Lake Huron

The last week or so has been full of change: a change from the smooth, rocky shores and islands of the North Channel to the seemingly endless beaches of southern Lake Huron; a change from shorter sails and wilderness exploring to long sails and friendly harbours in the small communities of Lake Huron.

We left the North Channel cruising grounds and sailed around the west end of Manitoulin Island through Mississagi Channel, stopping late in the day in behind Greene Island. An early start the next day had us sailing another ~70 nautical miles east to Cove Island outside Tobermory. Both days featured 20 knot winds, first westerly, then southerly winds. While lumpy at times in the swell, and more upwind than not, we were still able to make good progress and gobble up the miles at times. Good progress and sailing, had we not been hit by a succession of unpredicted (by the forecast) squalls as we approached the channels between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

As the black clouds loomed behind us and the Coast Guard began to issue squall warnings for Northern Lake Huron, we raced along towards Tobermory hoping to stay ahead of them. When the first one missed us to the north, we did begin to think we might escape a hit. Later, however, the squall tracks moved southerly, and the clouds moved overhead, bringing thunder and lightning altogether too close. When the second squall did hit us, the winds spiked and spun around, and we hove-to (this is a way to secure the boat with the sails and essentially drift in a safe position to ride out the storm). The rain became torrential, but the combination of the swirling wind direction and the heavy rain meant that, if anything, the seas were calmer than earlier in the day. The winds didn’t last long and as soon as we felt like the squall was passing, we resumed course. A third squall hit us later, and, once we were safely tucked into the anchorage on Cove Island, a fourth rumbled overhead. Being secure at anchor with a storm raging overhead reminds me of the feeling of sitting in a tent, dry and cozy with the rain coming down outside.

We spent two nights in Tobermory, checked out some shallow wrecks, stopped for some delicious ice cream, watched a boat parade and then Canada Day fireworks. The route south from Tobermory was a succession of long days: 50 miles to Chantry Island just off Southhampton, then another 50 miles to Goderich where we spent a couple of nights and visited Gozzard Yachts. Owner and manager Mike Gozzard was very patient with my long list of questions and it was really nice to make the connection in person.

From Goderich we aimed to cross to Sarnia. We left early, but strong winds from the southwest turned the sail into an upwind slog, and we diverted into Grand Bend for the night instead. Grand Bend feels like it would fit in with ocean beach towns anywhere. Indeed, the long string of beaches down the featureless Lake Huron shore was a big change from the rocky, island-strewn geography of the last month. In Grand Bend, we walked to the beach in the evening, enjoying the warm soft sand and waves crashing as the sun dropped low on the horizon. After some dinner, we walked back along the row of takeout/outdoor eating restaurants, ice cream parlours, swimwear shops and all manner of toys for playing in the lake before the town ended somewhat abruptly at the grocery store and farmland. Tucked in along a the peaceful river felt like another world compared to the raucous beachfront just a few minutes’ walk away.

Grand Bend, Goderich, and Tobermory – one of the bigger changes for us has been fewer nights at anchor. Tobermory for Canada Day was a lot of fun, and the stop to visit Gozzard in Goderich has been in our plans for a while. Many of the spots on the Lake Huron shore feature beautiful lighthouses that pre-date Confederation which, like the wrecks in Tobermory, really give us a reminder of the history of navigating these massive lakes.

In general, we prefer to stay at anchor rather than in marinas. Traveling down Lake Huron, however, anchorages are few and far between. Our one night in a relatively unprotected anchorage behind Chantry Island started with a beautiful sunset, then became a nightmare as the boat rocked violently in a northerly swell all night and a horde of bugs descended on the boat, smearing everywhere as we tried to clear some seats in the morning.

We’re both noticing how the pace of travel has changed as well. Traveling 50+ miles each day, we’re up earlier and off the dock quickly. Some days with strong breezes and upwind sailing are energetic, leaving us stiff and sore from the effort of the day, while others are gentle downwind affairs. We sailed a lot of the leg to Goderich with the spinnaker up and the miles slowly ticking by. We’ll slow down for a few days when we get to Toronto, but I expect our sailing days will continue to be longer ones until we reach Kingston and the Thousand Islands later in July.