Continuing last week's cruise from Mackinac Island to the great cruising grounds of North Channel, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED takes the yachtsman through lovely Whalesback Channel, beautiful Croker Island and then eastward to the wide, blue waters of Georgian Bay.
AIRD ISLAND: third day
Aird lies well down in the Whales-back Channel and is possibly the most pleasant of the dozens of anchorages along the way. The course through the Whalesback starts just after Turnbull and runs through maze after maze of islets of brown and sunset-purple rock, scrubbed smooth by the huge glaciers of the ice age. The rocks rise from the bright blue water like the curving backs of seals, whales and behemoths. They stand in rings like seats around a swimming hole or crowd together to make fields of half-sunk boulders, inviting cruising families to stop, spread out a picnic lunch and forget everything but the delight of soft breezes, the sound of lapping water and the warmth of the sun reflected from the surface of the stone. This is where you slow your cruise to a walk, putter about a bit with your boat and pick your way artfully among the countless passages with the help of your Fathometer or lead line. Take the time to stop and put your dinghy over the side, and row along waterways too small for your cruiser, looking for places to fish and places to dive or just places to lie down and sunbathe.
As you move along the Whales-back you will come to the passage between Villiers and Unnamed Island. This slot takes you into Aird's West Anchorage. You can spot the anchorage by locating the fine beach 300 yards east of it. The beach slopes into the water so gently that powerboat men simply run the bow of their boat up on the shore (there are no big rocks to worry about). You will find a number of stray logs washed ashore here and there. They are just the right size to make a raft for the youngsters. In the evening you can break up the raft and use the logs as seats for a cook-out party ashore.
June 7, 1959
After Aird you will want to nose about in the Whalesback some more. This coast has more inviting crooks and crannies than anything you will hit from here on. When you want to make your way out of the Whales-back you will run due east through the high walls of Little Detroit passage and then head for Croker Island—with side trips to Oak Bay and McBean Harbor if you have the time.
SIDE TRIP 6: Oak Bay
Oak Bay's depths are full of fish and its coast is thick with blueberries. Once anchored comfortably under the sheltering bluffs inside the bay, pile all available crew into the dinghy and put fishing rods in their hands: by now the larder will need fresh fare and the bass in the bay are just the thing. Best afternoon trolling is around Goat Island. At sundown, the bass school in the weed bank at the edge of the northwest cove. A little bacon rind on the hook ought to bring in enough keepers to fill a serving dish with bass. You can get blueberries for dessert by calling on the Indians who live ashore on the reservation bordering the bay. They will come rowing by in families, carrying buckets of berries to market. A dollar will buy all one man can eat in a week. (Caution: do not invite the Indians aboard. Time, as we think of time, has no meaning to them. They camp on deck with no qualms and no intention of leaving.) While the bass are being prepared for dinner, row down the channel leading west from the bay, slipping through a curtain of bulrushes at the end of it and into the hidden cove with its quiet surface silver in the late evening light.
SIDE TRIP 7: McBean Harbor
In McBean Harbor you'll see your first vacation colony on the Canadian side—houses that are neat, spic-and-span, all set on the promontories of a trim little fiord that runs into the base of McBean Mountain. To stretch your sea legs, climb the trail that leads up to the top of McBean and get a look at the Whalesback strung out like a rock garden below. You don't have to climb all the way up. Leave time to get out of the harbor and into Croker by dark. The Canadians in the cottages are not eager to have you anchor off their beaches and will be especially annoyed if you dump garbage in the harbor.
CROKER ISLAND: fourth day
Croker's inner harbor is a scene out of Treasure Island—a lagoon with green trees and grasses piling down to the pink granite shore from the heights on every side. You can pull up to the granite on the south side and put the anchor ashore. You may just want to manufacture a permanent gangplank and stay here for the rest of your vacation: fishing is good, and bathing off the tiny beaches on the south side is perfect. (On sunny days the mica content of the sand glints and shimmers like 24-carat flakes where the bottom stirs under the swimmer's feet.) Porcupine Island, right outside the harbor entrance, has a miniature cove on the west where the dinghy can be beached. Near the cove is the fattest blueberry patch in the channel. At the top of the island is a strange, shallow, craterlike depression filled with a delicate forest of fern.
