Lake Huron, Ontario’s West Coast

Port Elgin Harbor
Port Elgin Harbour

Sarnia to Tobermory

This section of the trip was truly a highlight for us as we had passed by everything when we moved Vitae down to Lake Ontario, on our 40 hour trial by fire sail from Wiarton to Sarnia. Now we had the time to visit little hamlets like Bayfield and especially Port Elgin, where our family has a lot of history – Dave spent Summers here at the family cottage as a kid and even our own kids enjoyed many a hot summer holiday up here. We have always wanted to bring our sail boat back up to Port Elgin one day.

July 7: Sarnia to Bayfield (49NM)

Excited to be entering lake Huron, we cast off the lines at 5:55am and headed out toward the Bluewater Bridge under overcast skies. The current is strong under the bridge and past the breakwater where the lake empties into the St. Clair River. We were doing 5.5 Knots through the water, but only 1.2 Knots over ground as we slowly made our way out. Our speed gradually increased as the shores receded and we entered the open lake. With the jib and motor we eventually hit 6 Knots in a SW wind of 4-5 Knots. We were following the south east shoreline. Bayfield sounded like a good first hop and a pretty spot to stay the night. About half way there I came up from the cabin and looked out the front window to see a line of seagulls spread out evenly along a line just to port. Weird?! I looked again – those are not seagulls, those are jugs, marking something…. I called out to Dave to quickly adjust course because we were heading closer and closer. The line of jugs stretched out about a mile long just off our port bow. We had to steer closer to land to avoid it. Most likely it was a fish net, which no doubt our wing keel would have picked up and the danger of fowling our prop would have been considerable. Glad we saw it just in time.

We got into Bayfield just after 15:00 and stopped at the fuel dock on the south side of the river. The fuel dock is just a short finger dock and we missed it at first. There are a number of marinas on the river before you get to the Hwy. 21 bridge. The river is dredged and has decent depth in the main channel. Harbour View Marina is on the north side of the river and boats are moored in the channel but also in multiple little harbour basins. Bayfield Village Marina, on the opposite side, only has slips directly in the main channel. Its a beautiful waterfront with boats everywhere. Let’s not forget that the beautiful Bayfield sailboats were built in this town.

We had a perfect spot very close to the fuel dock (slip 6), with parking close by and a short walk to the beach. An old friend from university days who I had contacted while we were in Port Stanley was able to come up from London and we went for a dinghy ride to check out all the boats. A bit later it started to rain quite heavily but we still had a great visit and it was awesome to catch up over a couple of bottles of wine, steak, butter tarts and fresh cherries.

July 8: Bayfield to Goderich (12.1NM)

We awoke to thunderstorms and pouring rain. It wasn’t any wonder after the immense heat and humidity we had the previous weekend. Talking to our friends and family, there had been serious storms all over Ontario.

By 11am the thunderstorms had cleared a bit and it was raining but calm, so we decided to move a little further up the coast. We had a slight wind from the south so we kept the cockpit zipped up and motor sailed through the rain with just the jib. Goderich was a short 2 hour trip and it would make the next jaunt to Port Elgin a bit shorter.

We were so glad we stopped and even stayed for an extra day. Goderich is not a very attractive looking port from the Lake as it’s dominated by the huge grain elevators and the Sifto Salt Mines and shipping port, but it certainly has its charm as we would discover later. The entrance to the marina is just north of the shipping harbour and the pier. You enter the channel at the Maitland River and then follow the pier straight in. After a buoyed narrow stretch which can be a bit tricky in following seas the channel calms down and widens a bit.

Goderich Harbour with the Sifto Salt mines

We had called ahead to make sure they had room for us and they had told us to either take slip 1 or 2 right before the marina building and port side fenders were fine. When we came around there was already a small sailboat in slip 2 which would have been port side fenders. So after docking on the fuel dock we just pulled Vitae into slip 1 stern in. We are getting creative with this house rule of not switching fenders once they are on.

