This is update #9 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
As we pick up from our last segment of the adventures of Last Item, Sidonia and Fred completed the Trent-Severn Waterway and entered Georgian Bay. They initially traveled south from Port Severn to Midland, Ontario. After a bit of R&R, they headed north up to Bayfield, which was a disappointment, so they continued northwest to an anchorage at the entrance to Alexander Passage.
The area has thousands of tiny islands, many not much more than slabs of stone sticking out of the water. Tricky navigation is the name of the game in these waters, but that is offset by its gorgeous scenery.
“Sunday, July 24, was not a red-letter day for us. We took a different route than yesterday to exit the channel, which had been more straightforward. Fred was momentarily distracted, talking to me, and barely strayed out of the channel. We ended up leaving a little gel coat on a rock. Fortunately, we were at idle speed and backed off before the props could hit but not before a few expletives were issued.
“The open water of Georgian Bay had healthy three-foot waves rolling in and we bounced along at 22 knots for about 45 minutes until we’d had enough. Turning to go with the seas was much more comfortable but we got lots of spray over the top of the boat.
“To further avoid the open water, Fred wove (and I mean wove) our way through some very tight spots. In one, in order to keep between the red and green buoys which, at most, were only 20 feet apart, we made a hard left at idle speed but then Fred had to give more throttle on the starboard engine and put the port engine in reverse to swing the stern around, as we were concerned about hitting the rocks as we swung hard to port. Then he had to make the same maneuver in the opposite direction using the port engine to straighten us out and keep away from more rocks.
“This passage was certainly not charted for boats our size or larger but there is a magenta line on our navigation system, so it is a proven route. It is amazing that this area has been charted and marked with buoys as much as it has. We finally made it over to French River where I wanted to see the rapids.
“We anchored at the end of the navigable stretch of French River and dropped the dinghy. It was very windy, and we were both wet from spray as we headed farther into the inlet. We got to the rapids, but I was a little disappointed as it was less than what I had expected.
“On the way back down from the rapids, we hit a rock and sheered the pin on the dinghy motor propeller. Now we were in a pickle. No motor, only one paddle and going against the wind and waves to try and get back to ‘Last Item.’
“It was our luck, however, that four kayakers appeared. We told them about our problem, and they offered to tow us back to our boat. One towed us, Fred paddled, and I held onto another kayak to keep its bow into our stern, so he was pushing. It took about 25 minutes of hard work. We were so grateful to them, as our alternatives were slim to none.
“Because the wind was blowing right up the French River inlet, we didn’t want to stay where we were for the night. We backtracked and anchored behind Obstacle Island in company with two other boats in the protective anchorage on the north side of the island.”
The labyrinth of islands and narrow channels in the French River delta are both a navigational adventure and a breathtaking, almost magical experience. Obstacle Island is one of many islands at the mouth of the French River in Georgian Bay, within the French River Provincial Park. The well-marked anchorage is a popular destination for cruisers.
“Since we had only about four miles of open water to cross, we left our snug anchorage and headed over to the Bustard Islands. We drove the Nimbus at 21 knots and were there in short order.
“We found a lovely anchorage in Bustard Islands Harbor on Burnt Island. Two local boats were anchored there with their sterns tied to the shore. They must have been there for several days as they had paddle boards and other water toys floating around their boats.
“We also had other good company in the form of a loon couple with two juveniles. We spent a lot of time watching the adults diving for food and feeding the two youngsters. They passed the food by barely touching beaks unlike other birds that poke deep into the parent’s mouth. They warbled, called, and sometimes made a scream-like call. Many times, they were so close to us we could also hear ‘whispering’ sounds. I took many photos of them, but lighting wasn’t good and it was too windy for anything to stand still, so none of my photos were in focus.
“Fred replaced the sheer pin on the dinghy motor so when the wind dies down, we can do some exploring. Maybe tomorrow.”
The Bustard Islands are made up of several large islands, in addition to Burnt Island, and many smaller islands and rocky ledges. The islands are uninhabited except for the occasional cottage. The islands are well known for their exceptional scenery.
“There was just a slight breeze this Tuesday morning, so Fred got into the dinghy and cleaned the canal slime off the waterline of the boat. After he recuperated from that, we took a dinghy ride. Wary of hitting another rock, we didn’t venture too far as we have no replacement sheer pins left.”
