Somethings In The Water

11/15/2010

By Jim Favors

On a recent plane trip, I found myself rubber necking out of the small portal window next to my seat as we worked our way south over Lake Michigan along Michigan’s western coastline. I’ve known for a long time that when I’m not on or near the water I find myself yearning to be where I can see or at least smell this often-fragrant element. The pull is so strong that it doesn’t matter if it’s unfamiliar waters I’ve yet to explore, accustomed waters I’ve plied before, walking the docks of a marina or sitting on a beach listening to the water lap up against the shoreline. On this day, as I flew above my home waters, the bright blue water sparkled as the early morning sun worked its magic reflecting its rays off of the seemingly calm waters below. Ah, to be on the water!

It doesn’t get much calmer than when we were anchored at Bear Drop, notice the reflection of the boats in the water.

 

As the water disappeared below the clouds my mind transcended to the final week we had spent in Canada’s glorious North Channel, surrounded by crystal clear water and Mother Nature’s many glories. We left Spanish and navigated through and between little pine tree lined islands as we worked our way towards a popular anchorage called Bear Drop. With a name like that we had visions of spotting more bear and became overly excited when Lisa spotted something in the water, in front of our bow, not too far off in the distance.

 

It was early in the morning; the waters were calm so the ripples in the distant waters seemed out of place. Lisa was the first one to catch the disturbance with her sharp “eagle eye;” my first thought was that the disturbance was just shallow rocky water. With binoculars in hand, Lisa said she thought she saw antlers moving through the water in front of us. We had never seen anything like this before, and our curiosity was getting the best of us, so we proceeded slowly inching our way forward so we would not spook whatever was swimming in the channel before us. As we got closer Lisa very excitedly exclaimed that it was not one but two moose swimming slowly towards a nearby shore on our starboard side, they had apparently swam from a nearby island either leaving or returning home from a “holiday” or maybe they were in search of food, we can only guess. We inched closer to see them but stayed far enough away so as not to frighten them. We could finally see them clearly without binoculars.

 

The next day we have more calm water as we leave Bear Drop for Blind River.

We watched with amazement as the lumbering animals swam towards shore. As their legs touched the lake bottom, the enormity of the animals began to materialize before our eyes as their bodies gradually, and somewhat awkwardly, emerged from the water for the safety of land. They must have been exhausted after those skinny legs swam those massive bodies not only from one island to another but finally and strenuously pulling those heavy bodies out of the water and onto the rocks. Once on land they both turned to look at us as if to say, “Thanks for not pestering us,” then they shook the water off their bodies much like a wet dog does and quickly disappeared into the rocky hillside never to seen by us again.

Like most North Channel towns Blind River is only a short walk from the marina, in this case we had to cross a bridge and this body of water to reach the main attraction.

We liked that there was a nice park next to the marina in Blind River.

We continued to motor the remaining few miles at idle speed to Bear Drop and our planned anchorage. Located at the northwestern part of the North Channel’s magnificent islands, with thousands of anchorage possibilities, Bear Drop is a favorite of the NC boating community. Its natural beauty is enhanced by the 360-degree protection it provides boaters from the elements of foul weather. No bad weather was expected during our visit so, after we secured our anchor we dropped the dinghy into the water so we could explore the area. We had great hopes of seeing more moose or maybe even a bear but no luck in that department during this visit but the natural beauty of the area more than satisfied our interest.

Suddenly, I heard the ding, ding, ding of the overhead speakers, which woke me from a deep sleep, followed by the voice of a flight attendant announcing that we’d be descending into Atlanta’s airport shortly. As I looked out of the plane’s small window, I saw three small specks – boats glistening from the light of the sun they were throwing off white foam waves as they cruised up the Tennessee River, 15,000 feet below. I think again how nice it would be to be out on the water and now that I’m awake, it brought me back to writing about the North Channel.

By the time we got to Thessalon the wind had picked up a bit, check out the herbs on the back deck being blown sideways.

