Sunday, July 27, 2008

West Hotham, North Channel - A Well Protected Anchorage -- Really!

There were three anchorages that we were considering: Oak Bay, South Hotham and West Hotham. We checked out all three mainly to get practice going through this tight passage near Goat Island

... and because we were trying to get a picture of these loon greeters.

This is the inner cove of Oak Bay. We did not choose this area because there was this channel that we thought might be a wind conduit during high winds (because now we are wind experts - yea, right).

We looked at South Hotham but it was a bit crowded (and for us that means there were more than three potential targets ... I mean ... other boats ... enjoying the anchorage) and there are some cottages right on the shore (can we BE pickier about our anchorage sites?!?)

We checked out West Hotham and, although there were ten boats in there, we selected it. (But not before re-visiting Oak Bay one more time to re-evaluate its scenic potential.) We noticed that there were no boats in the far inner point of the harbor of West Hotham. We thought about going in there for more protection but were wary about why no others had taken those spots.

We probably should have gone in and checked it out given what happened with the -- you guessed it -- winds in the afternoon.

We'd been listening to the Environment Canada radio updates (since we lacked internet) and the forecast had been for 20 kilometers in the afternoon changing to 30 kilometers in the evening. By afternoon, we were quite nervous because these "20 kilometer" winds were feeling pretty strong and we were not feeling very "protected from all winds". Especially when the winds were to INCREASE to 30 kilometers by evening. So we were back on "Anchor Watch" along with many of our neighbors. The winds died down a bit so we dinghyed into shore to stretch our legs, do a little hiking and look for some blueberries. A few more boats came in and we could now see white caps forming on the waves in the "protected channel".

About this time, we checked our kilometer-to mile calculation because these winds were feeling way stronger than the 20 kilometer forecast. (we had calculated 20 kilometers to be about 13 miles per hour ... but maybe we were supposed to double the kilometers and add 35?) If these were 20 kilometer, what the heck were 30 kilometer winds going to feel like? Maybe we're not ready for this anchoring business.

Around this time, we listened to another Environment Canada forecast -- one for the current conditions. Oddly enough, we were relieved to hear that the current wind conditions were NOT 20 kilometers but 40 kilometers with gusts to 60 kilometers. Whew! That made more sense for the wind gusts we were experiencing. Plus, they said that the wind would be calming to 20 kilometers overnight. (Since these were 40 kilometers, not 20, "calming to 20" sounded darn good to us.) Feeling more relaxed that our anchor had held in 40 - 60 kilometer winds (but also feeling kind of dumb for not being able to tell the difference between 20 kilometer winds and 40 kilometer winds, we relaxed over a dinner of homemade meatball sandwiches and adult beverages. Phil then climbed to the bridge of Meridian to join the rest of the boaters in the anchorage who were celebrating with a resounding chant of

"We're Alive
We're Alive
Thank You Anchors
We're Alive"

Then everyone went back to trying to get pictures of the loons.

Bernie sets her alarm for midnight every night to get up and look at the stars. Oddly enough, most nights it is either hazy, cloudy, or a full moon is out to make stargazing difficult. Tonight, though, the sky was clear there was no moon, and there were a gazillion stars out. We could even cleary see the Milky Way (the astronomic one, not the chocolate bar), There were so many stars, it was hard to find the usual constellations. We did fined the Summer Triangle (Cygnus, Lyra, Aquila), Pegasus, Cassiopeia and Delphinus.

TOTALLY makes up for those 60 kilometer wind gusts in the afternoon!

Eagle Island, North Channel

Our next stop was Eagle Island. There were stronger winds forecast for Friday (July 25) and Eagle Harbour is protected from all winds by its bay and Frechette Island. Needing a calm night for a change, we checked into Eagle Island.

Eagle Island is a wide open bay but really is very protected. There isn't a lot to do (minimal hiking), so you are prone to the "Boat Lazies" - evidenced by the chronic symptoms that include

(a) sitting with your feet up on the aft deck
(b) sleeping
(c) watching Blue Herons hunt
(d) dozing
(e) making blog notes

There is nice kayaking around the whole bay which gives a close up view of the island. We thought it was similar to John Harbour but with a more scenic mix of rock and forest shoreline.

