balanced on the small cone, and enough for a meal. Ana wasn’t even able to finish hers but I just hate wasting food so consumed all 4000 calories worth of my walnut maple masterpiece.

Back to the marina we went, thinking not too much nor too little about the village of Spanish, and enjoying the long walk. The kids had barely noticed we’d left as they were drawn deeply into their devices, and there really wasn’t much to do there anyway. Tony and I settled into dock chairs and struck up a conversation with a fellow named Rick who owned a hulking, wooden hull 1968 Pacemaker, and he invited us aboard for a tour and a beer. The vessel was enormous inside, and had all the classy oak, brass, and finishings you would expect of that vintage boat. While we were doing that, Stella and Angela set up a little gardening operation on the dock and transplanted the moss and ferns they found the day before into lovely little planters, and displayed them proudly on the stern of HQ2.

Shepherd’s pie was on the menu and we all dined aboard Bella Blue. There were plans made for movie night, but everybody was too exhausted so it was off to bed.

McNeill Cove to the Benjamin Islands

Our bad ideas for today includes dingy drag racing and testing a twin outboard configuration on one of the dingies. You might think it’s easy coming up with new risky and ill-advised ideas every day on these trips, but it is definitely not and takes some real deep thinking from otherwise shallow thinkers. Tony is an amazing source of bad ideas, and a real inspiration for me because sometimes my bad ideas get a little repetitive and it’s always good to inject some fresh stupidity into the mix.

Before anybody else was up, I sat in the cockpit and listened to the the sounds of the morning emerging like a mayfly. The call of the loon. The clicking and chirping of the squirrels. The splash of a bass surfacing for a bug. The buzz of a thousand forest insects. And then, what’s this, a new sound? I listen carefully, trying to identify the source. It’s very hard to discern, but it seems close, very close. Strangely close. Wait a minute, I recognize it - the Portuguese man snore, coming from the window screen of HQ2, tied up securely beside us. So as not to awaken the sleeping beauty, I took the paddle board out for a long ride around the entire bay and out to the larger lake. It was such a beautiful morning, with glassy waters, the smell of forest, the warm water, and a clear sky. It’s easy to see how people fall in love with the North.

Magnus took the lead for team Bella Blue and Tony was leading the HQ2 crew. They lined up the dingies at the start line, revving their powerful engines (2.5 HP for Magnus versus a beefy 3.5 HP for Tony), igniting the forest with the tortured screams of machine revving tension. The crowd was going into frenzy, with mad cheering and hollering and every single one of us, despite paying for our full seat, were only using the edge of it.

Stella sounded the air horn and the dingies launched into flight. Tony took an early lead, masterfully manoeuvring the dingy into Magnus’ path and snuffing out his progress with a formidable wake. Tony flipped on his turbo afterburners and the chiselled vessel rocketed ahead, slicing through a family of ducks, and seared through the liquid finish line well ahead of Magnus, sending the poor lad into a prominent position in the annals of dingy racing underachievers. Tony savoured the win by blowing kisses to the ladies, raising his hands in victory, and imprinting this legendary moment in his mind as a forever keepsake of this magical moment.

Magnus, furious with the insulting loss, challenged Tony to a rematch, drag racing three rings around the two anchored boats. Tony confidently accepted, and once again lined up against Magnus, but when the sound of the air horn erupted, Magnus got the jump on him, burning him out and nearly swamping him with a monstrous wake, while at the same time flipping him the middle finger, cementing the insult. Tony, forced to the outside, tried in vain to catch up, but was simply outmanoeuvred by the wisened Magnus, and sucked his wake the entire match. Magnus cruised through the finish line with his hands in the air, savouring the victory, claiming the throne of ultimate dingy champion.

After all that excitement it was time to pull anchor and head west 19 miles to the Benjamin Islands - the premier anchorage in all of the North Channel. Navigating through these areas is quite easy as they are well charted and there are marker buoys throughout. We passed by dozens of islands to our north - Eastern, High, Galt, Tupper, and Hog Islands, as well as Louisa Rocks and Belcher Rocks (excuse me). As we approached Croker Island we passed to the south, had a quick look at the anchorage there, then turned north-west and coasted into the north anchorage of South Benjamin, and were soon in the company of 25 other anchored boats, which is actually a slow Saturday in the Benjys. There was enough time for a swim to the island, some snorkelling, some paddleboarding, and bbq burgers for lunch before our HQ2 partners arrived and got tied up alongside us. The anchorage is really stunning, but to really appreciate it you can climb any of the surrounding rock mountains to get the bird’s eye view.

Once settled, we hopped in the dingies and did a full circumnavigation of the island, stopping to take some pictures on a stunning rock formation, then for a short hike on the smooth rocky surface at the south of the island, and then to grab some firewood on the east side of the island, where we found a beautifully tranquil forest scene with thick moss, deadfall, and a series of small caves naturally cut out of the rock cliffs.

The day was not done yet, for after a spectacular HQ2 dinner of chicken and shrimp pasta, we gathered up our guitar, harmonicas, drinks and bug spray and dinghy’d into the rock shoreline and sparked up a campfire. We played the intros of a few songs, the choruses of a few others, and Magnus did some nice finger picking, but generally our campfire song skills are really not up to snuff, but hey man, it’s all good in the forested hood.