These are the waters that men dream of: mile upon mile of fine cruising along sheltered, island-strewn passages where the shores are crowded with anchorages of unsurpassed beauty, where pink-and red-rock shores give way to forests of dark-green pine, where smooth-backed islets lie serenely in the perpetual deep blue of an inland sea. Under the matchless clarity of a northern sky are scores of intriguing channels, a hundred hidden beaches, a thousand secret fishing holes. This is the North Channel and Georgian Bay, one of the great cruising grounds of the world.
The yachtsman who goes into North Channel will find yacht clubs ready to supply the social side of sailing, Indians who can guide him to the fishing, baby fiords to explore, blueberries ready for picking and his choice of secluded coves for just plain sitting around and enjoying life.
The area is a natural habitat for the powerboat men of the Midwest—and the sailing, too, is nearly perfect. These are not unknown waters, but neither have they yet enjoyed national prominence—to many, their beauty will come as a personal discovery. To introduce the area's unparalleled delights and help the yachtsman visiting it for the first time, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cruised these waters and prepared a basic itinerary from one end of the grounds to the other, marking the best places to stop, look and explore. The handsome map above will route the yachtsman down the most interesting courses and serve as an over-all guide to a vacation cruise under power or under sail that cannot be duplicated anywhere.
The knowledgeable North Channel man starts his cruise in July or August when the North Channel is warm enough to be really pleasant. Parents find that the children enjoy the cruise to the fullest if they have a like-age playmate along, and if there are plenty of diversions aboard—rubber rafts, water wings, water skis, skin-diving masks, games for rainy days. And the owners pick cruise members outside the family with great care. A boat, as anyone who has not cruised will soon find out, is a very unprivate living unit.
May 31, 1959
The itinerary of this SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cruise allows seven days minimum for sailing. The other days of the usual two-week vacation will be used along the approaches (see maps next page) or in laying over at a favorite spot. Those who are favored with three-week vacations will have an even better chance to learn the fascinations of North Channel by taking some of the side trips indicated on the cruise map and described at length in this two-part article.
MACKINAC ISLAND TO TURNBULL: SUN AND SERENITY
MACKINAC ISLAND: the start
Mackinac is one of the few places left in the Western world where the visitor, willy-nilly, is dropped back a century into a pleasant, leisurely age. Mackinac town is a full-blown old-fashioned resort, with green lawns, white hotels, bicycle traffic, saddle horses, hackney cabs and Victorian carriages. The bikes and horse cabs are your transportation: there are no autos. The town moves at the five-mile-an-hour pace of the horse and buggy era. Whether in the bridle paths of the cedar woods on the town heights or along the back streets, where the stableboys walk the mounts, or on the hotel verandas full of customers comfortably visiting among the wicker chairs, the living at Mackinac is easy.
The docks at Mackinac are so close to town that it is hardly worthwhile to move your crew ashore unless you plan to stay for weeks and weeks. Best berth is at the state dock east of town. Here the piers are low and there is water and electric hookup for your boat. If you can't get room at the state dock, try the west side of the high ferry dock or the east side of the coal dock, both adjoining Mackinac's main street downtown. (Check with Otto Lang at the Union Terminal Office on the ferry dock for permission to tie up at these last two.)
The coal dock has gas and diesel, but the water depth at the pumps can be less than six feet, so keel boats will have to edge in cautiously as far as they can and then use the long hose for refueling. If your boat needs major repairs after the long run along the approaches, you will have to go to Cheboygan, 20 miles east.
The first thing to see in town is the Grand Hotel. Rent a horse cab (70¢ a ride) and have it take you up the hill to the Grand's long, long colonnaded porch, which commands the great rolling lawns of the hotel. If it's lunchtime, march into the dining room: regular lunch runs $3.50 and is well spent just to watch platoons of red-coated waiters deploying through the columns of the huge room.
After lunch you can rent clubs and go around the hotel's nine-hole golf course, or rent a bike outside the hotel ($2.50 a day) and pedal back into town. From here you can get on the Mackinac Horse Cab tour up to Fort Mackinac (12 to a cab, $2.50 a person) or get the same tour with any variations you like by hiring a fancy private carriage—your choice of landau or victoria—with high-stepping horses for $12 an hour. You can also hire riding mounts (including ponies for the children) commensurate with your riding ability (down to zero) at one of the stables ($2 to $3 an hour). You can ride up to the fine fragrance of the cedar heights above the town, making sure your mount moves northward and westward for the first half hour (or he'll have you back at the stables in 15 minutes). Afterwards you can cool off at the Grand's Serpentine Pool.
