The Eastern North Channel

East of Little Current, Manitoulin Island

This was our first introduction to the North Channel. Finally, we were going to be close to Killarney. Interior canoeing was our first love, and we have spend many weeklong trips circumnavigating the killarney provincial park. One time we were canoeing out into the channels from Three Narrows Lake when we came around a bend and saw a sailboat anchored in a little cove, all spiderwebbed in with lines to shore. I was so surprised then, but now that could be us…

July 14: Cove Island to Heywood Island (Brown’s Bay) (51.1NM)

Dense fog surrounded us in the morning, we couldn’t even see the shoreline of the little anchorage, let alone the tight channel we had to navigate through to get out. Maybe we should wait for the fog to lift a bit.

Rosemary and Trent’s boat in the fog

A dinghy appeared out of the fog and it was Steve from Dilly Dally, he had been to Tobermory to get his morning coffee and was cruising the anchorage to deliver a fog report. Apparently, the fog wasn’t as bad out in the open water. It was already 9 am and we were eager to get going. Weaving our way out of Cove Island Harbour was no problem with a bow watch, but the fog was still pretty dense once we hit the main channel north of Tobermory. We were now entering Georgian Bay. With the radar going we kept a close ear to the VHF. The path of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry on its way from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island lay just ahead of us, but larger commercial vessels would announce when they would be passing by certain narrows or shoals. It was eerie gliding along without seeing anything even a few hundred feet away. The image below shows how we navigated on the chart plotter with the radar overlay in purple. Zoom in to see the comments.

Navigating through the Tobermory channel in the fog

The fog didn’t start lifting until we passed by Flowerpot Island. If you stared hard your peripheral vision would pick out just a hint of the island at first and then slowly more and more shoreline would appear until suddenly the sun came out and burned off the last little bits of mist.

Flowerpot Island appears out of the mist

With the sun came a little more wind and once we turned north we were able to have a pleasant sail making 6.5kns. We passed by Club Island which is another good anchorage on the way to the North Channel. Not so good in Easterly winds though. It had one sailboat in it. Unfortunately, winds are often fickle, especially around islands and bays and we lost most of the SW breeze as we went by Smith Cape on the East shore of Manitoulin Island. Motoring under sail we gained a bit more speed until we turned North West, passing through the passage south of Badgeley Island. By 5:30pm we pulled into the anchorage called Brown’s Bay on the North side of Heywood Island. SW winds were to increase gusting up to 30kns and lots of rain by morning so we were going to stay in this large anchorage with lots of swing room. Once the rain subsided in the afternoon we took some time to explore the anchorage. Within Brown’s Bay, the west side offers much better protection and is deeper than it had shown on our charts. The most protection and seclusion can be found in the East channel though. It’s sheltered by the islands to the North, there’s a small sand beach at the entrance and the channel that is quite deep with lots of room to tie to shore. At the most Eastern end we met Dave and Brett on their 30’ Catalina “Celine”. They were very protected here and had enough room to swing on the anchor without tying to shore. A good spot to remember for next time.

July 16: Heywood Island to Horseshoe Island, Frazer Bay (8.9 NM)

The next morning was calm and misty and we left the anchorage at 9am, turned North East and motored into Frazer Bay. The white quartz La Cloche Mountain Range dominates the landscape here, creating beautiful landscapes immortalized by many of the Group of Seven Painters such as A.J. Casson.

We intended to anchor at Blueberry Island and even called in on the CYC Cruiser’s net for the first time to introduce our boat giving that as our destination for the day. If you have been in the North Channel you know that every morning at 9 am Roy Eaton from the Little Current Yacht Club gives an update on weather, news and events on VHF Channel 71. The last part of the broadcast is reserved for cruising boaters to call in to say hello and give their whereabouts. It’s a way to connect with other boats, to make new friends and to catch up with old ones. When we got further into the Eastern end of Frazer Bay we decided to stop at Horseshoe Island just north of the Blueberry anchorage. I was excited to see the 2 “Gaviidaes” anchored here. They had also called in to the cruiser’s net, but as the island was unnamed on the charts I didn’t know where they were. Roy had remarked it was rare that 2 boats with the same name would be anchored beside each other. They were 2 beautiful Gozzard sailboats, one a 41’ dark green and the other a white 37’. Having been to Goderich I now knew the difference between a Gozzard and a Bayfield sailboat, so I was very intrigued by them. We got to meet Julie and Dan from the Gozzard 41 when we dinghied over, not being able to contain our curiosity. They had actually owned the other Gaviidae as well. Both boats are stunningly beautiful and immaculately maintained long keel, heavy displacement ocean sailors. They are cutter rigged (so 2 foresails) with a large bowsprit and gleaming brightwork. (More info on Gozzards.) Julie and Dan chatted with us for a while and gave us a few good hints on other anchorages. Unfortunately, they were moving onto Okeechobee Lodge at the entrance of Baie Fine that afternoon. We said Good Bye and now had the whole stunning island to ourselves. Little did we know we would be running into Julie and Dan a lot over the next week.

