I mentioned Ken MacDonald’s briefing at Bay Port Marina in Midland last week. He shared best routes and lesser known hidey holes with us and a pair of Loopers from Texas. He helped us highlight our charts of the 30,000 Islands in the Georgian Bay so we would be sure of where to go and where not to go. Some of the routes in the charts he detoured us around due to challenges he and friends have had in them and other routes he reinforced as being the best and safest ways through the rocks and we are so grateful for his wisdom of these rocky waters.
Ken MacDonald teaches us local secrets of Georgian Bay!
Our first day out of the marina, we used to stay at the last place available for using our Parcs Canada pass, Beausoleil Island, named for a French-Canadian trapper who made his home here after being displaced by the War of 1812. This large, dragon-shaped island is AMAZING!
There is deep water right up to the shores and there are lots of docks and anchorages even for our sized boat. During the season, we probably wouldn’t have gotten dock space or maybe even an a clear spot to anchor but we are now running about two weeks behind the peak season, which is fine with us. It is less crowded and the fall weather, while a little damp and windy ☹ this week, is still temperate.
We get a great slip, near the visitor’s center at Cedar Spring, on Beausoleil and set off to stretch our lock-weary legs. It feels great to walk through the woods and explore sites like the native burial ground of Wendat people who were some of the aboriginal settlers here.
We also find a Y-camp which is just sending 300, 6-15 year-old campers home by boat after the last summer session. The teen counselors are cleaning the cabins to the strains of the latest hit music and spirits are high.
When we return to Cedar Spring, we attend a couple of the scheduled talks held by the Parcs rangers. We learn about the archeology of the area, inspecting a timeline of the people who have lived on this island as well as some of the artifacts they left behind.
It is amazing to see that they traded with people as far away as Quebec City, as evidenced by some of the tools made from stone that is only sourced from that area. We marvel at how far and accurately an arrow can be launched from a tool that predates the bow by many years.
Next, we learn how to knap stone into serviceable tools, using a copper nail and some copper covered antler “boppers” and then we share in a fire making lesson before it starts to sprinkle. Sean, our teacher is clearly passionate about what he knows and he totally enjoys sharing the processes he has mastered. It is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Later that evening, the sky has cleared a bit and, as the sun is setting, we are the entranced audience for Mike, who is a grade 4 teacher during the school year and a Parcs ranger in the summer. He has had the privilege of interacting with many people whose families are native to this area and has learned some of the stories that have been handed down over the ages. He tells us that stories are really gifts from one person to another and should be treated as such. He must be a fantastic teacher judging by the way he makes each and every person feel like a valuable part of his stories by encouraging participation and interaction in the dramas he unfolds. We are all sorry when the sun sets and the story telling session is over but I know we have been given gifts that will last a lifetime.
The next morning dawns gray but thankfully clears into a partly sunny sky and we are grateful to have sunshine with us as we make our way into the part of the Georgian Bay where the water looks like the Keys of Florida and is dotted with rock islands that resemble Connecticut’s Thimbles.
Pink, gray and sand colored granite reaches out of impossibly blue water and we are thankful again for our tutelage at Bay Port Marina because as we contemplate buoys with wave-on-rock action 5 feet away, we are confident that we are actually in the right place! Rocks are everywhere and we prove that an active lookout is much more valuable than a chart of this region is, because during the winter the ice can actually pick up the rocks and move them so that they are not where they were the season before, thus rendering the charts and chart plotters inaccurate. YIKES!!!
We meander through gorgeous anchorages surrounded by rocky walls that are topped by wind swept pines and declare that the Trent Severn was worth navigating to get here, no matter how many locks it had! This area has a stark beauty that the camera just cannot capture. We anchor in a quiet cove, out of the wind and enjoy a peaceful night. After a month of being in marinas or on lock walls, I LOVE anchoring out again!