Loopers continue westward along the top of Georgian Bay, and it is straight shot to Killarney and Killarney Provincial Park, and the beginning of the North Channel.
However, if the weather threatens, one can choose a less-direct route to Killarney by taking advantage of the 10-mile-long Collins Inlet, a fjord-like channel between mainland Ontario and Philip Edward Island. It is very well protected and not very wide (only 150 feet in places). The two ends of the channel connect with Mill Lake, about a third of the way in from the eastern entrance of the channel, where Last Item entered Collins Inlet from Beaverstone Bay.
From Collins Inlet, it is only another five miles to Killarney on the Ontario mainland. Beyond Killarney is the 160-mile long North Channel, which many consider as having some of the finest cruising grounds in the world.
“We left our lovely anchorage in Bustard Islands Harbor to head toward Killarney. The seas were bumpy but much better than the past several days. Even so, we were in no hurry so Fred chose to go via Collins Inlet.
“What a change in scenery from the outer islands! The terrain has elevation and rocky bluffs and there weren’t rocky islets everywhere to maneuver around. Fred picked out a nice anchorage on the north side of Green Island, in the middle of the lake. The wind was blowing down the channel on each side of the island and we could see the whitecaps on the little waves, but we were sitting in totally calm water. It was delightful.
“There was one little house on a nearby island. For a good part of the afternoon and evening, a man stood on his dock fishing. Fred could see that he was catching lots of fish but then he would gently put them back in the water.
“From our anchorage, Collins Inlet makes a 90-degree turn toward Killarney and becomes much narrower. I was glad Fred had chosen this route as it was very pretty. In many spots, water lilies lined the shallows along with bright, green reeds. We saw several large beaver dams but no beavers. The rock bluffs and lower shorelines were the beautiful dusty pink color we have been seeing throughout Georgian Bay.”
The next destination for Loopers on their travels is the small village of Killarney. It was established in 1820 as a fur trading post and is one of the oldest settlements in Canada. Its location along a major water transportation route made it ideal for developing logging, fishing, and mining industries.
(Below: An old store in Killarney.)
Today it is a major tourist destination and during the summer the Killarney population of 400 residents grows significantly, as people come to enjoy the fishing, hiking, camping, kayaking, and other activities on the water and in the provincial park lands.
“We had planned to moor at Sportsman’s Inn Resort & Marina in Killarney, but a group of boaters was having a rendezvous and the attendees filled all the available dock space.
We can’t imagine where all those boaters came from, as Killarney isn’t close to anything. We were lucky to get the last space available at Roque’s Marina. It isn’t as classy as Sportsman’s but it has laundry and showers and is within walking distance to amenities.
“Roger and Marilyn (‘Uncle Wiggley’) were docked here as well. We have been communicating with them via NEBO, which is an app with which you can log your trips, see where other boaters are, send messages to other boaters, and more.
“We made a dinner reservation at Sportsman’s for the four of us. We were all a bit surprised that it was quite an upscale place, unlike most of the waterfront restaurants in the little villages we’ve seen in Canada.
“It rained overnight and into the next morning, with a few claps of thunder. The sun came out at the perfect time, and we scootered down to Herbert’s for his ‘World Famous Fish & Chips.’ Herbert’s doesn’t have the ambience of Henry’s back on Fry Pan Island, but we thought the fish and chips were as good or even a little better.
“After lunch we went to the grocery store. It is in a cute old building and has just enough of the basics to get us by for a few days. There is also a bakery in town where we got some fresh bread, cookies, and a couple of other goodies. Their raisin tarts were my favorites of the tarts we’ve tasted along the way.”
Killarney is considered the entry point into the North Channel. But to continue west, one must also pass the narrow waters at Little Current on Manitoulin Island. It is where Manitoulin Island connects to the mainland, via a swing bridge.
Manitoulin Island sits near the northwest corner of Lake Huron and has the distinction of being the largest freshwater island in the world with a population of over 13,000.
Anyone coming to the island by car must use the swing bridge that connects Manitoulin Island to the mainland via Goat Island, then Mosquito Island and a chain of other islands to reach the Ontario mainland. The swing bridge, originally constructed in 1913 for railroad service, is 368 feet long, and connects Highway 6. It is single lane only, so uses traffic signals, the only such devices on Manitoulin Island.
