Are We There Yet?
By Jim Favors
I remember the car ride I took with my family as a young boy, it seems like it was just yesterday. On a sunny, summer, Saturday morning, my family left the metropolis of Detroit, Michigan, heading out for a long weekend at a cottage located on Lake Chemung, it would include a new experience for me. A short distance out of the city, passing the newly developing suburbs, we found ourselves in the rolling hills of the countryside as we drove past Walled Lake and Kensington Metropark. It was just before Brighton, Michigan when I inquisitively asked, from my perch in the back seat, “Are we there yet?” As I recall, I was asking because the car ride seemed like it would never end and I was anxious to get to the lake and what would become my introduction to boating. The year was 1957, I was 7 years old; what a memorable summer it turned out to be.
That’s me on the bow, resting comfortably, as my father positions the boat for one of my first ride on the water.
Of course I’d been to lakes before, to swim and cool down from the hot summer weather but I’d never been boating on one before. During the course of these weekends, at the lake since we had a boat, I learned how to water-ski and also watched my dad and his friends take flight off the ski jump they had built. For the first time I felt the thrill of cutting through still water on a ski boat and before I knew it, I was hooked on recreational boating. I looked forward to each ensuing weekend, as we’d take Grand River Road, or the newly finished I-96 Freeway to get to our destination. On the way back from the lake we’d often hang our swim shorts from the antenna of the car so they would air dry while heading home. Even at that young age, I had a sense that boating was a lifestyle choice I’d someday make for my life.
As these fond memories were dancing around in my head, Lisa and I were trailering our Kismet across the Mackinaw Bridge on our way to the North Channel of Ontario Canada. I found it interesting that the bridge we were driving across, one we’ve cruised under more times than we’ve driven over, was opened during the very same year I was introduced to boating. It was at this point, when we were 100 miles into our 280-mile road trip to a launch site in Spanish, Ontario, I again thought to myself, “Are we there yet?” However, this time my thoughts were not because the car ride seemed long, but more because of my building excitement and anticipation of launching our boat for a two week trip in Canada.
This is the view as we trailered our Kismet across the International Bridge into Sault Ste Marie, Canada.
The North Channel is a unique area and a favorite of Great Lakes boaters. At the furthest, most northern point of Lake Huron is Manitou Island, the largest lake island in the world (1,068 sq. miles). The North Channel rests between Manitou Island, to its south, and mainland Canada to the north. The village of Killarney is the eastern most point of the channel and or the start of Georgian Bay, yet another Canadian boating gem. Approximately 90 nautical miles to the west and everywhere in between represents one of our favorite cruising grounds, the North Channel.
It’s been a long five years since we’ve boated in this area, so it’s not surprising I was reminiscing about the sentiments behind the statement I’d made to my parents so many times during those fun summer weekends in 1957. On this day however, with another 180 miles to travel to Spanish, Lisa and I felt comfortable knowing we’d be in the water before the end of the day. In our prior mode of boating, it would take us between 3 to 6 days to cover this same amount of territory by water; today we were able to complete the trip in only seven hours, which includes the launching time. Therefore, based on my calculations, we were shaving off 6 to 12 days of just travel time to our destination and this doesn’t include our time cruising and anchoring in the area. In our estimation we gained more time doing what we really came to the North Channel to do, explore new cruising grounds and revisit favorite spots. Boy I sure love this trailerable boating lifestyle!
After a successful launch in Spanish our work was not finished, as we still had to get our dinghy set up and miscellaneous stuff stowed and organized for our departure the next morning.
We choose Spanish, Ontario for our launch site because of its central location in the heart of the best cruising the North Channel has to offer. Although this was our third time to the channel, let there be no misunderstanding, we’ve only scratched the surface of the cruising and anchorage possibilities. Much like the Chesapeake Bay or the PNW’s San Juan/Gulf Island cruising grounds it could take a lifetime of boating to see it all.
We left the marina in Spanish early the next morning for two weeks of exploration. Our loose goal was to mix things up a little by exploring anchorages new to us as well as returning to some favorites from past trips. With lines cast we made our way towards the cut called Little Detroit. We made a “Pan-Pan” call on our VHF to announce our easterly passage through this narrow channel. As it turned out the call was not needed as there was no opposing traffic, but with just barely depth and width clearance for one boat, I sure wouldn’t have wanted any surprises.
This is what the narrow Little Detroit pass looks like from the cockpit of our boat as we’re heading east.
Entering McBean Channel we skirted between Eagle and Freshette Islands on our short 8-mile cruise to “The Benjamin’s.” They’re called The Benjamin’s because there are two main islands, North and South Benjamin Islands. Although we’ve dinghied around and through them as well as hiked them we’ve never anchored here. How’s that possible, you might ask? Just to the east, less than a mile away, is Croker Island where we’ve anchored before and the Benjamin’s are only a short dinghy ride away.
Based on our prior explorations of South Benjamin, from those early dinghy trips, we knew of some unique anchorages where, with our shallow drafted boat we could now tuck up fairly close between the smooth, water worn boulders. Our goal was to get as close to the rocks as we could and tie up “Lake Powell style.” With Fox Island at our bow we turned to starboard as we passed rock island outcroppings to the western side of North and South Benjamin Islands. As we got closer, off in the distance, I could see masts of a few sailboats that were tucked back into the southern most part of South Benjamin, so my hopes of anchoring there began to fade. We proceeded cautiously anyway, hoping there might be at least one hidden spot available for our 27’ Ranger Tug as we rounded some big rocks. As we made our way into the narrowest of channels towards the “Barney Rubble” looking anchorage area, we immediately saw that all the good spots were taken except for one naturally formed slip-sized cove that seemed made to order for our Kismet.
It would be hard not to be able to relax in the Benjamins; it just doesn’t get much better then this!
One of the ancillary benefits of boating in the North Channel is the clarity of the water. From the pilothouse of Kismet we could clearly view the seabed of the channel as we worked our way towards our spot. I mention this because there are a lot of rocks, both in and out of the water in the NC. Obviously we didn’t want to run into any of those prop manglers, but we did want to drop our anchor down into a sandy spot, so water clarity is very helpful in setting the anchor. As we backed into the cove Lisa gave anchor deployment instructions from her perch on the bow. With our anchor secured, in the middle of the entrance of the cove, I went ashore to tie off the stern, to the rocks, from both the port and starboard sides, in order to keep Kismet centered in our pint-sized anchorage.
Soon after we had settled in it was time for me to get off the boat and check out our surroundings, kind of like a dog wanting to mark his territory I suppose. I landed the dinghy to hike up the rugged rock hill to gain a better vantage point of the Benjamin’s and Croker Island to the east. In close proximity to us, in similar coves, were another half-dozen boats. We were all close enough to know we all had company but the rocky coves also gave each of us a sense of privacy. We swam, cooked on our back deck, played games and dinghied to shore to explore the rocky bluffs behind us or further out to other coves around the two islands. Basically we just relaxed and began to totally unwind from our busy summer land life at home.
The view of South Benjamin Island is picture perfect.
During one of my excursions to shore, I was on the lookout for blueberries as these islands are famous for growing the wild blue nuggets. At the very top, where I had the best view of all, is where I found my bountiful cache. As I walked back down the massive boulders, proudly swinging my plastic bag of berries, it dawned on me that this was only day one of our two-week adventure into Canada’s North Channel. I guess now I can clearly answer my own question with, “Yes, we’re finally here and what a great place to be.”