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Georgian Bay 2009

by Jim Hebert

A profusely illustrated and detailed narrative of our week-long 2009 trip to Georgian Bay of Lake Huron; seventy-seven photographs by the author and Dave Buckalew, our good friend and cruising companion; detailed accounts of boat movement and of expenses for fuel, docking, dining, and travel.

DAY ONE

Date:Saturday, July 25, 2009
Weather:Cool and rain threatening
Winds:Westerly
Traffic:Heavy
Departure:Beverly Hills, Michigan
Destination:Midland, Ontario
Distance:318 miles by highway

As usual, it is a struggle to get this vacation on the road on time, in spite of extensive preparation in the several preceding days. Finally we have the boat and truck loaded, and start our trek to our watery vacation. But before we pull onto the main highway, we stop to add $100 of cheaper U.S. gasoline to the boat fuel tank and a like amount to the truck. We only have about 315 miles to haul today, and I figure we can tolerate the weight of the extra fuel. After paying $5.76-per-gallon in Ontario last year, buying gasoline at $2.56-per-gallon seems like a bargain.

Our departure is supposed to be timed to meet our travel companion, Dave Buckalew, at the Blue Water Bridge border crossing into Canada at Port Huron. Dave is driving from western Michigan via I-69. We drive from Beverly Hills via I-94. Thanks to cellular telephones, it is simple to coordinate our meeting with Dave. We find he is ahead of us, and we are about thirty minutes late to the meet. Dave is already on the bridge to Canada, where traffic is slowed to a halt.

We cross into Canada around 10 a.m. Progress is slow, and there is a substantial delay at the border inspection. We spend about 30-minutes creeping at a stop-and-go pace on the down slope of the bridge. This is very tedious when towing a large boat trailer and hard on the brakes. Finally we pass through customs. Our meeting point is the travel information center just beyond the bridge works.

Although ahead of us, Dave has taken a wrong turn to the travel center. We arrive at the information center just a few moments after Dave has doubled back there. We purchase some Canadian money at unattractive rates of exchange--$100-US buys $101.55-Canadian--get new editions of the highway maps for the province of Ontario, and refresh ourselves for the next leg of the road trip.

Travel on Highway-402 east of Sarnia is very easy and fast, until we merge with Highway-401 coming up from Detroit. As we approach Toronto the traffic deteriorates, and so does the weather. Rain has begun, and the farther east we drive the harder it rains. On the outskirts of Toronto the traffic slows to a crawl and the rain comes down in a torrent. We decide to take the 407 ETR (electronic toll road) short cut to the northeast. The toll road is almost empty, and it rapidly connects us to our northern Highway-400 leg, bypassing ten-lanes of snarled traffic heading to "T.O."

As we turn north, we must be right on the frontal line of the low pressure system. The rain is very heavy and shows no sign of stopping. After another hour or two on the super-highway, we exit on two-lane Route 93 toward Midland. As we arrive around 5 p.m, the heavy rain has finally passed. The cold front must have blown through. With only a slight detour we proceed to the launching ramp, awaiting a break in the drizzle to get the boats off the trailers.

The rain finally lets up enough to uncover the boats and let us prepare them for launch. The ramp parking lot is unpaved, and it is hard to avoid tracking mud onto the boats. The foul weather has driven off all other boaters, so we have the place to ourselves. Our two Boston Whaler boats are easily floated off their trailers on the fine ramp facility, and our Evinrude E-TEC motors start without hesitation. We idle down the canal from the launch ramp to Midland Bay, travel West a few hundred yards to Bayport Yacht Centre, and turn into their entrance canal.

By early evening we have our boats in their assigned slips, our trailers moved to the marina parking lot from the ramp, and we are ready for dinner. We usually take a mile-long walk into town from the marina, but the threat of rain is still around, and we are tired from the long drive. We go by truck to downtown Midland, where we have a great dinner at The Riv Bistro, which specializes in Greek cuisine. Dinner for three was $82. (A note on Canadian prices: I use US and Canadian units interchangeably in the narrative since the currencies were just about at par at the time of this trip.)

On the way back to the boats, we stop to walk the docks of the downtown municipal marina. There is a 120-footer tied up along the sea wall. This is the largest boat we've seen in Georgian Bay. It is a real mega-yacht.

It rains overnight.

DAY TWO

Date:Sunday, July 26, 2009
Weather:Overcast
Winds:Moderate Westerly
Waves:One-footers
Departure:Bayport Yachting Centre, Midland, Ontario
Destination:Killbear Marina, Parry Sound, Ontario
Distance:65 miles by boat

Weather

We awake to a cool and cloudy morning, but at least it is not raining. The Toronto newspaper carries this weather map:

Graphic: Weather map showing three low pressure systems in eastern Canada
We are starting our week with three low pressure systems in eastern Canada, and the Jet Stream bending far southward. No wonder it was raining cats and dogs yesterday. Our forecast high temperature today is the same as for Iqaluit in the Arctic Territory.

By ten o'clock, GAMBLER and CONTINUOUSWAVE are ready to travel, but first we have to settle the bill with Bayport Yachting Centre. We pay for the one-night boat slip ($40) and for the truck and trailer parking for the week ($90) in their fenced and guarded lot. We jockey the trucks and trailers into the designated parking spaces, and take the last load of gear out to the boats. Finally, we are ready to go boating. As we depart the marina, I top off the fuel tank with 15-gallons more, sold at $4.14-per-gallon at the fuel dock. (Actually all the fuel is sold by the liter in Canada these days, but I have converted the price to gallons using the ratio of 1-gallon = 3.785-liters.)

Photo: Bayport Yacht Centre docks with overcast sky and and dead calm.
Bayport Yachting Centre must be at the focus of the low pressure system. The winds are dead calm and the sky is filled with low gray cumulous clouds. At least it isn't raining.

We just get on plane and make about three miles from Midland when I realize I have left something important in the truck—the spare propeller! We have to turn around and go back for it. While we do, Dave explores the next bay, which leads to Penetanguishene, a smaller town west of Midland. The hardest part of these trips is getting ready and getting underway. I think we have finally done it.

