The Bruce Peninsula – Tobermory and Lion’s Head

After our arrival in Wingfield Basin we looked over local attractions described in harbor reports and other available info. The area is replete with compelling temptations including the nearby Cabot Head Lighthouse, the designation of the area as a bird sanctuary and the wild and remote setting is riddled with hiking trails. What caught our attention was the farmer’s market in Lion’s Head. Lion’s Head is a village almost due south of us as the crow flies. It is less than 20 nautical miles from our anchorage. Located deep into a long, wide bay, the village boasts a large marina and other amenities besides the farmer’s market. It is also the base of operations for newfound sailing friends Kathy and Michael, who we met in Killarney.

The farmers’ market is every Saturday morning from May to October and is in the park next to the harbor. We could dinghy to a farmers’ market!  We had arrived in Wingfield Basin on a Friday evening, so the market was the next day. We had not been to a farmers’ market since Marquette, MI back in July, so we decided to head to Lion’s Head first thing in the morning. According to weather reports, the southerly winds were not particularly favorable for sailing there, but they looked light enough to motor against. With an early departure we could get there in time to catch the last couple of hours of the market.

September 10 Windfield Basin Sunrise - Bruce Peninsula Lake Huron
September 10 Wingfield Basin Sunrise – Bruce Peninsula Lake Huron

Saturday morning broke with a spectacular sunrise that quickly gave way to a featureless slate-grey sky.  We rounded Cabot Head and its famous lighthouse and carefully picked our way through dangerous shoals and submerged rocks, keeping eyes on our chart plotter and the depth finder as well as our surroundings. The waters around Cabot Head Point are strewn with sunken shipwrecks.

Alas, our plans to arrive in Lion’s Head early enough for the farmers’ market were quickly thwarted. We quickly encountered 10 knot winds right on our nose. That was manageable. However, 3-to-5-foot seas were getting whipped up across the vast fetch of Georgian Bay, pounding Gaviidae just forward of her port beam. The waves were not only making for an uncomfortable staccato ride, they were slowing us down even more than the wind. Making barely 5 knots, we would not arrive in Lion’s Head in time for the farmers’ market.

After fruitless attempts to adjust our course to make better headway, we reluctantly turned around and made for Tobermory.

Once again we cruised past the lighthouse and minding the shoals, we rounded the point. As soon as we were in the lee of the Bruce Peninsula with its craggy cliffs and high promontories, we unfurled the genoa and cut the engine. The seas were much calmer and the wind actually picked up some speed. With 15-t-to-17 knot winds across our beam, we cruised smoothly across the northern face of the Bruce at 7-plus knots and made the 18NM run in a little more than 2 hours! It was another slice of sailing heaven.

Tobermory – Little Tub

In Tobermory we cruised into Little Tub Harbour, the smaller but busier of the two harbors at Tobermory. The other harbor is Big Tub Harbour, which sits at a right angle from Little Tub. Efforts to learn the origins of the peculiar names of these harbors have been futile. I can only speculate that they are local shorthand for Tobermory, which is named for the only town on the Isle of Mull, Scotland.

The Little Tub Harbour marina harbormaster assigned us to the transient dock at the head of the harbor. Along the way we passed the dock for Chi-Cheemaun–the “big canoe” that ferries people and vehicles between Tobermory and South Baymouth at the southern end of Manitoulin Island. Passing the service dock and various government, recreational and commercial docks along both shores of the narrow harbor, we were met at the dock by a friendly and capable young dockhand who helped us tie up near the end of the pier.

Gaviidae at the Tobermory dock
Gaviidae at the Tobermory dock

We had the long finger pier to ourselves except for a runabout tied up near the foot of the dock, next to a public boat ramp.  An adjacent pier and slips along the north side of the marina basin serves commercial dive boats and assorted fishing boats. Diving on shipwrecks in the area is a major draw to Tobermory. Along the south side and farther down the marina tour boats loaded and disgorged tourists eager to gawk at the famous wind-sculpted rock formations on Flowerpot Island, various shipwrecks and other attractions of the Bruce Peninsula accessible only by boat.

