Collins Inlet, Killarney, & Little Current
By Jim Favors
We pulled anchor in Covered Portage Cove and headed east, through Killarney, out of the North Channel and into Georgian Bay with Collins Inlet as our destination for the day. There are no waterside signs alerting you that you’ve made this transition, other than what you see before you. The visual I’m referring to is the unprotected and wide-open Georgian Bay waters resting to starboard (as we we’re heading east). This area has the entire fetch of the bay at its mercy. The North Channel has Manitoulin Island (the largest fresh water island in the world) to shield it from Lake Huron’s long fetch. Only a few miles into Georgian Bay we entered the protection of Collins Inlet and therefore we didn’t have to concern ourselves with big water or the effects of high winds.
This is the western entrance to Collins Inlet, visible for miles around because of the tall red channel marker.
Lisa and I had previously cruised through southern Georgian Bay in 2006 while finishing our first Great Loop boat trip. At that time we had been away from home (Traverse City, Michigan) for almost a year. With that in mind we acted like a horse returning to its stable and went quickly from Port Severn to Tobermory and soon after headed across Lake Huron, the fastest route home. We decided we’d come back one day to explore further. As a result, at that time, we didn’t get to experience any of the 168.5-mile small craft route that runs the north-to-north eastern edge of Georgian Bay. It was time to get our feet wet!
We had heard that the Georgian Bay small craft route was just as interesting, from a cruising prospective as the North Channel. With Collins Inlet being so close to Killarney, we just had to take a couple of days to experience a small sampling, if for no other reason than to confirm our thoughts about spending time in Georgian Bay in the future.
We had a picture perfect day for exploring the narrow and well-protected Collins Inlet.
Collins Inlet cuts a path between mainland Ontario to the north and Philip Edward Island to the south. We could see right away that the rock formations, and wind swept pine tree landscape, fairly closely resembled the landscape of the North Channel. The big difference, at least in the 16-mile-long Collins Inlet, was that it was shaped more like a channel. Dotted with small rustic cottages and fishing camps – the channel is very narrow in most areas, giving us the feeling we were cruising on a river.
Canadians call them camps and this is typical of what we saw while cruising along Collins Inlet.
Our plan was to cruise slowly while making our way to Mill Lake, forgoing the last six miles of the inlet, so we could get a peek at what our future Georgian Bay cruising experience might be like. About half way to Mill Lake, we passed an open area that has a few islands, making note of Keyhole Island as a possible anchorage spot for later that day. As we lazily continued on our way, we passed several people fishing from cottage docks, rock bluffs and small fishing boats, we all exchanged waves. Folks on the water are typically friendly, Canadians even more so, which made our introduction to the Georgian Bay small craft route very pleasant. Lisa and I reaffirmed that a cruising trip to Georgian Bay lay in our future.
We found a spot, next to Keyhole Island, to anchor for the night. Don’t think we’ll ever get over how serene and pristine the area surrounding our anchorage was that night.
After spending a peaceful night on the lee side of Keyhole Island, anchored in six feet of water, in a Norman Rockwell looking setting, we retrieved our anchor and headed back towards Killarney with Little Current as our final destination, however we planned a few side trips along the way. Our first cruise-by was just a short distance from our anchorage, we tucked the bow of the boat into Thomas Cove, a place we had been advised was a good anchorage, to check it out. Leaving Collins Inlet (heading west) Thomas Cove rests in an outcrop of large boulders to starboard. With Lisa positioned on the bow, to watch out for any uncharted submerged prop manglers, we snaked our way back into the cove. Once inside, we were surrounded on all sides by rock and trees, making the cove an ideal setting for good protection from the potentially rough Georgian Bay waters as well as providing a beautiful, rocky anchorage. We made a notation on our chart plotter for when we return to Georgian Bay in the future.
Next, we made a pre-planned stop in Killarney. On our way through Killarney, heading for Georgian Bay the day before, we received a call on our VHF from Bill, a summer resident of Killarney; he was said he was interested in our Ranger Tug. We agreed to tie up at his channel-side dock on our return trip through Killarney so he and his wife Kathy could get a look see of our Kismet. As we tied up along side their sailing yacht, Thomas James, we remarked that the uniqueness of their vessel was just as interesting to us as our Tug was to them.
We stopped in Killarney to visit with Bill and Kathy, standing next to their sailing yacht, Thomas James, and swap boat tours.
