It’s nine at night and we are sitting in the cockpit of Adamant 1 enjoying a glass of wine and watching the sun turn the sky brilliant reds and oranges. Today we have climbed the hills at The Benjamins, kayaked around all the little islets, swam in the cool clear water and shared sundowners with three other couples. It doesn’t get any better than this. We are on holiday in the North Channel!
We are the most fortunate sailors on earth. Just north of our home port of Midland Ontario is one of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the world. The North Channel is bounded on the south by Manitoulin Island, the largest fresh water island in the world. The north shore is lined by the La Cloche mountains, miles of white quartz highlands covered in dark green forest. Top all of the spectacular scenery with fresh water, no tides and no currents and you are in cruising heaven. This is where Adamant 1 heads every summer. For Pat and I we try to get there as fast as we can. We will leave work at 4pm Friday and point the boat north. We will sail, motor or motor sail, whatever it takes to cross straight across Georgian Bay. It means we will be travelling straight through the night and into the next day, but 20 hours after leaving the dock, we are coming into Killarney, the first port we will visit while we are in the North Channel. From 25 miles off shore you can begin to see the mountains. At first they appear light blue, but as you approach you can begin to see the white quartz. You can feel the excitement build in your stomach as the mountains get closer and closer. We plot a course to the Red Rock lighthouse just outside of Killarney. It is easy to see why it is called Red Rock because the rocky point it sits on is the colour of salmon. Couple that with the blue sky, the white quartz of the mountains and the green pines and you are in sensory overload. Once into the channel in Killarney we head for the government wharf. Situated on the wharf is a converted bus that serves fish and chips, the best fish and chips you will find in the North Channel. People come from all over the globe, by boat, by vehicle and even by airplane just to eat the fish and chips and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
After our early dinner we head out of town and head slightly northeast for about three miles to Covered Portage Cove. This is a tiny bay that is totally surrounded by white quartz cliffs. The entrance can be tricky but once inside the protected harbour we have seen as many as 40 boats anchored. There are paths that run along the edges of the cliffs so you can climb to the top to take in the views. From the top we can see Little Current on Manitoulin Island, about 20 miles to the west. Because the cliffs are so high you cannot see the sunset, but there always seems to be a musician in the bay. We have heard taps played on a guitar, a violin, even bagpipes. One night we were treated to taps by an opera singer and her husband playing a cello. It was a heart stopping event, truly magical.After leaving Covered Portage, we head down the Lansdowne Channel. At the east end of Badgely Island which is the south shore of the Landsdowne Channel you can see the quartz being mined for silica. Freighters will come into the docks and load the silica and bring it south to Midland to be processed into glass. The open pit mine has left a huge scar on the island, but they have started replanting trees in the area and hopefully in a few years the scar won’t be so visible.
Fraser Bay opens up at the end of The Lansdowne Channel and here you have a decision to make. If you have enough supplies you can turn north. There are many possibilities once you make that move. You can head east and find numerous places to drop an anchor and stay for a while. Blueberry Island is a famous stop as well as the protected bays at the easternmost end of Fraser Bay. If you opt to continue straight north and round the point into McGregor Bay you are entering gunk hole heaven. Though there are lots of cottages in the bay, there are just as many bays and channels you can wedge into and be totally alone. It’s a fabulous spot to put in the kayaks and spend hours roaming around in total seclusion. We usually wear our bathing suits and pack a lunch and only return to Adamant 1 in time for happy hour. It doesn’t get any better than that.If you opt to turn right just before you round the point into McGregor Bay, you will enter the channel leading to Baie Fine, an eight mile long fjord with steep white quartz mountains on either side. It provides some unmatched scenery so keep the camera handy. Part way down the bay there is Mary Ann Cove, a very popular anchorage. If you can get there early enough you can anchor in the middle. Most boats prefer to drop a bow anchor and stern tie to shore. Once we are settled, in goes the dinghy and it’s off to hike to the top of Fraser Hill. There is a well marked trail that takes you up about 700 feet through some rugged terrain. Every year we make the trek to the top and the first trek is a reminder of just how out of shape we are. But we try to do the climb every day we spend there and eventually we can get to the top and still have some breath left. Once at the top the views are amazing. From here you can see almost the whole length of the fjord, McGregor Bay to the north and the La Cloche mountains beyond . To the west you can clearly make out Manitoulin Island. After Mary Ann Cove, we venture down the bay to The Pool, a small bay at the very east end of Baie Fine. The entrance to The Pool is through a very narrow opening, which in turn leads to a narrow channel toThe Pool. There is another hiking trail there, part of Killarney Provincial Park, and the trail takes you to Topaz Lake, a water filled crater up in the mountain. The depth of the lake is unknown and the water is turquoise. It is a favorite swimming hole for everyone that hikes the park.By now we are in need of supplies and we reluctantly leave our amazing cruising grounds and head into Little Current on Manitoulin Island. It’s a lovely little town that can only be reached once you have waited for the swing bridge to open for you. The town has everything you could need and no stop would be complete without lunch at the Anchor Inn and an ice cream cone after. Little Current is the only place in the North Channel that actually has a current, hence the name. The channel where the swing bridge crosses form the mainland to Manitoulin Island is very narrow and it causes the water to funnel through the opening. The direction of the wind plays a role in the direction of the current. It is the only place where docking can be tricky and it’s always nice to see the dock boys there to grab your lines.
