Magical Weather & Mysterious Ports
By Jim Favors
If was a little gusty when we departed Little Current – several fair weather captains decided to opt for keeping their boats tethered to the dock as the front passed through. After looking at the weather report ourselves, and being assured of a small window in the morning before the winds would kick up further, we decided to continue with our plan to head out as early as possible, past Picnic Island making a starboard turn into Wabuno Channel, then heading north. Our goal was to catch the leeward sides of East Rouse, Bedford, Ame Droz and Clapperton Islands as we slowly made our way to our destination for the day, Croker Island, a familiar spot for our last anchorage during this “Magical Mystery Tour” of the North Channel.
Kismet resting at anchor off Croker Island.
We’ve had friends tell us stories of their North Channel trips where they had to endure rough seas, high winds and/or continuous days of rain and cold weather. Up to this point our trip had been almost magical in nature, due to the great weather we were fortunate to have had. One day would seem better than the last and the only hint of anything afoul was the fairly rough waters we encountered when leaving Little Current – even then it was more than just manageable with our sturdy little tug. The trip, up until this point, also held some mystery in that some of the routes were first-time experiences for us. We anchored in coves new to us and were able to explore, by foot, some hiking trails that provided stunning views of surrounding areas. Little Current and Croker Island were our only repeat spots.
Up to this point we had been towing our dinghy behind us with 40 feet of line. When we made a starboard turn into Wabuno Channel, on the way to Croker, I noticed the dinghy was trailing way off on the starboard wake, making it difficult to keep track of from my pilothouse vantage point. As I mentioned earlier, it was windy – I was also concerned about the dinghies stability in the rough seas. I stopped the boat and retied the dinghy’s painter line so it ran around the flagstaff, thereby letting the dinghy pull from the transom’s center point. Off we went again, and the retying seemed to work out the way I had hoped. I could see the dinghy while driving as it was now towing, directly centered behind our Kismet. “Perfect” I thought, until only a little while later it was again out of sight. My initial fear was that it had capsized, or that it had become loose and wandered off onto the rocky shore, which wouldn’t have been easy to retrieve in such rough water. Upon a cockpit inspection, I immediately saw the problem, the flagstaff itself had broke in half, therefore causing the dinghy to tow off center again and not readily visible to me. I was happy to see the dinghy was still secured to the boat; the only assumed loss was the broken flagstaff, which we retrieved from the swim platform.
Our plan of avoiding the rough seas, by taking the lee side route, worked to our advantage once we got behind the full protection of East Rouse Island. It worked all the way to our final approach to Croker Island. By that time three, four or occasional five footers were rolling into our bow, but the ride was still fairly smooth at trawler speed. We made our way slowly the last few miles before turning north between the ominous boulders called, “The Sow and Pigs” and Secretary Island just opposite them. Once we transited between these markers, and we were out of the main channel, the water conditions turned into a silky smooth gelatin as we idled into the high-bluffed and well-protected cove at Croker Island. It felt good to be out of the worsening seas.
This is what the rocky shore looks like, to starboard, as you enter the cove at Croker Island.
The boat on the right was the one nudged up onto the submerged rock slab. In this shot it is is getting pulled back off of the slab hiding under the lighter colored shallow water.
With only a couple of days left of our tour we decided to stay put, relaxing in the peaceful confines of the anchorage. Croker Island feels more like a favorite pair of well-used and comfortable fitting jeans, this being our third visit to the island. I would guess we feel this way because of the fond memories from our prior visits here. It was at this island we had our first North Channel black bear sighting, an experience we’ll not soon forget as we came across it swimming right in front of us while we were out exploring in our dinghy. It was also while anchored here that I knocked my glasses into the crystal clear, sandy-bottomed water. After a 10-foot dive to the bottom I was surprised and happy to retrieve them. On this day, as we dropped anchor and sterned in for a shore tie up to a tree, I wondered what memories we’d make during this visit.
