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Gem in the Rough

By kismet - Published October 15, 2010 - Viewed 1073 times

 

 

By Jim Favors

Halfway between Canada’s Little Current and Gore Bay, both on Manitoulin Island, sits a small group of islands called the Benjamin’s. Like Elvis, Beyonce, Cher, Oprah and other one-named celebrities the Benjamin’s carry the same allure with North Channel cruisers, probably more! The main islands consist of North Benjamin, South Benjamin and Croker Island. All are equally beautiful with their rugged rocky hills; Barney Rubble sized boulders and well protected anchorages. Our anchoring “Gem in the Rough” favorite is off Croker Island; it’s where we spent three wonderful days. It’s a “gem” because it’s so rare to find a place with such pristine beauty and “in the rough” because of it’s natural rocky ruggedness.

How perfect is this? Croker Island anchorage view from the top of the tree lined rocky bluff.

 

As we approached the Benjamin’s for the very first time we were more than a little nervous because of the shallow waters, large rocks and meandering entrance. As luck would have it, the water was calm and clear so we could see all the submerged obstacles below us that we wanted to avoid. The clear water also made it seem like it was much shallower than it actually was, kind of like those car mirrors that have a label stating that objects are actually closer than they appear, same thought applies when cruising the waters of the North Channel. With

 

The hiking on Croker Island gave us the double benefit of great scenery, as seen in this shot, as well as exercise.

Lisa on the bow standing watch we kept the Sow and Pigs, as well as the Boars Rock, Islands to our port and Secretary Island to our starboard upon our entrance. Lisa remained our bow ornament as we continued our course into what’s considered the best anchorage in the well-protected cove off Croker Island.

 

Once settled into our med-moor style anchorage in 8 feet of gin clear water with our stern tied off to the rock lined cliff, it was time to relax. The dinghy was already in the water so we headed out with a packed lunch, we were off to explore all the nooks and crannies of North and South Benjamin. From wide open coves and small bays to the meandering channels that you can only get through with a dinghy-size boat – the beauty seemed more breathtaking around each turn. We eventually worked our way into a narrow rock passage (four to five feet wide) that brought us into the back entrance of one of the most unusual anchorages we’d ever seen, where several shallow draft boats had secured themselves for a comfortable layover.

We would have loved to have brought Kismet back into this channel which is lined with boulders the size of a Suburban but I think I would have worried myself up against the rocks... too tight for my comfort. With that said there were half a dozen boats secured to the rocks from both their bow and stern. The anchorage is not conventional in that a bowline is secured to one set of rocks while an aft line is secured to the opposing rocks on shore to your stern. For added protection, additional lines are run to shore but in most cases your anchor is for decoration and remains resting on the bow pulpit. We landed our dinghy on one of the house-sized boulders to survey the activity and enjoy our packed lunch.

As you can see the rocks go right down into the water. This photo shows the view looking across to South Benjamin Island.

Sunning ourselves on the rocks, like an alligator does on a log in the swamps of Florida, we watched boaters swimming near the back of their boats or sitting in folding chairs on the rocks by their boat reading their favorite novel while others are exploring on shore maybe looking for the island’s popular blueberry patch.

Lisa and I continued our dinghy trip and made it around the entire Island of South Benjamin. Our mission, this trip out, was to scout for potential future anchorages, of which we found several, while also taking in the natural beauty on the way. There are no houses, therefore no residents, on any of the Benjamin Islands with the exception of a small, black bear population and of course the fair weather community of boaters lining the shores.

How cool is this to be tied up in a rock like canyon. If you look close you’ll see someone in the water cooling off.

Our next stop after leaving Croker Island and the Benjamin’s, as we continued our travels, was an anchorage at Oak Bay, in the Whaleback Channel area. We were slowly making our way northeast along the northern coastline towards Thessalon and were midway through our time in the channel. Since we were traveling in June, there were not many other boats either traveling in our direction or in any of the anchorages we peeked into that day so we dropped anchor, all by ourselves, at a spot where a few cottages sparsely dotted the shoreline. Again, since it was early in the season there was little noise or activity from any of the cottages on shore so we settled in for a quiet, peaceful night of reading, playing cards and dining outside on the back deck.

 

Upon our return to Kismet we found several more boats had made Croker Island their chosen home for the night, a small community was developing around us. A little before happy hour we had struck up a conversation with some folks anchored just to our port side. A short while later Mary and Bing invited us over to Strohaus for a drink and conversation. Everything was going great until I became overly animated and knocked my sunglasses off my head and into the water. I watched helplessly as I followed their descent down into the crystal clear water to their resting place on the sandy bottom, ten feet below the surface. With water this clear the only problem retrieving the glasses was the initial shock I encountered when I dove into the cold Canadian water that only a few months ago was frozen solid.