Having had a good rest, we weighed anchor (still a little on the heavy side) and pulled out for a trip to Oak Bay or South Hotham or West Hotham. There are some strong wind warnings in effect - again - and these three areas are noted to be well protected from all winds.

Fox Harbour, North Channel

Having gone to where we thought was "there" - the Benjamins - deciding it wasn't for us, we went looking for a new "there" that we could get to. We looked through the GLCC books and A Well-Favored Passage and decided that Fox Island, Eagle Island, and Hotham Island were all possibilities. We plotted courses to all three just in case we encountered any over crowded anchorages.

Before we left Bay of the Benjamins, we watched the sailboat LOON navigate the cut between North and South Benjamin. The cut is very narrow and shallow and requires bow spotters who we heard yell "A little left", "More Left", and "Just be ready to jam it in reverse".

On the way to Fox Island, we stopped at Croker Island. We'll probably stop at Croker on the way back as it looks like a nice, interesting anchorage. We believe, though, that we interrupted the daily morning meeting of the Meridian Spotters Club, those daredevil souls who plot potential Meridian cruise courses based on sightings and notify others to keep clear.

At the entrance to Fox Harbour is O'Connor Island.

The entrance to Fox Harbour itself is hidden and requires lining up small rock outcroppings by Eagle Island and then winding through some shoals and small islets.

It has a fairly long, narrow opening and most of the boats anchor and tie their sterns to shore. It is easier to do this on the EAST side of the harbor as the trees on the WEST side have scrub, brush, and thicket that block a clear path. We know this because we tried to do the "tie to shore" thing on the WEST side.

It seems like a fairly simple thing. Drop your anchor, tie a line to your stern cleat, dinghy to shore, tie to a tree or a boulder. It's a little harder than it looks. Especially when it is windy ... and your boat weighs 14 tons.

Phil readied the lines, including a few extra in case it was farther to shore than it looked.

He dinghyed in and discovered the scrub and thicket obscuring the trees. So much for Plan A. So he tried Plan B: Tie to a boulder.

But the line slipped off. So he went to Plan C.

After about an hour, he got hungry and tired so we went to Plan D which was coming back to Meridian and setting a second anchor in the Y formation.

As it turned out, it was good that we hadn't tied to shore. Our sailboat neighbor had been tied to shore but when the wind shifted, his anchor gave so he undid the shore line and re-anchored further west and in the middle of the channel. At least that's what he SAID happened. He may not have felt safe anchoring near a boat who's crew couldn't even manage a line-to-shore anchor technique. Come to think of it, he may have been part of the Meridian Spotters Club that we interrupted on Croker Island. We think we heard him on the radio saying "No, seriously, they are right here in Fox Harbour -- I'm looking right at them!"

On the east side of Fox Harbour you can hike along the ridge almost the whole length of the harbour. We found lots of wild blueberries that we ate while we hiked. This is a rougher hike than the walk to Bridal Veil Falls so hiking boots are recommended.

Fox Harbour is protected from all winds, but less so if there are southwest winds. So, of course, the winds started coming from the southwest right after we got there. It still is a very protected harbour but a little bumpier than if the wind was from another direction.

As we left the next morning, we saw the sailboat SOLUTIONS tucked away in one of the snug little coves off the main Fox Harbour channel.

Bay of the Benjamins, North Channel

It may be blasphemous to say out loud and in mixed company, but we really didn't like The Benjamins. Oh, the scenery is quite lovely -- pink quartz rocks with veins of other colors and interesting rock outcroppings on land and in the water. But ...

We had joked that the way people talk about the Fabled Benjamins, that they were probably filled with boats rafted together like the "Play Pen" at the Grand-Ohio Beach in Chicago. While it wasn't quite like that, it was quite noisy and not as relaxing as other anchorages that we've visited.

There is a cool magnetic field around the Benjamin Islands that you have to be careful about. It causes a compass deviation of about 20 degrees.