In the evening, take your town clothes up to the Grand's cocktail lounge and dance. And on the morning after, for breakfast, try the Buggy Whip on the main street—they specialize in early meals and fast service. If you need vacation clothes, the Scotch House near by has plaids, belts, Bermudas and sun hats. And, to complete your immersion in the horse age, hire a U-drive carriage for the afternoon (Jack Gough or Jack Welsher, $5 to $7 an hour). Even if you've never handled a horse before you will be taken at a steady clop around the island along the water-level country road that runs the island's circumference. (Let the kids hold the reins if they want to. The horse knows the way and the pace.) Be back in time for dinner at Little Bob's. The One Dollar Supper there is the best value in town. Then, if you haven't yet done so, hit the Pink Pony Bar at the Chippewa Hotel—the bar specializes in long, cool, complicated drinks just right for launching a summer evening's round of cruising talk.
Two days of Mackinac is plenty for a cruising man. The morning of the third day—at the latest—be up with the sun and ready to sail for Detour Passage. You need not provision heavily at Mackinac unless the forecast is for something more than light or medium winds; provisions at the town of Detour, in Detour Passage, are the best and least expensive to be found in the western half of the cruise. However, if the forecast is for 15-knot winds or better it is likely to be hard to dock at Detour, and you'll have to get your groceries at Drummond Island Yacht Haven, beyond Detour (see Side Trip 2).
Cast off and leave Mackinac behind, sailing over Lake Huron's vast and shining waters, where the great long-waisted ore boats ply the busiest commercial waterway in the world. The ore carriers follow lines marked on the charts and can help you locate your position. If you cross an ore boat's course, however, give him at least half a mile. The ore boat may not see you way down there on the water, and you want plenty of time to get out of his way if your engine should conk out.
Thirty-six miles from Mackinac you come abeam of Detour Light and turn north into Detour Passage, the gateway to the North Channel. Halfway through Detour Passage, on the west shore, is Otis Jacobs' dock, just a quarter mile north of Frying Pan Island. This marks the landing for the town of Detour.
SIDE TRIP 1: Town of Detour
Detour is a roadstead, not a harbor, and no place to stay overnight unless, as noted, all weather forecasts are favorable. Up the hill from its docks is the town's grocery. The selection of food is good, and the store will truck it down to the dock for you.
Provisioning tip: Take six or seven days' supply. It would be a shame to leave a cove you find you like just because you run short of food. Stock canned vegetables, milk, soup, juices, fruits, jams, cookies—anything that will last without refrigeration. Buy the best. This will ensure the good temper of any crew that has to live off cans and cookies for a while. Drinking water, anywhere in the Lakes, is all around you. One caution: Take your water aboard well out from shore. Even slightly polluted water can curse the cruise with contaminated tanks.
HARBOR ISLAND: first day
Once through Detour, the course to Harbor Island lies through a slew of small-and middle-size islands—a first taste of the delightfully intricate passages of the North Channel. This is the time to buckle down to some serious navigating.
Navigation tip: You'll find that here, as in many places to come, the islands come in clusters. They look remarkably the same from a distance—something like darkish, lumpy pancakes, edge-to. If you confuse one island with another, you can have some anxious moments before you locate your position correctly. Therefore, follow the simple rules set forth by old-line Channel cruising men: 1) plot your course on your chart, and keep the chart properly folded open, covered with a sheet of Translite to keep it dry, all clipped to a board which you keep right in front of you in the cockpit; 2) as the boat moves on, keep a rough pencil line going of the actual course you follow, based on cross sights (use a pelorus) taken at regular intervals on visible landmarks. Then and only then will you be able to keep your islands straight. Should a sudden rain squall appear and cut out landmarks entirely, you will still be sure of the direction in which safety lies. Navigation up here, even for old salts, is really tight.
