A day at play in the North Channel: west in the morning against a strong breeze to Little Current; a boat lunch and swim, then to Dreamer's Rock; a late afternoon exploration of McGregor Bay; a fast run back to Killarney; dinner at the Inn. (Five Photographs)
|Date:||Wednesday August 1, 2001|
|Weather:||Warm and sunny|
|Waves:||3-foot in Frazer Bay|
|Destination:||Little Current, Manitoulin Island, and return|
|Distance:||50 miles by boat|
This morning we are really at our destination already, as we plan to return here tonight, but we invent a mission to go boating. We'll head west to the town of Little Current on Manitoulin island and then run up to Neptune Island to drop in on our fellow Boston Whaler enthusiast, John Flook.
We exit the Killarney Channel on the western end and head across to the Lansdowne Channel (Sheet 1 of Chart 2205). This stretch of the Small Craft Route is very familiar to me, as we have been up and down these passages many times in our twenty or more trips up here.
One thing we have learned in cruising this area is that the wind generally blows either west or east. Today it is from the west, and it is blowing up the Lansdowne channel with some power behind it. Heading into it at 20 MPH creates a gale of apparent wind across the boat. We struggle up the Lansdowne and turn into the shelter of another Snug Harbour for a little tour of one of our favorite anchorages.
I am curious how much water there will be at the entrance bar, as this year is the lowest lake level we've experienced, but we find at least six feet under our bottom as we enter. Inside there is a large collection of boats, almost all sailboats with a few trawlers mixed in, and they seem to eye our little fleet of Boston Whalers with suspicion. After three days of passing dozens and dozens of anchorages like this on the way up, Snug Harbour seems to have lost some of its allure. And sharing the beauty with 40 other boats, after being virtually alone for a hundred miles, also takes some of the charm away. We make a fast circle of the anchorage and return to the channel and our westward course.
The Lansdowne Channel opens to Frazer Bay, and with the 20-knot westerly blowing we are facing a strong head sea. It is a rough ride across to Strawberry Island, and then on to Little Current. It's fun to go under the bridge without having to wait for it to open. We motor through the rapid wind-driven current running under the bridge piers, and come to the town of Little Current.
I was up here last summer at the Whaler Rendezvous, but Chris has not seen Manitoulin's main town since 1997. I ask her if she is excited to see it again after a four-year absence. It's funny, but her reaction is muted, too. I think all that beautiful scenery on the way north has taken the edge off the appeal of Manitoulin and the North Channel.
Our party divides for a while at this point, as Chris and I go to the town dock to do some shopping. I need a spark plug gap gauge so I can install new plugs in the engines, and Chris needs to send some postcards. We'll divert to Little Current while Larry and Jim head to Neptune Island to see if John is still there. We'll check in via radio in about 30 minutes.
On land again we discover how hot the day has become. Without the cooling 35 MPH breeze from the boat, it is swelteringly hot ashore. After a couple of stops, I am directed to an auto parts store on the eastern edge of downtown, where for $4-Canadian I get a funky little gauge that sells for 99-cents in most American auto discount stores.
On my way back to the boat I stop at Wally's Gas Dock, where the rather famous yacht CHANTICLEER is fueling. We have seen this boat cruising many times in our previous visits to this area. A beautiful 110-foot Burger motor yacht, CHANTICLEER has just arrived from a month long trip from her home port of Jensen Beach, Florida. The owner is on board, in fact she is having lunch on the fantail. Still looking like Hollywood, 88-year-old former movie star Francis Langford is wearing sunglasses, a white sweater, and a gold lamé hair covering as she enjoys her noon meal, prepared by her cook and served by her steward on the screened-in aft deck of the gleaming yacht. Married to outboard engine pioneer Ole Evinrude (who died in 1987), she and the big yacht have been annual visitors here every summer for decades. As soon as they finish fueling they're off to their anchorage at the tiny twin islets they own in The Pool, a beautiful spot in the extreme northeast end of Baie Finn. It is quite a sight to see her and her famous CHANTICLEER. What a way to go! I hope I am still game for cruising when I am 88-years old.
