Can you really call it wilderness when you have thirty-four boats all gathered together for a few days of fun? I know towns whose population is less than the attendance of the most recent Great Lakes Cruising Club Wilderness Rally! And how wilderness is it really when every boat has its own plumbing system and ability to generate their own power?
Late in 2018 I was starting to plan a Women Who Sail the Great Lakes trip to the North Channel of Lake Huron. Deciding that I did not want to overlap with the Great Lakes Cruising Club’s annual Wilderness Rally, I called the office to check the dates. Turns out they did not have anyone to organize the Wilderness Rally and I was immediately asked if Dan and I wanted to chair the event. Hmmm. I definitely did not want to organize two events so my response was sure, if we could do the GLCC Wilderness Rally in conjunction with Women Who Sail the Great Lakes. And with a nod from the board, it was done deal.
After much research and many phone calls, Turnbull Island at the west end of the Whalesback Channel in the North Channel of Lake Huron was selected as the location. It had anchoring in multiple areas, a beach, and rumors of a picnic table. Perfect!
High Water Impact
Fast forward to July and the number of registrations hit forty boats and we were starting to panic as to whether there would be room for everyone. There were also reports that the record high water (4.5 feet above the norm) had reduced the beach to 60 square feet. Based on my calculations, each person was going to be allotted ¾ of a square foot for all shore activities!
But as registrations continued to come in, the cancellations also started for a variety of reasons – some were due to health, some were boat issues such as lightning strikes, and others were family related as in the expected grandbaby who decided to arrive unexpectedly early. By the time the Rally started, we had 34 boats and 74 people. A floating town.
Arrival day was scheduled for Saturday July 27 and we had planned on getting to Turnbull Island well ahead of the crowd. We had only been to Turnbull once five years earlier and that was for one night, so our recollections were a bit vague as to the layout. We arrived late in the afternoon on Thursday and were instantly surprised to see about 15 Rally boats already in the anchorage!
More boats arrived the next morning including SV Wind Trail who was bringing the bags that were to become our welcome bags. With donations from Mantus Marine and the Little Current Yacht Club via Roy Eaton, we had plenty to work with. SV Bucket List had volunteered to prep the bags with name tags and a variety of goodies and soon their boat was filled with Welcome bags ready for distribution.
Beach Clean Up
Testing out our new Torqeedo electric outboard, I zoomed around the various boats passing out welcome bags, name tags, and answering questions as best I could. I was soon relieved of this duty by MV Infinite Sea who wanted to recruit people to get the beach area ready. I handed off the bags to them as they were heading to each boat anyways. Their recruitment efforts were extremely successful as I looked towards the beach at the designated time to see 15 dinghies lined up along the beach area.
I buzzed in only to be told they were all done! They had cleared dead brush out of the area, put up the GLCC rain/shade fly, re-arranged the picnic table and were starting to place camp chairs around the perimeter. I love people who take initiative!
All of the remaining boats arrived on Friday and Saturday with the exception of a couple who were delayed due to big waves and winds. By Sunday afternoon, all 34 boats found themselves secured in one area or another.
Prior Women Who Sail Rendezvous included giving to a local charity such as a women’s shelter, humane society, or school. Roy Eaton suggested Rainbow Rescue, a local animal rescue service run by Bleu Fisher. Taking in abandoned animals of all types and capturing feral cats and getting them spayed/neutered is all part of the mission of Rainbow Rescue. With the request for kitten items, the boaters arrived with cans of kitten food, cat beds, and toys.
There were a couple of well-attended presentations during the day: Missy Suidara gave a presentation on how to keep yourself and your boat safe and Stephanie Carrico gave lessons on how to do felting. Both topics were of great interest to me but as the organizer, I had to keep organizing! The main issue for the day was how to get the Italian sausages, buns, etc. from Roland Aube who had driven to Sault Ste. Marie, ON to pick up the order from Pino’s – an exceptionally good Italian grocery store. The high water prevented Roland from launching his boat, the winds and waves discouraged a dinghy run to the mainland on Saturday, and dense fog had rolled in on Sunday morning.
Ed and Judy Crook, from MV Crooked Arc, came to the rescue by offering to haul anchor and make the trip in their trawler which was complete with radar. With that, Dan took a little trawler trip to assist getting the 30+ lbs of sausages, 136 freshly baked buns and veggies back to Turnbull. The resourcefulness of the Wilderness Rally attendees amazed me! With the arrival of the food, I delivered 30 bell peppers and 15 onions split amongst four different boats who had volunteered to chop and sauté the entire lot.
With the grill masters on shore cooking the sausages and sides being brought in from every boat – an amazing feast was shared. And while Chicago Hot Dogs had been the tradition, it seemed that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the Italian sausages topped with sautéed onions and peppers. And yes, there was both Ketchup and Mustard!
Mornings started with a gathering on the beach for conversation and BYOCoffee. And while the chatter was underway, another group found a very nice spot for morning Yoga. As a reward for their stretches, they occasionally found a blueberry or two as treats.
Rainy Day at the Wilderness Rally
Rain was in the forecast for Monday requiring some juggling of the schedule but it held off long enough for members of Women Who Sail the Great Lakes to gather on the beach to get to know each other a little bit better and share stories of life on the water from the female perspective.