A mile west from Porcupine are the two Benjamin islands, bridged by great pink slabs of rock, like giant steppingstones. Here you can go from rock to rock, swimming hole to swimming hole, diving and drying, until the afternoon has gone.
If you want to finish your vacation by just staying at Croker and the Benjamins, do so. There is no need to see all of North Channel in one summer. You can move down to Harbour Island Club for a few restaurant meals when supplies run low, and then provision for your return trip at Gore Bay to the west or Little Current to the east, depending on which direction you take toward home.
SIDE TRIP 8: Harbour Island Club
Harbour Island Club is a come-one, come-all (provided-you-pay-the-dock-age) establishment run by active cruising man Harold Hutchings. He is usually on the dock to shake each arrival by the hand. Hutchings has put up solid piers, dredged his berths deep and maintains a tender service for those who prefer to moor off. Moorage is $1 a day, while dockage is $7. Dockage entitles you to shower privileges, plus a daily morning newspaper with a special weather report attached. A day at Hutchings' place is a good break in the routine for any crew, even for dedicated under-the-stars-we-cruise types. Each night the club is a rendezvous for a sizable segment of the 200 cruising vessels likely to be in North Channel at any one time. Conversation at the club is about cruising and more cruising, drinks at the bar are reasonable, meals are generally excellent and there's bound to be a round of ship-to-ship sociability with hospitable exchange of highballs most any evening. Harbour Island Club is also where Chicago cruising men have to decide whether to go on to Little Current eastward or turn west and home again via Gore Bay.
SIDE TRIP 9: Gore Bay
The passage to Gore Bay runs beside a spectacular bluff rising to the east. Gore Bay is a sleepy country town with a main street all but deserted during the heat of the day. It is the western port for Manitoulin Island (the largest fresh-water island in the world) and, contrary to appearances, has some diverting things to offer. For one, at the government liquor store you can pick up Scotch at a dollar less per bottle than you can in the States. For another you can lunch in the Marvel Tea Room and order their special chocolate milk shake. (It will remind you that we've forgotten how to make milk shakes in the U.S.) Then at Ronnie Gordon's on the east shore of the bay you can get excellent steak or chicken—call in advance and reserve a table. And you can try the fine inland fishing on Manitoulin. Arrange for a car at McQuorrie Motors ($10 a day), drive 10 miles to the boat docks at Ice Lake or six miles to Wolsey Lake and rent a boat and motor for $5 a day. You won't have to spend much money on your boat: after an hour or so your arms will get tired hauling the pike aboard. If you'd rather fish for pickerel and jumbo perch, try Lake Mindemayo, 30 miles away. When you return in the evening, however, you will do better to go back aboard than stay around for the night life, unless you are interested in gaming in the local poolroom for 10¢ a throw.
LITTLE CURRENT: fifth day
Little Current is Manitoulin Island's eastern port and the gateway to the eastern part of the cruising grounds. The town, biggest in North Channel (pop.: 1,500), has things other towns on the cruise do not have. It has Turner's Ltd., a complete department store, and the only really good grocery stores east of Detour. And at the dock, which runs the length of the town, dockage and electricity are free to yachtsmen. Incidentally, when you come into the dock, cut your speed to a prudent crawl. Boats tied to the wharf are broadside to your wake, and there are any number of cruising men roosting along the wharf, ready to point out your sins if you roll their yachts into the dock.