We rendezvous with our returning boats, who found no one home at Neptune. As it turns out, we have just missed bumping into John Flook as he departed from Neptune Island after a ten-day stay, but we do run into his cousin piloting their new boat, a very nice 25-foot Parker hardtop. We stop to chat and admire the new boat while drifting in the channel. With that big westerly blowing today, you'll need a 25-foot boat to ride out there comfortably.
We turn east and head back to Frazer Bay, the wind graciously behind us. The time is just past the hour so a gaggle of sailboats has just departed on the bridge opening, and we scoot through them as we head east. Passing one 40-footer close abeam we get a little more than we bargained for. Crewed by Europeans, a couple of the men are sailing in the nude. The sight of bare buns on the stern rails gives us a chuckle.
For lunch we divert to another old favorite anchorage, Browning Cove on Heywood Island. The main harbor is filled with sailboats but we turn down the little channel to the east and anchor in the lee of the island with a beautiful view to the north of the La Cloche Mountains behind us. The water is deep, about 17 feet, and it has that typical sea green color. Just enough breeze to keep us cool comes off the land, and we raft up for lunch again. It gets so hot that after lunch Chris and I dive in for a swim around the boats, using the built-in ladder on the stern of MEMORY to get back aboard. It is late afternoon by the time we get dried off and ready to go.
The skies are still clear and the sun still fairly high in the sky, so I suggest we take a try at going to Dreamer's Rock. This is one destination that has eluded me in all previous visits, as the entrance channel is unmarked and tricky to navigate. As we run north and downwind I see the breeze is backing to the south, and there are some big rollers coming across Frazer Bay. It will be a rough ride back upwind.
Dreamer's Rock is located on the Whitefish River Indian Reservation, at the far southeast part of the La Cloche Peninsula. To reach it, you must enter from McGregor Bay and traverse the Boat Passage route. This requires a very careful entrance. The problem is the extreme variation in the water depth. You can have 100 feet of water at your stern and be looking at only a foot of water at your bow. We tried one aborted attempt at coming in here many years ago in our 5-foot draft sailboat. That day the sunlight was of no help due to overcast skies. Today there is plenty of sunshine, but we have waited until too late in the day to take advantage of it. Coming slowly up the entrance I cannot see a clue to water depth from the color of the water.
I am on the verge of aborting again when by a stroke of good fortune (for the second time in this trip) a local fisherman and a pal come flying by us in small outboards. We watch their course through the entrance narrows, where they take a sharp turn to the left. Immediately I fall in behind them, following their wake while it still shows in the dark water. Once clear of the unseen shoals, I glance behind me to see if the other guys have followed. They are coming in, too, but WHALE LURE seems to be straying too far to the right.
The locals in the fishing boat see this, too, and they make an abrupt turn and begin waving at Larry to turn sharply left. He takes their direction and avoids the nasty wall rising from the depths in front of him. The fishermen take off again at high speed and disappear around the bend, while we motor more slowly into Boat Passage.
Finally I get a glimpse of Dreamer's Rock, the long awaited destination. It soars about 200 feet above the water, offering an excellent site for observation of the whole region. The rock is characteristically white, but it has a strange texture, giving it the appearance of a huge cranium. I think I understand its appeal to the First Nation culture.
In Indian tradition, a boy coming of age would encamp for a week of solitary fasting on the top of Dreamer's Rock, searching for his Vision Quest. Sleeping and meditating on this sacred ground would perhaps permit the spirits to reveal to him via dreams and visions the young Indian's future role in life. He would be guided by this insight and conduct himself as a hunter, a warrior, a farmer, or fisherman, as directed by the Spirits' guidance.
We circle around to the south of the peak, coming to a small lodge. Our new friends in the fishing boat seem to sense our reticence to proceed, so they come out from the dock to guide us through the rocky passage. In the process, they also display a couple of huge northern pike they have caught in Baie Fine. These are monstrous fish and would be a thrill to land for any fisherman.
I inquire with them about climbing to the top of Dreamer's Rock.
