66 Killarney, Ont. to Mackinac Island, Mi

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Covered Portage Cove near Killarney

Each North Channel anchorage has its own unique charm. Covered Portage Cove has high, white, craggy cliffs rising straight from the water’s edge. South Benjamin in contrast has a smooth upward-sloping, pink rock rising at a comfortable angle for walking. Long Point’s rocks were a different color again, and rolled into long mounds. At Fox Island the rocks were molded into angular blocks so large that at one notch in the shore, we rafted Eriskay, Tranquility and Samum together and tucked them into a notch in the shore (more about that later).

On each island trees and bushes fill in any low places that have managed to accumulate some dirt. Two toppled cedars, victims of our last thunderstorm, gave mute witness to just how slim a hold. The roots hadn’t given way, instead the thin soil, thick with roots had peeled back from the rock. As we looked at the sad sight, we realized that the soil that had been supporting the 60-foot trees was less than a foot thick.

Part of the fun of the North Channel is figuring out how to get into the some of the anchorages. The charts are excellent for showing depths and the cruising guide provides great aerial photos. However looking over the bow of Tranquility from only 8 feet above the water looks very different from the charts and photos. We go slowly and carefully navigate to pick our way down the twisting unmarked routes into many of the anchorages. In tight areas, I would ride the bow and watch for rocks. There’s a tremendous feeling of accomplishment when we would find our way in and get the anchor down.

Anchoring is a normal part of our routine. However, no matter how many times we’ve anchored there are those inevitable screw-ups. One day we managed to combine a series of small mistakes into one colossal mess. Tied off to shore in 10 minutes, we managed to turn the dinghy upside down, foul a line on the outboard motor propeller, discover we were drifting down on another boat and as a finale, I ended up getting dunked attempting to tie a line to shore. For a short time we provided great entertainment for the 10 other boats in the anchorage and had a good laugh once it was all over.

Each anchorage has enough character to keep us interested for a number of days. However, because we were interested in really seeing the North Channel, we’d stay a day, or if we were feeling lazy, two days. Then we’d move to a new anchorage to enjoy a new variation of nature’s beauty. Some days we’d only move a few miles, on others we’d spend the morning moving maybe 15 miles. Afternoons were for exploring ashore, poking around in the anchorage in the dinghy, swimming, sailing Eriskay’s dinghy, Beechnut, or just being lazy and reading in the cockpit and enjoying the play of sunlight on the rocks and trees.

Shore trips were always an adventure. Our natural tendency was to find the highest point. We’d scramble up rocks, bushwhack through tree and bush-jammed, narrow valleys, then climb again until we reached the highest point. Our reward was a stunning view of puffy clouds, blue water, islands to the horizon and boats sailing between them.

John and Barb on Eriskay have one other passenger, Kelly. She’s a 5-month-old golden lab. For us Kelly is a delight, the kind of dog who’s so happy to see us (or just people in general) that her tail wags her body up to her nose. John and Barb are working hard on training Kelly with good success. She is very well- behaved for a puppy. We had fun playing with her and watching her grow. In the month we’ve cruised together we’ve seen Kelly get bigger and rapidly gain abilities. When we’d first rafted together, Kelly would have trouble getting between boats. Now she crosses over without a hesitation. Ruth would now love to have a dog. I’ve told her we can when she’s willing to row it to shore in the rain. Our dog will have to wait until we come ashore.

Most nights at anchor are wonderful. We are either becalmed, or a gentle breeze rocks us to sleep. We had a few uncomfortable nights. When the wind comes up, boat motion and strain on the anchor goes up. I’d get up to make sure we weren’t dragging or that other boats were not dragging down on us. I’d watch for awhile, then go back to bed and then repeat the same sequence an hour later. We were lucky; the two really bad nights of storms in the North Channel found us tucked safely in at a dock at Gore Bay. Others didn’t do so well. The following mornings we heard reports on the VHF of boats aground or up on the rocks. The trees we saw blown over were a result of one of the storms.

Tom and Marilyn sailed up from Meaford and joined Eriskay and us. It was fun having our cruising companions from two years ago in the Abacos back together again, and we again enjoyed each others company. To make happy hour and our planned- dinner together easier, we rafted the boats together and tucked them into the notch mentioned earlier. Those simple words were long in execution. Because of wind forecasts, we put down all three anchors and got a few lines to shore. Then we realized that the wind was changing direction and blowing down the narrow channel we’d just come down. For better wind protection, we carefully let out more anchor line on each boat. Lines to shore were rearranged to hold us tight in the notch so we’d stay in the wind shadow of the rocks. With the exception of Tom falling in the water everything went smoothly. Our reunion dinner was great. However during the night, the wind rose alarmingly. We were up a number of times to make sure anchors and lines to shore were holding and not chaffing through on the sharp rocks. With the high wind, it was stressful being only 10 feet from rocks and major boat damage. Everyone was glad to see the front blow through and the wind subside early in the morning.

Threatening weather altered our plans and we all headed for the protection of docks at Gore Bay. It provided an opportunity to see a doctor about the cut on my foot. It happened when I was climbing around on the rocks a week earlier in my bare feet and slipped. My instep has an ugly deep cut, now infected. The doctor, looked at my foot and said: “You should have come in for stitches when this happened.” Ruth never said, “I told you so” but I could feel the words in my bones. Next time (maybe) I’ll listen to her. The doctor cleaned up the wound as best she could and wrote a prescription for antibiotics. The antibiotics are kicking in and the infection is going down. The wound is healing slowly and only hurts when I walk on it. In a week or so, all I will have left is a great scar.

We enjoyed our last days together weathered in at Gore Bay. When the weather cleared, we reluctantly parted company. Eriskay and Samum headed east toward home. We felt strangely sad and a little down. Earlier we’d started preliminary planning for leaving the North Channel, but now that the time had come there was no eager anticipation. On this our third visit, we spent 18 days exploring and only revisited one anchorage from prior visits. Lazy days had slipped by converting themselves into wonderful memories. It was hard to separate ourselves from the source of the memories. We headed west sorry we were leaving. Neither of us had much to say. Both of us were lost in our thoughts of the good time now over.

Brisk winds and a rough ride helped snap us out of our funk. We motored- sailed toward the Straits of Mackinac enjoying a wild ride. We had planned on skipping Mackinac Island, but at the last minute decided we’d give into our nostalgia and revisit some of the places we love on the island. To our amazement we got a slip without having to anchor out over night and headed off to buy some fudge.

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