Thursday, August 28, 2008

Trip to Bois Blanc Island, Michigan

August 26, 2008

Not that we're anything close to experts but in the three times we've been on Lake Huron, we've never seen it like this.

On Tuesday, August 28, we had a good weather forecast and decided to move from Lime Island down to Bois Blanc Island (pronounced locally as "Bob-Lo") which is four miles off of Cheboygan, MI. We had initially planned to go to Whitney Bay for another day of anchoring before moving to Bois Blanc but a very windy (20+ knots from the wrong direction) made us put Whitney Bay on a future cruise list.

After the fog lifted from Lime Island and we felt safe venturing out into Freighter Alley, we headed out. Our plan was to fuel up and get a few provisions (coffee and fruit) in Detour Village then head over to Bois Blanc. We hadn't been out of Lime Island very long before this big guy started chasing us. "Who are those guys?" we kept asking each other. As it turns out, it was the Stewart J. Cort, a regular St. Mary's River commuter. We slowed down even more than normal as we were afraid our wake might be giving him a rough ride. Hopefully he appreciated our gesture.

We'd never been this side of Detour Village and saw an interesting sight.

We asked about this at Detour and they told us that a guy had purchased it with plans to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast. The original foundation, though, wasn't strong enough to hold it and it collapsed to the ground. The person is currently living in a tent on the property but says that the funding exists to turn his plans into reality. Go Big or Go Home. Good luck to him!

After finishing up in Detour, we headed out again to a very calm sea. It was, at times, difficult to discern the sky from the lake. At one point, a passing boat's wake created a false horizon line. It was pretty cool to see. Even in the North Channel, we never saw the water this calm (OK - maybe at 1:30am when Bernie was out watching the stars and saw them reflecting in the water).

Before getting to Bois Blanc, we added three light houses to our list.

At 6 cruising hours, it was a long trip (compared to the short hops we've gotten used to). But soon we saw the gigantic flag that marks the Bois Blanc Dock. We pulled in by ourselves and even moved Meridian a little to ensure that we were not obstructing the ferry dock (marked by dark blue posts). We'd read in the GLCC notes that the Bob-Lo Tavern was a good place to eat and that they kept a courtesy car named Hester, keys in ignition, in Slot 27 in the Township Parking Lot. Alas, Hester seems to be no more. She wasn't at the parking lot (and some pretty tall weeds in Slot 27 led us to believe she hasn't been there in awhile) and she wasn't at the Bob-Lo Tavern either. (We will do some updates to the Harbor Report for Bois Blanc.) So we biked over in time for Tuesday Taco night. Dessert was ice cream at Hawk's General Store (which also has wi-fi.)

When we returned to Meridian at the Dock, we were just in time to meet the harbor master/deputy sheriff who stops by to collect marina fees each evening. We had a nice chat with him about boating adventures and the island. He gave us a recommended bike route and some general island information (including how to contact him in emergencies). It was a nice welcome!

Lime Island, Michigan

August 25, 2008

Lime Island is a little spot north of Detour Villiage, MI, on the St. Mary's Navigational passage. It has a long concrete dock, previously used as a refueling station for the big freighters. Now that the freighters have larger capacity for fuel, the pier is used for pleasure boat transients and as a gull conservancy.

Lime Island has quite the history. At one point there was a beautiful hotel that was frequented by Mae West. A Victorian house that now serves as a museum was moved to the island across the ice when the superintendent of the coal company that ran the refueling station needed a fancy house to live in. (It was such a traumatic transport that, legend has it, the movers needed to go to nearby Raber for whiskey after getting the house to the shore, leaving the final placement on the shore site to the next day. That's remarkably similar to a longstanding nautical tradition that we on Meridian faithfully keep after the more unpleasant rough water crossings.)