"That may not go too well with the Indians, eh?" replies one of the fellows. "That's sacred ground to them, and they don't let people up there any more."
Even if it could be arranged, it is too late in the day to start such a climb now, so I hold that goal in reserve for another visit. Time to get back into deep water before the sun drops behind the bluff on the way out.
"Just keep to the right, all the way up the bay and on the way out," advises our friendly Canadian fishing guide, "there are some big rocks in there."
We exit from Boat Passage and return to the well-charted depths of McGregor Bay.
McGregor Bay had been for decades an uncharted collection of rocks and shoals known only to the local cottagers, but finally in June of 1997 the Canadian Hydrographic Service published Chart 2206. Reflecting many summers of surveys in the bay done between 1985 and 1996, the new chart was a welcomed addition to the large-scale, detailed strip charts of the Small Craft Route series. Unfortunately, there are several things about Chart 2206 that make it a pain to use.
First, instead of continuing the accordion folded strip charts of the 2200 series, Chart 2206 was published as one large sheet printed on both sides of unusually heavy coated paper stock. Arranged on the single sheet were six smaller panels, three on a side, and laid out in such a way that they could be cut into three smaller sheets that would contain a complete sub-chart on each side. These new sheets could then be folded to become the same size as the rest of the 2200 series charts. It would have been much handier if the agency had performed the cutting and folding for the chart buyer, and presented the chart in the over-wrapping card stock folder that the rest of the 2200 charts make use of. But this matter of presentation is a minor problem compared to the second issue with these charts.
Reflecting their country's conversion to the metric system, the Canadian Hydrographic Office issued Chart 2206 of McGregor Bay with all the distances and depths in metric units. Instead of sailing over water that is 6-feet deep, we now give a cautious eye to water 2-metres in depth or less. The problem is not so much one of conversion from unit to unit, but rather the fact that in the shallower depths, those less than 10 feet, the chart maker now must use two digits to provide the same information that a single digit previously conveyed. Water depths can't be shown with a solitary number, like "3" for 3-foot depths, but now the chart is cluttered with two digits for every sounding, and that 3-foot patch is denoted with "0.9".
Using the metric dimension and two digits actually provides more resolution, but it is unnecessary. If the water were 0.5 meters in depth is this better than 0.4 meters? There are 3.1 more inches of water in the former case, but this is hardly of concern to the recreational boater. It is much simpler to announce the changes in depth in increments of one foot rather than in tiny steps of a tenth of a meter. It is a case of more data but less value.
We decide we'll take a brief exploration of McGregor Bay, but since I am the only one who has the new chart (the others are using a Richardson's Chart Book which was published prior to this new chart's release), I must take over the navigation.
As we are cruising up the north shore of McGregor Point, I am staring at the chart trying to find a safe route through all the shoals, when I get an excellent idea. Since the chart is in metric units, I will change my depth sounder display to metric as well. This will make correlating the depths I see on the chart with the readings on my sonar much easier.
We cut in toward shore at an unnamed group of islands (46-02-00 N; 081-38-38 W) and idle among their many cottages, rocks, and shoals. From there we take a leg due north and cross the bay, approaching Pardsay Crag Island, where the locals have built a range. I try to deduce the bearing on the range so I can chart it to see where it leads. This area is a mine field of rocks awash, and it is not clear how to utilize the range's guidance to avoid all these hazards. By my plotting, the course on the range leads almost directly over some rather shoal water, although it does avoid most rocks in the area.
By now the western horizon is filled with glare from the declining sun, so I decide not to chance a new route across the rock laden bay. Instead we revert to following our path out the way we came, again assisted by the chart plotting ability of Larry's DGPS. We retrace our course and return to the exit at McGregor Point.
As I predicted, there are nicely developed rollers coming up Frazer Bay, and we have to pound directly into them to get back to the Lansdowne Channel. It is a rough ride across, but after about thirty minutes of slogging upwind we reach the protection of the Lansdowne. There we are again in calm water, and we proceed back at planing speed.
After carefully exploring several miles of McGregor Bay, we make a high-speed exit, relying on a stored GPS track to keep us in safe water. The rocks are all charted, but there are no buoys to mark them.