Once you have picked out Harbor Island by following the descriptions marked in your Great Lakes Cruising Club Log Book you will be able to locate the hidden channel which leads to the large interior harbor in the heart of the island. Come in to where the water shelves to 10 feet and then drop anchor. You will find yourself in an enchanting circle of green shores, with the rougher water outside cross-lighted by the slanting beams of the late-afternoon sun.
You can launch the dinghy and send the kids ashore to explore the high ground on the north side of the harbor entrance. There they will find the ruins of a house built by an Englishman, an Oxford man, who, for reasons of his own, came out here well over a hundred years ago, built this house, married an Indian girl and raised six sons. Out back of the ruins is the Englishman's orchard, now gone wild. As for your own activity, just settle back, relax and watch your first North Channel sunset spread over the western sky. This is where your vacation really begins.
Cruising tip: Start a ship's log if you haven't already. Your navigation notes will come in handy next time you are in North Channel—and, besides, the log will make the trip come alive when you review it with friends next winter. Lastly, it is a record of your movements in North Channel in case your itinerary is ever a matter of discussion with customs officials, either Canadian or U.S.
SIDE TRIP 2: Drummond Island Yacht Haven
If rough water kept you out of Detour, you can stop and provision at Drummond Island Yacht Haven docks, a mile and a half south of Harbor Island, before going on to Blind River. The docks at the Yacht Haven have gas, electric hookup and a jeep that will take you to Drummond Village for groceries. You can charter boats ($4 an hour) and guides at the Yacht Haven for the fishing in the western end of North Channel, but unless you are a fisherman first and a cruising man second you will want to steam on across the border, get through customs at Blind River as fast as you can and launch into the fascinations of the north shore and Whalesback Channel, the heart of the cruising grounds. With one exception, the south shore stretching east of the Yacht Haven to Little Current is fairly tame stuff as North Channel scenery goes. The exception is Pilot Cove, half a day's sail to the east.
SIDE TRIP 3: Pilot Cove
Pilot is a sparkling little acre of water circled by a hook of land. The course to Pilot from Harbor Island lies through 22 miles of Canada-blue water rippling under the usually fine North Channel sky, with the west wind kicking the boat along and raising a few feathery whitecaps as the day goes on. Pilot's entrance, also well-hidden, is just east of a huge white rock on the east end of Drummond; but if the wind is turning strongly north or east or the forecast is for strong north or east winds pass the entrance by. Wind from these quarters makes running the entrance hazardous. More than one cruising man has been storm-locked in Pilot in bad weather. But in fair weather—or any strong west or south winds—slipping into Pilot through the slim, 30-foot passage is an adventure more spectacular than difficult. (For the kids it will be like slipping into a pirate cove on Treasure Island.) Once inside, you can nose into the steep banks and tie up. With any luck, you'll have it to yourself, and the shore around Pilot is ideal ground for a cook-out. Break out the steak grill, fire up some charcoal and sear enough sirloin for twice the number aboard. With two days' sailing behind them everyone will be eating double.
After the steak, take the children through the undergrowth (watch for poison ivy) to the outside shore and set them looking for treasure: small "lucky stones," or rocks that have had holes drilled cleanly through their centers by whirlpool action of sand and water.
Photography tip: If you haven't used your camera yet, now is the time. Shoot your yacht sitting in the perfect circle of the cove against the backlight of the setting sun. You will want to keep a camera on your person from now on. Any small camera that will fit in a side pocket will serve you well. Insure it, pocket it, use it, and before you know it you will have a fine picture record of your trip.
BLIND RIVER: second day
Since Lake Huron lies between two sovereign nations, crossing the border, as you now will do north of Drummond, demands certain formalities. As a courtesy, fly the Canadian ensign at your starboard spreader or flag hoist when in Canadian waters. And from either Pilot or Drummond or Harbor Island, go directly to Blind River, the best port of entry in the western part of the grounds. It has (as other ports of entry do not) a full-time customs official on hand, ready to do business. Should you fail to go directly to a port of entry after moving into Canadian water you may have an unpleasant moment if the Canadian Mounted's patrol boat, which always keeps a fatherly eye on yachts in the area, comes alongside and asks for a cruise permit that you haven't got.