From Midland we head northwest up the main passage, leaving Beausoleil Island to the east. Part of the small craft route runs behind Beausoleil Island, but we will bypass it on this trip. A ten mile run brings us to an entrance to the inside channel at buoy MH3 east of Smooth Island. There is a lighted range to guide us in. From here on we stick to the small craft route, a labyrinth that winds through hundreds of buoys and day marks, avoiding thousands of rocks, and keeps us in nicely sheltered water. We cruise along, and a weak sun comes and goes. In spots we get a light rain.

Photo: CONTINUOUSWAVE underway on the Small Craft route in Georgian Bay.
Even at noon there is not much sunlight filtering through the cloud cover, and a light rain has begun to fall. Our navigation lights are illuminated.

Photo: CONTINUOUSWAVE underway on the Small Craft route in Georgian Bay.
Sunshine is scarce today on the Small Craft Route in Georgian Bay. We seem to be the only boats underway.

Photo: CONTINUOUSWAVE on the Georgian Bay small craft route.
CONTINUOUSWAVE on the Georgian Bay Small Craft Route: We spend a lot of our time at low speeds, winding through many rocky passages. The eastward leaning tree on the right of the frame is inclined from the high winds of the open bay.

Photo: GAMBLER comes alongside on the Small Craft route in Georgian Bay.
GAMBLER comes alongside. The extensive canvas turns the open center-console boat into an all-weather mini-cruiser. With today's cold and rain, it's needed.

Crossing a stretch of open water, northeast of Jewell Point and around mile 40, we encounter a huge wake from a very large 75-foot cruiser, going rather fast, on plane, and on the opposite course line. The water this big cruiser is throwing off is enormous. Ahead I see GAMBLER tossed around by the boat wake. I slow down to let CONTINUOUSWAVE take the approaching waves at idle speed. We make it over the first wave, but the second wave is so closely spaced that the bow can't come up in time; it buries. Green water rolls across the foredeck and up the windshield. This has never happened before. This is the biggest wave we have ever encountered. Cold lake water splashes through the canvas and windshield curtains, and pours onto the cockpit deck, much to our surprise. We get wet, and some of our gear is soaked.

A mile ahead the lure of a late lunch at HENRI'S FISH RESTAURANT on Frying Pan Island is irresistible. We are ready for warm food and a chance to get out of the rain. We dry out in the shelter of the restaurant and order lunch. Two "perch-burger baskets" and $27 later, we are ready to continue boating on a cool, overcast, rainy day.

We make our way along the small-craft route, eventually arriving at Killbear Marina, one of our favorite stops in Georgian Bay. The marina is somewhat isolated, and its restaurant the only option unless going out by boat. We dine on cold cuts and eat at a picnic table on the dock.

Today's Sailings

For each day I will recount the distance traveled, the number of hours underway, and the fuel consumed. This data then permits calculation of averages for the fuel economy, the fuel flow rate, and the speed.

MILES = 64.6
HOURS = 4.9
GALS = 22.1

MPG = 2.92
GPH = 4.51
MPH = 13.1

DAY THREE

Date:Monday, July 27, 2009
Weather:Cool and overcast
Winds:Southwest at 15
Waves:six-footers offshore
Departure:Killbear Marine, Parry Sound, Ontario
Position:45° 21.454' N; 080° 14.363' W
Destination:St. Amant's Marina, Britt, Ontario
Distance:59 miles by boat

Weather

The weather continues to be a disappointment for the middle of summer. The morning sky is heavy overcast, there are large black cumulous clouds to the south, and the temperature is cool. Then there is the matter of winds and waves:

MARINE FORECAST (Wind speed in knots)

Today: Wind southwest at 15, backing to south at 15,
then veering to west 15 at midnight.
Tuesday: Wind west at 15, veering to northwest at 10 Tuesday evening.

We depart Killbear at the usual ten o'clock time, and proceed northward on the inside passage. Rain begins as we pass the inlet for Snug Harbour. We also get a glimpse of the open water of Georgian Bay, and we can see heavier clouds still rolling in to our south. This is not summer weather!

Photo: CONTINUOUSWAVE on the Georgian Bay small craft route.
Not far from Pengallie Bay we transit Canoe Passage as we begin the next leg of our trip. The weather is still unsettled.

Photo: CONTINUOUSWAVE on the Georgian Bay small craft route at Snug Harbour, Ontario, near Parry Sound.
The entrance to Snug Harbour is marked by this fine example of Canadian lighthouse construction. Winds off the bay are quite strong, as you can see from the flag.

For a diversion after about 26-miles, we stop at Pointe Au Baril Station, a small town on the mainland that serves as a jumping-off spot for hundreds of residents with cottages on the innumerable surrounding islands. We've never been there before, but Dave has; he visited here a few years ago for a repair part for his Mercury outboard. Beacon Marine has a good repair shop in the harbor.

Photo: Older OMC sterndrive runabout at Beacon Marine in Pte. Au Baril Station, Ontario.
At the docks of Beacon Marine in Pointe Au Baril Station the trip to the cottage changes to boat from automobile for many residents. This old OMC sterndrive boat is so well preserved that even its canvas sports the original Evinrude logo.

We take on ten gallons additional fuel at the Beacon Marine gas dock. We move the boats over to the town dock and tie up for lunch. Dave and Chris go shopping at the local general store, which is well equipped (and well priced) to serve all the needs of the local cottage population. It has a little of everything.

Underway again after lunch, we head back to Georgian Bay for a very short loop out and back. At a few points along the small craft route there is no inside passage, and you must exit one inlet and go out into the open water, then return to the shelter of the inside passage on the next inlet. Point Au Baril is one of those cases, and we briefly venture offshore a mile, only to immediately make a 285-degree turn and re-enter the small craft route at Nares Point. A few more miles up the inside and we repeat the offshore loop at Hangdog Reef Inlet, making a 315-degree turnaround amid a sea of white foam crashing on just-submerged rocks—"sunkers"—that make this a difficult place to navigate, even in calm weather.