Interestingly, if one wanted to travel from Killarney to Little Current and Manitoulin Island by car, it would take several hours to drive the 138 miles. Conversely, it is but 18 nautical miles by boat.
“On Friday, July 28, we left Killarney around 8:00am to get as far as Vidal Bay on Manitoulin Island. The seas were a little bumpy on the way to Little Current. Several miles after we passed Little Current, the seas were on our bow and getting rougher. We slowed from 24 knots to about 15 knots and maintained that speed past Clapperton Island. The farther we went, however, the rougher it got and soon we were down to 7 knots with waves now four feet high and closely spaced. (We’ve noticed that the waves on the Great Lakes come much closer together than we are used to, which makes for a more unsettling ride.)
“We were now halfway between Little Current and Gore Bay, also on Manitoulin Island, although it is closer than Vidal Bay. It was decision time: do we turn around and go all the way back to Little Current or do we tough it out? We decided to head for Gore Bay.
“When we saw a big wave coming, Fred would slow down almost to idle speed. We plunged into the troughs and several times our bow sprit dove into an oncoming wave. Fred tried to angle our course to port towards Gore Bay, but he couldn’t maintain that angle as the waves came on our beam and rolled us terribly.
“At one point, Fred didn’t get the bow into an oncoming wave fast enough and it threw him off the captain’s chair onto the cabin sole, although he never let go of the wheel. He worked like crazy changing our running angle while speeding up to 7 or 8 knots when he could, then quickly bringing the bow around and slowing down to head into the next big waves. He is so thankful our boat has power steering.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was scared but I was definitely anxious. Ozzie left his place beside me when it got really bad and disappeared somewhere but he never got sick and never made a peep. After an hour and a half, we made the turn into Gore Bay. What a relief!
“Shortly after docking, we went to the Split Rail Brewery for lunch. We then perused the Community Center where there were several locals making and selling their crafts.
“At 4:30, several other Looper couples joined us in the gazebo at the park. There are so many nice boaters everywhere we go. Some we know we will never see again, and some we will probably see again as we leapfrog with them for the next thousand or more miles.”
Gore Bay is a nice little village with about 900 residents. It is the definitive small town, founded in 1890, Gore Bay is the kind of town many would prefer to live, as it is not a suburb of a large urban city, but rather a complete small town with everything one needs to enjoy life. There is a hardware store, a good grocery, churches, library, schools, senior center, pharmacy, small chocolate factory, brewery, restaurants, banks, and at least two fish and chips restaurants.
The town also had something Sidonia and Fred have not seen before, an inflatable water park. During the two days of their visit, the couple enjoyed hearing the squeals of laughing kids jumping and sliding around and having a good time.
They had a surprise when they dined at Purvis Fish & Chips in the Pavilion near the marina. They’ve enjoyed good fish and chips all through Canada, but the ones served at Purvis Fish & Chips were the best, in their opinion, even better than Herbert’s.
“We woke up to a sunny Sunday, the last day in July. What a difference a couple of days make! The water is nearly flat calm today. We made the 64 miles from Gore Bay to De Tour Harbor, at the eastern tip of Chippewa County on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in a little over two and a half hours. I knitted the whole way, without dropping a stitch.
“Once we got to De Tour Harbor, we immediately tried to check into customs, which one has to do online. After a few failed attempts, we found we needed a user decal which is the one thing, so far, that I failed to think of before we started the trip. It is a sticker that is attached to the boat as proof that the user fee for entry into the U.S. has been paid for the calendar year. We tried over and over to get the decal online with no luck.
“We called customs several times but the agents, though they tried to be helpful, didn’t have the expertise needed to get us a user decal and the national help line isn’t open on the weekends.
“After two hours of trying everything we could think of, and my frustration level in the danger zone, we gave up and decided to wait until tomorrow when the help line would again be available. And without being cleared by U.S. Customs, we were not allowed to get off the boat. The weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, and only light winds, yet we couldn’t get off and enjoy any of it.
“All was quiet that afternoon until we heard the loud, deep blast of a ship’s horn. Passing through the channel by De Tour Harbor was the biggest freighter we’ve ever seen.
“It was the American bulk carrier James R. Barker, at 1,004 feet long, just 85 feet shorter than our largest aircraft carrier. I couldn’t get a photo of it so I downloaded an image from the internet.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay