Tuesday, August 4, 2020

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 taxied 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.

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