Photo: Chris Wilson and Jim Hebert aboard CONTINUOUSWAVE, near Pointe Au Baril, Ontario.
We stopped for a photo opportunity as we leave the shelter of Point Au Baril. Chris is wearing a Polartec® scarf, and the flags are outstretched by the 20-knot breeze. And this is the last week of July!

Photo: Dave Buckalew aboard GAMBLER, near Pointe Au Baril, Ontario.
We took this reciprocal photo of Dave and his fine 18-footer GAMBLER

Photo: Boston Whaler 22-footer throws spray in lumpy Georgian Bay seas.
CONTINUOUSWAVE powers over the back of a wave on the way inbound to Nares Point. Lumpy seas in Georgian Bay today.

Photo: Shoal Narrows, at Mile 38.5 on the Small Craft Route.
At Shoal Narrows we transit at dead slow and with a lookout for rocks. There is finally a touch of blue in the afternoon sky.

Photo: Shoal Narrows, at Mile 38.5 on the Small Craft Route.
GAMBLER passes through at Shoal Narrows. It takes two daymarks and five buoys to mark the route.

Photo: In confused seas and breakers at Hangdog Reef.
CONTINUOUSWAVE makes a hard landing in the confused seas at Hangdog Reef. There are breakers and shoals all around you as you enter here.

Photo: In confused seas and breakers at Hangdog Reef.
Miss the proper channel and you will be in a mess of rocks and shoals. Even in the channel you get rather close.

Photo: Entering Hangdog Reef.
CONTINUOUSWAVE follows GAMBLER into the calmer water of the inlet at Hangdog Reef. It wasn't raining. All the water on the curtains is from spray while transiting the entrance.

On the inside we enjoy cruising at a relaxed speed and in calm water. There are many attractions on shore for scenery, including the natural beauty, some occasional wildlife (like bears), and many very nice summer homes. However, you must stay focused on navigation. Outside the buoyed channel lies a minefield of ship-wrecking hazards.

In the mid-afternoon, the weather finally begins to clear, the skies turn blue, and strong sunshine appears. It is just in time, for we have to make a longer offshore run to get to Byng Inlet. From Alexander Passage, one of the most beautiful parts of the trip, we head out into Georgian Bay proper for a ten mile run in big seas.

Photo: Big waves in Geogian Bay.
CONTINUOUSWAVE offshore in Georgian Bay. Although about a mile offshore, we are only in ten to twenty feet of water, making the wave fronts steep and confused as they roll in from the long fetch of Georgian Bay.

Photo: Big waves in Geogian Bay.
GAMBLER working north in some big seas.

Photo: Big wave in Geogian Bay.
Waves are notoriously difficult to capture on film, but this shot does convey a better impression of their size. After this big one rocked us, we kept a greater distance between the boats.

Fortunately the big four-foot to six-foot waves are a beam sea, not a head sea, and we make our way northward without too much trouble. Spotting the small buoys that mark the route is a bit of a challenge in these waves. On this reach the recommended course line has been shifted farther offshore than its previous position, and our old charts do not show this new route. After 45 minutes we are glad to turn east on the Gerry Island unlighted range and get back into calmer water.

Photo: Silvery seas on Georgian Bay.
GAMBLER makes a high-speed run into Byng Inlet from Georgian Bay in the late afternoon. A motion picture version is also available.

Photo: Lighted range at entrance to Byng Inlet.
To guide large ships into Byng Inlet a lighted range is provided. Deep water carries several miles inland to the commercial docks at the petroleum storage tank farm in Britt.

With afternoon getting long, we have an enjoyable run inbound on Byng Inlet. We arrive at St. Amant's Marina in Britt, where the docks are surprisingly almost empty. There seems to be very few transient small boats on the move this summer.

The wind has followed us up this inlet, and coming to the dock requires some care. There is a 20-knot crosswind. We first approach the gas dock to take on more fuel. The price of gasoline here is the lowest in all of Georgian Bay, perhaps influenced by the large petroleum storage facility on shore. Most of the gasoline for this part of Ontario arrives here via tank ship.

After fueling we move to the marina dock for the evening, tying close to shore to avoid the wind. We enjoy cocktail hour in the cockpit, then freshen up for dinner. A short walk down the road takes us to the Little Britt Inn, still serving excellent food. Its reputation attracts a family who arrives via float plane. Docking a float plane with a very strong cross wind is quite an exercise in skilled piloting.

Photo: St. Amant's Marina docks at Byng Inlet, Ontario.
St. Amant's fuel dock, store, and motel, as seen from seaward.

Photo: St. Amant's Marina docks at Byng Inlet, Ontario.
St. Amant's marina docks have few transient cruising boats visiting. We've moved as close to shore as we can to get out of the strong wind. You can see the wind gradient this picture. The flag on the stern of my boat is out straight, while the flag on Dave's RADAR arch is just lightly streaming in the wind. On the dock is our electric coffee pot. It is getting cold and we need a spot of tea to warm up.

Photo: Chris relaxing in cockpit at Byng Inlet.
We always enjoy a late afternoon refreshment at the dock after a day of cruising. In the upper right you see the commercial dock for receiving tank ships.

Photo: Float plane at dock at Byng Inlet.
This float plane landed, tied up at the dock, and its crew went to dinner at the Little Britt Inn. That's a good endorsement for the quality of the food served there.

Today's Sailings

MILES = 59.1
HOURS = 6.4
GALS = 19.4

MPG = 3.05
GPH = 3.03
MPH = 9.23

DAY FOUR

Date:Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Weather:Warming up, but not really mid-summery
Winds:West at 15
Waves:two-foot
Departure:St. Amant's Marina, Britt, Ontario
Position:45° 46.295' N; 080° 34.060' W
Destination:Key River Inlet, northeastern Georgian Bay, then return
Distance:54-miles very carefully by boat

Weather

Here is a rough transcript of the marine weather broadcast from Environment Canada:

Marine Synopsis for 28 JULY 2009 at 0300
At 0300 Tuesday a low pressure system, 1000-mBar, over northern Ontario;
At 0300 Wednesday a low pressure system, 994-mBar, over James Bay;

At 0300 Tuesday a trough north-to-south in western Lake Superior;
At 0300 Wednesday a weakening trough north-to-south in central Lake Superior.