South Benjamin was quite full when we poked our bow in -- over 20 boats were there -- so we went over to the Bay of the Benjamins and found a spot. That's when we started noticing the buzzing. People were zooming their dinghys around like jet-skis. Prior to this, the loudest we ever heard a dinghy was a quiet putt-putter-putt-putter. And new boats, arriving at the anchorage, would send people on dinghys in to find "the best spot". Unlike us, who think any spot that allows our anchor to get a good bite is "the best spot". We're just happy if we aren't dragging our anchor as we drift toward shore, boulders, or big expensive boats.

At least the roaring wind and thunder from the storm that moved in drowned out the karaoke from the rafted power boats. Yes, of course, a front moved through and picked up some major wind and waves, putting us on "Anchor Watch" as we had Port Sheldon flashbacks. We had set two anchors but Phil kept fiddling with one of them until a gust of wind broke it free. (That's not true! It must have landed on that flat rock that the GLCC Cruising Notes warn you not to run into. We didn't run into it, we just tried to anchor to it.) The main anchor held tight, though it was a scary time as the wind tried to decide from which direction it would blow so as best to dislodge our remaining anchor.

A duck family swam out to visit during the storm which provided a nice distraction.

The storm moved on, after probably less than a half hour, though it felt like two, and it was a very nice sunset.

Can't Go Wrong in Kagawong, Ontario

While filling up the gas tank at Gore Bay, we continued our attempts to contact the Kagawong Marina (previously known as Northern Marina of Kagawong). When we called the number listed everywhere -- the 2008 Ontarion Boating Guide, the GLCC Info, Ports Guide, Lakeland Boating, and the Gore Bay Marina -- the number just rang repeatedly, beeped, then disconnected. We finally called the Kagawong Tourism Board and got a new phone number: 705 - 282 - 8800. Now, the Gore Bay Marina has the correct number, too! The Kagawong Marina staff were very helpful, said they had plenty of space and we should come on down.

There is a bit of a tricky passage between Gore Bay and Mudge Bay at Maple Point. It requires some tight maneuvering for the inexperienced passage-goers, such as ourselves. You have to make sure you stay between the markers and keep the markers on the correct side. As we were going through this section, we encountered a 55 foot Chris Craft going in the opposite direction. As we passed, we saw that they had a GLCC burgee that indicated they were a commodore in the club. This likely explains why he was comfortable zooming along the channel while we were creeping along at slower-than-trawler speed.

Once past the tricky section, we were into Mudge Bay and headed toward Kagawong. We contacted the marina on VHF 68 and they let us know the dock we'd be in and the side we would tie up on.

The marina is right by the public beach and kids jump from the pier into the water. But, they also compliment and comment on your boat ("Hey! Nice Boat." SPLASH "Ooh they're from Chicago!" SPLASH). The Kagawong Municipal Marina, as it is now known, has a new harbor master, Bill Prescott, who came out to meet us and personally welcome us to Kagawong. The enthusiasm is contagious. A boat that got in just before us, Patriot from Sister Bay, was already in their space and swimming but they helped the marina staff get us in and their kids helped us tie fenders on Meridian.

Kagawong is small but there is a full day's worth of things to do.

* Bridal Veil Falls is a less-than-one mile hike from the marina. No need to take hiking boots - flip flops are fine and prepare you for walking in the falls. Along the way is an Ontario Hydroelectric facility designed to fit into the rustic scenery.

* St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church. Also known as The Sailor's Church, it is quite nice with anchors and lighthouses making up the stained glass window scenes, a life preserver hanging from the loft ceiling, and an anchor above the pulpit. The pulpit is the salvaged and restored bow of a boat that sank in Mudge Bay 43 years ago.

* An Outdoor game board and two mazes (one stone, one hedge). We did the stone maze but not the hedge maze. We both remembered that stone hedge from the Harry Potter book and didn't want to take any chances.

The marina sells Farquhar's ice cream (How Convenient!) and meat from a local farmer. They also have a good selection of spices and soaps, lotions, and clothing from Manitoulin.

