While most think of four seasons in a year, we think of two – Sailing and Not Sailing. And as long as Gaviidae is hanging out in northern waters, the approach of the Not Sailing season occurs every September.
The weather in August this year had been more like July – hot, light winds, and lovely. So, I assumed September would be like August. Poor assumption as the temperatures dropped, the winds became more volatile. But we were not quite ready to give up on the sailing season. There was still more to explore and fun to be had.
Back to McGregor
Our Minnesota guests had left us in Spanish, Ontario in early September and we headed east to rendezvous with our friends from Owen Sound on their sailboat, Komeekha. Frank and Marie-Claude had been hanging out in McGregor Bay. McGregor Bay is big with many different anchorages. We joined Komeekha in a part of the bay that was unfamiliar, one that we had been through but had not dropped anchor. The weather report looked seasonally dismal with rain and winds in the forecast. In typical September fashion, we had winds that pushed us in every direction over the few days we were there, corkscrewing our anchor deeper into the mud with every pirouette.
Kayaking and Picnics
We ventured off to do a little exploring when the rains stopped. The designated area was navigable only by kayaks but it was a long way from the anchorage. Frank rigged up a kayak towline and we took off with the four of us in his dinghy and towing four kayaks behind. It was quite the procession!
After docking on a large rock and securing the dinghy on it, we hopped into the kayaks. We had a lovely time paddling up the river and stopped for a little picnic right before the rapids. According to Frank and Marie-Claude, it’s not a picnic without chocolate – so of course we had a few wee morsels.
We needed that extra sugar boost as we paddled back to where we left the dinghy. The winds had picked up and it was a workout paddling against the wind. Upon return to the dinghy, Frank again tied the kayaks in a line for the return trip to our boats. We made most of the way back without issue until my kayak flipped in the wind. We righted the kayak and were relieved to see the paddles were secure in the bottom of the kayak. We were quickly back underway to the cozy, warmth of our respective boats.
Anytime we share an anchorage with Komeekha, Dan and Marie-Claude go above and beyond in creating food for all senses. Watching Dan and M-C collaborate is great fun as they share ideas and banter back and forth. Not to ignore Frank, who provides a steady stream of fresh fish. As for myself – um. I provide morale support! As a special treat straight from Quebec, Marie-Claude introduced us to eggs poached in maple syrup – to die for good!
A sure sign the end of the season is near is when you say goodbye to boat buddies and friends that you’ve met along the way. One by one, each boat departs for their home port. Komeekha said their farewells and headed out on a blustery day. We learned later that they made it to an anchorage near the entrance to McGregor Bay and decided that the uncomfortable bash was simply not worth it.
When the winds settled down, we headed back to Little Current to do an oil change and grab some additional provisions before we started our seasonal migration south.
We’ve headed south from the North Channel many times. There are numerous anchorages or marinas along the way but there are also sections with no safe stopping points for a deep draft sailboat likes ours. With that in mind, we started watching for weather windows that were in our favor. Bashing into the wind and waves is not fun – better to stay put and wait for the next window.
Our first stop on our southbound journey was James Bay, on the eastern side of Manitoulin Island. It’s a big bay with clear water and a sand beach along the shoreline. It’s also part of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve.
Shortly after we dropped anchor, we were visited by a very friendly guy who zoomed up in what he called his “res boat”. He wanted to know more about our boat and he was extremely careful in keeping his fishing boat away from our hull. Before departing he gave us a huge laminated sticker for the Three Fires Confederacy. The confederacy is an alliance between the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations. We asked for more details about the Three Fires Confederacy and he said “Google it.” With that, he waved and zoomed off across the bay.
Cove Island Again
With a typical end of season weather front bearing in on us, we headed south to Cove Island. This has become our usual stopping point as we approach the top of the Bruce Peninsula. Cove Island allows us one last “wilderness anchorage”, and nice alternative to the congestion in Tobermory, just a few miles away. It’s a lovely anchorage and well protected from most winds.
While Cove is a natural hurricane hole, that does not mean that nothing gets through. Winds howled over the trees lining the southern shore of the cove and even funneled through the narrow entrance. As the only boat in the anchorage, we didn’t really have to worry about dragging into another boat or having another boat drag down on us. We did re-position once due to a wind shift, just to make sure that we didn’t swing into rocks that were suddenly behind us. As Dan raised the anchor, he relayed via our headsets that it was loaded with weeds. Loaded was an understatement!
