What Makes a Perfect Anchorage?


By Jim Favors

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what makes for a perfect anchorage will get varied opinions. In all the cruising Lisa and I have done, and all we're looking forward to doing in the future, being out on the hook is one of the things we enjoy most when boating. Over the years, we've established some parameters for an ideal anchorage and what a site needs to qualify for our personal list.

Entrance to cove

This is the narrow entrance to the cove, at the rear of Kismet, as we were departing Covered Portage Cove.

We recently visited what we would consider a perfect anchorage, in fact, we visited this spot ten years ago, but had never dropped our hook in the protected waters of what we consider a perfect specimen. How could we have been there previously and not taken advantage of a perfect opportunity? That's a fair question.

In 2002 we took our inaugural trip to the North Channel in Canada. At the time, we were both gainfully employed in our respective careers, so our trip was limited to two weeks. During our 16-day vacation, we had a total of about six days of cruising, just to get there and back from our homeport in Charlevoix, Michigan. That left only 12 days to actually explore the North Channel. Its just not possible to accomplish all that you might like, or cover the desired amount of territory, in this limited amount of time.

The plan for our first exploratory cruise to the North Channel was to arrange an overview of sorts; visit a few villages, anchor at The Pool (located at the end of Baie Fine), Croker and Heywood Islands and stop in the town of Killarney for a night or two. The goal was to acquire an overall flavor of the North Channel by visiting these more popular stops. While docked in Killarney, we took a three-mile dinghy ride over to Covered Portage Cove. We did not return by boat to anchor, but what we discovered, during this little jaunt, was what we would call a perfect anchorage. On that 2002 trip, we dinghied around the perimeter of the anchorage and landed on shore to hike the rocky trails close to shore. We vowed that one day we'd return to drop our hook.

Looking back towards the coves entrance can you tell where in the photo the narrow opening is?

Fast-forward to the summer of 2012 and our long-planned return cruise to Canada's North Channel. During the first week of our trip, as we made our way up Lansdowne Channel in our Ranger Tug, Kismet, we headed towards Killarney, but stopped short to aim our nose towards Covered Portage Cove for a three-day stay. I never would have thought that it would take another 10 years before our return trip, but finally there we were. As we entered the narrow pass into the confines of this 360˚, high bluffed and picturesque anchorage, it seemed like we'd explored it by dinghy just yesterday. The memories of entering the cove for the first time came flooding back to me.

A soft and sandy location to land our dinghy, and a good spot to start our first hike up the rocky hill for a fun, but unsuccessful trek to find the viewing platform.

As we slowly approached the cove, we noticed that the narrow entrance is actually hidden from view from the Lansdowne Channel by the gradual arch of a very high and jagged rock bluff to port side. We could barely make out the entrance to the cove until we were almost right on top of it. Immediately to starboard was another high, tree lined, rocky bluff, hence the main reason why Covered Portage Cove is so well protected from the elements and foul weather.

I would guess that the entrance might be a little intimidating for someones first visit to the cove. Having negotiated the entrance by dinghy back in 2002, we had the luxury of a little prior knowledge, even though it was somewhat dated. Looking at the rocky bluff down to the shallow water entrance, and over to the outcropping of scattered boulders lining the small sandy beach, it reminded me of trying to thread a needle as we snaked our way back into the cove. About the time we were in the middle of the mouth of the entrance, we made a very slight turn to starboard to enter the bowl shaped cove. As I was doing this, I looked over my shoulder, out our back door, and noticed how the rock bluff behind us was visually, and protectively, sealing off the cove from the more exposed Lansdowne Channel.

Kismet looking good, and resting peacefully on the hook, in Covered Portage Cove.

With only a half-dozen boats at anchor upon our arrival, we had no problem picking out a great spot to drop our hook in six feet of water. Once we settled in, we had lunch in the cockpit of Kismet while enjoying the surrounding natural beauty. We were snug as a bug, taking in some of Mother Nature's finest work. I did a 360˚ surveillance of the cove and noticed the rocky bluffs were really high, I had to tilt my head upward 45˚ to see the clear blue sky. Based on this I estimated the encircling bluff to be about 200 to 250 feet high, making the small sheltered bay one of the most protected we can remember in all our years of boating.