Currently Lime Island is managed by the Michigan DNR and the island caretakers, Howard and Janet, manage the island from May to September. And they work! Howard drove a John Deere tractor down to the dock as we were coming in and helped us with our lines. Janet was working on fixing up the museum (scraping lead paint and repainting with non-lead paint). They always were working on projects when we were there. There are a number of guest houses on the island that rent for $65/night. (Dockage is $15/night which is the same as the nightly rate for rustic campsites.) The island is all solar powered: each house has solar shingles that power a bank of batteries at the caretakers house. The guest houses are wood-stove heated but do not have indoor plumbing. Guests use outdoor facilities and it is BYOS (bring-your-own shower).

There are several hiking trails, which don't require hiking boots but give you a great leg workout. One goes to the old lime kilns used by the old limestone quarry. The other path goes to Little Lime Island at the far end of Lime Island.

It wasn't too long before we remembered we were in Freighter Alley. Larger freighters passed by day and night. We didn't mind the southern-bound freighters. The wake from the northern bound freighters, though, create a little movement at the dock so we added extra fenders. It still is cool to watch the freighters go by. They are so quiet except for a subtle hum. Meridian looks so tiny -- like a little toy boat -- next to this freighter.

A cool front moved through overnight and the resulting dew on the spider webs were rather artistic.

We planned to leave early the next morning to stop in Detour Village for gas and a few supplies before heading on to Bois Blanc. The weather had other plans. Just about the time we were ready to leave, a dense fog moved in. We knew it would burn off fairly quickly - and we definitely didn't want to be out in the middle of the freighter traffic with zero visibility - so we just enjoyed our coffee and the surreal appearance of the shore line and sun in the fog.

Harbor Island, Michigan

August 23-24, 2008

We had briefly visited Harbor Island back in July and were enchanted with its wooded shores. We were looking forward to anchoring there. Harbor Island is a National Wildlife Refuge so it wasn't surprising to see a deer grazing at the edge of the shore as we pulled in (just like the first time). We went to the inner harbor as it was forecast to be a bit windy and we wanted the extra shelter that it would provide. The first thing we noticed was that the inner harbor looked much bigger than the first time we were there. Guess all those smaller anchorages in the North Channel has changed our perceptions. We can just imagine how HUGE some of the upcoming places like Petoskey are going to appear to us in comparison to the bustling communities of Meldrum Bay, Gore Bay, Killarney, Spanish.

Taking advantage of the stormy-turned-summer day, we jumped in the kayak and paddled the circumference of the inner bay. We tried to go in the outer harbor but the winds were pretty strong for our little kayak. There is a clearing near the entrance that allows a short hike through the forest. We also walked along the cobbly shoreline. Many of the rocks there have fossils so we spent a little time breaking open rocks. Bernie found a very nice one on her first attempt ... then spent the rest of the afternoon cracking more rocks open. Phil finally convinced her to go back to Meridian after pointing out that it was too dark to see the fossils if she found one.

We stayed two nights at Harbor Island, enjoying the peacefulness, before heading off to Lime Island.

Harbor Island, Michigan

N46 03.080

W83 45.570

Back in the US - Drummond Island, MI

August 22, 2008

After leaving Cockburn Island, we headed back to the US and checked in with US customs at Drummond Island Yacht Haven. Checking in was a painless process for us. We think our infamous rickety old boarding ladder caused some anxiety for the US Customs agent, though. She was a little leery about climbing up even though we had assured her that it had been "stress tested" by the Canadian Customs agent in Gore Bay.

Having checked-in and paid the $27.50 for the re-entry fee, we considered taking off for an anchorage on Harbor Island. That's when we realized that staying up all night with the Cockburn Island ghosts had been pretty tiring. We decided to take it easy and stay the night. Drummond Island Yacht Haven provides rental cars for boaters. For $55 you can rent a car and wander the island. For $12, you can rent a car to go to the "Four Corners". Guess which one Phil picked. Four Corners is the main shopping area of Drummond Island and also has a nice little casual restaurant called Northwoods. The special was all-you-can-eat whitefish. So Phil and I ordered all we could eat! We had a very decadent chocolate torte dessert, too. While dining, there was a one man band playing a concertina in the next room. The dinner and service was good. It seems to be quite popular with the residents and visitors as well as it was quite busy and a line was forming as we finished.

