North Channel Cruise 2020 – The Benjamin Islands west to John Island and back to Killarney.

It’s funny how a poor night’s sleep in a beautiful anchorage might colour one’s view of that place! I have a love/hate relationship (mostly love) with the Benjies as sometimes you get caught in a wind from an odd direction that blows up a little sea and then BAM! Tough night sleeping. Things bang and tap on the cabin which we had thought were tied down, the dinghy goes for little rides of its own before its painter tightens and it swings back to bang softly on the pontoon and waves slap gently against the hull. Oh well…We had two noisy nights in our little nook in the Benjies as the stiff East wind kicked up. But we still enjoyed a scramble into the woods on the pink granite island, keeping a weather eye out for signs of the black bear spotted on South Benjamin a couple of weeks ago. Never did see a bear on this trip. 😕 Some refreshing swims and a few kayak trips and a wonderful campfire on the rocks meant that the wind hadn’t kept us from playing!

Once the wind died down, our little group gunkholed its way out through a crack between the two main islands and we set sail for places west. Our two goals for the day were: #1 Go through Little Detroit – a short, narrow twisting passage taking you westward from the McBean Channel north of the Benjamins to the towns of Spanish, Spragge, Blind River and eventually, to Sault Ste. Marie. Goal #2 was to gas up and pump out at the Spanish Municipal Marina.

Little Detroit is a kind of fun adventure for yours truly. As a courtesy to other boaters who want to transit through the passage, one should make a Securite (French accent aigu on the last e so the word ends in “eh”) call on the VHF radio advising them on your boat length, direction (eastbound or westbound) and how soon you will enter the passage. I (Carleen) like to slightly amend the call by giving our beam (width) instead of our length. A call might sound like this “Securite, Securite, Securite. All stations, 22′ wide sailboat Thunderstruck sailing through Little Detroit from East to West in approximately 2 minutes.” Some boaters find that funny. Others with no VHF radio on, find it really funny to meet said vessel sailing through the passage!! Eyes widen, heads are scratched, fingers point…it’s a sideshow with us sometimes.

Spanish marina has been a favourite stop in the past because they have wonderful facilities there: laundry, spacious, clean bathrooms with lots of showers and….a Sauna!! Sometimes a little cafe is open and there’s a tiny library too. You can take a book, leave a book, that kind. The tiny town is a bit of a walk and one has to pass the ruins of a former residential school. That place, with it’s sad little graveyard, has always given me the creeps. Even when I didn’t know what the building was when I first went cruising to Spanish, I’d feel a cold chill as I walked by.

Once the fleet was topped up and emptied out, we moved on because none of those lovely amenities were available to boaters during the pandemic. Very sad.

We set off sailing up… it was it down? The Whalesback Channel towards John Island and Long Point opposite it. The channel is wide for good sailing when there is enough wind. We’d just had three days of strong winds, so as you might imagine, it was light winds most of the way this day. Enough to sail but a little slow. We’d hoped to make Long Point Cove near Spragge, which would have been a new anchorage for Jim and I, but the day was getting shorter so we made for one of my very favourite anchorages instead: Cleary Cove. Carved out of Dewdney Island and facing nearby John Island, it is a small pond-like nook with two narrow rock-lined entrances. One is around 7′ deep, the other is about 9′ deep. But because this is a high water year, all of our boats were able to get into this well-protected hole and still have room to swing at anchor along with three other boats.

By chance, we learned that two of the three other boats in the Cove had connections to Fanshawe Yacht Club! One fellow had sailed there years ago, knew Jim’s Dad and they had mutual acquaintances. What a small world!

Cleary Cove was our most westerly anchorage on this trip. Gill and Ted on Adventure had to be back in Killarney for the end of the week so it was time to head back east.

The next day Thunderstruck greased up the outer hulls and squeezed her way out of the narrow western exit. If you look at this place on a chart, the width of the exit is shown as 40′. Tons of room!! (We missed the over hanging cedars trees by a few inches!)