Once we leave Little Current we head for the open waters of the North Channel. If it’s late in the day we can pull into the anchorage between East and West Rous islands. The holding ground is terrific and the islands are low enough to watch the sunset. If we want to venture a little further, we can head up the Waubuno Channel, turn right and mile east we come across two bays where we can stop for the night. Bell Cove is open and easy to enter but not quite as protected as it’s neighbor Sturgeon Cove. We usually opt for Sturgeon Cove, but it’s entrance requires good charts, calm water and a bow watch. Once inside, there is plenty of room and depth. The bay is surrounded by private land, so we can’t go to shore. The forest grows right down to the beach and if you are lucky you can watch a family of deer come down for a drink at sunset. If you are really lucky, you can watch the big black bear who lives there forage among the blueberry bushes on the point. That’s when you decide you really didn’t need that walk after all!
Next morning we feel our way out of the Cove and head west. Our first stop is Croker Island, a tall pine covered island shaped like a backward C. Once inside the bay we drop a bow anchor and stern tie to shore. In previous years, some thoughtful cruisers cemented rings and pegs into the rock to tie to. If they aren’t available, there are always big boulders to use instead. We always climb to the top of the hills on Croker to watch the sunsets. It usually involves some crawling on all fours, using trees as braces for your feet and digging your fingers into the rock. But the results are worth the climb. To the west are the Benjamin Islands, two lovely pink granite islands with enough room in their bays for plenty of boats to anchor. There are lots of blueberry bushes to look for berries and the island is a great place to wait out any bad weather. Next day we leave Croker and head for the bay between North and South Benjamins. Here is where the hills are high and smooth and the climbing is easy. The islands are small enough that you can kayak around them in a few hours. The water is clean and clear and diving in is just the thing to do after a long hike. When the sun finally gives its last wink, we go below to plan where we may want to go the next day. There are the Fox Islands, a group of low smooth islands that is a haven for anyone with a kayak. Then there is Eagle Island or Hotham Island. If we carry on further west we can go through Little Detroit and head for John Island, Bear Drop Harbour, Long Point Cove and Turnbull Island. Each island has its own charm and character. Every one is a delight to get to and put down the anchor. When we need provisions, we can head for Spanish, a small settlement on the north shore, or we can head directly south, across the open water and take in Gore Bay. Gore Bay has a huge municipal marina and is a great place to reprovision and do laundry. The restaurants are great too!When it’s time to head home, our last place to visit is usually Clapperton Island. The island is very big and it has a large bay at the south end. Inside that bay is a smaller island called Harbour Island. Years ago there was a lodge on this island and it was abruptly abandoned, leaving everything intact. The ruins are interesting to explore, but we must be mindful of rotten wood and broken glass everywhere. If have anchored in the right spot, when it gets dark we can look south into the tiny hamlet of Kagawong at the end of Mudge Bay. The town lights are always there sparkling like diamonds in the dark. And above us are all the stars in the universe. We often will take blankets out onto the deck and watch for shooting stars. With no ambient light to destroy our vision, it’s easy to pick out the constellations and passing satellites. When we do see a shooting star that’s the icing on the cake. We know we have to leave to go home, but we also know next year we will be back and we can explore the North Channel again.