The “Gaviidaes”: Gozzard 37, and Gozzard 41

We spent 2 fabulous days here. The weather was calm and hot and the water clear and refreshing. The kayaks were a great way to paddle around the island and explore all the little white quartzite bays. Some boat jobs were accomplished as well, such as a soft spot deck repair, major laundry, new furler line installed and the foresail changed to the larger genoa.

The Lindt Family cottage

A sunset paddle around another island to the East revealed an outlandishly large 3 story cottage with huge deck and multiple docks – with no soul around but all protected by cameras. Later, we found out that this “cottage” belongs to the Lindt chocolate family from Switzerland. Who would have guessed? I assume that we have partially helped finance this recreational property with our addiction to a daily piece of Lindt’s finest dark chocolate with our morning coffee. For our summer trip, I think we had stuffed 12 bars of Orange Intense Dark into the fridge.

One of my favourite anchorages, Horseshoe island
Paddling around Horseshoe Island

July 18: Frazer Bay to Mary Ann Cove (Baie Fine) (6.4NM)

We had heard that Baie Fine is a must for anyone in the North Channel. It’s one of the longest sweet water fjords, about 9NM until you reach the end – the Pool. It’s surrounded by high quartz mountains, the South La Cloche Range. There are anchorages along the way and you can even anchor in the Pool. However, we decided to only go as far into Baie Fine as Mary Ann Cove anchorage. The Pool itself is apparently quite weedy and we had canoed and portaged that part of Killarney Park so didn’t feel the need to motor our sailboat all the way into it.

Mary Ann Cove, Baie Fine

Mary Ann Cove is on the south shore of the Baie in a cove with a little island and cottage. It’s quite deep in the middle and as it’s not that big we wanted to tie the stern to shore so we would not swing. After setting the anchor for the second time we got a good hold in 22’ of water and then cleated our other anchor rode to the stern of Vitae. With the dinghy we motored to shore and tied to a tree. We had seen a few boats coming out of the Baie on our way in, so there was room in the anchorage, but not for long. 5 power boats pulled in shortly after and the sailboat that followed them turned around in the entrance. This was too busy for them.

One of the biggest power boats anchored right in the middle, then proceeded to deploy an armada of paddle boards and water toys. Shortly after 4 young children jumped in the water, while one whined in the cockpit enduring the sunscreen application. There was also a 6 month old and the corresponding moms and dads, 3 couples all together. The sound of squealing children echoed through the anchorage. We didn’t mind – it’s life and laughter and there would be time for solitude another day. Instead we went for a little hike up to Casson Peak. The trail starts on the mainland just east of the island. It’s a bit uphill but not too hard. The peak is small put high enough to afford a stunning view over the Baie Fine, Mac Gregor Bay to the north and Frazer Bay to the South.

Bay Fine from Casson Peak

When we got back to the boat another sailboat was anchoring beside us with the intention to tie up to the shore as well. After some trials they waved at us and asked us to help. We dinghied over and helped secure their anchor rode to a tree on shore, after having a bit of an issue at first as their rode was a little short and had chain attached to the end. It was nice to be able to help and we got to meet Karol and Marcie on “Navigare”. They were so thankful that they invited us over for cheese and drinks.

Vitae and Navigare tied to shore in Mary Ann Cove

July 19: Mary Ann Cove to Little Current (Manitoulin Island) (14.4NM)

We pulled quietly out of the anchorage early the next morning. In the mist we could see Karol and Marcie, who had paddled their dinghy over to a flat rock to greet the quiet morning. Like so many they love the peaceful solitude out here.

