The Benjamins

Whenever I’ve planned trips in my life, whether our summer sailing vacations, canoe or kayak camping trips, there’s always a spot or two on the trip plan where I’ve made a mental asterisk and often organized some or all of the route around visiting those spots. Right from when we first had the idea of sailing through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, the first asterisk in my head was the North Channel in Lake Huron, and specifically the Benjamins.

None of this will come as a surprise to sailors familiar with the area; this is not a secret out-of-the-way gunkhole. If you poke around on forums online where sailors from around the world discuss their favourite anchorages, The Benjamins are often mentioned. The North and South Benjamin Islands, along with Fox Island to the north and Croker Island to the east, along with dozens of smaller rocks and islets, form a protected ring filled with small nooks and protected bays where boats can spend a night or two. The most popular spot to drop the hook is the natural harbour formed between North and South Benjamin Islands.

We managed to escape the “big current” in Little Current late in the afternoon on Saturday (June 18), as the wind finally settled a bit. At around 5 p.m., we jumped at the chance to get off the dock and sailed over to Clapperton Harbour.

That night, the clear, moonless sky was filled with stars with the bright streak of the Milky Way visible. Morning, however, revealed that the anchorage was also popular with flies (thousands of them), and with the boat covered we didn’t linger long, motoring out in the calm and up to Croker Island where we tucked in expecting a bit of rain and stronger east winds. The rain mostly held off, and we spent the afternoon scampering around on the rocks and taking in the view.

The next day we made the short hop over to the main anchorage between the Benjamins. Two other sailboats were there when we arrived, but still lots of room (at its peak in the summer this anchorage fills up with dozens of boats), and one of the left later that afternoon. Even better, the clouds cleared out and the other sailboat left early the next morning. And so, for most of the day we relished having this incredible spot to ourselves.

It’s the rocks that make the Benjamins special. The islands feel as though they were sculpted out of a single piece of pink granite, all sharp corners rounded over and polished smooth by the last ice age. The rocks climb smoothly up high to deliver views over the North Channel in all directions, and plunge gracefully down into the clear waters below. And the sun sets gracefully between the two main islands at this time of year, over the smaller rocks and islets. 35 years ago my family came here on a summer sailing vacation, and despite the (many!) years, I immediately recognized some of the spots where we swam and played. It’s a special, unforgettable place.

Unfortunately the water was still too cold for swimming, so we again set off exploring the islands by dinghy and by foot. Later that afternoon another sailboat pulled in. To celebrate the solstice, as the sun was setting, we jumped in the dinghy again (with provisions), and invited the guys on the other sailboat to join us for a campfire on shore. They were two old friends, longtime sailors, out for a few days to cruise the area. We lay on the rocks, still warm from the day’s sunshine, laughed, and shared stories of sailing and cruising over beers and roasted marshmallows until almost midnight. The Benjamins delivered again.