I’m not sure who was startled more, us in our dinghy or “Boo Boo” the black bear as he crossed the channel in front of our dinghy. (Seen here looking back at us from shore.)
Navigation into the main channel of the cove is rather straightforward, as long as you keep your boat in the middle of the entrance at the mouth. Having been here before pays extra dividends in knowing the way in. If one reviews their charts before entering the cove, maybe even having crew on the bow to watch for boulders, you shouldn’t have any problems. There is an obvious outcropping of boulders to starboard, so it’s easy enough to figure you should stay away from those. The port side is not so obvious because a large 50-foot long, flat, granite slab, rests only a foot or so under the water’s surface. With that said, there is plenty of room to navigate into the cove between the hazard areas.
Speaking of that slab of granite, later that first day at anchor, we saw two powerboats circling just outside the cove, seemingly preparing their boats to enter. I was watching them with the binoculars and saw one boat enter slowly as if they knew the particulars of the cove. Shortly after they safely entered the second boat started in, however they were taking a slightly different tack and I could tell right away it was not a good one. They were heading directly towards the waterlogged and slightly hidden granite slab. I quickly picked up our VHF handset to call out a warning, however before I could make radio contact they had come to a sudden stop, stuck on top of the submerged boulder. Of course, all the male boaters anchored nearby jumped into their dinghies more than ready to help. The good news was the grounded boat was moving slowly into the cove and more glided on top of the rock than plowed into it. With some pulling and pushing by their companion boat, and the flotilla of dinghies that arrived to help, it was easy enough to get them dislodged from their perch after about 45 minutes of group effort and ingenuity. Although there was no major damage to this boat you could just imagine the harm that could have been caused at a higher speed. Alas, a new Croker Island memory was made; quite by happen chance – luckily not with our boat! ;
The cove at Croker Island as seen from high up the rocky bluff.
With the boating incident behind us, I felt the need to stretch my legs a little; I took the dinghy to shore for a solo island climbing adventure. We had started our trip by finding wild blueberries on such a hike at South Benjamin, so I was hopeful I’d find some on Croker Island as well. I switch-backed my way up to the top of the bluff, which separates the island from the wide-open waters of the North Channel. Once at the top I saw that the open water had turned turbulent with much larger waves, more white caps, and stronger wind conditions. As I continued in my illusive search for the wild blueberries, I thought to myself how fortunate we were to have left early in the day when the water conditions were somewhat muted. After a long rocky hike, there still were no berries to be found. I continued my ascent to the island’s interior, rummaging here and there without any success, the berry bushes had all dried out or perhaps that bear we saw, years ago, or one of his descendants, had eaten them all. None-the-less it felt good to be out exploring the island’s hidden paradise.
With only eight boats at anchor you can see how spacious the cove at Croker Island is.
Feeling as relaxed as an alligator with a full tummy, sleeping on a log under the hot, southern sun while dangling its feet in a river, is how Lisa and I felt after two weeks in the North Channel. Being in this relaxed state of mind on our last day, all we did was dinghy around the coves of Croker Island visiting other boaters, we also swam and did some hiking. We didn’t swim together though as this is one of the few places we’ve ever spotted snakes swimming near our boat, so I always keep a watchful eye out for reptiles from my perch in the cockpit of the boat while Lisa swims.
We had just came back from hiking around the top of Croker Island and Lisa wanted to check the dinghy out to make sure no snakes had gotten into it while we were gone.
We had a perfect sunset for the last night of our North Channel trip.
After two weeks of cruising bliss, we headed back to Spanish and trailered Kismet to drive north, over the Sault Saint Marie International Bridge and finally back into the USA where we crossed back over the Mackinac Bridge and finally headed south to Charlevoix where the city’s Venetian Festival was already in full swing. We immediately noted how the festivities were a stark contrast to our time spent in Canada, but a fun time for us none-the-less.