The next morning our port engine refuses to start. This has been an on-again-off-again problem that we had hoped was fixed in Lakefield, when the starter solenoid was replaced. We fear that the whole starter will now have to be replaced, which will mean we are down for another week waiting on parts and we are currently in the middle of nowhere. It is beautiful, but it is remote.
We call a couple of marinas in Parry Sound which was to be our destination a few days later but can find no mechanic who isn’t booked 3 weeks out. Finally, one of them recommends Steve at Le Blanc Marina on Frying Pan Island which is only about 5 miles from us and when I call, he says he would have to order a starter but to come in and let him see if that’s really the problem. We limp carefully between jagged rocks and through narrow channels and reach the marina on our one good engine.
Steve tests a couple of things and tells us that we have a broken wire in one of the relays somewhere in the eight feet of wiring between the starter and the battery. He and Jerry pull the lower helm station and trace wires, testing them for electricity and voila!
It was actually two broken wires but three hours and a nominal repair bill later we are back in business and are not very far from where we had planned to be either. This is a major victory!
We are now motoring to an anchorage that was highlighted on our chart back in Bay Port Marina, as one of Ken’s favorites. There is no channel marked on our I-pad or paper chart and we are out of cottage country and into the isolation of the Massasauga Provincial Preserve.
What little there is of a channel is so narrow in spots I wonder if our beam will make it between the rocks on either side of us but amazingly there is 30-50 feet of depth under our hull! This trip has given us a whole new respect for the power of the glaciers that carved out this area! I know I wouldn’t make it long but I would love to see what this part of the world looks like in winter. It must be ethereal.
We snake out of our little channel and the water opens up into Port Rawson Bay which is rimmed by rock, pines and lots of little satellite anchorages. We pull into ours and drop anchor and, in the stillness, we can hear the loons calling to one another and the crickets chirping in the gathering dusk.
As the sun sets, we see a V spreading out in the water but it has no bird creating it. Upon closer inspection, we find a beaver swimming by us, taking the latest addition to his lodge, home for appreciation.
I have read that there are few places on earth where you can be and hear absolutely zero, man-made noise for a span of 15 minutes or more. I think we have definitely found one of those last remaining places on earth. There are no planes, engine noises or leaf blowers (something we never seem to be able to get away from). We settle into the stillness and just breathe. Grateful seems like an inadequate word right now.
The next day we wind our way back to Frying Pan Island and have lunch at Henry’s Fish Camp. Many say that you haven’t done Georgian Bay until you eat at Henry’s. We meet a lovely couple on a Nordic Tug, which docks soon after we have and we get to know one another while we wait for lunch. When Henry’s opens, we sit together and they share their love and knowledge of the area. They are from Toronto but spend 3 months a year on their boat in the North Channel and Georgian Bay.
We enjoy a nice meal and good company and get back under way, taking the South Channel to Parry Sound. Here we are rained in for the rest of the day as well as the following one but we enjoy a great evening of fellowship with Rex and Donna aboard Bella Blue (we have been leap-frogging with them since the Carillon Lock) and another couple on a brand-new-to-them Nordic Tug, who have extensive knowledge of the area and we laugh until we cry at some of the stories shared.
We all depart for our boats, turn in and not much later are woken by a blinding light and crash of thunder very close to our marina. Everything is battened down so Jerry and I choose to sit up on the back deck and watch the light show for a bit. It is absolutely gorgeous but we finally crawl back into bed around 1 AM.
We had really hoped to leave the next day but the wind is still blustery with 35 mph gusts and rain slashes down in bands from leaden clouds. We decide to stay safely in our slip. We use some time between bands to explore the town, which has a lot to offer. We buy some bread and fresh fruit, browse in some bookshops and other mom-and-pop places and enjoy an excellent pizza before heading back to the boat to tuck in and stay dry for the rest of the day and evening.
The next morning dawns with promise of better weather and we depart without a firm destination in mind. The water is calm and the sun starts to peak out and typically we try to make the most of days like this. We cruise past Byng Inlet which would have been a good stopping spot and continue on to the Bustard Islands, hoping to anchor somewhere among these starkly beautiful rock islands.