Leaving Baie Fine and Mary Ann Cove

Our day wasn’t going to be as peaceful. We would go to the small town of Little Current which was one of the few places to resupply up here. This town is on Manitoulin Island but connected via a swing bridge to Goat Island and the mainland to the north. The bridge opens every hour on the hour from 8am to 10pm for 15 min. That means it’s closed to car traffic on HWY 6 for 15 minutes when boats want to pass. However, it takes the bridge a few minutes to open and close so marine traffic has less than 15 min to pass. We had to push the engine a bit to make it through the 10 am opening, but called the bridge operator on VHF 14 just to let him know. It started to swing shut just behind us.

On the way to Little Current

Little Current is aptly named. It is the only place with a current in the North Channel which can be quite strong and erratic near the bridge. One also had to take into account the westerly winds that can howl through here. It makes docking a bit of an adventure at times. Wally’s fuel is on the south shore along the town pier at it’s widest point. It is a busy place. Pretty much every boat seems to stop here to fuel up, pump out, get repairs taken care of, buy supplies, fill water tanks or stay the night and go out for dinner with friends.

The point just before the Little Current swing bridge

As we pulled into the fuel dock for diesel and a pump out, someone yelled over from the boat in front of us. “Oh, you were the one’s who gave our favourite island anchorage away!”. Meet Gabriel and Bruce from “Spitfire”. They have spent a lifetime sailing the North Channel and are the real authorities when it comes to sailing here. In fact, both of them are listed as authors of the Ports Book from 2011 that we are still using on this trip.

They weren’t really upset, but it was neat that they had recognized our boat name from the post I had done on the CYC Cruiser’s net facebook page, where I had mentioned our anchorage in Frazer Bay north of Blueberry. They told me it was commonly referred to as Horseshoe Island. Chatting with them they told us to just head over to the west side of A-dock to grab a slip for the day. Little Current really encourages boaters to stay by letting them moor at the town pier or town docks. You can plug in, get water and shop. This little town really benefits from the commerce the boaters bring, and we were no exception.

Following Bruce and Gabriel’s advice we motored over to the aforementioned dock and had 5 other sailors ready to grab our lines. We got to meet the crew of “Heart Tug”, a nice new red tug, and “Georgian Mist”, a very well maintained CS 36 traditional. Kathy and her husband (sorry, I forgot his name) from “Georgian Mist” are also an institution of the North Channel, having sailed these waters for most of their lives. What an amazing couple, she is 80 and he is 85! They are my heroes and give us hope we might still be able to this for a long time to come. Pretty much everyone seems to know them up here and is always eager to lend them a helping hand on or off the dock. I think that is so important – the boating community really supports one another, you only have to ask for help. We all need each other sometimes and there’s no shame in asking or accepting help or advice. In fact, it often leads to new friendships.

After walking to the grocery store and of course the liquor store, we decided it was time to do a good deed for our engine. North Auto Parts is just up the hill and were very helpful in finding us the proper oil filter, diesel oil and diesel coolant. Once back on board, we invited Bruce and Gabriel over for a sundowner, which was an awesome way to pick their brains and hear local stories about the area. They knew all the best anchorages and when we mentioned we were going to change the oil, Bruce even came over with his oil extractor to help out. Usually, we use our jerry rigged hand pump (which is from a dish washing soap dispenser tuck taped with a flexible line from our Katadyne camping water pump). It usually takes quite some time, but with Bruce’s help it was a piece of cake.

At this point we had decided to stay the night. Dave’s sister Lisa and her husband Laverne happened to be on their way from Calgary to Kingston for a family visit and this was our only chance to see them. They managed to book the Chi-Cheemaun ferry for the next day and came through Little Current at 9pm that night. We were able to cook them a nice salmon dinner and they supplied us with some special dark chocolate and delicious summer sausage. We had a great visit and they stayed on the boat overnight, sleeping in our main berth. After a quick little early morning squall we said goodbye and they headed off to the ferry. We turned west towards the Benjamin’s, another island group of must see anchorages.

NEXT: Central North Channel