While exchanging boat tours and cards, we learned from Bill that they’ve been thinking of buying a trailerable tug, like ours, for cruising the Trent-Severn, Rideau and Erie Canal systems, as their Thomas James has too large of a keel to handle some of the canals in those areas. They were thinking that a boat like ours, with a draft of less than three feet, would not only be comfortable for the two of them, but also easy to handle in the canal systems. However, they had never seen a Ranger Tug before or even been on a boat like it; that is until we came along and remedied their curiosity. As of our last communications, Bill and Kathy were still researching their trailerable trawler options. The next time we’re in Killarney we’ll be curious to see what they decided upon.
Leaving Bill and Kathy’s dock, we exited Killarney Channel and headed southwest, down Lansdowne Channel, on our way to our destination. Little Current, on Manitoulin Island, is the largest town and also a big commercial hub of the North Channel. The island itself has a total population of 12,000 folks; it is the largest fresh water island in the world. Of the 12,000 people who call Manitoulin Island home today 4,200 are Aboriginals. Although first discovered in 1615, by Samuel de Champlain, the current day Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwe Aboriginals can trace their ancestry back well before Champlain arrived. In 1951 there was an archeological discovery declared, by the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington, to be approximately 10,000 years old. To read more about Little Current you can visit the following website: http://www.turners.ca/index.php/manitoulin-island/aboriginal-peoples
Lisa picked up this nice map when we stopped in Killarney, its published by Turners, in Little Current, it gives a good idea of how much explorable territory exists in the North Channel for the adventurous cruiser.
Today, Little Current, and therefore Manitoulin Island, is connected to mainland Ontario by Route 6 and includes a trip across a swing bridge, which spans Goat Island Channel. The swing bridge only opens on the hour, so one needs to time their transit accordingly or be able to slip under the 18-foot clearance, like we were able to do. Undeterred by the closed bridge, we weaved through a group of a dozen or so bigger power and sail boats as we slowly moved under the swing bridge, with only six feet to spare above us, thereby getting a little jump ahead of the bunch, to be first in line for docking at the Little Current Town Docks. The town’s marina is conveniently located adjacent to the village of Little Current. Since our visit in 2004 we found the docks had been completely replaced in 2009, they now have 120 transient slips.
By the time we arrived in Little Current, Lisa and I had been anchoring in the North Channel just shy of two weeks; it was time to take care of some basic chores. Our holding tank was full, our water tank about empty and we needed a good overnight charge on the house batteries. In addition, we thought it would be a nice treat to eat out at one of the local restaurants.
The swing bridge in Little Current was closed when we arrived (shown open here), but we had plenty of room to slide under without waiting for the next opening.
After getting settled into our slip I excused myself from Lisa’s company, under the guise of heading up to the Harbor Master’s office so I could register (which I did do). However, I really had an ulterior motive! Just like most boaters who are in port after a long haul at anchor and who’s fridge onboard, either doesn’t have the room for or, won’t keep well… one heavily sought after luxury item – ice cream; my priority and mission was to scope out the best, hand scooped, ice cream I could find in town. Unbeknownst to me, until I got off the boat and a pleasant surprise I might ad, Kismet was docked only 50 feet from the Town Dock Farquhar’s Ice Cream stand. Needless to say I had to temporarily postpone registration while I stopped to make an impulsive, palate-pleasing, purchase.
The main drag in Little Current offers visiting boaters a chance to socialize with other boaters cruising through the area, shop, and provision. The downtown area overlooks the town docks and Goat Island Channel.
You know you’re up in the north country when soda is called pop and smoked fish is sold just about everywhere, even at Wally’s.
We spent a leisurely day walking through town on the main street, scoping out restaurants for our first, North Channel dinner off Kismet. We also spent a fair amount of time in Turner’s, shopping. This local merchant is a mainstay in Little Current, having been established in 1879 it’s somewhat of an icon in the little town. On the second floor, tucked back in a corner room, past a large assortment of unique Canadian-made products, is a museum. The museum covers the history of Little Current and the surrounding North Channel, a must stop for every mariner visiting Little Current.;
The next morning, with our legs stretched, our tummies pleasantly full, my ice cream fix satisfied, and our tanks, empty or full (in the opposite direction of when we arrived), we departed Little Current for Croker Island and our last three days of adventure in the North Channel.