No, I am not talking about our useless Bruce anchor which we left in Wilson, traded for a Fortress which now hangs off our transom – a good stern anchor. I am talking about the Bruce Peninsula.
I have said before that sailing is a bit like childbirth. After the discomforts of pregnancy, and especially during the excruciating pain of labour, you swear never to go through it again. Then the baby arrives and he or she is beautiful, and you fall in love and….. On our worst ever sail around Cape Hatteras, I made Steve swear (and he agreed) that we would sell the boat and become landlubbers again. Then we got to the Bahamas and all was forgiven and forgotten ….a couple of days of terror and seasickness seemed not such a bad price to pay for six months of paradise. The Bruce Peninsula has been for us another such destination – restoring our faith in our cruising life-style after the engine hassles of the last few weeks!
We arrived in Big Tub Harbour in Tobermory after a 28 hour overnight from Sarnia. I had a short nap, watched constant stream of tour boats circle the wrecks at the bottom of Big Tub Harbour, tidied the boat a little, ate dinner and went to sleep at 8 pm! I woke at dawn, feeling refreshed. We were anchored in 46 feet – a fjord like setting, with cottages and woods on either side, the water amazingly clear. Beautiful.
We launched the dinghy and decided to check out what all the people on the many glass-bottomed tour boats were paying good money to see. The wreck of the Sweepstakes sits a few feet below the crystal-clear water at the foot of Big Tub Harbour. In 1885 she hit a rock near Cove Island and sank in shallow water, close to the light station. A few months later she was towed into Big Tub, discovered to be beyond repair. She was stripped of any useful rigging and equipment, her cargo of coal salvaged, and she eventually sank in her present location. Some think it is a largely phony tourist trap, but she is apparently one of the best-preserved (though deteriorating) 19th Century Great Lakes schooners to be found. Next to the wreck of the Sweepstakes is the wreck of the City of Grand Rapids, a double-decker steamer that burned in Little Tub Harbour in 1907. Both wrecks were clearly visible by looking over the side of our dinghy, using a glass pie plate to take “underwater” pictures!
Our friends, Marilyn and Jim, who have a cottage on the Peninsula, had agreed to pick us up at Big Tub Resort, but when we asked the owner/manager where we could tie up, he wanted to charge us $5/hour – $30-$40 for the period we were planning to be away – highway robbery! So we changed the plan and took the dinghy instead into Tobermory’s other harbour, Little Tub, where we tied up in the “gulley” for free!
Tobermory is a pretty, very touristy, small town. Due to the clarity of the water, and the number of wrecks around the shoals at the top of the Bruce Peninsula, it is a haven for divers as well as tourists who flock to “Fathom Five National Park” to see the “flowerpots” and wrecks. It is also the jump-off or return port for the Chi Cheemon – car and passenger ferry to Manitoulin Island.
For cruising boat it is a great little harbour for re-provisioning, as everything is in short walking distance from Little Tub municipal docks – the liquor store, grocery, hardware, chandlery, upmarket clothing, ice-cream take-outs and competing fish & chips cafes.
The road from Tobermory to Toronto runs straight down the middle of the Peninsula and it notable only for its boredom. What most people making the trip don’t realize is that just a mile or two on either side are sights worth seeing. Apparently the cottages and residents are just as happy to keep it that way, even taking down signs from the main road to beaches. We were chuffed that we had “local” guides to provide context and insight.
Marilyn and Jim’s log cabin is on the Lake Huron (as opposed to the Georgian Bay) side. We went there first for lunch and admired their cottage, built with logs, love and family stories in every artifact and item of furnishing. We admired their rocky natural waterfront, and fabulous bee and butterfly garden of wild flowers.
After lunch we set out on another adventure with them – first stopping along the side of Cemetery Road on the way to Lion’s Head village, beside a nondescript culvert and woods, unmarked. Marilyn knew of a path through the woods, which we took. It turned sharply after a few yards and opened suddenly into a glade filled with Showy Lady Slippers – tall wild pink orchids. Stunning.
We continued on by car, and then hiked a section of the Bruce Trail towards the real Lions Head – escarpment rock formation, not the village. The logging road and then wooded rocky path (the coolness a welcome reprieve from relenting sunshine) took us first to the Giant’s Cauldron – a large limestone pot-hole. We continued on to several cliff-top viewpoints over-looking Georgian Bay, each one better than the last. Despite a little vertigo on my part, Steve and I both clicked away on cameras, trying to capture for posterity the views of the bay, cliffs ahead and coloured kayaks below us in the sparkling clear water. These are the moments that make all this adventuring worthwhile!
As if it was not done with us yet, I was enchanted by the village of Lions Head with its “Dark Sky Friendly” (for night sky watching) marina, sand beach, park, beautiful homes and cottages, and village centre. We went back to Jim and Marilyn’s cottage for a swim in the lake and steak dinner. What more can you ask?
The perfect end to a perfect day – we dinghied back into Big Tub as the sun set. The third picture (taken by Marilyn) shows our dinghy wake!
We stayed in Big Tub Harbour another day to explore Tobermory a little more. We met our anchor-neighbour, Eamonn, an Irishman from Wiarton, I am sure our paths will cross again as he is also headed up to the North Channel in his sailboat, Sand Dollar.
We slept well in the peaceful anchorage each night and were well rested for the short and easy sail along the top of the Peninsula to Wingfield Basin, via Flowerpot Island, which we decided to check out en route for the kodak moment.
Wingfield Basin has a very narrow but well-buoyed entrance after which it opens up into a large basin, as its name implies. We had this “harbour of refuge” to ourselves for most of the day, but were joined later in the evening by another sailboat.
We took the dinghy to shore for the short hike to the Cabot Head lighthouse, which is worth a visit, not so much for the somewhat disappointing views of Georgian Bay from the top, but more for the little museum inside, and student-run gift-shop. It is now owned by the volunteer-run “Friends of Cabot Head” and you can apply online to be a light-house keeper for a week, with “light” duties manning the station in return for accommodation in the light-keepers cottage, – a great inexpensive holiday. Maybe we will return some day!
Back at the boat, we had a quick dip in the clear but cold water, and spent the rest of the afternoon rigging our new fishing poles and then fishing from the boat. We did not catch anything, although I saw several largish fish circling nearby. I could almost hear them laughing at us. We ate a non-fresh-fish dinner and fished again until sunset, enjoying the peaceful bay while watching a pair of beavers building their home in the nearby wreck of the Gargantua – an old ice-factory steamer tossed on the rocks in a 1952 storm.
We left Wingfield Basin early this morning, in a blanket of fog, calm seas and good winds for sailing across Georgian Bay, heading for Killbear Provincial Park near Parry Sound. Due to the fog we did not see the Bruce Peninsula vanishing in the distance.
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