Customs tip: At Blind River the customs office is right next to the post office on the main street. After hours, you can call the customs officer (tel. Iron Bridge 49) and he will come down to your boat at the dock. In customs, the people in your crew do not need passports, but the owner of the yacht must have a driver's license or other positive identification. He will be asked to list his passengers on the face of the cruise permit which he will receive. Also, he must list the serial numbers of camera equipment and firearms (no revolvers or automatic rifles allowed). The permit must be kept by the owner, who surrenders it at the last Canadian port before returning to the U.S. for good. You cannot sell your cameras or guns in Canada, or bring back more than $200 worth of goods per person without paying duty ($500 if you stay in Canada 12 days).
Plan to get out of Blind River before evening if possible. Blind River is neither particularly quaint nor interesting, and it can become an overly lively place at night, what with the miners occasionally descending from the uranium diggings in Eliot Lake to the north. But before you head for a less populated part of the cruising grounds, pick up a Canadian fishing license at one of the sporting goods stores, and a few local lures (try the Lucky Spinner) for the big pike and muskellunge to the east.
The next big stop after Blind River is Aird Island, but either Turnbull or Serpent Harbor makes a fine place to stay overnight—always provided that you get away from Blind River early enough to make port well before dark. In general, from Blind River on along the north shore the mainland harbors like Serpent have houses, outboard fishermen, Indian homes and vacation cottages. So, if you want your cruising in wild and woolly surroundings, stay out in islands like Turnbull.
SIDE TRIP 4: Serpent Harbor
Serpent, 15 miles from Blind River, is well-known for its fishing. Furthermore, it has a nice anchorage on the east shore of Noble's Island. Here, where the great cliffs plunge straight to the water, you can take the family swimming in relative privacy. No swimming quite matches hopping from a niche in one of these cliffs, five or six or 10 feet above the water. For safety's sake take a lead line along to check the depths of any swimming hole you pick. On the cliff's face you will find giant iron rings bolted to the rock, rings once used by the lumber schooners that took Ontario's virgin timber to market. On the mainland are the ruins of the lumber mill, and west of this several Indian homes. The Indians may not be in full regalia but the youngsters won't mind: an Indian is an Indian. And for you the right Indian can be a crackerjack guide to fishing in the area. Go in and talk to Arthur Pelletier. He'll probably be up at his woodshed, carefully piecing scrap lumber together to make a fishing dory. Pelletier can find fish for you if they are to be found—at $12 a day. If you are not really familiar with Serpent's good holes the $12 is well spent. Serpent is full of pickerel and pike, and you may latch on to an occasional muskie, anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds. If you try fishing on your own, work down to the weed bed at the mouth of the Serpent River, which runs into the bottom of the harbor. Even if you don't have a bite, there will be the late light falling across the cliffs, an occasional Indian boat drifting quietly by and, later on, the anchor light of your yacht glimmering across from Noble's. If it's a moonlight night, at midnight all over the harbor fish splash and dance along the surface, even thudding against the side of the ship to make sure the crew comes awake to watch them.
Fishing tip: Unless you are an experienced fisherman, with set ideas on tackle, try the following Amateur's Outfit for North Channel Fishing: a couple of tough fiber-glass poles, several hundred-foot reels of 15-pound nylon line, a good supply of nylon leaders, a half dozen small wooden plugs for casting, eight or 10 small gold or silver trolling spoons and three or four big casting spoons. Keep the tackle in a small box cleated under the seat of the dinghy; hook the poles under the gunwales, and wedge a net under the bow thwart. Leave your fishing gear permanently stowed in the dinghy and you'll find that fishing is just a matter of hopping aboard the dinghy—rather than a tedious task of burrowing around for your gear below and then loading it into the dinghy before each start.
SIDE TRIP 5: Turnbull Island
After you cover the 12 miles from Blind River and swing around the end of Turnbull into the fine, protected harbor on the west, you will have run your first regiments of delightful smooth-sided rock islets, a sample of the cruising to come. Turnbull is uninhabited and untouched, an island you can make your own. Here you can swim, take a private sunbath in the altogether ensconced on beach towels on the smooth top of a glacier-polished rock, wander inland in hiking shoes to scrounge among the blueberry bushes, or walk around the shore, rod in hand, popping your casting plugs into likely-looking weed beds, with a good chance of carrying home enough perch and bass for a fish fry. If you find that Turnbull is the sort of thing you like, you will like the Whalesback Channel even more. The Whalesback, where SPORTS ILLUSTRATED starts you next week, begins just west of Turnbull and runs 15 delightful miles to Little Detroit passage at the far end of Aird Island. Even though you are following a seven-day course through the North Channel, from one end to the other, there is no real reason why you should not spend all seven days in the Whalesback and save the rest of the grounds for another time. Above all, don't miss the point of your cruise: the pleasure of taking your time, chugging leisurely between islands, giving in to the impulse to investigate, taking pictures, hopping over the side for a swim, and deferring decisions until morning.
