This is what we came for! Rocks, windswept pines, clear, cold water – the typical landscape of the glacier-scraped eastern Georgian Bay. “Chattermarks” are evident on ubiquitous rocks – visible evidence of boulders being tugged along between the weight of glaciers and the underlying bedrock many years ago.
We crossed from the top of the Bruce Peninsula in fog, but the sea conditions were favourable and just the right amount of wind for sailing most of the time. We dropped the hook as planned in Kilcoursie Bay, a large bay with a small island in the middle that is all part of Killbear Provincial Park. It is a beautiful park – with several beaches with swim areas marked off all along the bay, and around promontories at each end. All the time we took our kids camping in Ontario as they were growing up, we never visited Killbear….only because we had other great options, such as the family cottage in Killarney Park. Killbear is a large and beautiful park – 882 campsites and over 200,000 visitors annually. However it is so spread out along a huge area, with campsites tucked between trees and rocks, and a choice of many beaches along both shores of the peninsula, that you would never believe the size from the bay. The beaches near us were never crowded. There were a few other boats anchored when we were there, and kayaks, canoes and smaller boats about. The “jumping rocks” are a major hangout for older kids, who look like they have a lot of fun. We took a hike and saw a wedding taking place in one of the day-use-area’s picnic shelters …I can certainly understand how someone who grew up camping here each summer would chose it as a wedding venue. Our only indication of our 5000 or so neighbours was a slight haze seeping through trees and over the beach in the evening from campfires.
In Kilcoursie Bay we did what cruisers do – meet up with old friends and make new ones! Our friends Bill and Martha aboard Eagles Wings, with whom we shared the last few locks of the Erie Canal on our return from the Bahamas, came through the Trent-Severn system. We so enjoyed catching up over “happy hour” bevvies in our cockpit. We met a friend of theirs, Dawn, who was camping at Killbear and visited her campsite the next day.
We popped into Big Sound Marina in Parry Sound for provisioning (a shared taxi from the marina to Sobeys and Canadian Tire cost us all of $5!), laundry, and a pump-out. We enjoyed walking through the downtown, browsing at Parry Sound Books, and dinner at Boston Pizza near Big Sound Marina, pleasant and peaceful except for the occasional wake of a nearby charter float plane.
We have experienced a mix of weather in Georgian Bay so far – torrential rain in Parry Sound, some hot, pleasant days. We have had too much or not enough wind for sailing, but have also had some terrific sailing days. And we have enjoyed a constitutional swim most days – the water is actually fairly pleasant once you are used to it! And the skies have been as varied as the landscape.
En route to Britt (in Byng Inlet) we anchored in a very pretty spot with a very narrow entrance, between Stairs, Shawanaga and Maskinonge islands. The dinghy ride through the Hemlock Channel was fantastic – a narrow passage of rocks and trees, a tiny beach, some lovely cottages and a few shallow bays. We caught our first fish of the season in one! Steve got a yellow perch and not very long after I caught a (slightly bigger J) bass. I filleted them and we enjoyed them fresh that night – a tasty starter to our dinner of leftovers!
The “Small Craft Route” is a sounded, marked channel along and between the 30,000+ rocks and islands and shoals of this area. The controlling depth is 6’, and our draft is 5’8”, which might be scary as rocks are unforgiving but water levels are higher than normal this year and we have not seen less than 10 feet in the channel. But it is often so narrow that the adjacent rocks or markers are within spitting distance. I am on the helm most of the time – and know how important it is to keep alert. Otto von Helmsman (our autopilot) has been having a bit of a holiday. I am greatly appreciating our new chart-plotter with its easy tour-screen manipulation and ultra-quick refresh rate. Off the marked channel the bays, coves and inlets are not all sounded so a bow watch is required – i.e. Steve standing on the bowsprit making hand gestures or yelling to ensure we don’t hit a rock. Having said that the scenery, especially through the narrowest passages, is stunning, such as when we passed Pointe Au Baril lighthouse, and the barrel itself! Lots of rocks with cottages on, and a rather confusing Shell gas sign!