It is not to be. The places where we can safely get in, don’t offer enough swing room for us to be comfortable and so we try to get into another spot. I am on the bow when suddenly HUGE rock slabs appear right under our bow. I don’t normally panic but this is too close. I yell to Jerry to stop and he can’t understand why because the depth sounder says we have 14 feet. I offer to trade places with him because these rocks look like they are capable of making mincemeat out of our props and our friends, who hit a rock back near Hastings, were laid up 9 days and are now $10,000 less well-off after the incident.
There are waves breaking on more exposed rocks off to our right and our left and we make the decision to back out the way we come and so extricate ourselves with no damage done.
It is now getting late and we head for the only other spot we know that offers shelter and scenery, from the current wind direction. As we cruise into Bad River, the glacial impact on this region is again apparent. The gray and pink granite is worn smooth and rounded heads of stone emerge from the clear, clean water. The wind is another presence here causing the poor spindly pines to grow sideways, reflecting the prevailing northerly winds.
We wind through narrow channels and arrive in a basin that has a few other boats already anchored. We recognize one from Rex and Donna’s description. She is a gorgeous aqua-hulled Grand Banks Northeaster called Island Bum, and is from West Palm Beach.
In the opposite direction, a boat is tied directly to a steep rock wall, which is a first but apparently there are steel rings for this purpose in many places. Maybe we’ll try it….next time!
It is a peaceful night and we awake to a beautiful sunrise and are under way shortly thereafter.
We exit Bad River into a roiling mess of darkened water and whipping winds that were not predicted at all. We have been really challenged in Canada with being able to get accurate weather forecasts. This is much easier to do in the States.
The sky squats low over our heads, dark and foreboding and the line of the weather front is clearly defined just ahead of us. Its ragged edges are spawning waterspouts in several places and I rush to batten everything down including my basil plant which has, once again, been thrown over on its head. SHEESH!
Jerry does a masterful job getting us through the waves that want to push us onto the rocky shoals all along the coast here. We literally have to tack back and forth in order to make it to the Beaverstone Inlet, which will give us an hour of respite on our run towards Killarney.
The wind and waves calm and we are again in the midst of a beautiful, serene sanctuary of glacial rocks, Keys-blue water and and windswept pines. This is the back way into Killarney that Ken MacDonald shared with us back in Bay Port and we are again so grateful for this local wisdom. We revel in the quiet, knowing that we still have to go back outside into open water for the last hour or so to Killarney. We pass lots of beaver lodges here, some more technologically challenged than others!
As we come around a narrow bend, we can see Killarney in the distance. It looks like snow dotted mountains which we know are actually huge expanses of white quartz shining through the pines and it is really beautiful.
We emerge back into open water, as blue as it was in the Tortugas and fight our way to the Killarney cut, again having to tack to avoid being side-rolled by the waves. We make it safely though the mouth of the cut and to our marina at Killarney Mountain Lodge. This is a gorgeous place. We have heard that the creator of Carmax, who was bought out for $650 million has bought it and is building a convention center here. It will be an awesome destination but I’m not sure what the families who have been coming here for generations will think of the loss of its isolated quaintness.
There is a circular bar with a fireplace in the center and a heated swimming pool, sauna and game room. The icecream in this area is Farquahr’s which is from a local dairy and is probably the creamiest we have had so far and we have had some GOOD icecream!
Dinner is amazing. We share a smoked trout appetizer, a buffalo ribeye (it was SO good) and a pasta dish. The food is lovingly prepared and the service is excellent. After camping for the last bunch of days and eating almost all of our meals aboard, it is nice to enjoy a little pampering!
We are really sad because the weather for the next few days looks windy and rainy and we really wanted good weather to be able to explore the North Channel before heading back to the States.
We have traveled 4500 miles and have been underway for a total of 25 days and 19 hours of our lives. So we will continue to focus on being truly grateful for the gift of this time to explore; come rain or shine, we will make the best of both!