Marine Forecast

Western Lake Superior: Storm warning: wind west at 15 increasing to 20,
then decreasing to northwest 15 Wednesday and backing to southwest 10 
Wednesday evening.

Eastern Lake Superior: Wind warning: wind south 15 veering to west 15 and
increasing to west 20, then decreasing to west 15 Wednesday evening.

Northern Lake Huron: Wind warning: wind south 15 increasing to southwest 20
then decreasing to southwest 15 at noon, and decreasing to light in the evening.
Thunderstorms and showers.

Southern Lake Huron: Wind south 10 increasing to southwest 20, 
decreasing to southwest 15 at noon, then veering to west 15
and decreasing to west 10 at midnight.

Georgian Bay: Small craft wind warning: Wind southwest at 15 increasing
to southwest 20, then decreasing to southwest 10 in the evening,
and veering to west 10 at midnight. Thunderstorms and showers.

For today's adventure we plan to cruise north along the small craft route to Key River. The passage here is nicely sheltered, and we won't have much exposure to the open water of Georgian Bay. The route stays safely behind a barrier of low, wave-swept bare rocks. Cottages are almost non-existent in this stretch. Most of the shoreline and islands are Crown land or part of First-Nation reserves. We've gone past Key River many times without exploring it, and we've finally decided to give it a look.

Photo: Small Craft Route north of Byng Inlet
The small craft route stays behind a generous stretch of low-lying bare rocks that give excellent protection from the seas of Georgian Bay.

Photo: Twin E-TEC 90-HP outboards
To save fuel, Dave motors at low speed with only one engine running. We enjoy the morning sunshine. Now that we're north of cottage country, our two boats are alone with the winds and waves in this part of the coast.

Photo: ROGERS GUT approaching from the south, on the Small Craft Route in Georgian Bay.
In several places some assistance from floating aids is needed to mark the channel. At Rogers Gut the passage narrows considerably.

Photo: ROGERS GUT on the Small Craft Route in Georgian Bay.
Looking southwest from U47 at Rogers Gut, there is a gunkholer's paradise to explore, but you better know what you are doing. Look at the edges on those rocks!

Photo: ROGERS GUT on the Small Craft Route in Georgian Bay.
GAMBLER transits Rogers Gut. The great place names along this route add to the fun of the boating here.

Photo: Unnamed cove on the Small Craft Route in Georgian Bay.
This cove on the eastern side of one of the larger offshore islands looks like a great anchorage. Can we feel our way in there among those visible rock shoals? We'll leave this unexplored and for another trip. It is too early to stop for lunch.

Without much trouble we arrive at Key River around noon. At the inlet there is a store and a fishing camp marina. I spoke with the proprietor by telephone last week, and she told me that we could stay at their dock overnight if we wanted, and get dinner at their lodge. As we motor past we give the facilities a close look; our impression is "rustic."

Photo: Ruins at Key River Inlet.
At Key River the remains of a large wharf project seaward. At one time here a terminal received shiploads of coal for transit on a spur line railroad that led north to Sudbury and fed the nickel mine smelter there. That roofless masonry-constructed building was built by the railroad.

Photo: Key River channel.
Exploring the Key River channel for the first time we were surprised to find plenty of lateral buoys marking the route. We were also disappointed to lose the sunshine. Some ugly overcast has rolled in and put a cooler on the day.

Photo: Key River channel.
The farther up Key River we travelled, the more the weather deteriorated. Was there a correlation?

Photo: Key River channel.
A rock face at Key River—or a face in the rock.

Photo: Key River channel.
Trying to avoid having to anchor, we look for a place to tie to shore for lunch.

We proceed inland on a long and rather shallow passage for over ten miles. The channel is marked with buoys, although they're not shown on our charts. The water level on Lake Huron this year is about a foot higher than the past several. It is good that we waited until 2009 to come up this river, otherwise it would have be quite shallow in a few spots. Near the lake the shoreline is low lying, but as we go inland the river becomes encased by steep rock shores that rise about 30-feet and the depths increase. We stop to anchor for lunch in a little cove on the south shore.

After lunch we continue inland, finally reaching the highway bridge, where there is a marina. We had considered this as another possible overnight stop, but from our perspective it does not look inviting. We'd be spending the night right next to the noise from the highway, and the only restaurant is associated with a small truck-stop motel on the roadside. We caucus about our plans for where to stay. In comparison to Key River, Byng Inlet looks like a metropolis, and we agree to return there for the evening.

Photo: Key River marina.
This small marina is on the north side of Key River at the Highway-69 crossing.

Photo: Key River at highway.
The village of Key River. The river is navigable for a short distance beyond the highway bridge.

Photo: Key River cottage in disrepair.
A local cottage on Key River. The boat has sunk, the dock is awash, the flag has been blown to tatters, and the grass has not been mowed in a while. Dave's assessment: the owner must be in prison.

We make a U-turn at the highway bridge and begin our return trip. In the later afternoon the sun comes out, and we enjoy the miles of beautiful scenery with better lighting. Back to the lake and on the small craft route, we pass a large group of kayaks heading south. As we motor though their fleet we realize they're all younger women. And we thought we were adventurers in our 22-foot boat!

Photo: Key River entrance channel.
By late afternoon the sun returns, curiously just as we exit Key River. It was fun to visit, and fun to leave.

Photo: Key River entrance channel.
Although hard to see in this silhouetted picture, this large flotilla of kayakers were all women. We gave them a wave and admired their adventurous spirit, as well as some other assets.

Photo: Kantos Point on Small Craft Route, Georgian Bay.
D30 marks a shoal near Kantos Point. We are heading south and picking up the pace. The boats can smell the barn, to use a mixed metaphor.