If you are planning to shop, remember to come in before the stores close. This happens at 5:30 Eastern Daylight Time. (The whole channel is on Eastern Daylight, while the states to the south are on Central Daylight, and this can cause a little confusion.) At Turner's Ltd., Grant Turner or his son Barney is likely to be found in the store's chartroom, helping to set a cruising man on the right course. There is hardly a cove in North Channel that hasn't been cruised by a Turner. The Turner line of clothes is made from English fabric, tailored in Canada. Their Hudson Bay blankets are $20.75—or $10 less than the stateside price.
While in Little Current, be sure to take a break from shipboard meals by having dinner at The Inn. The cooking is in the best back-country tradition. You should also note that Manitowaning Club, 23 miles from Little Current, has a kitchen that makes the trip, by land or sea, a pilgrimage for gourmets.
SIDE TRIP 10: Manitowaning Club
To get to Manitowaning Club, you can take a taxi ($10 round trip) from Little Current and be there in 35 minutes. Or you can cruise to the club dock (two hours). The club dining room overlooks a well-manicured set of terraces and the southern end of Manitowaning Bay. The French dishes on the menu are choice. There's no drinking unless you bring your own bottle and hire one of the rooms for a party, but there is a swimming pool, croquet, shuffleboard and miniature golf. If you have cruised down, don't hurry dinner: the east entrance to Little Current will be well lighted for your return.
If you have time to spare, then take one or more of the side trips out of Little Current shown on the map. The first of these side trips is nine miles to Whitefish Bay, pleasant, populated, and challenging waters; and the second is 21 miles to Pot Hole Portage, sparsely populated waters that are the greatest navigation test on the trip; and lastly there is the delightful 14-mile run up the Bay Finn.
SIDE TRIP 11: Whitefish Bay
Whitefish is at the head of Bay of Islands, and along the way there are, naturally, islands and islands and islands. There are so many that each turn in your course brings you to an entirely different arrangement of shore and water.
If you rent an outboard you can have the fun of running up the small boat channel between Cloche Peninsula and Cloche Island (hulls from Beck's in Little Current are $5 a day, and an outboard—Johnson—from MacGregor is $5 a day). The channel runs under the bridge by Birch River Lodge and then a railroad bridge before you reach the Bay of Islands. Here the fine blue-black and white sides of the Cloche range to the north are visible over the islands and will guide you to the north shore and Whitefish Bay. You ought to make Whitefish by lunchtime, and if you need gas you can run up the White-fish River to the bridge and get it at Stump and Spry's, as well as soft drinks to quench your thirst. Go back the easy, fast way: counterclockwise around Great Cloche Island to Little Current.
SIDE TRIP 12: Pot Hole Portage
Pot Hole Portage is at the northwest crook of McGregor Bay, and the course through McGregor is the stiffest test of navigation you will have on the trip. The course runs in through zigzags of pink, gray and red rock and a collection of islets and channels without equal this side of the southern coast of Norway. At the end there is Pot Hole Portage, a small body of water almost completely locked in a ring of cliffs. A small mountain stream runs down its north wall into the basin to complete the picture-postcard look of the place.
You may want to stop at Okeechobee Lodge on Frazer Bay and pick up a small boat, plus guide. However, if you have plenty of time and plenty of confidence in your own navigation, you can—with luck—make it in about three and a half hours. Halfway up, there is a narrow artificial cut with a strong current running through it—you may find that the best way to get through is to put a man ashore with a line to help steady your course and help the engine. Plan to reach Pot Hole Portage by lunch, spread a picnic on the rocks and let the children find the potholes—vertical borings augered down through solid rock by the mountain stream in bygone years. Upstream the little river widens and finally becomes a mountain lake, bounded by solid rock shores.
SIDE TRIP 13: Bay Finn
The trip to Bay Finn is strictly for the sport of running up a 10-mile baby fiord between 500-foot walls. After the first zigzags at the mouth of the bay as directed by the charts, you can run up the gorge in good water until right after you sight the first islands. Here the gorge narrows to 100 yards. A couple of miles beyond, the bay ends in a fine pool set under the peaks of several mountains. On the way back, stop in again at Okeechobee Lodge. Your $5 dockage will entitle you to sit and drink on the patio and to a splendid view of Frazer Bay. On Wednesday noons there is a fish fry on the patio and Saturday nights there is steak over charcoal.