The next day (Saturday) we planned to leave for Harbor Island. The weather was a little iffy as thunderstorms were forecasted to come through. The Drummond Island Yacht Haven is quite accommodating, though. They told us we could stay as long as we wanted, if we stayed abother night then we could settle up tomorrow. The storms moved through by 1:30pm so we undid our lines and left for the short trip to Harbor Island.

Tolsmaville, Cockburn Island, Ontario -- A Lively Ghost Town

August 21, 2008

Sometimes you can't trust the guide books.

All the guidebooks we read talked about Tolsmaville being a ghost town, with absolutely no businesses, many abandoned houses, old rusting jalopies parked by the marina, and a handful of former residents returning in the fall for hunting season. So we pulled into the Tolsmaville Dock on Cockburn Island expecting to handle our lines ourselves (like we have to when at our homeport in Chicago but nowhere else). As we were coming in, though, a pick-up truck appeared out of nowhere, and a guy jumped out to help us with our lines. Another guy from a neighboring boat came over to help as well. Then, after ensuring we were secure, they quickly left, barely giving us time to thank them.

OK so there were two people on the island.

After we were safely tied to the dock, we settled in for what we expected to be a quiet and lonely afternoon.

So much for expectations . . .

Throughout the afternoon, there was a steady stream of people driving down to the marina, coming and going in boats, canoeing and kayaking, sunbathing, and just generally enjoying the summer day. As for the rusting jalopies, well yes, there were a number of vehicles, mostly pickups and SUVs, parked by the marina but we are almost embarassed to say that most of them were younger than Meridian.

After a while, we decided to take a walk through the "ghost town" to see all the deserted and abandoned buildings. Surprisingly enough, we couldn't find many deserted homes. Most were currently occupied and kept in good repair.

Some were getting new porches, new roofs, and there were various home improvement projects going on. And there were streetlights! There weren't even streetlights in Meldrum Bay.

As we walked further into the island, cars kept passing by. And they all used their turn signals! We were wondering where they were all going. Then, as we passed by a very nice looking place, clearly someone's summer home called "The Last Resort", a bunch of people piled into a jeep and took off, waving as they passed. us by. We began to think maybe there was a WalMart or something further up the road.

Finally, we just shook our heads, baffled by it all, and returned to Meridian where we continued to watch the parade of people and vehicles passing by the marina.

Then, in the early evening, things really started to pick up. A crowd of people came down to the marina and gathered out on one of the finger piers. One of the residents recently purchased the strangest water toy we have ever seen - a "water bird" - and they were trying it out. The best way we can describe a water bird is to say "think of a pogo stick on the water". It seems to be incredibly difficult to use and half the fun is laughing at the person who is trying it out. We just had to go over and join in the fun, as did some of the folks on the catamaran that was anchored out in the harbor. Bernie took some photos, promising to email them to the brave souls who tried out the water bird. And that's when we met Joe, Beth and their friend Dave.

After the fun at the docks, they were kind enough to invite us over to their cottage for the evening. And, as it turned out, they owned "The Last Resort". It is a beautiful log cabin - the oldest existing home on the island - that has been modernized. And the grounds are really beautiful.

We enjoyed a lovely evening around the stone fire pit, staying much longer than we should because it was one of those nights that flew by because of the fascinating conversation. Joe had lived in Meldrum Bay either full time or summers since the 70s. He told great stories about summers "back in the day" when there would be 60 boats in Meldrum Bay (hard for us to imagine). His father still lives in Meldrum Bay and is the owner of the rooster we heard in the morning when we were at the marina.

