We travel through Georgian Bay and the North Channel of Lake Huron, some of the THE best and most spectacular cruising we’ve done, eventually crossing back into the US on the western end of the lake. This was our first encounter with boating on the open water of a Great Lake, necessitating some new skills and was a learning opportunity for us. But oh! Was it beautiful!
Click the Google Map button below to open the map in a separate window. There you can zoom in/out, and click on the icons to see pictures and more info on the various places along our route.
As much as we enjoyed the Trent Severn and Canada canals, we had heard lots about northern Lake Huron and now were ready to switch gears for this next chapter of Our Loop. The northern side of Lake Huron is part of what is called the Canadian Shield, a geologic area of that involves glaciation and tectonic plates and ancient continental formation and drift. That explanation has words with more syllables than I’m used to using, so a simpler explanation from a boater’s perspective is: lots of rock. Big rocks, smaller rocks, rock above water, rock below water, rocky beaches, trees growing out of rock – rock everywhere. Which means you have to follow channel markings very carefully, because when boat meets rock the boat always comes out the worse. The trade-off is that you are traveling through remote, undeveloped natural beauty and go places only reachable via water. It did not disappoint.
I’ve recently been told by my twenty-something niece that she doesn’t have time to read my blogs but just scrolls through the pictures. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I’m going to rely on photos in an attempt to be more hip and in touch with the younger generation. Oh shoot — who am I kidding? I’m always going to be a Boomer and out of touch in their eyes. I’ll use more pictures because I don’t think I can come close to describing the experiences. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, that would make this blog somewhere around the length of a novel and not even a Boomer is going to read it. So pictures it is.
Georgian Bay, Ontario Canada
Midland – Aug 25-26, 2022
Wani anchorage (12 Mile Bay) – Aug 27
Parry Sound – Aug 28-31
Byng Inlet – Sep 1-2
Killarney – Sep 3
While Georgian Bay had its share of nice anchorages, there were also plenty of small towns. Bad weather forced us to seek out marinas up well-protected inlets preferentially, and having to wait out weather meant we weren’t able to make as many stops as we would have liked. But throughout were other Loopers we had been Loop Frogging with ever since the Trent Severn that made every unplanned layover an opportunity for docktails and socializing. We checked weather and sea state forecasts twice a day. Route planning and timing took on a new dimension that we hadn’t had to worry as much about on the sheltered canals.
At our re-provisioning stop at Bayport Marina in Midland, the locals were all very generous with their knowledge of anchorages, marinas, and routes born of years of cruising in the local waters. We used much of what they passed on over the next couple weeks.
Wani anchorage (12 mile bay)
We headed first to Wani anchorage (12 Mile Bay) which was a favorite of many of the locals to whom we spoke. It was quite popular with local boaters; by sunset, we counted 19 boats around us! We were able to take the dinghy and explore some shallow feeder channels, being very cautious of the many submerged rocks.
Lunch stop at Henry's Fish House
The channel up to Parry Sound could get quite narrow, and thus very appropriately named Seven Mile Narrows. We managed to meet a large tour boat — that was not on AIS — going the opposite way around a blind corner at one of the narrowest parts between two large rocks. Didn’t get a picture (this one is a different spot than where we met the tour boat) because I was too busy watching my life flash before my eyes.
The marina in the town of Parry Sound was nice and sheltered, which came in handy because we ended up staying two days longer than planned due to weather (high winds and waves). Early the first morning we were there, a bear wandered through the marina. We missed seeing him, but it was a reminder that this was indeed bear country.
Inconceivable caught up to us here, having taken a break after the Trent Severn to travel to a family event. We hiked up along a train trestle to an observation tower and museum of local history, and enjoyed a local brewery with them. This was float plane central, and our slip gave us a great view of them taking off and landing. Dave and I took in a movie at one of the cheesiest theatres I think we’ve ever seen while the crew of Inconceivable made the better choice of doing laundry. But we really went because it was an opportunity for popcorn, so not all was lost.
After a final very windy night, we were able to move on. The transit to Byng Inlet was very picturesque and meandering along rocky inlets and islands, with scattered cottages. It was fun to see the variety of houses, docks, boathouses, and a few lighthouses.
Wright’s Marina was about the only thing in the tiny town of Byng Inlet. They did have a little ice cream stand, which worked for us, and a loaner golf cart which we took on a joyride to the convenience store on the one street in town. The best part was the several other Looper boats there, and so we did docktails. We all stayed two nights instead of just one, once again due to winds.