Hole in the Wall
Heading east at the western end of the Lansdowne Channel, Jim Gibson has his 19-Outrage MEMORY running nicely. Behind him is the small entrance to Hole in the Wall, a shortcut into Frazer Bay that we neglected to transit in this low water year.
Back in protected water in the lee of George Island, WHALE LURE clips along on plane. A technical detail: note how the stern bracket is running entirely out of the water, unlike the Whaler Drive appendage which remains in the water at planing speeds.
Looking West into Lansdowne Channel
After a 8-mile run east in the Lansdowne Channel's calm water, we return to Killarney just as the sun begins to sink in early evening. Shooting west the boats are caught in silhouette against the scenic Canadian water.
Killarney is an old fishing village that has been around for two hundred years or more. They didn't build a road to it until the 1960's, so it has a long boating tradition. We had this nice tie up at their docks.
Tonight's dinner plan take us by foot down the road a few hundred yards to the Killarney Mountain Lodge. This is a wonderful resort, built originally as an exclusive executive retreat for a major corporation, but eventually sold off in the corporate streamlining of the 1980's to a private operator. Built for entertaining and feeding large groups of corporate clients in elegant camp style, the place has successfully continued life as a resort, a marina, and a restaurant.
We sit down at a large round table in a big log cabin, bare wooden floors underfoot and a hint of a breeze off the lake coming through the large screened open windows. We are one of the last tables to be seated tonight, as it is now 9 p.m., but our waitress doesn't seem to mind the late addition to her section. She gets us a round of drinks while we read the menu.
The kitchen is geared to feeding guests who are staying for the week, so each night there is a different special on the menu. Tonight's featured whitefish dinner sounds good to all of us, and we order five of them.
"I was watching them clean fish down at HERBERTS," notes Larry Goltz, "and they were removing the lateral line from the filets."
We have had many discussions at our dinner tables this trip about the need to remove the lateral line from the fish. This is the darker line of flesh that runs down the center of the filet. The lateral line contains less desireable tasting portions of the fish, and it should be removed, preferably before cooking. If the chef failed to do so, it should definitely not be eaten. This is the unanimous advice of our table of experienced fishermen.
"So I asked them [the people at HERBERTS] if they always removed the lateral line," continues Larry, "and they said 'yes.'"
"It looked like they were cleaning some fish for delivery elsewhere, so I asked them where that fish was going. 'Killarney Mountain Lodge' was the answer. So you're eating HERBERTS' whitefish here tonight."
The fresh catch, minus lateral line, prepared to perfection in the kitchen, presented in the beautiful setting of the old log cabin dining room, and eaten in the good company and fellowship of our mates makes one of the best meals of the trip.
We have really enjoyed our dinner at the Inn, and we are in no rush to leave it. We wander down the hall into the "Carousel", a tall-ceiling, octagonal lodge, with a big central fireplace, a bar, and entertainment. We grab a drink and a seat, and enjoy the singing and guitar playing of tonight's featured performer, a unknown but decent Canadian singer.
This set is almost over, so we stay through the break and hang-in for another half an hour, enjoying the lodge and the additional entertainment of a group of rather boisterous and intoxicated guests. There is a full moon rising over Lake Huron to the south, we are in a lovely setting, we are really in relaxed-vacation-mode now, and it is just plain fun to sit in the Carousel, have another drink, and people-watch.
Two bartenders and three waitresses keep the drinks flowing. Behind the bar a series of seven flags are hanging from the rafters. After a few minutes of concentration we deduce all of their nationalities, except one. The flags are from the nations of Australian, US, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands (that's the one we couldn't identify).
Eventually we wear ourselves out, but the crowd in the Carousel keeps roaring and the folk singer is still singing as we walk back to our boats through the quiet town.
|Restaurant:||The Killarney Mountain Inn|
|Setting:||Shores of Georgian Bay|
|Meal:||Nightly Fish Dinner Special|
The nine-day narrative continues in Day Six.
Copyright © 2001 by James W. Hebert. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited!
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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared September, 2001.