Photo: Cunninghams Island on Small Craft Route, Georgian Bay.
This nice cottage sits on Cunninghams Island and faces Cunninghams Channel. Could it be Cunningham's cottage? Chris says it is perfectly located—no grass to cut.

For a change of pace at Byng Inlet we decide to actually visit the namesake village, which is located on the south side of the Magnetawan River, across from Britt. Byng is now a ghost town, but on the remains of an old sawmill works stands THE SAWMILL LODGE, to whose dock we tie-up for the night. The wind is still blowing at quite a clip, and the dock does not look sufficiently sheltered, but we take a chance that by late evening the winds will calm and we won't be rocking all night. At the Lodge we have a nice dinner, although not quite as good as the cooking at the Little Britt Inn. The docking is discounted with dinner at the lodge.

By evening the wind has blown out, and the boats at the dock stop rocking. There really are no toilet or shower facilities here for boaters, however there are several guest cabins. The proprietors tell us we can use the bathroom in an unoccupied cabin near the dock, and that works out fine for us.

Photo: Dock at Sawmill Lodge, Byng, Ontario.
Early evening at the Sawmill Lodge Dock. The wind is still blowing up the river. Where do all these clouds come from?

Photo: Sawmill Lodge, Byng, Ontario.
Restaurant at Sawmill Lodge, Byng, Ontario.

Photo: Late evening at dock at Sawmill Lodge, Byng, Ontario.
After dinner we enjoy a nightcap at the dock. We are counting on those red skies to bring us better weather tomorrow. Also, there is something about fine liqueur in a plastic cup that makes it taste better, don't you agree?

Today's Sailings

MILES = 53.9
HOURS = 6.3
GALS = 16.3

MPG = 3.30
GPH = 2.59
MPH = 8.55

DAY FIVE

Date:Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Weather:Warmer
Winds:Building westerly
Waves:Building to 2- to 3-foot
Departure:Sawmill Lodge, Byng Inlet, Ontario
Destination:Killbear Marina, Parry Sound, Ontario
Distance:54-miles by boat

Photo: Morning at dock at Sawmill Lodge, Byng, Ontario.
Sawmill Lodge dock. Every night the temperature drops below the dew point, and by morning the boat decks and canvas are soaking wet.

We depart the dock at Sawmill Lodge around nine o'clock, but we just motor across the Magnetawan River to the fuel dock at St. Amants for more gasoline at their bargain price of $3.86 per gallon, more than a dollar cheaper than other marine fuel docks on this coast. While fueling, we also connect to the free internet Wi-Fi access point. I download some driver software that I need to support a USB serial port attachment that I want to use with my computer so I can connect it to my engine's computer port.

The weather is improving, and we are beginning to return to summer-like conditions. The sky has cleared, the sun is out, and the winds have dropped significantly. The temperature is still cool, but it is warming up.

My two-cycle outboard motor needs oil in addition to gasoline to run, and I thought I brought plenty along on this trip. But the engine is new, and during its first few hours of operation it is programmed to use extra oil to help break-in the cylinder walls. My oil consumption has been higher than I planned, and my oil reserves are running low. As a hedge against running out of oil—which would be a disaster—we stop at Wright's Marina to buy an extra gallon. It also gives us a chance to visit their docks and check out their facilities. They have a nice marina, but they're too far away from our favorite restaurant to walk there to dinner.

By about eleven o'clock we are on our way seaward, and we enjoy a leisurely cruise outbound from Byng Inlet. On an outlying barrier island there is a Canadian Coast Guard station. Passing it always gives us a bit of reassurance that in an emergency there is someone who could come to the rescue.

Photo: Outbound for Georgian Bay from Byng Inlet, Ontario.
We follow GAMBLER out to Georgian Bay along the small craft route, south of Byng Inlet.

Photo: Shoreline rock with glacial ruts, Byng Inlet, Ontario.
The shoreline rocks in this area show many prominent grooves cut by movement of glacial ice.

Photo: Small craft route at Byng Inlet, Ontario.
It takes many buoys to mark all the hazards along this passage toward Georgian Bay.

We finally return to the open water of Georgian Bay, passing between the narrowest of buoys. Our boat has only an eight-foot beam, and this pair of red-green markers can't be more than 12-feet apart. A larger boat would barely fit through their gap.

Photo: Small craft route at Byng Inlet, Ontario.
When passing this red-green pair you will leave them both close abeam.

The offshore run is much simpler today than when we came north. With the morning winds still building, the waves are lower, the wind has hauled around a bit to the northwest, and we now have stored nine way points in the chart plotter to show us the position of the floating aids that mark the route. With our boat on plane, we rapidly make the ten mile leg south and return inland at Alexander Passage, where we stop for lunch.

Given the cloudy weather we've had so far, the fair skies and moderate temperature of this noon are much appreciated. We take a short swim before eating to work up our appetite. The water temperature is a cool 70-degrees.

Photo: Small craft route at Alexander Passage, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
The weather finally warmed up enough to take a swim. We're standing on a rock ledge that crops up in the middle of an otherwise deep little cove off the small craft route. The good weather has also finally brought out some other boaters.

Photo: Small craft route at Alexander Passage, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
We enjoy lunch after swimming, and put out all the damp towels to dry. Blue is the favorite color.

Photo: Small craft route at Alexander Passage, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
We retreive our anchor and resume our way southward.

The sun brings out even more beauty in our surroundings, and we continue our cruise, remaining for long stretches at idle speed. We detour off the route at Bayfield Harbour and explore the facilities of Bayfield Inlet, a small hamlet accessible from the highway. It has a nice marina facility, and it looks like another jumping-off point for the local cottagers, as well as a summer home to a lot of larger boats.

Photo: GAMBLER on small craft route, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
We motor along at low speed, enjoying the afternoon, and saving a lot of fuel. Our E-TEC engines produce excellent fuel economy at low speeds, well over 10-MPG.

Photo: Small craft route near Hangdog Reef, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
Each stretch of the coast has its own particular character. Here we cruise just behind a string of smooth and worn rocks in Hangdog Channel.