Bear Drop was one of those magical anchorages where we had absolutely calm water. It enabled us to have another relaxing dinner on the cockpit of the boat, overlooking the rustic shoreline. As we ate, we listened to the eerie, but beautiful, loon song. After dinner, as we continued to enjoy the scenery, I begin to read up on the next days cruise. I knew glaciers created the Great Lakes and the North Channel many years ago but I was amazed to read in Skipper Bob’s Trent-Severn Canal guidebook, the North Channel section, that the NC has some of the oldest rocks in the world. The guidebook reports that many of the rocks are more then 3 billion years old.

 

We almost had the marina to ourselves while docked in Thessalon, making the docking much easier when we came in under heavier winds.

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.

 

We spent the next few days on the move with stops in Blind River and Thessalon. Both towns have small marinas and were nice but short stops – it gave us some time to get off of the boat so we could stretch our legs and give the boat batteries time to recharge after being on the hook for many days in a row. If one continues northwest of Thessalon to the north of St. Joseph Island you’d head up to the Soo Locks and the gateway to Lake Superior. The route Lisa and I chose was to the southwest and east of St. Joseph Island where we crossed the imaginary Canadian/U.S. border on the way to Michigan’s Drummond Island – finally returning to our home state.

Here I am preparing an anchor buoy so I can have my anchor clearly marked while on the hook.

I remember this day very well. As we crossed into U.S. waters we were not only closing a Loop but a dream, I began to reflect in earnest on our Great Loop journey. Granted we were not home yet, another week to go, but we were close enough to grasp the enormity and scope of our adventure. Lisa and I had traveled through 17 States, the District of Columbia, Canada and the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas’, totaling over 10,000 miles of water under our hull. We were fortunate to have spent a whole summer exploring the Chesapeake Bay, a month on Florida’s St Johns River and two winters in Key West. In all we’ve spent over three years doing the Great Loop. We were fortunate to have met many like-minded Loopers along the way, many we traveled with for extended stretches and some who will be life-long friends. We feel very fortunate to have been able to embark on the journey and cannot imagine now, having almost completed the Great Loop adventure, what our lives would have been like without having had the opportunity to experience and accomplish this shared dream and goal.

Harbor Island has lots of room for “gunkholers” but on this day, we had it all to our selves.

As we worked our way closer to Drummond Island, we navigated the well-marked and winding route to our last Great Loop anchorage. Harbor Island sits just to the north of Drummond Island and Drummond Island Yacht Haven where we checked into customs the next morning. As we settled into the anchorage Lisa broke out a bottle of champagne in celebration of our return to Michigan. The two of us were sitting in the cockpit having a nice conversation, drinking the bubbly, when Lisa (remember her “eagle eye”) spots an eagle flying just above us. It slowly and gracefully covered the bay we were anchored in until it finally landed in a treetop near shore. We both thought out loud that it was a great way to be welcomed back to the United States – by America’s symbol of freedom.

Drummond Island’s Yacht Haven is the typical place to check into Customs when returning or entering the United States from Canada’s North Channel.

Just after I completed the prior paragraph, I changed planes in Ft. Myers, Florida and was pleasantly surprised to find that I would be flying on a small, six-passenger Cessna. We departed Ft. Myers for the final leg of my day’s travels to Key West, Florida. As the plane took off I thought that it would take a long, four months to travel this far by trawler, but then I remembered all the things one misses by NOT taking the time to travel by water.

It was only a short time ago that Lisa and I were steering Kismet south through the west coast of Florida in the waters of Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades as we slowly worked our way to Key West. What great memories! So, you could imagine how thrilling it was for me to watch the waters we had recently plied slide below me as I flew only 5,000 feet above the winding channeled water. I was able to see first hand the mooring field in Naples where we spent three days, also where we met up with friends Gary and Carol from our hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. The inside route from Naples to Marco Island was clearly visible from above as it wound south to Marco, around the Island, out to Goodland where it dumps out into Gullivan Bay and then the Florida Bay in route to the Everglades and Keys.

As I continued my flight across the Bay I couldn’t help but marvel that Lisa and I have been live a boards on our boat Kismet for five years. We’ve been fortunate to see, learn about and explore many places but as I looked out the window of the small Cessna I realized how much more there really is still to see. It was about this time that Key West came into view and memories of our time spent not too long ago here in this other paradise came rushing back. Oh, I can almost smell the aroma of salt water in the air and immediately I think: won’t it be great to be out on the water again?