Dan had gotten an alert that a squall would hit the area at 11:30am. At 11:35am a few raindrops splattered on the deck and then the clouds let loose and rained sheets. Even with the advance warning we still had our hatches and several ports open; we had to scramble to close everything up.
Dinghy Bingo via VHF
Stealing an idea from the Trailer Sailors, I had planned Dinghy Bingo as one of the events. Dinghy Bingo is exactly how it sounds – everyone gathers together in a big floating dinghy raft-up for a game of Bingo. I modified it slightly by customizing the bingo cards so that each square contained a North Channel destination. The rain made the dinghy raft-up impossible but we proceeded playing over the VHF. The winner of straight Bingo was Corinne from SV Cormorant II. Her prize? A subscription to Good Old Boat magazine.
With the rain still coming down, everyone wanted to keep going for the full Bingo black-out – filling all squares. As the time passed, I was concerned that no one was going to achieve the goal. No worries, the crew of SV Gaviidae 37 yelled out they had covered all the squares. Their prize was a Mantus Universal Tool that has a gadget for pretty much everything on a boat.
The final phase of the Bingo game was to see who had actually been to all of the places listed – some of these were a bit obscure, such as Tolsmaville on Cochburn Island. Three boats had been to every place – SV Fairy Tale, SV Vision, and MV Mossy Paws. Fancy cocktail napkins were their prizes.
Floating Happy Hour Plus
The rain drifted away in time for the scheduled evening Floating Happy Hour. We had plenty of boats who volunteered as “host” boats – my task was assigning who would go to which boat. An easy task made easier by the crew of SV Wind Trail who had planned an ice breaker activity with a spin on Mad Libs, adding the “Plus” to the Happy Hour.
The New Turnbull Island Harbor Report
The goal of the ice breaker was to re-write the Turnbull Island Harbor Report. Each host boat was given one or two paragraphs of the harbor report with various words blanked out. Without knowing their paragraphs, they were tasked with finding replacement words that were funny, provocative, or ridiculous.
At the designated time, each host boat read their “revised” section of the Turnbull Island harbor report. It was a great ice-breaker and enjoyed by all.
WORKING around THE WEATHER
The forecast for Tuesday was for winds, BIG winds. From the West. The one direction that posed a potential problem for boats anchored in Turnbull. The winds held off long enough for the morning BYOCoffee and Yoga sessions and just long enough for the Amazing Scavenger Hunt scheduled for 10am.
With teams assigned, the starting point was at the beach where each team was given a small bag filled with a cut-up image of one of the boats in the anchorage. Their first task was to put the puzzle together and then find the boat in the harbor. With six teams we had six boats identified as “anchor boats” to ensure that every team was heading in different directions.
It was fun to watch as the teams dumped their puzzle pictures on the picnic table or any other surface they could find and started working together to identify their “boat”. The pictures were not obvious as some had been “photoshopped” to make their identity a little harder to find and other were just fragments of the boat to be identified.
Soon the teams were off in their dinghies racing to their boats to get their first round of clues. There were two rounds of clues but half the boats got one round first and the other boats got the other round to ensure that the teams were going in different directions.
The hunt included finding items such as impeller pullers, holiday ornaments, figuring out a coded signal flag sequence, and other common or not so common items. Some depended upon the creativity of the team to think beyond the obvious. For example, one item they had to find was a loon. Some teams ventured over to MV Sea Loon and took a picture of the loon graphic on their boat. Others took a picture of a Canadian dollar coin commonly called the Loonie because of the loon image imprinted on the coin. Their proof of finding an item was a photo taken on team members’ mobile phones.
With each round, the teams were given numbers which contributed to the final round – the coordinates for a tiny rock pile in the bay. Team Seven was the first to successfully identify the location and were declared the official winners of the Amazing Scavenger Hunt. For their excellent efforts working as a team – each member received a Turkish towel from Marmara Imports.
Big Winds for the Wilderness Rally
By this point in the day, the predicted winds started increasing and increasing. By midafternoon, we were seeing 20 knot winds gusting to 28 knots. The smart boats were the ones that arrived early on Thursday and claimed the channel area between the north and south anchorages. The rest of us were anchored in the channel in direct line of the gusts: we were all dancing wildly at the ends of our anchor chains and rodes we swung from side to side.
Hoping the winds would die down, the scheduled potluck was delayed from 5pm to 6pm. Shortly before 6pm, a VHF “conference call” was held and the final decision was “dinner for breakfast!” With that the onshore potluck was rescheduled to 8AM!
New Wilderness Rally Traditions
At 8AM, the dinghy brigade headed to shore, with coffee in one hand and a dish to share in the other. For our part, Dan had made Mexican Lasagna and that was our contribution. Others brought salads, desserts including a freshly made bread pudding using the leftover buns from the Italian sausage dinner. And with that, a new tradition of Dinner for Breakfast, the 2019 Wilderness Rally officially ended.
Special Thank You to the Wilderness Rally Committee members – Stephanie and Paul Carrico, Roland Aube, Dee and Brian McClure, Tom and Tracy Grass, Chuck and Joann Mead, Melissa Spillenkothen, Missy Siudara, Amy Babinchak, and Sarah Cavanagh
July 25 – July 31, 2019 Turnbull Island – North Channel 46°09.264’N 82°45.727’W 791.7 Nautical Miles