The Little Current swing bridge, being the main lake route from South Georgian Bay to the North Channel as well as the only road to Manitoulin Island from the mainland, opens to boat traffic once an hour, on the hour, for about 5 minutes – the road closure is 15 minutes long but the bridge swings open and closed slowly. Meanwhile boat traffic lines up on both sides, trying to “hover” in strong current (no “little” about it) that is either pushing you downstream or holding you back on the upstream leg.
We left Heywood Island early enough to be first in line (of 6 boats) waiting for the 10 am opening. All went smoothly and we called the Town Docks as soon as we were through the bridge (they do not take reservations). Hearing how bad the current is coming into the docks, reversing and pinning boats in, we requested an easy dock placement for us newbies, and were rewarded with a very easy, straight-in long dock close to the wall with much less current than outer finger-docks, and two dock hands there to tie us up! The early bird, I guess….
When in Rome….I mean Little Current…. The crew of Tai Chi did the local things – i.e. shopped in the Valumart on the hill, bought smoked fish from Wally’s and home-grown goodies from the farmers market, and ate ice cream from ‘3 Cows and a Cone’, which sells Farquhars ice cream, which rivals Kawartha Dairy with which we are far more familiar.
We attended the weekly Friday afternoon Cruisers Net happy hour at the Anchor Inn, where we met other cruisers (including and especially our friends William and Deirdre from Liquid Fix) and received a welcome canvas bag of promotional brochures from Roy Eaton who hosts the North Channel Cruisers Net.
We then cooked an impromptu dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on board Tai Chi, with tasty Georgian Bay smoked fish spread on crackers as a starter, brought by William and Deidre along with good British Green and Black dark chocolate for dessert. Of course the accompanying red wine also contributed to our enjoyment of this spontaneous little party!
We also attended the morning Cruisers Net, where I sat in as one of the recorders. Listening to the North Channel Cruisers Net has become something of a habit for us up here. Roy Eaton is the volunteer host and he broadcasts on Marine Radio Channel 71 every morning at 9 am. In addition to calling for any emergency or medical traffic, he provides marine weather, news updates, local event notices, sports highlights, and “this day in history” factoids. He then facilitates a call-in of boats in the North Channel from anchorages east of Killarney (Bustards and north), to the far western anchorages towards Blind River. When I was recording boat names and locations, 124 boats called in – which is by no means a record – boats are down this year compared to previous years and there are not as many as the peak time a few weeks earlier.
We left Little Current and headed around Great La Cloche Island, towards our chosen anchorage, Sturgeon Cove, which has a tricky entrance but fabulous protection inside. The wind was blowing 20 knots by the time we rounded the headland, and waves had built up. So we changed our mind and tucked instead into Bell Cove, an easy entrance and great protection from the North West blow. We anchored close to Neptune Island in a sheltered spot, alone in the big bay until 2 smaller sailboats provided us with about an hour of entertainment buzzing around, anchoring and re-anchoring, just before a storm blew over. The rest of the evening’s programming involved watching a mink on the shore, a loon family, and finally the antics of a black bear on our nearest shore, enjoying eating something off a tall shrub or small tree – perhaps high bush cranberries? I could not quite see what he was eating and chose not to take a close look while he was enjoying himself so.
We had a good sail the next day between islands, listening to the Cruisers Net en route to the Benjamins. We anchored in South Benjamin. I can see why these islands are the most popular cruising destination in the North Channel. The high pink granite rocks surrounding the South Anchorage provide great protection and are good for exploring. The water is clear and, best of all, NO mosquitoes or biting flies! We hiked to the top of the pink cliffs on both sides for a good view of the comings and goings in our anchorage, using a branch to fend off prolific spider-webs and healthy-looking spiders (responsible perhaps keeping the mosquitoes at bay). This beautiful spot is well-deserving of it’s popularity.
Waking up to calm mill-pond-like conditions, we motored from the Benjamins to Little Detroit, a tiny, narrow eastern channel leading into the Whalesback. The North Channel is all a pretty protected body of water with a mass of islands tucked between Manitoulin Island and the mainland. The Whalesback is a channel within the Channel – providing even better protection and a string of smaller islands between John and Aird Island and the mainland. The legacy of former logging days, the Whalesback is littered with deadheads and lumber debris, which, however, provided no problem for us as water levels are higher than usual.
We anchored in Bear Drop Harbour, a long and beautiful anchorage formed by two large islands facing the mainland. We saw no bears in Bear Drop, but out trolling at dusk we saw 2 beaver and an otter, and caught a smallish pike which Steve released from the net. The land here, as in most of the North Channel is owned by First Nations, in this case the Serpent River First Nations. They respect and allow the tradition of pleasure craft cruising and anchoring to continue but cruisers need to, and for the most part do, ensure no garbage is left, no fires are made and campers request permission from band offices.
While en route to Heywood we spotted a forest fire near Snug Harbour near Killarney Bay. We were about to call it into the Sarnia Coast Guard but heard on Channel 16 that it had already been reported. I hate to think that it was started by a cruising boat’s shore fire, but it was close to that anchorage. Shortly after seeing the smoke, we saw an MNR yellow water bomber plane dropping water on the site.
We have such a precious resource to preserve here for future generations…it is both our duty and privilege to be the temporary stewards of this resource as we travel through.