History note: Early fur traders apparently lost a canoe containing a barrel of whiskey near the point. It was found by stranded traders the next spring. After some celebration the empty barrel was left on the point as a beacon. Hence the name. Later this marker was improved to include a lantern in the barrel that would be lit by the first fisherman returning inland to light the way for the rest of the boats.
In Britt we picked up our long-term (rather than “old”) friends Gord and Val who are brave enough to venture out on a holiday aboard Tai Chi! We spent the first night in a beautiful anchorage, again within a ring of islands offering 360 degree protection from the wind, in Sandy Bay. We motored on the next day treating our visitors to the Small Craft Channel experience, and through the long narrow channel into Henvey Inlet. We anchored in a bay in the wider section of the inlet – and clambered over the nearby rocky outcrop, covered in multi-coloured lichens.
A rainy, windy day kept us busy reading and playing cards in our “Florida Room”, until the wind clocked and brought us a little too close to the pretty rocks! We hauled up the anchor and motored to the Flower Pot Cove on the north side of the inlet, where we dropped the hook again in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset. We all enjoyed the nightly calls of the loons but the uninvited guests of the mosquito and tabanid (deer/horse fly) families were very much less welcome.
We moved on to the Bustard Islands and spent three nights in the north-west anchorage – another beautiful spot very much worth the nail-bitingly narrow hair-pin route in. We had the anchorage to ourselves for the first night, and enjoyed a dinghy ride all through the channels between the islands. The Bustard Islands were charted by Lt (later Admiral) Henry Bayfield and named after a large game bird, the last of which died out in England about 1832. The island group is made up of several large islands (Burnt, Tarpot, Tie, Tanvat, Strawberry) and many more smaller islands, rocks and ledges. The islands are uninhabited, except for a few cottagers. The scenery is outstanding.
We found a shallow pool that was warmer to swim and bathe in than the anchorage. We picked blueberries and enjoyed a morning feast of blueberry pancakes with maple syrup!
Three other sailboats joined us in the anchorage the next day. We had planned to leave on Monday to return to Britt, but as we prepared to leave we checked the weather and lake conditions and changed our minds. Very windy – 15-25 knots with waves over a meter. No great rush, with a toast again to our recent retirement, we decided to spill another day.
Skipper Steve decided to make use of the extra time by swabbing decks but only managed to coerce one docile crew member into helping him! The others enjoyed reading books and playing Scrabble.
We also invited all the other cruisers for happy hour, and in the usual spirit of cruising, they arrived with various charcuterie trays and drinks, and the evening passed quickly with easy new friendships, “small-world” coincidences exploring those few degrees of separation between people we know in common, and sailing yarns. We all adjourned to a bonfire on the rocks later to enjoy the full moon and more great conversation until the mosquitoes drove us off, reclaiming the island.
Back at Wrights Marina in Britt, Val and Gord treated us to an excellent fresh pickerel dinner at St. Amant’s Restaurant before heading off. This is a lovely and well-run little marina, with beautifully kept flower and veggie gardens and spotless facilities.
However, despite the fabulous cruising, boat issues continue to stalk us. Due to disconcerting sporadic engine starting issues, we had Wrights Marina order us a new starter at the time we pulled in to pick up Val and Gord, the mechanic here having diagnosed it as a starter motor, rather than ignition switch issue. We stayed on after they left to catch up with laundry and replace the starter. However, after the new one was installed (at a cost of around $600), the ignition /starting problems were unchanged. In retrospect we think it was just corroded terminals along the line which have now been addressed but in an unnecessarily costly and time-consuming manner. We hope that’s it. Our faith is shaken. Diesel engine mechanics seems like more of an art than a science, more by guess and by golly than just straight trouble-shooting diagnostics and part replacement. A bit like people medicine I suppose.
Anyway, on we go to more loons, pink rocks, windswept pines and peaceful anchorages, as we make our way north to Killarney and the North Channel.