Transiting from Byng Inlet to Killarney was our first ‘this is not quite what we expected’ experience on a Great Lake, one that everyone goes through at some point. The first part of the day was a slalom course through a rocky channel and past a large windmill farm, with the rocky channel providing good protection from the waves moving across the lake. But once we popped out into the open waters of Lake Huron, we were taking 3-4’ right on the nose with a short periodicity, or interval between the waves. Inconceivable was leading, and we watched her repeatedly take some major water over the bow. They have an open upper helm and were getting soaked. We drive from inside, fortunately. Roxy does not like it when we are bouncing around, and knowing we would probably have a few legs of the day’s travels that would be a bit sporty I had given her some Trazadone the vet had prescribed for just these anxiety-producing experiences. But still she was huddled at Dave’s feet, panting away. I felt bad for her, and only hoped the medication would make the memory hazy.
We endured about an hour of this before turning and entering the well-protected Beaverstone Channel. It’s calm channel was not only an immediate relief from the rocking and rolling, but it was a beautiful passage with emerald green water, rocky cliffs covered in evergreens, and the occasional rustic cabin. It was reportedly a common place to see bears so I spent a lot of time on the bow with my zoom lens camera, but was disappointed. We did see a couple beaver dens, which probably explains why it is named Beaverstone and not Bearstone.
We had a final stretch on the open water, but the lake had calmed down quite a bit by then and we entered the protected harbor at Killarney just as the winds shifted and rain started. It had been a bit of a sporty day alternating with some of the best cruising we’ve done.
We were at the Looper mainstay Killarney Sportsman’s Inn Marina for the night. Once the rain stopped, the four of us had dinner at the famous Herbert’s Fish and Chips (which personally I think wasn’t as good as Henry’s) and then walked around the grounds of the Mountain Lodge nearby.
Baie Fine (Mariane Cove) – Sept 4
Little Current – Sep 5
Kagawong (transit stop) – Sep 6
South Benjamins anchorage – Sept 6
East Grant anchorage – Sept 7
Departing Killarney was the transition to the North Channel section of Lake Huron, as well as a milestone for us — our 150th sortie in See Level! It was also a dramatic change in topography; entering Frazer Bay and Baie Fine, we were among sheer granite cliffs rather than the lower rock formations of Georgian Bay. These areas were even more remote and untouched, with just a handful of cottages. Blessed with great weather the whole time, we saw beautiful sunsets and a million stars at night. Yes, there were lots of bugs in the evenings, but it was a tradeoff we were willing to accept.
Three of our four stops were anchorages rather than towns, and it was a wonderful way to finish off our time in Canada. We would have loved to spend even more time and made more stops, but the short cruising season in Canada was winding down as the evenings began to have just a touch of a chill — a sign that fall was coming and we needed to keep moving.
The dinghy was well utilized as we explore areas in addition to Roxy’s shore breaks. We honed our technique for beaching on rock. I usually drive, and we scour the shoreline for a place that looks like it has a deep approach and where we can pull the dinghy up and not have it float away on us. Dave watches from the bow, and when it starts to get shallow I kill the engine and raise it while Dave uses the paddle to get us the last few yards. We gently bump onto the rock, Dave hops out and ties the dinghy up to a rock or tree, then lifts Roxy out by her life vest. She does her business, and we reverse the process. First thing in the morning, middle of the day, and then just before sunset we made this run. What we don’t hesitate to do for our girl…
Our first stop in the North Channel was Baie Fine, an inlet between Frazer and McGregor Bays that dead ends at what is known as The Pool. We chose to anchor at Mariane Cove just a few miles up Baie Fine. We then dinghied up to the Pool and the trailhead for a one mile hike up the hill to Topaz Lake.
The next morning we did the steep and rocky hike up to Casson Peak for an amazing view of Fraser and McGregor Bays. There was a plaque up at the top marking where some couples ashes were buried. Eee-ew!
The town of Little Current is also a Looper must-stop. We were there on Labor Day weekend (Canada shares this holiday with us), and it was pretty quiet. We were a couple weeks behind the Looper surge, plus Canadian cruisers have all headed back to home ports as school starts right after the weekend just like for the US. The locals told us the season there generally comes to a screeching halt the week before Labor Day.
Kagawong & Bridal Veil Falls
On our way to The Benjamins, we stopped in at Kagawong to walk up to Bridal Veil Falls. It was the first day of school and the town was all but deserted. When we called the marina to see if we could tie up for a few hours, the city worker who answered the phone said no one was going to be there but we could just tie up ourselves at the end of the pier.
We hiked the short distance to the falls and waded in, then found an ice cream shop that was pretty much the only thing open on this Tuesday after Labor Day.
South Benjamin Island
We thought any other stop was going to have a hard time topping Baie Fine for natural beauty. But The Benjamins rose to the challenge. Consisting of gently sloping mounds of ginormous rock, it still had enough vegetation to appear lush. It was easy to walk up the face of the granite for some amazing views, and we were treated to another spectacular sunset with colors so deep it looked surreal. Yeah, still the bugs, but they seemed like a minor inconvenience compared to the rest of our surroundings.