Once you have come this far, you will want to see Snug Harbor, Covered Portage Cove and Killarney to the east, so skip the parties at dock-side, go to bed early and in the morning head for Snug Harbor.
SNUG HARBOR: sixth day
Snug Harbor is a regular oval bowl so tightly locked in its walls that from the inside it is like floating on your own lake in the Sierra. The sloping walls are solid with pine that stand skyward like a green army at attention on the tiers of some coliseum. You can throw out your anchor anywhere in the circle of water and let the boat swing where it will. The water is all good. To the west, 60 yards inland, is a wooded lake, a warm and fragrant swimming pool just waiting for customers. Let Snug Harbor be your place of rest and respite after the rigors of club and town life.
SIDE TRIP 14: Covered Portage
Covered Portage, six miles from Snug, is another picture harbor. It is set in photogenic green-gray bluffs that tower over the anchorage. Powerboats can anchor right up to the north shore of the cove, while auxiliaries had best anchor toward the middle. If you have energetic progeny on your hands, take them for a climb up the highest bluff—the wall west of the anchorage. Row the dinghy ashore at the foot of the bluff and then keep moving to the right until the terrain affords good footing. It's a half-hour climb up, but from the top you get a chance to view (and photograph) your boat 400 feet below, floating like a chip way down below in a huge blue basin.
SIDE TRIP 15: Killarney
The village of Killarney, 2½ miles from Covered Portage Cove, is a perfectly preserved fishing settlement from the last century. There is no road from the outside, and the villagers are as calm, unhurried and mellow as the inhabitants of their namesake town in Ireland. Killarney sits on a blue slot of water that cuts through red rock walls from North Channel out to the Georgian Bay. As you come down the slot stop in the docks of the Sportsman's Inn to port, or if Sportsman's is full tie up at the Co-op docks, leaving room for a good-size fishing boat astern of you. The Co-op has diesel, and Jackman's dock beyond has gas. If you need repair before going on, look up Peter and Reggie Low, who take care of engines and hulls respectively. (The Low dock east of town hauls boats 45 feet or under, and they can have parts flown in from Toronto in 24 hours.) While you provision, let the kids swim off Sportsman's dock: the whole slot is one deep swimming hole. Take dinner at Sportsman's. It has the best food in the village, and the manager-owner is Bob Laughter (pronounced Lawter), who tends his Dayton tool and die business during the week and spends weekends fishing and boating in Georgian Bay. As Laughter will tell you, fishing is good around Killarney any time. He has guides at Sportsman's for $20 a day with outboard, $40 with inboard. The best fishing around Killarney is at Beaverstone Bay to the east, first of the big bays on the Georgian and one of the few that is charted. Most of the harbors from Beaverstone on down the coast are uncharted, even by the volunteers of the Great Lakes Cruising Club. Running these harbors is risky business for anyone but the old pros among cruising men.
SIDE TRIP 16: Beaverstone Bay
Collins Inlet—a three-mile canyon that is a lot more fun to cruise than it looks on the charts—leads into Beaverstone. The run through Collins is like a miniature Grand Canyon trip. Where Collins opens into Beaverstone, you'll find yourself in a mosaic of rock and water that stretches south like a flooded boulder field. Look for the weedy bottom in the larger pools. Where the weeds appear is where the fish are. Cut your engine and drift. On the average, it takes only a few casts to bring a five-pound pike lunging out of his hiding place. He'll gobble the spoon and come powering out of the water again and again, shaking his head in red anger, and go jackknifing down into the water again to fight you from the weeds. When you have your catch, tie up to a flat rock and unpack lunch. Then, if the wind is light, work your way back toward Killarney along the inside course, next to the coast. You'll get lost in the jigsaw puzzle of rock and water, but when you do you can head out to open water and go back along the outside course. If, however, the wind is blowing, then go back to Killarney via Collins Inlet again—a big wind and a small boat are a bad combination on the wide-open stretches of the Georgian.
