La Mer Douce

“La Mer Douce” (the gentle, or calm, sea) was the name that Samuel de Champlain gave to Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay is large (15,000 km2): two and half times bigger than our past stomping ground the Georgia Strait, nearly as big as Lake Ontario, and certainly could have been named the sixth great lake rather than a bay on Lake Huron. For boaters and cottagers, the bay, and particularly the eastern shore of the bay, is a wondrous place.

It’s called “The Thirty Thousand Islands”. The Canadian shield runs down the shore of the bay and the glacier-sculpted, hard granite landscape creates a shoreline cut with channels and rocky islands: the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. The Group of Seven artists found inspiration here, and the thousands of cottages dotting the many islands speak to how Georgian Bay’s beauty keeps bringing people back. When I lived in Toronto and Ottawa, I spent several long weekends with friends canoeing and kayaking along it’s shores, camping on rocky islets and watching colourful sunsets.

Georgian Bay is where we’re starting our Great Lakes journey. It’s amazing to be sailing in freshwater, and exploring by sailboat brings a fresh perspective on the area. Only a few days in, and I’m realizing how this trip will be just a small taste of what Georgian Bay has to offer: truly exploring the bay would take many years of cruising. But what a taste so far…

A screenshot from one of our electronic charts. The area is a maze of islands, channel markers, and rocks!

Navigating Georgian Bay brings its own challenges. Unlike BC where the navigation challenges come from it’s big tides and strong currents, here it’s the maze of islands, shallow waters, and many rocks. No soft slide into a sandbar if you get off course here! Instead, Canadian shield granite stands ready to bring you and your boat to a very abrupt stop. The Canadian government has done a lot of work charting and marking channels to navigate the archipelago. Straying from those channels is only done very cautiously!

After leaving Midland, we spent the first two nights in Georgian Bay Islands National Park, at anchor off Beausoleil Island. It wasn’t far from Midland, but it gave us a chance to slow down after the frantic week putting the boat back together. Some warm swimming and a long hike on the island made for a great stop.

From there, we made the decision to take a bigger step, sailing outside the archipelago over 30 miles north to Echo Bay on Sans Souci Island, where we had been told the nearby Henry’s Restaurant was a must stop. Fun fact: they organize float plane trips to the restaurant and the original owner had the spot designated as an international airport (airport code YSI). Nice guerilla marketing there. We made Henry’s a lunch stop on our kayak excursion from Echo Bay.

From Echo Bay, we motored up the small boat channel to Parry Sound. They’re not kidding when they say small boat channel… at times we would pass between red and green channel markers with only a few feet to spare on each side of our boat (including underneath!). The local cottagers scream through in their small powerboats, of course. Just before Parry Sound we had to stop and wait for the 125 year old swing bridge to open, before tying up at the town marina for the afternoon to explore and pick up supplies. Having just purchased her fishing license for Ontario, Glenda made sure we stopped at the bait and tackle shop to pick up tackle and worms more suited to fishing here… learning that our gear was otherwise salmon-oriented amused the shopkeeper.

We left Parry Sound (the town) later in the afternoon and sailed out Parry Sound (the waterway) into a brisk 15-20 knot headwind before arriving early this evening at Killbear Provincial Park just after 7 p.m. When I was a kid, we spent a few summer vacations car camping here at Killbear. I don’t remember too many specifics, but I’m hoping when we go exploring tomorrow morning some of the sights will jog my memory.