What I Did On Summer Vacation
On Wednesday of our week on Manitoulin Island, I had my wife Judy and my father-in-law Lee Henry drop me off at the launch ramp in Kagawong. I launched the Wayfarer at about 8 o’clock in the morning and started sailing north up Mudge Bay. About midmorning, I was sailing up the west side of Clapperton Island when I spotted a spar type buoy washed up on the shore of a pile of rocks called Western Reef. The spar is intended to mark the edge of the channel. (I made a note to tell the Canadian Coast Guard of this situation upon returning to Lake Mindemoya. I was unable to get them on the telephone at the cottage so I e-mailed them from my home in Ohio. I never heard a reply from the Coast Guard but hopefully they have taken care of the buoy.)
After circumnavigating Hook Island, I headed for South Benjamin Island. While sailing along the lower end of South Benjamin, I spotted what looked like a nice secluded cove easily accessible in my Wayfarer. I sailed in for a look and found a beautiful camping spot at the end of the half-kilometer long cove. There was a beach composed of fine gravel and sand made from the red granite that makes up these islands. This area is the beginning of a geologic formation known as the Canadian Shield and the beautiful rock formations added to the attractiveness of the spot. Nobody was occupying the cove at the time and I thought it would make a great spot to overnight. However, since it was only about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and a fine sailing day I decided to go on and see if I could find a better site later in the day.
I sailed around South Benjamin and as I went through the narrow passage that separates South Benjamin from North Benjamin, I noticed that there were from twenty-five to fifty yachts anchored in the immediate vicinity. Thinking I might lose the campsite I had checked out earlier if I delayed, I headed back to the beautiful cove. I could see yachts anchored in many places around the Benjamins and Crocker Island.
I got back to the cove and it was still deserted. I pitched my tent, secured the Wayfarer on the beach and went exploring the nearby high rocks. While on the high rocks, I had a beautiful view of my boat on the beach and the entire cove. A dinghy load of people came into the cove, looked around and then left. They were from one of the nearby yachts. I also found the mother lode of wild blueberries growing in the cracks and fissures of the granite. I picked and ate and ate and picked. I had forgotten how good wild Canadian blue berries were since I hadn’t indulged in any since the late nineteen-seventies when Judy and I made a trip by canoe down the Spanish River.
After returning to my campsite, I felt that a swim and a bath in the cove would be refreshing. The sun was shinning and the water was warm and inviting. Before I got involved with bathing however, another dinghy came down to the end of the cove. In it were a man and a woman and their young son. They were from Colburg, down on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario. They had seen my boat and thought I might have been an old friend of theirs that sails a CL16, which is very similar to a Wayfarer. We exchanged some sailing stories and they told me they were cruising the North Channel on their MacGregor 26. They evidently trailered it up to the North Channel from Colburg. They were, at one time, residents of the area near where we were and had returned for a holiday. Who could blame them?
I finished my bath, which, by the way, was very refreshing. An interesting sideline was that when I kicked up the sand with my feet it would shine like thousands of tiny diamonds. This was a result of the mica that had once been incorporated in the granite being liberated, as the granite was ground into sand by the force of the water and wind.
Feeling somewhat hungry after my bath, I thought I would troll a spinner as I motored around the island once more and see if I could catch something for supper. I checked out the yachts again and everybody appeared to be enjoying the fine weather. There were no fish to be had for supper this evening though. My mighty 2 hp Johnson outboard was running superbly at this time and all was well in my little world.
I returned to my camp and as the sun was going down I sipped some delicious red wine that I had brought along and started preparing my evening meal sans fish. Supper consisted of a can of boned chicken mixed with an envelope of dried noodles with their own tasty crème sauce. For dessert I had some dried plums (we used to call these prunes when I was growing up) and dried figs. While I was cooking, a mother mallard and three or four young ones came ashore near my camp and were scouting around. I located a bagel in my grub bag, tore it into pieces and threw it to them. They ate all of it except the pieces that landed too close to where I was sitting. These ducks weren’t as tame as the ones in our marina back in Ohio. Those ducks would have found and eaten all of the bagel and roosted overnight on the boat.
As I was finishing my supper, storms from the west started to move in. It started to rain so I let clean up go until morning and crawled into my tent. I sat at the open door and watched as the storms, with much attendant lightning, moved over Manitoulin Island to the south of me. I was told later that the storms that night were some of the most severe that at least one long time resident of Manitoulin could remember. The lightning for the islanders must have been awesome as it moved over their heads. I got some rain and lightning but not that severe. I did find some of the leaks in my old tent though.