Mary and Bing had been to Croker Island many times during their cruising adventures and told us about a great hiking path on the island. Because of the known bear population in this area, they offered, and we accepted, the use of a bear whistle to use when we went ashore for a hike. The next day we hiked all over the surrounding area checking out the vistas from atop the highest points of the island. We wandered around for a couple of hours through the scraggily cedar tree lined path, climbing up and over large boulders, all the while wearing the bear whistle around one of our necks.

The view shows how boaters tie off the bow of their boat onto the rocks, without using an anchor.

 

The next day we headed to Spanish. This is a port that we’d heard a lot about from cruising friends over the years so we were curious as to what the attraction was at this location. We arrived on the cusp of a holiday weekend – Canada Day, so we were observers while many Canadian boaters carried supplies to their boats from their cars and gathered their family and friends on the dock. They were either headed towards a favorite anchorage or a cottage on one of the nearby islands to celebrate the holiday. Spanish Marina is very boater friendly with a warm and inviting boater’s lounge which Jim enjoyed while I took advantage of the laundry facilities. We walked to the little store in town and met some locals en route. Picking up supplies, whether needed or not is always a good chance to get off the boat to socialize, always a welcome activity after being alone together for several days on the hook.

Needless to say, we felt fairly safe having this little red whistle in our possession. On the way back to our boat we returned the whistle to Strohaus and Bing asked me how it worked. I told him we never saw one single bear so we didn’t have to use them. It was then that he said that we were supposed to have been blowing them every so often in order to chase the nearby bears away!

 

 

 

This is a typical rock formation in the Benjamin’s and they are just as big below the water!

After waiting an extra day due to high winds in the area we left Spanish to head towards Long Point and Bear Drop. We threw out the hook again in a small, well-protected cove with two other sailboats and shortly after launched the dinghy so we could explore the area surrounding the anchorage, which has many smooth granite boulders nearby. As we got further away from the boat, we found a few little ponds around and between rusty, spotted boulders. With the smaller dinghy as our means of transportation, we could get closer to the plant and wildlife and not worry so much about the hard boulders hidden beneath the water.

On our third day we spent a couple more hours exploring Croker Island by dinghy, relaxing and reading on the back deck of our boat and doing the chores that are associated with life at anchor. It was an unusually hot day so around dinner time we started the genset to cool things off, charge the batteries and prepare dinner. We had finished dinner and decided to turn off the air conditioning – it was then that we suddenly heard some commotion coming from the nearby boats. We hadn’t noticed the disturbance earlier because of having our windows closed with the air conditioning noise. Of course we had to go out onto the cockpit to find out what all the fuss was all about.

If you’re old enough you might recall the photo taken in Dallas, Texas of all the people with their outstretched arms pointing upward to the building where the shots came from on that frightful day when we lost our President. We did not lose anyone this day on Croker Island but the scene was eerily familiar. From the cockpits of half a dozen boats, we saw women with their outstretched arms pointing up the rocky hillside as they were jumping up and down and yelling. We looked on shore and all the dads were hustling up the sides of the Barney Rubble boulders waving paddles in their outstretched arms, resembling soldiers in the throws of hand-to-hand combat.

 

 

You can find the most beauty in the Benjamin’s just standing around, like my wonderful Lisa.

Still not knowing what all the commotion was about we inquired with Bing on Strohaus, who told us the kids had gone for a blueberry-picking excursion when they spotted a bear. The kids screamed for help, the mothers returned more screams, while the dads ran like wild monkeys in an effort to protect their young. Apparently, all the yelling did the trick because soon afterwards everyone returned safely to the safety of their boats. I never did find out if the kids found any blueberries!

Later we overheard the dads say they saw the bear go over to the over side of the hill, towards the water on the other side, this was basically the area we had walked just the day before. Strangely, we suddenly wanted to see this bear so we headed off in our dinghy to see if we could see him on the other side of the island from the water. As we rounded the bend Lisa suddenly spotted the bear as he was leaving Secretary Island walking into the water to swim across the channel right in front of us, back to Crocker Island, most likely looking for more blueberries and less kids. The bear swam within 200 feet of us, got out of the water and gave us a menacing stare before he scampered up the hill.

 

 

The small island is where we saw the black bear swim in front of us when Lisa and I were out in the dinghy; he came ashore where I’m standing in this photo.

Lisa and I got up early the next morning and as we were having a cup of coffee we spotted the bear again, this time less then 50 feet from the starboard side of our boat. The bear was returning from an early morning blueberry hunt on a very small island that sits in the anchorage area. He waded through the water, up the rocky tree lined hills to the comfort of his den never to be seen by us again.

As you can imagine our newfound “Gem” has been a source of many fond memories for us, it’s also one of the reasons why we love the North Channel. It could very well be one of the contenders for our favorite part of the Great Loop!





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