Freighter traffic on the St. Mary's River

Freighter traffic on the St. Mary’s River

Leaving Sault Ste Marie, the current helped us down the St. Mary’s River, so the first half of our trip was brisk, slowing down only as we came around Lime Island. Uneventful in a good way, just the usual freighter traffic and our friends the Gullivers passing us on their way through the De Tour Channel, reporting a very easy clearing back into the US at the “Soo”. After a long day, we dropped the hook, alone in a very pleasant quiet anchorage between Hog and Beef Islands, where we were treated to a spectacular sunset.

Sunset near Hog and Beef islands

Sunset near Hog and Beef islands

The next day the conditions were less favourable, wind on the nose with chop at the top of the North Channel, causing us to sail off the wind and into the waves, slow progress to Meldrum Bay on the west end of Manitoulin. It was worth the effort. It is a cute little harbour with good, wide floating docks and hot showers (the humidity set off the smoke alarm but fore-warned is fore-armed – we were not tempted to run out in panic wearing only towels).

Paul and Mary at the Old Meldrum Inn

Paul and Mary at the Meldrum Bay Inn

Once the crew was looking fresh and respectable, we set off for dinner at the nearby Meldrum Bay Inn, reason enough to stop by this little port of call. The whitefish, trout almondine and pork ribs are all fantastic, and we watched hummingbirds on the flowers and feeders from our patio seats as we ate. The Inn welcomes cruising boats and welcomes boaters to use the lounge, where several guests were enjoying the Olympics on the big TV screen.

The next day we crossed the channel again and entered the Whalesback by the west entrance and anchored at the end of John Island, in Moiles harbour, with only one other boat, the island packet Reverie. Jim and his grandson Calvin popped by later to say hi…we had seen him in the Sault when he drove up to fetch his grandson off a flight from California. We rate this is one of our favourite anchorages in the North Channel.  From our cockpit we watched a momma bear with baby take a stroll on the nearby rocky island and then swim across to the larger John Island. The little one did well keeping up on the long swim though it might have held on to momma bear for the last bit. Steve and I went fishing in the dinghy and caught a good-sized…….oops, perhaps we need to learn again how to tie better cinch knots – this one got away with Steve’s favourite lure as I was netting it! The sunset was good, the moon rise spectacular. Check out this little slide show of our favourite anchorage!

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Spanish marina

Spanish marina

The next day we had a calm short motor sail into Spanish, a small cute harbour with, most importantly, a working pump out! Mary and I set off for the grocery store to do some basic re-provisioning, a hot 1 mile hike uphill in the blazing sun. Luckily the store provided us with a ride back to the marina, where we packed away the food and enjoyed lunch before setting off again.

Little Detroit - Paul on the bow

Little Detroit – Paul on the bow

We exited the Whalesback through Little Detroit (a small passage) again and headed for nearby Hotham. Finding Rays Bay anchorage quite busy, we felt our way, slowly and carefully, down a narrow little channel into a hidden bay nearby, with enough swing room for one boat. It was charming. We had enjoyed the moon rise in Moiles, but tonight was full moon, and a harvest moon, no less – another clear sky treat!

The next day we headed for the Benjamins, but, finding it a bit crowded in the north harbour (wind too strong to make the south anchorage desirable) we arrived at Plan B, and dropped the hook in the small, cliff protected bay in the armpit of Croker. Really a very good alternative, another of our favourites. We climbed the rocky cliffs to get a good view of the bay and of the North Channel. We also explored the sandy beach on Croker, finding an outhouse, plenty of poison ivy (very common in these North Channel islands) and a couple of sunbathers from another sailboat!

Being sailors we are weather-forecast fiends, usually checking 3 or 4 sources before going anywhere, listening to updated broadcasts on our VHF radio, despite the monotonous voice. So our plans change continually. Hearing of an approaching system with gale force winds, we decided on a super-quick trip into Kagawong and planned (OK, argued, a bit about) a safe haven anchorage for the evening and next day to hunker down and sit out the storm. Kagawong, a village on the north shore of Manitoulin, is a delightful stop. We anchored near the municipal marina and dinghied in, which, believe it or not, makes for simpler, quicker entrances and exits than fenders, mooring lines and docking. We visited the cute little Anglican Church with a boat bow pulpit and nautical theme, and then hiked the wooded trail to the Bridal Veil Falls. It was a baking hot day and people were enjoying swimming beneath and behind the falls. We ate our picnic lunch nearby, and finished it off with a Farquhars ice cream before heading back down the trail with backpacks filled with some basic provisions (i.e. wine) from the little country store. There is also a great little chocolatier/gourmet store near the marina, and a lovely sand beach for kids. Little time to explore the museum but Paul and Mary had a quick browse and provided us with a synopsis of local history and stories!

With the storm on our heels, we made a dash for Fox harbour, and hunkered down as the wind increased steadily and clocked around, topping out at about 35 knots. Skipper Steve caught up on some sleep the next day, while the rest of the crew read and played cards. We all took a hike along the rocks once the rain stopped, and explored the channels in the neighbourhood by dinghy. The storm disappeared sooner than expected, and the sunset was pretty. There had been one other boat with us in Fox through the storm, a pretty Gozzard called Gaviidae (name = loon genus). We invited its crew, Dan and Julie, over for cocktails after dinner, and were able to get good insight from them based on their cruising experience. We will likely see them again as it seems we may be heading down the St. Lawrence to Newfoundland around the same time.

The next day we left as the winds increased again, skirting by Eagle Island, where, uncannily, we spotted this handsome bald eagle on a rock. We headed into the Whalesback with winds channelling uncomfortably on our nose, and tried out a new anchorage between Wilfred and Laurier islands for lunch, but decided to return to Moiles instead for another lovely calm evening out of the wind.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Almost at the end of a two-week adventure with our friends Paul and Mary, we spent the last day in Bear Drop. Things were going well – we anchored with only two other boats initially in a good protected location, and enjoyed some dinghy exploration. That’s when things started to go wrong. I tripped while hiking over some rocks and twisted my ankle badly. I cooled it off in the water while Steve went back for the dinghy only to find that he had no forward gear on our trusty Evinrude outboard motor, (later declared to be not worth fixing 🙁 )

As superstition goes, bad things happen in 3’s. We enjoyed the evening (a combination of painkillers, ice, wine and the distraction of winning at euchre helping my ankle tremendously), and got ready for an early start back to Blind River the next day. However when we went to leave, our ignition/new starter failed. We spent a couple of hours trouble shooting i.e. emptying cupboards, removing plumbing and engine panels to get at the terminals etc, before coming to the realization that the starter battery was the issue. It is not old enough to fail so we have some more trouble-shooting to do to figure out why it drained and did not charge normally via our Blue Sea ACR (Automatic Charging Relay). We got the engine going anyway and motor sailed into Blind River as heavy rain started and continued as we did our shore chores in the afternoon. The cruising life is such that we do not take much for granted. After the cold and wet, the hot shower at the marina  and dinner at Pier 17 in Blind River was at least equivalent on a scale of enjoyment to a fancy spa treatment and gourmet city outing. As we wave a fond farewell to Paul and Mary (until the next time), we turn out attention to dropping more boat dollars on a new outboard motor, cleaning the boat, doing laundry and the next stage of our trip – heading south again, slowly, to haul the boat in Midland for the winter.