We were centrally located in the heart of Tobermory’s commercial district, steps away from private showers for transient boaters, a laundromat and grocery store—not to mention the usual array of restaurants, bars, clothing stores, funky boutiques and tourist traps found in any popular sightseeing destination.  Our central location also meant we were in a virtual fishbowl. Even in mid September—when the tourism season is winding down– vacationers crowded the sidewalks and long lines lead to the glass-bottom and other tour boats. As tourists waited to board the boats their attention turned to the lone sailboat on that pier: Gaviidae.

If we could’ve charged a buck or two for every photograph taken of Gaviidae—double for selfies—we could retire. Oh, wait. We are retired. Anyway, our gorgeous Gozzard is probably gracing travel albums and Instagram and Facebook postings around the world.

Lion’s Head

After a couple days of sightseeing, exploring the local shops and basking in Tobermory’s touristic limelight we decided to move on. The weather looked promising for another try for Lion’s Head—20 knot winds out of the southwest. We hastily cast off at the crack of noon, on Monday, September 12, only to realize as we motored out of Little Tub that we forgot to take down the cockpit enclosures and remove the cover from the mainsail! We spent the next hour circling the nexus of Tobermory’s two Tubs tugging at zippers and wrestling with canvas in high winds. In the ship’s log I wrote: “NOTE TO SELF: prep for sailing before leaving dock.”

The fun began, though, once we got our main—double reefed for the winds—and our staysail up. They filled with 20 knot winds gusting to 32 knots across our starboard quarter. We raced across the face of the Bruce at 7 to 7½ knots! With favorable winds and following seas we retraced our route to Cabot Head Point, then adjusted the sails to veer south past Dyer’s Bay, Cape Chin and into Lion’s Head harbor. We sailed 33 nautical miles in 4½ hours under sail only. On entering the Isthmus Bay into Lion’s Head, we doused sails and fired up the Iron Genny to motor the remaining 3 miles. Click here to see a short video of our sail!

By the time we arrived at the marina, the harbormaster had gone home for the evening. We had the slip assignment and instructions about access to marina facilities and services.  After we secured Gaviidae to the dock and shot the breeze with a curious local, Julie and I checked out the marina facilities and took a stroll into town.

The Lion's Head Inn
The Lion’s Head Inn

We knew that our friends, Kathy and Michael, were still out of town; the expected to get home that night. So we wandered through the Lion’s Head downtown to see what the village had to offer. We stopped for refreshments at the Lion’s Head Inn a few blocks from the harbor and ended up eating dinner there when we saw Butter Chicken on the menu.

Butter chicken is an Indian dish we learned about from Julie’s sister and brother-in-law in Toronto. There were no other Asian meals listed on the menu, and no sign of an Indian chef, but it was the first ethnic food we had seen on a menu in months and decided to take a chance.

That risk paid off. In spades.

The butter chicken was excellent—as far as we knew. We haven’t had it all that often, but the Lion’s Head Inn’s version was the tastiest butter chicken we had encountered so far. Whether it was authentic Indian fare, we couldn’t say, but it sure was good.

Back at the boat the next morning, Kathy and Michael appeared while we were having breakfast. They came to invite us to dinner that night, but they also brought news about the weather that corroborated what we already knew: a front was coming in that was expected to bring big north winds by the next day. Julie and I had already decided to hightail it back to Tobermory before the weather got nasty. After a short visit during which we made tentative plans to get together next season, we cast off and waved goodbye.

Prepping for departure in Lion's Head - Photo by Kathy Anderson
Prepping for departure in Lion’s Head – Photo by Kathy Anderson

September 10 – 12, 2016 Wingfield Basin to Lion’s Head  44°59.394’N  81°14.915’W  1030.3 Nautical Miles


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