The final component required, for an anchorage to meet our high standards, are extraneous to the subject of safety and include obvious natural beauty and the ability to get ashore to hike to different vantage points of the anchorage below. Without this accompanying feature, an anchorage would have certain limits to its attractiveness, in our humble opinion. Besides the S-curved, wave blocking entrance and the high, rocky bluffs to protect against high winds; there is the natural beauty of the wind-swept pine tress and rugged, rocky shoreline of the cove. Throw in a good mud lake bed to give this anchorage great holding ability and we had just about everything needed for our idea of the perfect anchorage.

Its all smiles, from both sides of the camera, for our reunion with friends Charlie and Linda.

I think Charlie is just beginning to tell us about our hike as were waiting for dinner to start.

Shortly after we got settled on the hook and had lunch we took a dinghy ride to shore so we could hike up the south side of the cove, the first of two aggressive hikes we would take during our stay. From the boat, I could see an observation deck high up on the bluff, and I thought we should hike up to it, so off we went in search of what would become an elusive target. The longer we hiked the higher we got but somehow we never seemed to make it to the top and we never did find the observation deck or even a view of the cove. Going on a hike into unknown territory, not knowing what youll see or where it will lead, is enjoyable for us and often leads to wonderful photo opportunities for Lisa, however, actual knowledge beforehand would have come in handy on this excursion.

Aside from whats needed to feel protected and experience nature at its finest, we really topped out our trip to Covered Portage Cove by having the company of friends to share the overall experience with. Shortly after our return to our boat our friends, Charlie and Linda, on Freedom's Turn, arrived just as planned, to anchor in the cove on their boat to rendezvous with us, making us feel as if we'd just added the icing on an already tasty cake, or in this case a perfect anchorage.

The view from the top of the bluff, overlooking Covered Portage Cove, give a good perspective as to how well the cove is protected.

We met Charlie and Linda while we were all cruising America's Great Loop (a circumnavigation of the eastern United States waterways) in 2008-09 when both our boats arrived at Green Turtle Bay Marina, in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. We later crossed over to, and spent a month in, the Abacos as well as much time, off and on, cruising up the east coast ICW. Even though it had been two years since our last visit together, the warmth of our reunion made it feel more like two weeks. We got caught up with each other while having lunch on the cockpit of Kismet, we laughed about shared cruising experiences and talked about future boating plans. Even though we've talked by cell phone and emailed back and forth over the years, it really felt better to be spending that face time with friends reminiscing about past, shared cruises.

Later that day, we dinghied over to Freedom's Turn for round two, which included drinks and a cookout on their fly bridge after making the rounds to meet, and visit with, other boaters in the cove during happy hour. With the cove as a backdrop, spending time with good friends, basically enjoying the finer things in life, one might think it couldnt get much better, but it did.

Like Lisa and I, Charlie and Linda are from Michigan, but they've spent much more time in the North Channel than we have exploring, cruising, and anchoring. In fact Charlie has been coming to the North Channel since 1950 when his parents started bringing him, as a baby, to a fishing camp just east of Little Current and he has returned every year since in one fashion or another. They've been cruising up to the North Channel on Freedom's Turn since 2003 and, because of this, they both possess a great deal of knowledge about the area. After dinner, while relaxing on their fly bridge, Charlie pointed out a trail we could all climb the next morning explaining that it would take us up to the summit of the cove; something they've done many times before.

Another great vantage point from the top of the cliff was looking out towards Killarney with the entrance to the cove showing over my right shoulder.

The next morning we assembled, by dinghy, at the base of the trail. Mind you, this was not just any wimpy trampled down dirt path; it was a rugged, Barney Rubble, boulder-climbing excursion with no other direct path available. With Charlie and Linda's guidance we slowly picked our way up and through the rocks, at times having to traverse parallel in order to find a crevice wide enough to squeeze through a shear wall of rock.

Once we made it to the top we could see why Charlie and Linda wanted to bring us up to this vantage point overlooking Covered Portage Cove. We could see our boats, all swinging peacefully at anchor far below. We could also see well out into Lansdowne Channel and off towards Killarney and it was breathtaking. Thanks Charlie and Linda for sharing your local knowledge.

This is what the perfect anchorage looks like to Lisa and me.

In summary, our Perfect Anchorage ingredients are wind and wave protection, attractive scenic surroundings accessible to explore, a nice seabed for a secure anchor hold, and, as our trip to Portage Covered Cove proved, it sure doesnt hurt to throw a few good friends into the mix to share it with.