Backed in at Goderich

Next to us were about 5 more boats and there’s probably only room for a max. of 6 to 8 boats here in the deeper part. The rest of the Maitland marina is in the basin just south of the marina building. The day was still mixed and while we went for a 6 km walk to replenish our food it started to drizzle. We did walk through the unique downtown core of Goderich which is designed in a star like pattern with roads fanning out around the central court house square. There are beautiful old mansions, shops and restaurants but the grocery stores, are a fair distance. The marina did offer to shuttle us, but we always enjoy stretching our legs.

What really impressed us about this town was the beautiful waterfront board walks, and the miles of beaches along the shores of Lake Huron, some sand but most are boulder beaches, the water clear and blue. The town sits over top on the bluff and at different intervals there are stairs leading up to Hibernia St. One such staircase leads to the old Lighthouse which provides a stunning panorama view over the harbour and coast. The board walk is part of the Heritage Walk of Goderich interspersed with informative plaques about Goderich’s illustrious past.

Goderich Lighthouse
View from the stairs to the light house

We stopped at the Beach Street Restaurant closer to port. Its located in the old railway station that was moved here (where the roundhouse for the trains used to be). They have a great patio overlooking the waterfront and serve awesome fish and chips, Pommes Frites with Garlic Aeoli and Asiago, many local beers are on tap and their peach Sangria rocks. Well worth the stop.

Old Train Station Restuarant
Perch and chips with asiago cheese and Aioli garlic dip

July 10: Goderich to Port Elgin (51.2 NM)

Port Elgin Harbour

The next morning we left at 6:30am. Very calm conditions with a slight breeze of 2-3 kns from the N-NW, also a lot cooler – 15-20 degrees. A nice change. Sometimes the main sail would luff as there was such little wind but it increased slightly so we persisted and motor sailed.

Regina keeping in touch with friends

It was great to be in Port Elgin again and the first thing we did was jump in the Dinghy and run across to the beach where the family cottage was. I say was, because we finally let it go about 2 years ago but before that it was in the family for generations. Of course all the neighbours and friends on the beach were very surprised to see us and it was a fun reunion.

The next day we decided it was time for a bit of exercise, and began with a 10K run along my favourite waterfront trail from Port Elgin to Southampton. After that about 5 loads of laundry and then it was time to get ready for our last leg up to Georgian Bay. We borrowed a car from my Aunt in town, and spent a few hours re-supplying the boat, after which we enjoyed some take out food and a visit with Aleda on the boat. A very productive day indeed.

Port Elgin Harbour

Port Elgin sunsets are considered to be some of the best anywhere, and seldom disappoint. A perfect end to our two night stay.

July 12: Port Elgin to Tobermory (54.1 NM)

Next morning we headed for Tobermory. We made the best use of the wind and sailed for a couple of hours until it eventually died all together. It seems to me we still have to rely too much on motor sailing, as we have destinations we want to get to and if the wind dies this is too often the only way to achieve this.

Cove Island Harbour

There are few anchorages along the coast of lake Huron, and we had to stop most nights in marinas along the way. Thats ok, but we were now determined to be on the hook for an extended period of time. We arrived in Cove Island Harbour, a small very well protected anchorage across the channel from Tobermory about 5:30 pm. Its a very narrow path into the anchorage and we kind of expected to find it empty, but of course no such luck. Two sailboats and a large trawler already filled 75% of the available space. We tucked into the anchorage and set the anchor for the night. Then a very nice C&C 50 arrived to make it 5 in the small anchorage for the night.

Exploring Cove Island waterways

We ended up spending 2 nights here so we could get out the kayaks and explore the inlets and secluded corners of the island the next day. We also met our neighbours, something I always enjoy as there are so many stories.
The trawler was large, steel and anchored at the back with two lines to shore. Steve was working from the boat, and had been in that spot for a month using a fast dinghy to get back and forth to Tobermory for supplies and a few morning walks. Nice spot to work from.
There was a CS34 as well, also with one occupant. He was new to the anchorage game and spent some time figuring out tying the stern to shore. He was meeting 3 friends the next day to set out on a trip to the Channel.
And there was Trent and Rosemary, with a small Bayfield. They share the boat with 2 other couples and were just at the end of their trip about to hand over to the next couple.
You are never really alone when cruising, just at a perpetual party meeting lots of new people.

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