Suddenly, though, at the stroke of midnight the fire went out and Joe, Beth, and Dave magically disappeared without a trace leaving us alone in the silent stillness of Cockburn Island with only the basket of freshly picked oyster mushrooms that they had given us as a hint that maybe it had been real. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and said, "Well, I guess the guidebooks were right. It really is a ghost town."

The next morning, Darren the Harbormaster - the guy who drove down in his pick-up to help with our lines - appeared out of nowhere again to help us with our lines again. As harbormaster he also collected the dockage and we bought a Cockburn Island Flag to remind us of our great stay. He faded away waving us a farewell (even now, we aren't sure he was real), as we headed off for Drummond Island.

Dockage at Tolsmaville is $0.85 per foot, and electricity is available (new this year) for $6.00 or $8.00 per night depending on boat length. Not many people come here when cruising the North Channel but we found it to be a delightful stop. The people we met were incredibly friendly and hospitable and it was definitely a stop full of pleasant surprises.

Cockburn Island is the smallest "organized township" in Ontario. "Organized" means that the tax money they collect is all budgeted and spent locally. They are very proud of that. And, from what we saw, they have reason to be proud. It was a wonderful place to visit.

Click on image to read the Cockburn Island Poem
that is posted on the Telephone Building
(a public telephone - one of two telephones on the island)

Must ... Have ... Butter Tarts

August 20, 2008

Despite Bernie's admonishments about fuel consumption and gas prices, Phil raced to Meldrum Bay - repeating, over and over like a mantra

Butter Tarts ... Butter Tarts ... Butter Tarts ... Butter Tarts ... Butter Tarts ... Butter Tarts.

He didn't even notice that they were starting to construct a breakwater around the Meldrum Bay Marina!

He wanted Bernie to call in and say

Meldrum Bay Marina. Meldrum Bay Marina. Meldrum Bay Marina.
This is Meridian,
We'd like overnight dockage and Butter Tarts to go.


The big news in Meldrum Bay since our last visit, is that a 700 foot limestone breakwater is being constructed for Meldrum Bay Marina. Marina staff already noticed a difference during a recent northerly storm from the partially constructed breakwater. They are looking forward to protection from the ice that the breakwater will provide in the winter. They also have requested funding to remove the big cassons that are at the end of the marina docks.

Our second visit to Meldrum Bay enabled Bernie to visit the Net Shed Museum. It has many artifacts from Meldrum Bay's earlier days and large books of newspaper clippings concerning Meldrum Bay life, which are neat to look through.

We dined at the Meldrum Bay Inn and took the Butter Tarts to go. There is an interesting story about the current owners of the Meldrum Bay Inn that we learned about while on Cockburn Island. The current owners, Shirin and Bob, bought the Inn last year, sight unseen, based on the internet ad that was accidentally left on the real estate website after the Inn was sold two years ago. They plan to keep it open all year this year -- hoping for the snowmobile and winter sports enthusiasts. We hope they are successful because the people are great and provide a welcoming atmostphere. The food is great, too. If you ever find yourself in the Meldrum Bay area, we highly recommend the Meldrum Bay Inn.

Butter Tarts safely stowed away, we headed off for Cockburn Island and the Tolsmaville Ghost Town.

Returning to the Beginning in Turnbull

August 19, 2008

Turnbull was our first anchoring stop in the North Channel so it seemed fitting to revisit it on our way back. The first thing we noticed when we came back was that the two deadheads had been removed. The deadhead police had apparently removed them while we were gone. They must have read our blog, saw there were deadheads lurking about, and rushed to Turnbull, lights blazing and sirens blaring, to remove the dangerous deadheads. Although that didn't mean that all the obstacles were cleared. After setting our anchor, Phil noticed some long dark ominous looking projection just under the surface and well within swinging distance of Meridian. Armed with the handy-dandy boat hook, he attempted to figure out what it was and remove it. Try as he might, he wasn't able to snag it -- well actually he was able to snag it but it kept freeing itself from the boat hook. Whatever it was was both bouyant enough and flexible enough to be moved with the boat hook which seemed to indicate that it wouldn't be a major hazard. Satisfied that Old Sam Peabody, a North Channel cruising legend who was also in Turnbull, wouldn't shake his head in despair and disgust at the novices, we settled in to Turnbull.

