From Bear Drop anchorage it was a half day run up the North Channel to the small Northern Ontario town of Blind River, which has an oversized marina for the few transients who come this way, as the North Channel cruising area general extends just to the Turnbulls, east of Blind River. Arriving just after lunch we were able to get a head start on the typical shore chores, and enjoy a delicious fresh pickerel dinner at the “17” restaurant in town. Blind River itself has seen better days, and despite having the Trans Canada Highway running through it, is a sad little place with many stores closed down. But there are some beautifully kept homes and gardens, and the marina was well run and had great facilities, and loaner bikes. The grocery store, however, is a fair walk from the marina, along the Trans Canada, and felt like an even longer haul back with a full cart, as I discovered the next day, which happened to be blisteringly hot. We took advantage of shore power and turned on the AC on the boat!
We were in Blind River to pick up our friends Paul and Mary who are driving back to Calgary from their cottage near Sharbot Lake, Ontario. They are sailing with us for 2 weeks – in fact they are “old hands’ who have sailed with us in Croatia, the BVI’s, the East Coast, and the Bahamas as well as two trips on Lake Ontario. They arrived around 4:30 pm, and, with a 10+ knot wind from the west, we turned east and had a good short (1.5 hour) downwind sail into the Turnbull Islands to the East, opting for a quiet island anchorage rather than another night on the dock. We tried to stay up to watch the Perseid meteor shower, but were only able to stay awake to see the early night stars, a satellite, a few planes and one shooting star pass overhead. (Note: I could not pass up the opportunity to get up at 2 am and go above decks to see myriads of stars and the milky way in the inky darkness…..(only saw one meteor zoomed by before I went back to bed).
Obligingly, the wind clocked to the east, so we left the Turnbulls heading towards north-west towards Sault Ste. Marie. The wind was a little lighter so Steve hauled out our gennaker and we had a beautiful sail with our rarely used but colourful gennaker all the way to the Grant Islands. We anchored in a horse-shoe shaped bay in East Grant Island, feeling miles from anywhere, alone among the uninhabited islands. Now well passed the typical North Channel cruising zone, we saw very few other boats and had anchorages to ourselves until we returned to the Whalesback a week later.
In the Grants, Mary and I settled for tea and scrabble while Steve and Paul tried beer and fishing from the dinghy. They came back with only empty cans, reporting crystal clear water and no fish in sight! After our none-fresh-fish dinner we had a rocky shore walk, finding little but skipping stones, big rocks and some largish bones near an old camp fire….perhaps deer.
The next day we made more progress towards the Sault having another good sailing day on a beam reach, dropping our hook just inside the Canadian border which runs between Lime Island and St. Josephs Island. As we rounded the south-west point of St. Josephs we noticed a historic site, the ruins of Fort St. Joseph, so we lowered the dinghy after anchoring to go exploring. We found a trail head for a short, poison-ivy filled walk to the very smart Visitor Centre, where we watched a short film before exploring the museum and ruins of Fort. St. Joseph, burned to the ground by the Americans in 1814. What we find so interesting is how much the islands in this neck of the woods have changed hands between Canada and the US over the years, swapping and trading and causing headaches for cartographers and surveyors.
We were able to motor sail the next day with favourable help from the wind pushing us through the current of the St. Mary’s River, leaving before breakfast and arriving at the Roberta Bondar Marina in Sault Ste Marie mid-afternoon. We had a pleasant walk along the waterfront near a galleon (replica), which was docked on the wall beside our marina, offering tours for a couple of days en route to the Duluth Tall Ships gathering.
We walked to the historic Sault Ste Marie canal, the longest lock in the world at the time it was built, and the first to be powered electrically. Not much to see now….commercial traffic uses the newer locks on the US side (the Soo, as Sault Ste Marie Michigan is called), and even pleasure craft traffic is temporarily suspended as the railway bridge is broken and not able to swing open for boats over 12 or 13 feet.
We stayed in the Sault for two nights. We had a fantastic meal (thanks, Paul and Mary) at Arturo’s on Queen Street, where uncannily we bumped into QCYC friends Lee and John, passing through the Sault by car. They set the tone as we continued to have unexpected, fun social interactions: a few ex-colleagues of Steve’s, based in the Sault, and a fellow boater, Jim on Reverie who we met in Little Current (he had also driven up by car this time). We met the crew of the neighbouring sailboat in the marine, the Gulliver’s, who had enjoyed some summer sailing in Superior and were heading back to Michigan (the two men were brothers, one, and his wife, were from Texas, near where we bought Tai Chi). They, like us with Paul and Mary, had spent some time sailing as a foursome. We traded stories and insider info on anchorages north and south over a fish & chip truck picnic table lunch.
We really enjoyed a visit to the Bush Plane Museum on the waterfront. They had an excellent 3D film on fighting fires (all sounding familiar to Steve who spent a couple of summers fighting fires in Northern Ontario as a student at UNB) as well as one on bush pilots. They have simulators, a great kids area, planes that you could climb into and many others with good info and interpretive boards.
We were able to get propane (at last) – the marina guy driving Steve to Canadian Tire where he was also able to exchange my broken fishing pole. Halleluia! We did the shopping chores (there is a mall close by) and were entertained in the evenings, sitting in our cockpit, watching freighters entering the locks behind us.
Steve popped into the MNR office on Monday morning before we left to say hello to former work colleagues. The Sault is a pleasant city and we were happy we made it this far North before turning back. Next year we plan to go into Superior, so we will be back!