North Channel Cruising

After enjoying the summer solstice in the Benjamins, we headed out to explore the rest of the North Channel cruising area. This started with a short sail east to check out a string of smaller islands stretching into La Cloche Provincial Park. The wind steadily built, and before long we were tucking in behind Matheson Island, anchoring in a cove that provided decent shelter from the westerly winds.

With the boat secure and most of the afternoon ahead of us we jumped into the dinghy to explore, first landing on smooth, flat, rocky islet west of Matheson and then circling back to land and walk around on Matheson Island itself. As we reached the south point of the island, it became apparent the westerly winds were now blowing strong. The main channel was filled with whitecaps and the waves were crashing on the point and the exposed shore. It was beautiful to watch, but I was glad we had chosen to anchor when we did.

The next day the winds had dropped, and we enjoyed a nice sail back west and north of Fox Island, rounding into Fox Harbour. Fox Harbour is another popular “destination” anchorage in the North Channel. The entrance is tricky and we took our time with Glenda on the bow watching for the shallows and directing me where to turn. The harbour was empty when we arrived, but later in the day a charter powerboat showed up: a sign that cruising season is getting started. Fox Island’s rocks are similar to the smooth granite of the Benjamins, though the island is flatter. In a big lagoon just adjacent to the anchorage (over a rock barrier) beavers had been hard at work – an impressive dam blocked the drainage from the lagoon. The beavers where nowhere to be seen, unfortunately.

In the morning, with the waters a dead calm, we set out in the kayaks and passing through a narrow channel on the north side of the harbour came across our first two beavers of the trip. At first we weren’t sure if they were beavers or muskrats (we have seen a number of muskrats), but as we carefully and slowly approached, they dove with the telltale slap of their large tails. We stopped for snacks on one of the larger rocky islets between Fox Island and North Benjamin and took in the view. Returning to Fox Island, we detoured into a shallow bay with a rocky entrance, surprising a family of ducks (and ducklings). The highlight was a small turtle who appeared and swam alongside Glenda’s kayak before deciding we were better kept at a distance.

That afternoon we continued our journey west and motored over through a small pass “Little Detroit” into the start of an area called the Whalesback Channel, tucking in behind Wilfred and Laurier Islands to anchor for the night. Today was clearly “beaver day”, as we could see a group of three large beavers on the nearby shore working hard at a tree they had felled into the water.

Even better, it was a day of fishing success! Glenda put the hook in and grabbed two pickerel and a couple of smaller rock bass. The largest pickerel would certainly have been a keeper, but we let it go. Glenda has a habit of naming the fish as we catch them and that certainly makes it harder to turn them into dinner!

With the holding tank filling up and provisions running low, the next day we stopped in the small town of Spanish and hiked to the grocery store for supplies. We filled up with water and while we had the laundry in, took up a conversation with a couple who had sailed their boat a few years ago down the St. Lawrence and around to New York: the same way we are headed. They invited us over to their boat for a drink and we gladly accepted, keen for any tips and advice we could get… and we almost didn’t make it out of Spanish that day! Eventually, though, we got underway. At the west end of the Whalesback Channel is the rock called “Whalesback” that gives the area it’s name, but Glenda wasn’t overly convinced… maybe we’ve seen too many real whales?

Tied up at the dock in Spanish

We stopped for the night in Beardrop Harbour and were on our way again early the next morning, making the short tip over to Turnbull Island, again with strong winds from the west. Turnbull Island is crescent-shaped, with a small archipelago of islands filling the crescent towards the west to create the protected anchorage, and making for some good kayak exploring (which we did that afternoon). After looping through the islands, we pulled up on a nice beach and lay in the warm sand watching a bald eagle and some turkey vultures soar overhead.

Turnbull Island Beach

Turnbull is our last stop in the North Channel. From there the journey begins south and our leisurely cruising pace will speed up with the need to put some miles under the keel in July. It’s been about a month since we set out from Midland, and yet it still feels like we’ve barely begun to explore the cruising potential of Georgian Bay and the North Channel. Hopefully we’ll return again someday.