We continue southward. In the Hangdog Channel we encounter the 25-foot rigid-bottom inflatable boat from the Coast Guard, on cruise. Unlike in the United States, they do not pull us over for a routine boarding and safety inspection, and all we get from them is a smile and a wave.

Photo: Hangdog Reef, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
We're heading in at Hangdog Reef while GAMBLER is heading out.

Photo: Small craft route near Hangdog Reef, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
GAMBLER rounds A74 at Hangdog Reef and makes a 270-degree turn back to shore. It's 3:30 p.m. and the waves are starting to build.

By the time we reach Nares Point, the wind has come up on the Bay and the wave height is building. We have a leg of about a mile in open water to reach the turning buoy for the run into Pointe Au Baril. Approaching that same mark from seaward are two larger sailboats, probably returning from the Mackinaw sailboat races. As we begin our run to the buoy, it looks like we will easily beat the sailboats there. I have underestimated their speed, however, and they are really flying in off the lake on the big breeze. In spite of pushing the throttle hard to increase our speed, the first of the big sailboats beats us to the mark, and we have to slow down and fall in behind them on the run into Pointe Au Baril. The wind offshore is building, and we are glad to be headed back to more protected water.

Photo: Modern barrel at Pointe Au Baril, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
We barely had enough room at the mark to jump in front of this inbound sailboat, approaching very fast on a beam reach in the freshening breeze from the open water of Georgian Bay.

Photo: Modern barrel at Pointe Au Baril, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
Pointe Au Baril got its name because the point was always marked with a barrel set atop a pole. Here a local cottager continues that tradition with a rather large and modern barrel.

We have been putting along most of this day at no-wake speeds, so we get back on plane and run through the curving course line of the Middle Channel, which takes us to Turning Island. Then we are back to Shaganawa Inlet, which is much more exposed. We fight winds and waves at a very fast pace, pushing the speed up to 35-MPH, until seven miles later we reach Oak Island. There we turn inland and downwind, getting back to calmer water. We continue at a moderate pace to Killbear, where we stay overnight at the marina.

Photo: Two classic Boston Whaler boats at Killbear Marina, Parry Sound region, Ontario.
After a wonderful day of cruising, we enjoy an evening at the W (or wall) dock at Killbear Marina in Pengallie Bay, Ontario.

For dinner we cook on Dave's portable grill and eat at a picnic table on the dock.

Today's Sailings

MILES = 53.9
HOURS = 5.2
GALS = 18.2

MPG = 2.96
GPH = 3.51
MPH = 10.36

DAY SIX

Date:Thursday, July 30, 2008
Weather:Cool and overcast
Winds:Building Westerly
Waves:Building to 3-foot
Destination:Local waters of Parry Sound
Distance:46.5 miles by boat

Weather

Fair weather is back! The air temperature is still cool, but at least the sun is out.

In our trip planning, we agreed that we'd like to spend more time around Parry Sound, and that our favorite marina was Killbear. Today seems like the best day to fulfill those plans, and we agree to just cruise locally, to explore some areas of Parry Sound, and to return to Killbear Marina this afternoon.

We depart Pengallie Bay in the late morning, and cruise eastward, rounding Killbear Point, and then exploring Blind Bay. The shoreline is all part of Killbear Point Provincial Park, a favorite summer vacation spot for Canadian campers. We are looking for somewhere to anchor for lunch, but every cove seems to already have a boat or two in it. Finally we find an empty cove, and we drop the lunch hook. On shore is a solitary camper, enjoying the day, and he seems a bit miffed that we've intruded on his view.

Photo: Hole In The Wall, Parry Sound, Georgian Bay, Ontario.
Dave makes a fast approach to Hole In The Wall, a narrow passage among the islands of Parry Sound.

After lunch we continue cruising along the shore, passing through Mowat Island and past Huckleberry Island. Then we zip across Parry Sound to the southeastern shore, and turn into Depot Harbour.

In Depot Harbour there are ruins from an old railroad wharf and loading docks, apparently relics from a time when the land was not part of the Parry Island Indian Reserve. The Indians—First Nation People in politically correct Canadian speech—appear to be engaged in commercially raising fish in an aqua-culture operation. They also appear to be quite curious about our intrusion into their bay. One of their boats comes by and passes without the usual boat-to-boat wave or smile, looking at us more like we just landed in our space ship. Maybe that big U.S. flag on our transom threw them off?

Having apparently worn out our welcome on "the Rez", we exit Depot Harbour and head southwest along the shore to Rose Island. Dave's charts indicate a shipwreck in the area and we explore for it. The remains of an old commercial boat, driven aground and wrecked in a northeast gale, are decaying in the mud at the end of a small cove on northeast Rose Island. The wreck is a good reminder of just how bad the weather can be around here in a real storm.

Photo: Cove on Rose Island, Parry Sound region, Ontario.
Dave, who has never met a shallow cove he didn't like, take us gunkholing and looking for a wreck on the northeast end of Rose Island.

We cruise down the Rose Island Channel, turn westward and rejoin the small craft route, and head back to the marina. We arrive at the dock around 4 p.m., and we agree that we'll go to dinner tonight by boat to Gilley's in Snug Harbour, about a 13-mile round trip. We also invite another cruising couple to join us. They've been stuck at the Marina for over a week after disabling their twin-engine outboard catamaran cruiser with a heavy grounding on a rock shoal. Both their engines have the gear case missing; (expensive) repairs are being made.

Photo: Twin engine catamaran with missing gear cases on both outboard motors Killbear Marina, Parry Sound region, Ontario.
This Florida boat was transiting the small craft route of Georgian Bay for the first time, and they unfortunately left a buoy on the wrong side. A very hard grounding on rocks damaged both motors' gear cases, and resulted in 24 days spent at the dock awaiting replacements and repairs.

We plan to leave for dinner at 6:30 p.m., which I figure will give us plenty of time to eat and return before dark. We actually depart at 6:45, arriving at Gilley's at 7 p.m.—a very fast trip to make up time. Unfortunately Gilley's is awash in people. I guess every camper in the park and every cottager in the region felt like dining out tonight. We don't get seated until 8 p.m., and it is 9 p.m. when we are finally served our delicious fish dinner. I've never seen a restaurant so busy!