Thursday morning dawned beautiful after the storms of the previous evening. I got up at about seven o’clock, struck my tent, packed my duffle and made some pancakes chased down with a can of Sunny Delight (not exactly orange juice but comes in cans, is good warm or cold, and keeps well in the back of the boat.)
At eight o’clock, my intended time of departure, I tried to start the outboard and the rope recoil packed up. I disassembled it and cut off about one foot of rope, as it appeared the spool was overfull, causing the rope to jump the track and jam up the mechanism. After reassembling the starter, I had no luck at all getting the engine to start. Finally, I paddled the boat out of the cove, past the rocky islets at the entrance and hoisted my sails to a very light southeast breeze (breeze being an overstatement) at about eight-thirty AM.
I set my course for the northwest along the west side of the Benjamins, past the Booth Rocks and skirted the east end of Eagle Island. As I was rounding the east end of Frechette Island, the wind all but died and with the adverse current I was down to less than two miles per hour. Many yachts were transiting north or south, either leaving anchorages to the north among the many islands along the north shore of the North Channel or headed that way. Many were powerboats and some were sailboats with power. All were making more progress than I, as I was still unable to start the outboard.
As I made my way through the narrows of the McBean Channel on the north side of Frechette Island, the wind came back and started to freshen. Again I was on a beat up the McBean Channel looking for a course that would take me north of Aird Island. I was soon being overwhelmed with the wind and ducked in behind Hawkin Island to douse my jib and go with mainsail alone. While I was at work, a man and a woman in a kayak hailed me and we chatted for a little bit. They had been on an overnighter in a rented tandem kayak out of the town of Spanish on the Spanish River. They had a five or six mile paddle to windward to gain their destination. As I watched them going up the channel against the wind, they were making as good progress as I was.
It was now about noon and I had been listening to weather reports from the Coast Guard station at Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. There were advisories for severe thunderstorms in the afternoon located over the upper portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The storms were moving in an easterly direction and would eventually find me in the North Channel.
As I tacked toward a set of rocks named Hiesordt Rocks, I again spotted my kayak friends. They had their craft pulled out of the water and were exploring the barren rocks and I guess they might have been assessing the ever worsening weather. Not knowing how capable they were, I offered to take them aboard my boat and tow their kayak to calmer waters. I also advised them of the sixty to eighty miles per hour gusts that were expected with the storms. They assured me they were O.K. and would press on. That was the last I saw of them that day. I hope they made it all right.
The conditions by this time made reading the chart and managing the boat difficult. I was on a wild and fast broad reach and missed my turn into a narrow passage called the “Little Detroit” that separates the east end of Aird Island from the Canadian mainland. I sailed on down into a small bay and rounded up in a protected marshy area. This, I thought, would be a good place to double reef my mainsail for the beat back to Little Detroit. I rested for a while and had some refreshments then headed back into the bay.
When I got out there, I found sailing difficult because the wind had gone light and I was double reefed. I shook out the reefs and headed slowly for the passage once again. When I got there I found a channel that was about two hundred feet wide and about two to three hundred yards long. The wind, what there was of it, was again on my bow as was, also, a rather strong current. Still unable to start the outboard, I resorted to paddle/sailing the boat through the narrow waterway. A thirty-five foot sailboat entered the Little Detroit as I was leaving it. However, I don’t think they had to paddle/sail through it though I don’t know how they did accomplish their mission.
We (the other boat and I) started beating west down the channel on the north side of Aird Island and the wind increased to fifteen to twenty-five knots with higher gusts. The sky was getting darker as we headed west. It was now mid afternoon, slipping into late afternoon. I realized that even in good conditions, I had a long way to go to my destination of Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island where Judy had left the car and trailer for me.
At four o’clock PM, I was again struggling with the boat and getting tired. I had already doused the jib (which isn’t much on a Wayfarer) and single reefed the mainsail. I am fortunate to have installed jiffy reefing on my main sail, as the boom is so long that it makes normal slab reefing very difficult to tie in when the single-handed sailor encounters rough conditions.