We had so enjoyed all the natural beauty of the North Channel that the two crews wanted to take in one last anchorage rather than a marina as we headed toward the border. East Grant anchorage is a very exposed anchorage but right along our route. It was only an option because we had such great weather forecast for the next couple days.
The area was very deep and then suddenly got shallow close to shore, and it took a long time of slow cruising along the shoreline to find a spot that was not too deep, but not so close to shore that if winds shifted we’d potentially end up on the rocks. We weren’t sure we had the anchor set the first time and had to try again, and even then we weren’t quite as confident we weren’t dragging and made sure two separate anchor alarms were set. Inconceivable had similar concerns and troubles a couple hundred yards away from us.
There was very little shore access and dense tree and shrub growth meant we only went ashore long enough for Roxy to do her stuff and didn’t venture very far on land. But hanging out on the boat and enjoying the quiet and the water was a great way to spend our last night in Canada.
Return to the US: DeTour, Michigan
We weighed anchor with a little bit of sadness and some consternation. The sadness because it meant our Canadian adventure was ending after a wonderful two plus months. The consternation because it came up exceptionally clean. Usually there’s mud or grass or both and it makes a big mess on deck. You’d think we’d be happy it was clean, except it made us wonder if we had really been set or the anchor was just sitting on top of rock. The good news is we were discovering this after we’d already had a good nights sleep. Inconceivable noted the same thing when they weighed anchor and had a similar after-the-fact thought.
The water was smooth and glassy almost all the way across, and we followed the gentle ripples of Inconceivable’s wake toward Michigan, crossing the dotted line on the chart plotter into the US. Clearing customs from a boat is all done by phone app which includes a zoom call with a customs agent. We had pre-entered all our info, such as passports, destination, etc. days before. Once you’re in US waters or when you pull into your first port of entry, you use the app to answer four questions, one of which is if you are bringing in any food (anyone who says ‘no’ to that one has got to be lying). Everyone spends the last week or two eating through their fridge and freezer, as you are not allowed to bring in any poultry products, some meats, and certain fruits and veggies. However, I had a single frozen cooked chicken breast in the freezer that was Roxy food — and that had actually been in the freezer since New York. They didn’t ask specifics, but just ‘food’ in general, so I checked ‘yes’ as did Patty on Inconceivable. She texted me that she had waited a few minutes for the agent, who wanted to see who else was on board to verify identity, told her she couldn’t bring in a lemon (but didn’t seem to care what she did with it) and she received her clearance to enter. Easy Peasy.
Armed with her shared info and having rehearsed the explanation of my lone cryo-chicken breast, I hit the button and waited as the little wheel spun on the screen — and then received a ‘Welcome to the US!’ and my clearance. No interview. No questions. I could have had a boat full of Klingons for all anyone knew. Not sure why we were so different from every other Looper we talked to. But the real funny part? No one ever asked to see our clearance. But come in on a plane and it’s the third degree plus drug-sniffing dogs. My leading theory is that it was lunchtime and the agent just cleared us so they could get to Subway before the Italian Herb and Cheese bread was sold out.
DeTour was a very small town that’s really just a waypoint for boats coming and going across the border normally, but now was in the process of shutting down for the season. The marina was nearly empty except for a few of us Loopers, and none of the three or four restaurants was open. We used the afternoon to clean the boat and dinghy, which were badly in need of a good wash. And we had to get our brains wrapped around the concept that we could no longer justify any purchase as being ‘X dollars — CANADIAN’ and thus thinking everything a bargain.
We’re not quite done with the Great Lakes yet; we still need to get down the full length of Lake Michigan to Chicago, where we will begin the inland river portion of The Great Loop. The days are getting shorter quickly as summer ends and we’ve noted the evening chill, which also means Lake Michigan weather will become more variable. We traded more time in Canada for less time on Lake Michigan, so we will be covering longer distances to get to Chicago. But Canada has been so worth it!
Pops’ Stats Corner*
- No of Days: 14
- Travel Days: 9
- Miles Traveled: 334.2 (290.6 nm)
- States Visited: 1
- Days we used the dinghy: 7
Cumulative Great Loop
- Started March 17, 2022 in St. Augustine, FL
- Travel Days: 82
- Miles Traveled: 2824.1 (2455.5 nm)
- States Visited: 12
- Provinces Visited: 2
*Pops is what the family affectionately called Dave’s dad. He had a mind for sports statistics, earning him the nickname Numbers from the coaches of several Stillwater teams with whom he worked. This regular section of the blog is in his honor, because it’s the kind of thing he would love.