My fondness for the North Channel started way back in 2005 when we had Blue Loon, our trailerable Rhodes 22.
We joined the Trailer Sailors for their annual two-week excursion. It was a wonderful time, made lots of new friends, and explored some beautiful areas. The trip included some epic events such as getting knocked down twice in straight-line winds. We were also in a marina where an expensive motor boat blew up and burned to the water line. Two other boats were seriously damaged in the fire—to the tune of a couple million Canadian. Our trip this year has been much calmer – thankfully!
After the Great Lakes Cruising Club Wilderness Rally we set off for Cockburn Island (pronounced coh burn) and the little village of Tolsmaville. This is the only location on Lake Huron where you can clear into Canada using a Remote Area Border Crossing. And unlike my frustrating experience on Lake Superior which required calling four different places, this time it was a breeze. Got the right number, the right agent, and cleared through in five minutes.
Tolsmaville is an unusual place. There is only one year-round resident named Darren and he is the Harbour master and the town maintenance man responsible for doing pretty much everything. There are no stores of any kind, no LCBO, nothing! He laughed when we asked if there was a restaurant. Darren gets his supplies from people coming in by boat or snowmobile depending upon the season. There is one phone on the island – I expected a pay phone. No – it’s in a little building marked Telephone
and inside there is a regular phone that happens to be a party line to Darren’s house. If you’re not familiar with a party line – it’s one line shared by multiple people/locations. It rings in all locations at once and you can pick up the line and eavesdrop on anyone who is using the line. That said, Darren’s pretty much in tune with everything going on in Tolsmaville.
We did see a few other people while we were walking around – all I can say is you have to have a passion for living off the grid. There’s no shortage of houses, there are plenty of those but some are remnants of better years gone by and others are clearly occupied—complete with cheerful veggie and flower gardens. There were also a lot of apple trees but it wasn’t the season or I would’ve snagged a few while we were walking by. And kicked off the island by Darren – who knows everything that goes on there.
From Tolsmaville we sailed (yes sailed) to Meldrum Bay on the western end of Manitoulin Island. We had been in Meldrum last year but we were unable to get reservations at the Meldrum Bay Inn. The restaurant was definitely good enough to warrant going out of our way! Highly recommend a visit if you’re in the vicinity. As for other attractions, there is a small shop where you can buy re-cycled/re-designed clothing and jewelry and a small museum. The former grocery store/LCBO has a big sign stating that it will be opening in May 2017. If you happen to be in Meldrum during Thimbleberry season, you’ll find plenty along the roadside – the locals consider them too much of a pain to pick. What’s a Thimbleberry? Think of a very, very tart Raspberry.
Our next destination was nearby Vidal Bay but upon leaving the Meldrum Bay area, we found the winds coming from the west at a comfortable pace. We changed course and sailed northeast across the North Channel to Blind River, Ontario. It was a fabulous sail with all three sails up and hitting 8.5 knots during the 17NM trek. Yeehaw! We decided that without time constraints, we may decide future destinations based on favorable winds!
While in Blind River we put our new burley cart together for our folding bikes and rode off into town for much needed provisions (BEER). We also got our first taste of Farquhar’s ice cream for the season. Farquhar’s is a must-have treat when in the North Channel. I got Moose Traks and Dan got Mint Chocolate Chip – yum!
The winds that brought us to Blind River also brought some weather, which we waited out for a couple days. We left Blind River on August 13 and headed for Turnbull Island. We settled into the large north anchorage with 12 other boats, some of whom had also waited out the weather in Blind River. There are so many wonderful anchorages in the North Channel, it’s hard to say which is better than another but Turnbull ranks right up there. Lots of room, well-protected from winds, and beautiful. What more could you ask for?
August 2 – August 13, 2016 46° 09.258’N 82° 45.873’ W 805.3 Nautical Miles