Killarney and Beaverstone are usually the end points to the cruise of even the most far-ranging Chicago yachtsman. From here he retraces his course west through the North Channel and down to Mackinac again. The Detroiter, however, goes home via Tobermory, directly south of Killarney and 50 miles nearer home. Wise Detroiters will fill up with water at Killarney, since Tobermory water is notorious for its ill effects on the digestive system of newcomers.
TOBERMORY: seventh day
The course to Tobermory is right down the west side of the Georgian, wide open to the weather. On the way there are harbors of refuge at Fitzwilliam and Club Island. (Note: these islands are prime rattlesnake country, but the snakes are usually as anxious to avoid people as vice versa. It takes rare bad luck to run afoul of one. However, for your own peace of mind, carry a good snakebite kit aboard. Take it ashore when you go, walk noisily and carry a big stick.)
When Tobermory heaves into sight pass up the docks at Big Tub Harbor (it's way out of town) and go on into Little Tub at the heart of the village. First dock for cruisers at Little Tub is Stansbury's which has diesel, gas and ice. (Ferry View Motel provides free ice if you rent a room.) There are gas pumps and grocery stores at the town dock at the end of the harbor, and if you should need engine repair, Danny Wyonch of Tobermory garage is your man.
When you have provisioned, take the time to walk up behind the Handicraft Store to Orrie Vail's fishing tackle shop. The fishing tackle is handmade and handsome. But beyond this, Orrie Vail has a small museum room off to one side of the shop. In this room are the weathered gray keelson and various other parts of a ship Orrie claims is the Griffon, the vessel built by La Salle in 1679 to carry on fur trade. The Griffon was the first vessel to sail on the Great Lakes. Orrie, a most entertaining man, has innumerable proofs that this vessel (whose remains he discovered) is the Griffon. The claim put forth by certain Manitoulin Islanders that a wreck discovered by them in Mississaghi Strait is the Griffon are to be largely discounted, according to Orrie.
If on the morning after your arrival at Tobermory you have a day to spend before heading south or east, lay a course for Flowerpot Island, three miles away, for a look at the famous natural rock towers along its shore.
SIDE TRIP 17: Flowerpot Island
Flowerpot, like Fitzwilliam, is rattlesnake country, but, again, chances are you won't see one unless you stalk it. Flowerpot is real tourist territory, a la Yellowstone, with campsites and small natural caves for visitors to explore and of course the 20- to 30-foot-high flowerpot-shaped towers, standing like sentinels along the east shore, left there after all the rock around them had been eroded away by the action of the waves.
Flowerpot is the traditional last visit on North Channel cruises. From here, south, east or west lie the cities. As the skipper heads away from Flowerpot and back to the cities, he knows that next summer—or if not then, the summer after—he will have to head north again, north to joyous cruising in the island-studded waters of the loveliest inland sea he has ever known.
AIRD ISLAND: third day
CROKER ISLAND: fourth day
SNUG HARBOR: sixth day
LITTLE CURRENT: fifth day
CHARTER FISHING BOAT
TOBERMORY: seventh day
Second part of cruise, through Canada's North Channel, starts at Turnbull Island (above) and proceeds to Aird Island (left, top center). Side trips are listed at right.
6. OAK BAY
7. McBEAN HARBOR
8. HARBOUR ISLAND CLUB
9. GORE BAY
10. MANITOWANING CLUB
11. WHITEFISH BAY
12. POT HOLE PORTAGE
13. BAY FINN
14. COVERED PORTAGE COVE
16. BEAVERSTONE BAY
17. FLOWERPOT ISLAND