As I watched the thirty-five footer behind me, I noticed that he was gaining on me but was also, at times, struggling to stay upright. By now, as the conditions became more than I cared to deal with and the sky grew more ominous, I promised myself that the next place that looked like refuge would find me in it for the night. I found a place that was sheltered. It was a small indent in the shore of Aird Island that gained extra protection from some rather large rocks jutting into the bay immediately to the west. The yacht that had been following me went on another mile or two and rounded up in a protected area that is a designated anchorage on the chart.
I pulled the Wayfarer onto a small sandy spot that was part of the marshy cove that was to be my home for the night. It was now about five thirty and the distant thunder was becoming more audible and the sky more menacing. I rigged my six-foot by eight-foot awning to the boom for shelter since there was nowhere on the shore to set up my tent. The awning, though serviceable, would have been more adequate had its measurements been eight feet by ten feet.
At this time I thought I would call Judy and let her know my situation. I had brought along my cell phone from the States and since I was, as the crow flies, only a few miles from Route 17 (the Trans-Canada Highway) I had no trouble at all with a signal. However, all I got was a recorded message welcoming me to Bell Canada’s mobile cellular network and if I had any further questions, I was to dial their 800 number on a landline phone to get squared away with their system. So much for modern technology! I was in hopes that Judy would assess the situation and surmise that I was storm bound and in a safe harbor somewhere. She did, in fact, and never even thought about calling the Coast Guard or the RCMP.
Before the storm came, I explored the cove a little bit and cast about with my spinning rod. I managed to catch one little perch that was lucky enough to be too small for supper. Instead I made a can of hot chili with beans and finished off the dried fruit and bottle of wine. I was lucky to have the can of chili in the lazarette. I had only provisioned for one evening meal. I keep a few canned goods at the bottom of my dry bag with the flares for just such emergencies. There was also another can of chili and a tin of sardines, water and Sunny Delight.
At six forty-five PM, the storm finally arrived. It struck like nothing I’ve seen for a good long time. The wind was fierce and the rain torrential. It literally laid the whole bay flat. Visibility was nil as the front moved through. It rained and blew for quite some time and I huddled under what now seemed like a postage stamp sized awning like an animal. As the torrential rain moderated to a drizzle, my boat started to float free of the sand that I had pulled her on. I hadn’t put out an anchor or mooring line so I was forced to get out and pull the boat further up on the sand. I observed the water in the bay had risen six to eight inches during the storm. I suppose the increased wind with rain was backing the bay up because of the narrow passage down at the Little Detroit. As the wind and rain further subsided, I noticed the water was returning to its normal levels. I thought to myself that I’d better get out and pull the boat a little further towards the water. I pushed on the bow and couldn’t budge it. I grew a little concerned with that and the fact that the water had farther to drop. When I had arrived, there was a small, waterlogged board lying on the sand near where I was parked. It was dry at that time. It was still underwater a little bit now and I realized that by the time the board was dry again, I’d be unable to pull the boat off the sand.
I went around to the stern of the boat and gave a mighty heave on the mainsheet traveler track. I moved the boat just slightly but I feared more heaving on the track could damage either it or the boat. So I took the mainsheet and ran it through the stern eyes several times to form a strop that I could heave on. All my strength would move the boat about one inch with each effort. And finally, after quite a struggle, the boat was again floating free. I was very determined to relaunch the boat because if I didn’t, it might be quite some time before anybody happened by to give me aid. I feared pulling muscles in my back or worse yet, rupturing a disc. I now pulled the boat lightly up on the sand and ran sixty feet of line from the bow to a tree just in case the water should rise again during the night. The weather was still dismal with sporadic rain. The thunder and lightning was generally some distance from me now and not much of a threat.
I had, by this time, resigned myself to spending the night in the cove. Any thoughts of making a run for Gore Bay evaporated. First, it was nearly dark and would only get darker. The storm, though much less severe, was still present. I would have to pick my way out of the Whalesback Channel into the North Channel. To accomplish this, there was at least one or maybe two unlit green cans that I would have to find in the dark to make the passage between Aird Island and John Island. Halfway to Gore Bay, about fifteen miles away, I would have to negotiate reefs and rocky islets that stretch several miles to the west of the much larger Darch Island. Most of this water would be deep enough for my boat but there were several areas where I saw breaking waves the next day when I did pass through.
Since I wasn’t going anywhere, I rolled out my sleeping bag on the still damp floorboards and stuck a folded life jacket under my head for a pillow. The life jacket was a big mistake. It hurt my neck and shoulder more than pulling the boat back into the water. My neck and shoulders are still sore as I write this. I set my watch alarm for a 5:00 AM wake up, as I wanted to get an early start, and settled in for the night.
