After consulting with Charlie, the harbormaster at Big Tub Resort & Marina, and rechecking weather forecasts, Julie and I fired up Gaviidae’s 63 horse Westerbeke diesel at 3:30pm and cast off from the dock—once again adhering to our rigorous schedule of not moving on to new destinations before the crack of noon. Forecasts earlier in the week had compelled us to hightail it back to Tobermory from Lion’s Head; the predicted high winds never materialized and it had turned dead calm. We decided to head over to Cove Island Harbour, a few miles from Big Tub and widely touted as an idyllic cove.
Casting off from the dock, we motored the short distance to the head of Big Tub Harbour to do the tourist thing. Several boats, including a two-masted schooner called Sweepstakes and a double-decked steamer, City of Grand Rapids, rest on the bottom at that end of the harbor. We’ve all heard stories about the fabled city of Atlantis sitting at the bottom of the sea somewhere, but I had no idea the city of Grand Rapids rested at the bottom of a big tub. Both boats met with disaster elsewhere and ended up sinking at the end of Big Tub. Well the end of this harbor seems to have been a magnet for ill-fated vessels as the 19th century segued into the 20th. This submerged boatyard is a major destination for the glass-bottom boats out of Tobermory and a lot of diving enthusiasts. It would be deliciously ironic if one of those glass-bottom boats got scuttled there one day. Flip the damn thing and throw some mannequins in it to really freak the tourists.
We approached the end of the harbor and as we assessed all the buoys marking the wrecks and mooring balls for diving boats, we noticed a big tour boat steaming our way. Rather than dance with a tour boat in fairly tight waters dotted with buoys and balls and ringed with private docks we swung away from the graveyard and headed out. Why risk joining the wrecks on the bottom of Big Tub? As we passed the incoming boat Gaviidae got her picture snapped a bunch more times for good measure. Leaving Big Tub proper, we passed the Big Tub lighthouse on Lighthouse Point where more tourists took more pictures.
Julie had already charted a route to Cove Island, some 3NM out of Big Tub. Most of the route was pretty straightforward: northwest through open water past Doctor Island, then duck around Russell Island. Navigation gets a bit trickier beyond Russell with menacing shoals and a narrow channel past Harbour Island. Veteran sailors suggest attempting entry in calm conditions due to the hazards. Rocks in these waters breached the hull of the schooner, Sweepstakes, in 1885, before it was towed into Big Tub only to sink there.
We carefully threaded our way through the maze of shoals, reefs and rocks thanks to charting advice from Charlie, back at the Big Tub marina, and the harbor report from the Great Lakes Cruising Club. Nothing beats local knowledge. We motored slowly along the shoreline opposite Bar Point, the peninsula defining the north side of the very long and narrow neck into Cove Island Harbour. In satellite photos, the harbor is shaped somewhat like a dog’s head, with its nose sniffing to the southeast. Its tree-lined shore is reminiscent of North Channel anchorages and even some of the hurricane holes along the wild northern reaches of Lake Superior.
Cove Island Harbour was also devoid of any other boats. As much as we enjoy the camaraderie frequently enjoyed by boaters in Huron and Superior harbors, this was likely our last anchorage of the season, and we were pleasantly surprised at the prospect of not having to share this beautiful little corner of nature.
We were already apprised of the harbor’s grassy bottom and the wide, shallow sandy shoals that discouraged anchoring too close to shore. We picked a spot to drop anchor along the centerline and near the far end of the cove. The area wasn’t as weedy with just 10 feet of crystal clear water. Even with our bottom-grabbing Mantus anchor, we had to raise and redrop a couple times before we felt it bite securely into the shelly bottom. I noted lines in the sand where other anchors had dragged before they found purchase in the bottom. I doled out 75 feet of chain for good measure.
As we relaxed and discussed plans for dinner, a dinghy motor intruded into our solitude. From our cockpit we watched a couple motor around the cove then drop a small anchor 50 feet away. Close enough to talk to. Turns out they have a house on a nearby island and frequently come into Cove Island Harbour to have an evening cocktail and head back home as the sun sets in the west.
The next day was a lay-by day, and a gorgeous one at that. I went fishing and exploring the cove and down the narrow, shallow channel that opened at the east end. I spotted a large bass lurking in a deep, wide hole just inside the channel and got it to rise to my lures a couple times but could not get a strike. The bass quickly grew bored with my offerings and I gave up trying to entice it. I also went ashore on the north side of the harbor to take a look at the ruins of an old fishing lodge, long since collapsed and so overgrown with shrubs, vines and trees as to make it indiscernible in photos.
That night we were entertained with a massive Hunter’s Moon made all the more beautiful and dramatic by the moon’s close proximity to earth. In the morning we were greeted by a glorious sunrise and calm air to make our escape from this earthly piece of paradise as effortless as our entrance. Our last anchorage of the season was the perfect finale to an outstanding season on the Great Lakes.
September 14, 2016 Cove Island Harbour 45° 17.241’N 81° 42.992’W