There are just a few shops in town: Manitoulin Chocolate (Chocolate and Coffee), River Mist Gallery (local artisan products), Hunts of Kagawong (general store), and Chase's Restaurant (formerly Needles). Although Chase's was not open when we were there (we overheard some townspeople say that they had run out of food), an article in the Manitoulin West Recorder indicated that it serves lunch and dinner 7 days a week and has applied for a liquor license.

Phil insisted on sticking his nose into the town's business.

We found a boarding ladder that is more rickety than our own!

There is a small farmer's market on Wednesdays that we stayed for. The market has Butter Tarts (that was how Bernie convinced Phil to wait around for the market -- he wanted to leave so we could get "there"). We were also waiting for the wind to die down a bit as getting out of the marina requires some quick turns -- kind of like that tricky passage you have to go through at the entrance to Mudge Bay.

After stocking up on Butter Tarts, we headed off to find an anchorage in the fabled Benjamin Islands.

Gore Bay, Ontario

After 4 nights of anchoring it was time to set foot on dry land again. When we anchor, we go into "conserve" mode. We did well with maintaining fresh water and the holding tank. We still need to work on balancing electric usage. No, we're not leaving the lights on all day and night! It's our refrigerator/freezer that is the battery drainer. We had thought that the cruises between anchorages would give the batteries enough charge but since the distances are small, we only cruise for a couple of hours and sometimes less than that. That isn't enough time under power to get the batteries up to full strength. So we've had to run the generator more than expected. We have a quiet generator but we try to wait until someone else starts THEIR generator before we start ours. Or we'll run it when everyone is dinghying around. There's a quiet time at anchor: early and mid morning and early evening where everyone is just chilling and enjoying the birds calling and water lapping that just shouldn't be disturbed.

When we do run the generator, we try to make use of it as much as possible. We also use the time to do baking/cooking (otherwise we use a Coleman Propane stove that is working really well for us), heat water, take showers, charge up any electronics that need a boost, back-up PCs, type blogs for later posting.

Next time we anchor, we're going to try shutting down the refrigerator for six hour stretches (midnight to 6:00am and noon to 6:00pm) to see if that helps lengthen our battery power. The anchor light, which MUST be on from sundown to sunrise when at anchor also pulls the battery down. No wonder we 've been seeing so many boaters use a solar-powered "Malibu Light" as their anchor light -- crafty devils! We're also noting that some boaters don't even put an anchor light on (not good)!

Of course, even if we had unlimited battery power, we'd still have to stop by a marina every so often to drop off garbage. We've noticed that most of the Canadian marinas we encounter often do recycling and have separate receptacles for paper, plastic, and glass. Hope that spreads to the marinas in the states!

We were able to get ready to leave Beardrop Harbour and head for Gore Bay by 7:30am -- the earliest ever! We were so proud of ourselves ... until we got to Gore Bay and saw that Bill and Evelyn (in Inua) and the sailboat armada they were with were already there. They beat us again -- they must have been using that racing sail they have.

We got to Gore Bay just in time for the Customs Inspector to come through. In addition to checking in with customs, an inspector must also inspect your boat. You get a little ticket that you can display on your window after being checked. The Inspector asked us a few questions from the dock, all the while looking for another entrance to our boat -- one that didn't involve climbing up our Rickety Old Boarding Ladder. Not seeing another way, he sighed and announced he was going to come aboard and look around. We assured him that the ladder was sturdier than it looks, to which he responded, "Well I guess we're going to give it a stress test today."

He was very thorough and professional in his search. Anything he opened or moved, he took care in putting back as found. Toward the end of the inspection, he asked us where we'd been and we mentioned Meldrum Bay. He asked if we'd eaten at the Meldrum Bay Inn. We said we had and thought the food was good but really liked the Butter Tarts. At the mention of "Butter Tarts", his face lit up, his eyes twinkled and he said "OOOH aren't those good? I had one yesterday!" We think the idea of getting another Butter Tart gave him the resolution he needed to go back down the Rickety Old Boarding Ladder, giving it the SECOND stress test of the day.

The marina is large and busy, being that Gore Bay is one of the septet of urban towns in the North Channel (and also a Canadian Customs Check-in point). The marina has internet service for $10 for 48 hours. Since we've started to have access problems now that we're roaming from AT&T into Rogers Wireless territory, we took advantage of their fast access and very reasonable fee.

We were able to get some groceries that we needed at the Gore Bay Co-Op. Most importantly, Bernie was able to get a new camera at The Source, and electronics store. (Her CyberShot finally gave out after 5 years -- probably a good run for electronics now days.) There is also an art gallery (Art for You) that carries the works of local artists, a coffee shop --Loco Beanz -- that has internet, two hardware stores, an LCBO (which either stands for Liquor, Coors, Booze, and Other stuff or the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, an automotive supply store and a Shell Station, a convenience store, a "five and dime type variety store and several other small businesses.

The laundromat (Econ-o-wash) is open 25 hours in the summer. Canadian quarters are available for purchase from the convenience store (Betty's).

The Island Pantry is a health food store that carries a large selection of spices, flours, dried fruits, and nuts. They also make delicious frozen yogurt concoctions. We made up - and enjoyed - Blueberry Ginger, Blueberry Cherry, and Cherry Ginger. They also have melon, strawberry, peach, banana, and mixed berries.

We ate, twice, at the Twin Bluffs Restaurant, once with Bill and Evelyn and some people from the sailboat armada. Phil thinks the crooked "W" in the sign gives this a very Northern Exposure look. The food is good and the prices are reasonable. They even give a senior price if you are in that age group. We keep thinking we should make up some fake AARP ID cards.

The Twin Bluff Cinnamon Rolls - plain, raisin nut, and raisin apple - are quite tasty and took the place of our daily ice cream. No, wait, the frozen yogurt took the place of the daily ice cream. OOPS! We may start weighing as much as that anchor of ours.

The Janet Head Light is about a 2 mile walk from the marina down a paved and set gravel (not loose) road. It's a nice walk that gives you views of the bay, residential homes, and the bluffs. The lighthouse is private now, but has tours from 1pm - 4pm on Tuesdays through Saturdays.

We saw two deer while in Gore Bay. One walked down the sidewalk to a shady spot in a front yard (but this was before Bernie got her camera). We saw this little guy in a side yard on our way back from the lighthouse.

Everyone keeps asking us if we've been to the Benjamins (aka "the Benjis"). We haven't. I guess that means we're not "there" yet.

Our next stop is either Kagawong (if we can get a phone number for the marina) or "the Benjis".

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Long Point Cove, North Channel

After Turnbull Island we cruised a short way over to an anchorage referred to as Long Point Cove. This name isn't used on charts and it does require using a specific route and identifying Navy Island. Sounds easy. But remember -- you are looking at a few dozen islands from eye level and comparing them to a chart, which shows the "birds eye view" version of an island. Not so easy. The GPS helps and Bernie is using a handheld compass to take readings (Phil thinks she learned how to take a compass reading from watching Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates movies.) However, any little identifier you can find helps. We found a reference to this passage in a book called The Well-Favored Passage. It noted that Navy Island could be identified because there is a spike in the lower rise on the Island. When we found that, pictured above, we were pretty sure we knew the way. Of course, we did take another turn a little early and initially thought that Long Point Cove was completely deserted, much smaller than the books indicated, and very shallow. When we saw another boat head out, we realized that we were in a little indentation and the real cove was further back. (Of course, Phil won't admit to making a wrong turn. He was "exploring" a new gunkhole and didn't hear Bernie as she shouted at him from two feet away "STOP! TURN AROUND! WE'RE GONNA RUN AGROUND! ARRRGH! SOMEONE HELP US!")

Long Point Cove offers a lot for people who are anchoring. It is a relatively small anchorage, very well protected and, during our visit, there were never more than five other boats anchored. But that might be because there are "Meridian spotters" out there, posting sightings to warn other boats away. ;) The scenery is spectacular, with high bluffs and large rocks all around the anchorage. There is kayaking, hiking, and swimming. Although this summer has been a little cool and the water still chilly, our sailboat neighbors partook in some swimming exercise. The gentleman swam around his boat a few times a day. We always knew he was starting his exercise routine because when he got in the water, he triumphantly would yell WHOO! WHOO! WHOO! The first time this happened, Bernie thought our anchor had broke free, and they were trying to get our attention to let us know we were about to float into their boat. She looked up, expecting to see them on their bow, boat hooks and fenders out -- just like everyone at the marinas when we come in to dock. Instead, she saw him enjoying the lake and a safe anchorage. Phil wasn't paying much attention though. He just thought he was having a flash back to a Cubs game in the days of Ronnie WooWoo.

Once anchored, and somewhat confident that the anchor had set (ok, both of them), we set up our flotilla for kayak launching and away we went. The kayaking is generally smooth and affords you a great view of the archipelago that makes up this area. However, we did find a waterfall and rapids that seemed just our speed. See how adventurous we are?

Shooting the Long Point Cove Rapids

We hope he finds another anchorage. This one is full!

There is good, slightly steep hiking along and around the large boulders that provide a different angle for viewing the cove. Phil found some blueberries while hiking and they were our dessert one night after dinner. We saw cormorants, loons (never close enough for a picture, though), herons, and a beaver family. We stayed at Long Point Cove two nights. This is our favorite anchorage ... until we get to the next one!

Long Point Cove
N46 10.526 W82 41.325

Monday, July 21, 2008

Turnbull Island - Are We "There" Yet?

Turnbull Island was our first planned anchorage spot. We had heard that navigating the North Channel required careful piloting so we made sure we were prepared. Hopefully, two GPS units, two compasses, a depth sounder, binoculars, and charts are enough.

Turnbull Island was a good first anchorage for us. We had a nice spot close to shore and it wasn't too crowded -- perhaps ten other boats, all sailboats except for one other power boat.

Turnbull Harbor has two anchorages: North and South. The North Anchorage, where we anchored in about 10 feet of water, is well protected, not weedy, and has depths of 8 to 10 feet, shelving to 5 feet. You do have to be careful of at least one deadhead that is near the shore. (No, this is not an old fan of the Grateful Dead who sings Scarlet Begonias all night long. A deadhead is a large log, left from the old timber days, embedded under water. Very nasty.) The South Anchorage is more exposed to the southwest winds and has depths of 10 to 14 feet, shelving to 5 feet.

We found the north anchorage to be sufficiently secure -- even without a second anchor -- although we never want to be too complacent as the "Port Sheldon Incident" is still fresh in our minds.

It was also the first real test of the kayak launching procedure that we practiced in Meldrum Bay. In Meldrum Bay, we still had the dock to keep us steady, but this was the first afloat launching.

It was easier than the dock, as it turned out, because we didn't have to worry about banging the kayak onto a hard surface -- it splashed gently into the water as we lowered it. We then took the kayak for a walk around to Meridian's stern, secured the kayak to the dinghy and boarded it from there.

(Sorry, Bill, but your suggestion of sitting in the kayak while it's still on Meridian's bow and pushing ourselves over didn't work too well. The kayak's keel stuck in the bow rail and we were left dangling over the side at a 45 degree angle. We had to unceremoniously crawl back up the kayak into Meridian as all those sailboaters at anchor laughed at us.)

After getting it situated, we kayaked around Turnbull Harbor and out among the surrounding islands. Turnbull is at the eastern end of a small archipelago of islands, all very rocky and picturesque. Phil doesn't get to see the view all that much though, because when kayaking he sits in the stern and must focus on continually adjusting his paddling speed, stroke and direction to whatever Bernie happens to feel like doing at the time.

Turnbull Island is a narrow U-shaped island, and if you look carefully enough, you can find some hiking trails that lead from the sand beach area of the anchorage to the other side of the island. Phil was lucky enough to notice one, and it led to a beautiful little bay with a small gravel beach surrounded on either side by boulders and bluffs.

We decided our next stop would be Long Point Cove. The cove does not have an official name, but everyone seems to know it by this name. It's a hidden cove that requires identifying a certain island to find the entrance. Then you have to knock 3 times on a pink rock and yell SHAZAM for the opening to appear.

Phil thinks that when we get to Long Point Cove, we might finally be "there".