In our numerous visits to Cove, we have frequently seen a small boat come into the anchorage area late in the day when the weather is nice. This small boat enters the cove and the couple aboard break out their beverages and snacks for happy hour. On our first afternoon, before the winds came, the couple—who have a cottage nearby—again made an appearance. It was sweet to see the tradition continue!
We holed up in Cove Island three days until the next weather window came into play and we headed south to Irish Harbour on the Bruce Peninsula. We had never been to Irish Harbour and getting into Irish required a wiggle between small islands and skinny water. We followed the navigational details from the Great Lakes Cruising Club Harbor Report and as promised, found ourselves in an anchorage that was visually free of cottagers or other signs of human impact. This anchorage definitely fell into the category of off-the-beaten path!
As we moved further south, we had some of the best sailing days we had all season! Some of the time we hugged the shoreline, hoping to get the best winds coming off the hills. Other times we ventured further out. And sometimes we headed out only to head back closer to the shore to get away from uncomfortable wave action.
It wouldn’t be a typical sailing season if we didn’t meet a few new people along the way. It’s what boaters do. When we were at anchor in Turnbull Island, we chatted with a couple from Detroit who had crossed the border into Canada on August 9th – the day the border opened. We saw their boat Vashti, in Spanish and again in Little Current but were not able to connect. We ran into them again in Kincardine, Ontario as they were on the same path southward. From Kincardine, both boats headed towards Bayfield racing to beat predicted nasty weather. We all know what happens when two boats are on the same heading – it’s a race whether you think it is or not!
Gaviidae is not a race boat. Didn’t matter – we still paid attention to what they were doing and where we were. Both boats stopped in Bayfield and we enjoyed a delightful meal together. The winds and current were not in our favor for an easy departure in Bayfield and we ended up using dock lines to move our boat to the next dock over with help from David on Vashti. We then helped them off and headed out ourselves.
Both boats were Sarnia bound and Vashti chose a straight-line approach, we opted to follow the shoreline – hoping to avoid conflicting wave action and catch the shoreline breezes. It was a fabulous sail! As it turned out, we both arrived at the Blue Water Bridge about the same time. Just ahead of a big weather front.
We got settled into the Sarnia Bay Marina with a building surf. Backing into the slip between pelican poles. It was not our most elegant landing but we got tucked in safely. Did I mention I hate pelican poles? Seems they just make maneuvering far more difficult. My SUP got nailed by a pelican pole on the port side as Dan backed into the slip, wrestling with the side winds and current. And we got in before the heavy weather hit the next day.
The wind and rains were phenomenal – we were told that the water level in the marina went up by two feet. And it was relentless – 24 solid hours of heavy rain! I reached a truce with the pelican poles as we had to add additional docklines to the outer poles to keep Gaviidae in position – cross-tied like a horse being groomed in the aisle of a barn. The pelican poles successfully kept the boat more stable compared to the pitching dock we were tied to. Just picture a sailboat that thinks it’s a bronc ready to burst out of chute!
When the wind and rain finally subsided, the water level in the dinghy was eight inches above the floor. Didn’t count how much was below the false floor. And yes, we had forgotten to pull the drain plug!
But we survived without damage; better than some other boats at the marina. Some lost their bimini tops and others sustained side damage from the docks or pelican poles.
End of the Sailing Season
After two days of winds gusting 40 and 50-mph and driving rain, the winds settled and Vashti headed south to their home port of Detroit. Our destination for the end of the season was a mere quarter mile away – Port Huron, which is in Michigan – and the United States. While in Sarnia we retrieved our RV from the horse track where we had stored it for the summer.
The logistics of moving a boat and an RV across a border requires some planning. We moved Gaviidae first – over to the River Street Marina in Port Huron. This will be the first winter that Gaviidae has not wintered in Goderich, Ontario since we purchased her.
Crossing back into Canada for the RV and trailer required Covid-19 testing. With negative tests in hand we crossed over in a rental car and returned the same day with both vehicles. The crossings went smoothly in both directions and we immediately started the final preparations for pulling Gaviidae out of the water. The River Street Marina was very nice and they let us park the RV there long enough to get food and clothing off the boat.
As soon as the boat was ready, we motored down the river to Desmond Marine where they carefully lifted Gaviidae out of the water and placed her on jack stands. With that, the Sailing Season officially ended and the Not Sailing season started.
September 4th, 2021 to October 4th, 2021 42°58.458’ N 82°25.319’ W 1002.32NM