Our goal was to sail down the Whalesback Channel again just a short distance to Moiles Harbour. Moiles, on Aird Island, was the site of intense lumbering with the population of the settlement there being over 2000 at the turn of the 20th century!! They even had a baseball team which would compete against other lumber settlements. There is a great little book of North Channel stories that we bought one year and one story was about this area.

We enjoyed a calm night at Moiles then headed east out through Little Detroit, and into nearby Oak Bay north of Hotham Island. The wind was to kick up from the northwest so we found a corner and tucked the boats in. Unfortunately, during the afternoon and evening, the strong wind funneled into our narrow hidey hole. All of our anchors held and it was mercifully calm overnight.

One of the fun things about cruising is gunkholing or sneaking one’s boat into skinny water or tiny nooks or exploring passages in a high water year that might normally be impassable. Our exit from Hotham Island was a narrow cut at the eastern end which is only recommended in high water years. We had to hug the southern shore to avoid some rocks but we followed a fine tree-lined channel out towards the First Nations community of McBean Harbour. The day promised to be drizzly with a few showers…and it was. But the winds were somewhat astern of us so we sailed on. Our friends can sail or motor sail in enclosed cockpits. Our trimaran has a cover and a kind of windshield called a Dodger which provides pretty good protection from the rain. We arrived at our East Rouse Island anchorage in time for a downpour. We dropped the hook near shore and waited for the deluge to pass which it quickly did.

East Rouse Island is a convenient place to anchor as it is only a few miles west of Little Current. So we headed there the next day for more provisions and so I could go see a doctor at Emergency at their hospital about what I suspected was shingles on my abdomen. The doctor confirmed my suspicions and advised me to keep it covered, to use cool compresses and to try over the counter pain meds. I scoffed to myself, the pain is not so bad, it’s only a burning feeling. But it increased over the next few days. I won’t go into details but it was tolerable compared to other cases I’ve heard of (thank goodness for Tylenol and the cool Georgian Bay waters. Geez.🙄)

Armed with the knowledge that a rainy day or two were in store, we made for another favourite spot, Snug Harbour east of Little Current off of the Landsdowne Channel and just a few miles west of Killarney. We’d all forgotten how deep Snug was. It was 30′ deep almost up to the shoreline! Our group, minus me, went on a hike to try to reach Fraser Bay on the other side but too many trees had fallen during recent storms and the old path was blocked. The rains came and went but all were snug and safe.

Sadly, our friends on Adventure had to head home so the Friday before their departure, Thunderstruck and the Hunter 375 Cuencanita took a mooring ball each across from Killarney Mountain Lodge while Adventure and Blue Heron took a dock. We were ashore at the docks when a boater invited all of us to come to a concert on the back of his big motor cruiser “Living The Dream” that night! They had hired Andy Lowe, the longtime singer and guitarist at Killarney Mountain Lodge! I guess during the pandemic, Andy couldn’t play in his normal place at the Lodge’s Carousel Room. So it was a real treat to listen to him play live along the docks and a great way for Adventure’s  crew to finish up their North Channel cruise. I’ve included a link below to one of his original tunes about Killarney though he is a really good cover artist. He played one of my faves Northwest Passage but then he played Britney Spears!!! 🤯

Our final week of our North Channel Cruise will be coming soon. For now dear friends, fair winds and following seas.

Note: in one of the photos below you’ll see a scarred hillside. That’s where your granite countertops or Corrian materials might come from!!! Do you know where the products you buy come from or how they are made? It’s good to find out if you can. Als

Click Here to check out one of Andy Lowe’s songs about the Killarney area

About Carleen&Jim

Sailing (and other) adventures of Carleen and Jim often featuring us sailing or racing our trailerable trimarans.
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3 Responses to North Channel Cruise 2020 – The Benjamin Islands west to John Island and back to Killarney.

  1. gslivin says:

    We had us quite an Adventure!!!


  2. gslivin says:

    We had us quite the Adventure!!!


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