SIDE TRIP [dotted line]
APPROACH AND DEPARTURE ROUTE [long dash line]
HARBOR ISLAND: first day
BLIND RIVER: Second Day
AIRD ISLAND: third day
CROKER ISLAND: fourth day
LITTLE CURRENT: fifth day
SUNG HORBOR: sixth day
TOBERMORY: seventh day
CHICAGO 880 MILES
LAKE ORE BOAT
CANADIAN PORT OF ENTRY
HARBOUR ISLAND YACHT CLUB
CHARTER FISHING BOAT
ROCHESTER. N.Y. 400 MILES
DETORIT 250 MILES
LAKE ST. CLAIR
TRENT SEVERN CANAL
A CRUISE IN NORTHERN HURON
Numbers refer to side trips on map
The cruising grounds of North Channel and Georgian Bay draw from three great areas: Chicago and southern Illinois, Detroit and lower Michigan, and from the East the cities along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario: Toronto, Buffalo and Rochester. Each yachtsman makes his plan according to his home port, and each will find in the itinerary outlined by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED on the cruise map above courses that fit his time and the speed of his yacht, whether he cruises in a 60-foot powerboat or under sail in a 30-foot Tahiti ketch. The seven-day basic cruise and the optional side trips are as follows:
MACKINAC ISLAND: start
1. Town of Detour
HARBOR ISLAND: first day
2. Drummond Isl. Yacht Haven
3. Pilot Cove
BLIND RIVER: second day
4. Serpent Harbor
5. Turnbull Island
AIRD ISLAND: third day
6. Oak Bay
7. McBean Harbor
CROKER ISLAND: fourth day
8. Harbor Island Club
9. Gore Bay
LITTLE CURRENT: fifth day
10. Manitowaning Club
11. Whitefish Bay
12. Pot Hole Portage
13. Bay Finn
SNUG HARBOR: sixth day
14. Covered Portage Cove
16. Beaverstone Bay
TOBERMORY: seventh day
17. Flowerpot Island
APPROACHES TO THE CRUISE
Within sailing distance of the great cities of the Midwest, the North Channel and Georgian Bay are best reached by the routes below
From Chicago, 380 miles. Prevailing heavy west winds make most Chicago yachtsmen prefer to start out in the shelter of the west shore of Lake Michigan. First hop is 60 miles to Racine, second is 45 miles to Port Washington. Here yachtsmen have a choice. If the weather is fair and the skipper wants to make long runs he can take the east shore route (dotted line) 125 miles to Frankfort and then go another 80 to Charlevoix, premier resort town of the lake, just 55 miles from Mackinac. If shorter runs and calmer water are preferred, the skipper can continue (solid line) along the west shore from Port Washington and run 50 miles to Manitowoc. Then he goes into Green Bay, stopping at Jackson Harbor, 105 miles from Manitowoc. The next-to-last jump is 80 miles to St. James, with Mackinac 40 miles away. Chicago cruising men (and yachtsmen from other Midwest points as well), to get maximum time in North Channel duzing their vacation, take their yachts to an intermediate approach point before their actual vacation begins.
From Detroit, 290 miles. Skippers from Detroit and the western end of Lake Ontario start their trip by running up the Detroit River into Lake St. Clair and from there to Port Huron. Those who want to make the full cruise from Mackinac east through North Channel will then take the course (solid line) from Port Huron 35 miles to Sanilac or to Harbor Beach, another 35 miles farther on. After the next 125-mile jump to Presque Isle, they have only 70 miles left to Mackinac. However, yachtsmen who want a shorter cruise can run a route to the west through North Channel, in the direction opposite the cruise outlined on the preceding page. This saves 60 miles by going up Huron's east shore (dotted line) from Port Huron 65 miles to Goderich. From there the cruise runs 60 miles to Port Elgin and another 60 miles to Tobermory, eastern gateway to the cruising grounds. From here the yachtsmen can sail west into the islands of North Channel until he must turn around and head back to Detroit via Tobermory again.