Revisiting our first anchorages help us realize how much better kayakers we are now as opposed to the first time through. We did a lot more kayaking through Turnbull's islets and coves than we were able to do the first time. We also found the time to do a shore party, weighing the dinghy down with wine, grill, food, and campfire materials. Bernie tested our her new fish on the propane grill recipe creation with rave success.

All this reminiscing about our first North Channel anchoring spots got us thinking about our first Canadian port.

Which got us thinking about Meldrum Bay.

Which got us thinking about the Meldrum Bay Inn.

Which got us thinking about the Meldrum Bay Inn Butter Tarts.

So the next morning we wasted no time, hauled anchor, and headed off to Meldrum Bay for a Butter Tart Run.

Turnbull Island
N46 09.281
W82 45.679

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Re-tracing our steps to Long Point Cove

August 17-18, 2008

It was easier to find Long Point Cove the second time we visited. We knew that in addition to the the secret password, you also had to release the lever (cleverly disguised as a spike) on the top of Navy Rock to get the entrance to Long Point Cove opened.

There were about eight boats in Long Point cove when we arrived. It surprised us a little as we expected most of the other cruisers to have left the area already. As we later discovered, a few of these hardy souls were just starting their North Channel cruising. In any event, due to the "tight quarters", we dropped anchor near shore and tied to a tree. This reduces the circle that Meridian swings around our anchor in so we don't get too close to other boats. One of the things we've learned on this trip is that most of the North Channel cruisers use more chain than line for their anchors so they have less anchor rode to swing around. Next time we come here, we're going to be adding more chain so Meridian doesn't swing as much.

Having safely set our anchor and tied to shore we took a kayak ride around the harbor. Actually, last year's marathon bicycle rides have evolved into this year's marathon kayak trips and hikes. We kayaked almost 6 miles -- checking out the neighboring Teschereau Bay to see its anchoring potential (somewhat open and exposed but would be nice and scenic in dead-calm weather).

The second morning we were there, a beaver swam to the shore behind the boat and had a breakfast of reeds.

Click on the picture to read the beaver's thoughts ;)

We also took a hike up the bluff that was right in back of our anchoring spot. In addition to great views of the area, we got a good view of the Reuss Lime Company quarry operations. The first time we were here we would hear the quarry operations and think it was either helicopters or thunder. We kept forgetting about the quarry operations. This time, though, there was thunder in the background, too. You can vaguely make out some of the storm clouds building in the quarry picture. We hurried back down the bluff and luckily made it back to Meridian minutes before the rain came.

After the rain came through, the wind picked up a bit. A particularly strong gust blew through the cove and suddenly we noticed we were almost on top of a bunch of rocks. Big, solid, propeller busting rocks. Where did THEY come from ?!? Suddenly tying to shore didn't seem like such a good idea. So we cast off that shore line, let Meridian swing around re-set the second anchor so we'd stay off those rocks and away from the other boats. It's always something!

Undaunted by our little anchoring adventure, we packed up some wine, old newspapers and set off to make a fire in a little fire pit we found in the rocks on shore. While there, the beaver returned for dinner (or dessert?) The beaver didn't seem too thrilled when Phil made fun of his noisy eating habits because the beaver slapped his tail on the water and swam away.

The next morning we took a short hike down the center of the cove. You can hike pretty far along the rocks.

As we left Long Point Cove, setting off to re-visit Turnbull Island, the loons continued to taunt Bernie - staying just out of camera range and laughing like a ... like a ... like a crazy loon!

Long Point Cove

N 46 10.589 W 82 41.321