Photo: Snug Harbour, Parry Sound region, Ontario.
Daylight was already beginning to fade when we arrived for dinner at Snug Habour. Once again, we vow to start earlier.

We depart the treacherously wobbly docks at the restaurant at 9:40 p.m., with the sky unfortunately very dark, lots of overcast, and no moon. The winds are calm and there are no waves—thank Heaven. We have to navigate back to the marina using our chart plotter's recorded track of our outbound trip. This is precisely what I wanted to avoid. It is too much stress, and particularly so with a new outboard motor on my transom. As we exit from Snug Harbour, we are in total darkness. You can't see a thing. Moving slowly means our GPS position updates are in very small increments, so it is hard to see our new track on the plotter. After a couple of minutes we see that we're off track—we are out of the channel. We feel our way back to centerline. Making this exercise more difficult is my GPS receiver. It is an older model and its precision-fix capability using WAAS has been rendered obsolete when the satellite transponders changed last year. We are navigating in a rock field with a GPS whose precision is only good for about 50-foot resolution. Miraculously we get back to the marina without finding that rocky bottom below us. I vow, once again, this will be the last time I do that!

Today's Sailings

MILES = 46.5
HOURS = 4.8
GALS = 13.6

MPG = 3.43
GPH = 2.83
MPH = 9.69

DAY SEVEN

Date:Friday, July 31, 2009
Weather:Scattered Clouds
Winds:Strong Westerly
Waves:Building to 2- to 4-feet
Departure:Killbear Marina, Parry Sound, Ontario
Destination:Penetanguishene, Ontario
Distance:65 miles by boat

The weather is improving, and so much so that I don't have any notes about it. We have fair skies again, and temperatures on the rise, trying to get back to summer-like conditions.

First order of business this morning is to move to the fuel dock and add some gasoline to the tank. I should have bought more fuel at Britt, as here we pay about one-dollar more per gallon. To insure enough fuel for the run south, I add ten gallons. We burned 13-gallons yesterday in our local cruising.

Photo: At top speed on a clam Parry Sound, Ontario.
Parry Sound was very calm and we finally had a chance to run the new motor at full throttle.

From Pengallie Bay we again head into Parry Sound. The water is like glass—not a ripple on the surface. For a change in scenery we will take the more inland passage southward. We motor through the busy Parry Sound Harbour, then on to the south via Two Mile Narrows, Three Mile Gap, and Five Mile Narrows. From there it's on to Seven Mile Narrows, Devil's Elbow, and Flossie Island passage. It's an enjoyable back water cruise. Finally we rejoin the main portion of the small craft route at Round Island, buoy C184. From there we cruise past Henri's on Frying Pan Island, where the docks are now crowded with boats of all sizes that have come for lunch.

Photo: Henri's at Frying Pan Island, Ontario.
For a Friday noon, the docks at Henri's Fish Restaurant are already crowded.

On the east side of Wreck Island we pull into a marine park dock and tie up for lunch. We meet a few other boaters at the dock. One group is from Ohio, and their family has owned a cottage on a local island for decades. The other boat is from Penetanguishene, and gives us a strong recommendation to stay at his home port marina, Beacon Bay. We have a nice lunch, and Chris and Dave go hiking on the island while I stay with the boats.

Photo: At the park dock on Wreck Island.
We took our lunch at the dock on Wreck Island, just a short distance off the small craft route. It was nice to be back to shorts-and-tee-shirt weather.

Departing Wreck Island the ever-adventurous Dave wants to explore the rock-strewn water to the east. We prefer the safer passage directly back to the small craft route. I figure I used all my good luck with avoiding rocks last night. We agree to met at Lanoka Island.

Photo: Flashing Red mark at O'Donnell Channel.
This has to be the largest navigation aid on the entire route. It very prominently marks the entrance to the O'Donnel Channel, between mile 33 and 34 along the small craft route.

We continue southward, enjoying the trip immensely. The seas are low, the winds are fair, the sun is out, and the scenery is beautiful. We motor along for mile after mile in small boat cruising paradise. We take an occasional detour or side leg from the main channel just to vary our passage a bit from the outbound trip. Finally, at Kindersly Island we turn to starboard, pass through buoys MH1 and MH2, pass south of Minnicognashene Island, and exit the inside route for open water.

We make a fast run south to Flashing Red M12, then turn into the Outer Harbour of Penetanguishe Harbour. On advice from our boater from Wreck Island, we make our way to Beacon Bay Marina, were we find good docking and nice facilities.

The marina is quite a walk from town—about two miles around the curving and hilly shoreline, so we decide to again go to dinner by boat. This trip is less demanding. We cruise in Dave's boat about one mile across the harbor to the municipal dock, where we may tie up for free for a few hours. We take our meal at a very interesting take-out diner, "the world famous" DOCK LUNCH, which serves very tasty food, very quickly, and for not too much cost. We eat a hot, greasy, and delicious dinner with our fingers at a picnic table overlooking the harbor. A beer or two would go perfectly with the cuisine and ambiance.

Photo: Dock and church at Penetanguishene, Ontario, seen from the harbor.
The commercial dock and enclosed small boat harbor at Penetanguishene. The twin spires of the church are a very prominent landmark.

Photo: Lunch counter at THE DOCK LUNCH restuarant, Penetanguishine, Ontario.
Dining is very casual at THE DOCK LUNCH, adjacent to the municipal boat harbor in Penetanguishene.

After dinner we walk the docks, finding two very interesting and large ships taking up most of the outer seawall of the harbor. They're both commercial vessels, one a tug and the other a research ship, now converted to use as private yachts. These are deep draft ships, and you won't find them on the small craft route, that's for sure. Instead of boating directly back to the marina, we take a long run out from the harbor—it is set inland six miles—to open water to watch the sunset. We know this is our last night of cruising, and we want to maximize our fun.