From Rochester, 400 miles. Rochester skippers, yachtsmen from easterly U.S. points on Lake Ontario and Canadian skippers from the Toronto area can get into the North Channel by entering the Trent-Severn Canal at Trenton, 65 miles from Rochester. The canal runs 240 miles through locks and railway portages to the southern end of Georgian Bay. From here yachtsmen can cruise 95 miles to Tobermory and then take the 150-mile run to Mackinac (solid line) for the full west-east North Channel cruise; or they can take the alternate tour (dotted line) 50 miles to the eastern end of North Channel and run the channel from east to west, returning via Tobermory. The Trent-Severn route from Rochester takes a day or so longer than the route through Detroit (see center map) via Buffalo; but the waters of the Trent-Severn offer calm, protected cruising for boats less than 45 feet long. Longer hulls cannot be accommodated on the overland railway boat cradle on which all boats must be transported at one point along the canal route.
CLOTHING FOR THE CRUISE
FOR ORDINARY WEAR: two pair cotton work slacks, two pair shorts, a light wool sweater, three long-sleeve and three short-sleeve sports shirts or blouses, two pair "Top-Sider" sneakers, one pair sturdy hiking shoes, a week's supply of underwear and socks.
FOR SUN PROTECTION: hat With good shade visor, one pair high-quality sunglasses.
FOR FOUL WEATHER: full-length rubber parka or rubber jacket and pants, plus rain hat.
FOR COLD WEATHER: (Huron has chilly days): wool slacks, two pair heavy wool socks, a heavy wool sweater, a pair of long underwear, a lined jacket and a windbreaker.
MINIMUM DRESS-UP CLOTHES: (nice to have but not required except at Grand Hotel): one tie, sport jacket, two white shirts, two pair dress slacks and one pair brown shoes for men; two simple summer dresses and low-heeled shoes for women.
FOR THE NORTH CHANNEL NAVIGATOR
Since much of North Channel and Georgian Bay is officially uncharted, practically every navigator who cruises these waters relies on the Great Lakes Cruising Club Log Book, a compilation of local charts by amateur cartographers. The Log Book has detailed soundings and pilotage for most of the uncharted anchorages. In order to get the log you will have to join the club. This will cost $25 (log included) and will be worth many times that. Write to the Great Lakes Cruising Club, 65 East South Water St., Chicago for the membership application. If you are not a member of a yacht club you will need two sponsors who are already Cruising Club members. Ask, and the Cruising Club will let you know the names of members residing near you. By special arrangement with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED the club will immediately process applications from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED readers, instead of taking the usual week or two for processing members.
ADDITIONAL CHARTS NEEDED: U.S. Lake Survey Chart Nos. 5, 6 and 7 (from U.S. Engineers, 630 Federal Building, Detroit; enclose 75$ for each); Canadian maps 2286, 2287, 2295 and 2296 (write Canadian Hydrographic Service, Dept. of Mines, Ottawa; enclose a postal money order equaling one Canadian dollar for each map). Other sources for the above maps are Ship's Wheel or Keen's in Detroit; Office of the U.S. Engineers at Merchandise Mart in Chicago; Turner's Ltd., Little Current, Manitoulin Island, Ontario.
ADDITIONAL NAVIGATION AIDS NEEDED: Great Lakes Light List ($1.75) and Notices to Mariners (free) from the U.S. Coast Guard, Main Post Office Building, Cleveland; Great Lakes Pilot, Volume II, from the Canadian Hydrographic office (enclose postal order for the equivalent of $3.50 in Canadian dollars); Storm Warning Facilities Chart (10¢) from Superintendent of Documents, Washington 25, D.C.
NEXT WEEK: PART II
Starting in the Whalesback Channel, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED takes you into the most exciting parts of the cruise: the big beach at Aird Island...a hide-out cove at Croker...highballs at Harbour Island Club...the run to Pot Hole Portage...buying blueberries from the Indians of Oak Bay...the fishing village at Killarney...and then home again.