Photo: Large tug converted to yacht.
This former Canadian Pacific Railway tug PRESCOTONT has been converted to a yacht.

Photo: Sunset seen from off Penetanguishene in Georgian Bay.
After this fine sun set we had a nice boat ride back to the marina, ending the boating for Friday.

Today's Sailings

MILES = 64.4
HOURS = 5.0
GALS = 21.3

MPG = 3.02
GPH = 4.26
MPH = 12.88

DAY EIGHT

Date:Saturday, August 1, 2009
Weather:Warm and sunny
Winds:Strong Westerly
Traffic:Detoured
Departure:Beacon Bay Marina, Penetanguishene, Ontario
Position:44° 45.950' N; 079° 56.895' W
Destination:Port Severn, then return to Midland, thence by car to Michigan
Distance:28 miles by boat, 318 by highway

Our trips normally end on a Saturday with hauling the boat out and getting on the highway. The weather has finally returned to summer, and this makes us hesitant to give up boating. We plan a short cruise down to Port Severn, then a return to Midland for the haul out.

Although sunny, the wind has come up, again. It is blowing 25-knots and gusting higher. Once we leave the confines of Penetanguishene's deep and protected harbor, the wind is really howling. The many sailboats in the bay are all showing deeply reefed sails. We head downwind to Port Severn, the northern terminus of the Trent-Severn canal system. Below the lock there is a large fleet of boats idling in the strong current awaiting their turn to be lifted into the canal. We were thinking of transiting the lock, but there is too much traffic today. Instead, we head back to Midland, taking a different route outbound from Port Severn. Going upwind is a bit of a task. While the sunny skies are nice, this wind is really strong. We imagine the open water of Georgian Bay will be developing some significant waves today. The forecast is for 20-knot westerlies, and it looks like the meteorologists were very accurate.

Photo: Historical harbor re-created at Penetanguishene in Georgian Bay.
Parks Canada has re-created the historical fort at Penetanguishene from its early days.

Photo: Historical harbor re-created at Penetanguishene in Georgian Bay.
Below the lock at Port Severn we found the current very strong, the channel narrow, and plenty of boats waiting to lock through. We left this passage for another trip and another day.

Back at the launch ramp canal, hauling out proves to be extremely tedious. The ramp is tied up with the launching of a single boat for about 30-minutes. A small bow-rider filled with about ten people blocks the ramp, its skipper no where in sight. A line of four boats waits and waits while the bow-rider captain makes several slow trips back and forth from car to boat to finish his loading. Finally, the ramp clears. The four boats waiting to haul out all do so in a matter of a few minutes.

Eventually we have the boats on the trailer, everything stowed, and we are ready for the highway. After a planned detour just south of Barrie, we return to the highway. We no sooner get back to speed than we are pulled over by an Ontario Provincial Police patrol car. The OPP officer insists he detected we were using a RADAR detector, which are (apparently) quite illegal in Canada. We explain we don't have such a device, but offer that perhaps our GPS receiver in the boat has given his equipment a false positive. The officer seems certain we are concealing a RADAR detector, but eventually lets us go on our way.

Heading south we see the traffic outbound from Toronto is terrible—much worse than last Saturday. Fortunately we are going the other way and can maintain a steady 55-MPH. We even manage to get through Toronto with only a 30-minute delay.

Photo: Heavy highway traffic
Heading south on Highway 400 we were able to move along at good speed, but the northbound lanes were clogged with traffic and moving much slower. Keep this in mind for trip planning for a Saturday arrival.

Re-entering the United States is slow but tolerable. Once at the border, the agent asks only a few perfunctory questions, then we are on our way home.

Today's Sailings

MILES = 28.2
HOURS = 2.8
GALS = 9.3

MPG = 3.03
GPH = 3.32
MPH = 10.07

Summary Data

The total of miles run, engine hours, and fuel used are shown below, along with an accounting of most expenses for the trip.

Fuel Consumption

DAY      MILES  HOURS GALS   MPG   GPH   MPH
1-SUN    64.6   4.9   22.1   2.92  4.51  13.10	
2-MON    59.1   6.4   19.4   3.05  3.03   9.23 
3-TUE    53.9   6.3   16.3   3.30  2.59   8.55
4-WED    53.9   5.2   18.2   2.96  3.50  10.36
5-THU    46.5   4.8   13.6   3.42  2.83   9.69
6-FRI    64.6   5.0   21.3   3.02  4.26  12.88
7-SAT    28.2   2.8    9.3   3.03  3.32  10.07
TOTAL   370.6  35.4  120.4 
AVERAGE                      3.08  3.40  10.47

OIL Used = 3.0 gallons (approximate)
GAS:OIL ratio = 120 / 3 = 40:1

Boat Fuel Purchase

LOCATION  PRICE   GALS  COST
Highway   $2.56   39.0 $ 99.85       
Bayport    4.14   15.2   63.00
Au Baril   4.93   10.0   49.31
St Amant's 3.86   30.9  119.17
St Amant's 3.86   15.3   59.23
Killbear   4.83   10.0   48.13
TOTAL            120.4 $438.69
AVERAGE   $3.64/Gallon

Oil 3.0 x $27 = $81 (engine double oiling during break-in)
TOTAL Gasoline and Oil = $519.69

Boat Dockage

Launch       $ 0.00
Bayport       40.00
Killbear      32.34
St. Amant's   27.50
Sawmill       20.00 (discounted with dinner)	
Killbear      32.34
Killbear      32.34
Beacon Bay    26.25
DOCKAGE     $210.77    

Meals

Midland, RIV BISTRO       $81 (three)
San Souci, HENRI'S         27 
Britt, LITTLE BRITT INN    69 
Byng, SAWMILL LODGE        56
Snug Harbour, GILLY'S      51
Penetang., DOCK LUNCH      25
TOTAL                    $309

Highway Expenses

630-miles at approx. 11-MPG = 57-gallons
57-gallons at approx. $3.50
Gas   = $200
Tolls =   14
TOTAL = $214

 


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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared March, 2010.