About this time the mosquitoes came. They weren’t as plentiful as when I was growing up on Pine Island in Florida but they were certainly annoying never the less. I fortunately had an aerosol of repellant in my duffle and applied it liberally. Now the thirsty little devils only tried to invade my ears and nostrils when I stuck my head out of the sleeping bag. I slept pretty well except I awoke at 1:08 AM and it was raining again.
When 5:00 came, I immediately got up and started preparing breakfast. I diced up a potato I had on board and started it frying on my Coleman Backpacker stove. When the potato was browning up nicely, I whipped up two eggs and some seasoning from my cook kit and threw them into the frying potatoes. It was great but could have used some onions and mushrooms. The mosquitoes returned and I didn’t want to reapply the repellant and smell of DEET all day so I shoved the breakfast down quickly and got underway. I paddled out of the cove without even trying the outboard. I got the sails up about 5:30 or 6:00 and started for the gap between Villliers Island and Passage Island, which would get me into the Whalesback Channel. I made my course for the west, as a light breeze was working up from the northwest. The sun was coming up astern and I observed a pair of ospreys out hunting for their breakfast. I, also, observed what appeared to have been an apparition way out ahead of me moving from south to north at a great rate of speed and there was no evidence of it having contact with the water. I put my binoculars on it and it was a strange looking craft made of aluminum that was finished bright from its cabin top to the waterline. It shone like a diamond in the new sun and clear air. Finally, I could just barely hear its engine even though it appeared to still be floating slightly above the water. I suppose the cooler air coming over the warmer water caused a mirage effect on the boat making it appear to be flying.
I continued beating up the channel in the light air looking for one or two green marks that would orient me for my approach into the North Channel. I passed between Aikens Island and Rainboth Island at about 8:00 AM and set my course almost due south for Gore Bay. At this point, I had to decide how to safely pass through the rocky area stretching west from Darch Island. I elected to pass just east of a small rocky islet named Egg Island, which was about six miles away. My course now put me on a comfortable broad reach in the light breeze. As I passed Egg Island, a bald eagle took off from the island with something in its talons. It also had an excited seagull hot on its tail. Then another eagle came off the island headed more or less in the same direction as the first two birds. Since there was only one tree on the island with no eagle’s nest in it, I surmised that the pair of eagles was making a raid on the residents of Egg Island from perhaps nearby Belleau Island.
The town of Gore Bay was about eleven miles away and I could make out boats entering and leaving the bay for which the town is named; however, the wind had gone lighter and I was only making two or three mph. Just for kicks, I hauled the outboard out of storage and tried starting it. Lo and behold, it started and I was now able to make about six mph motor sailing. I got down into Gore Bay pretty far when a yacht from Michigan started gaining on me. I struggled for a long time to stay just ahead of him. He might have thought we were racing to get one of the berths for transients at the town marina. It didn’t matter; my engine quit and was not to start again until I was home in Ohio. Thus, I was left in the wake of the man from Michigan.
It was about noon when I made my way into the marina area at Gore Bay where there was a line of yachts waiting to receive a yeah or a neigh on their requests for an overnight dock. I was glad I wasn’t part of that scene. I asked a man standing on the dock about the launch ramp and he pointed to it not very far away. There I found the keys to the van Judy had hidden for me and commenced making preparations for putting the boat on the trailer so I could head back to our cottage on Lake Mindemoya and sadly end another great Wayfarer experience.
Upon reflection, I found this trip very enjoyable in spite of some stormy weather. I never felt my safety threatened due to the small size of my cruiser. However, I always wear a life jacket when sailing alone and sometimes throw on a safety harness and tether for an added measure of safety in rough conditions. Along with me for most all of my sailing is also a waterproof 25-watt marine VHF radio installed in the lazarette. I also carry a handheld GPS with spare batteries and the charts appropriate for the area that I am visiting. My boat is also equipped with running lights for those times of poor visibility or returning after sundown from sailing.
One of the most important admonitions concerning Wayfarer safety, in my opinion, is never sail with the buoyancy tank hatches open. I made this mistake a year ago last June and found that a fiberglass Wayfarer with swamped buoyancy tanks is impossible to self-rescue in spite of the positive buoyancy provided by the encapsulated foam in both ends of the boat. The positive flotation will, indeed, keep the boat from sinking to the bottom, but it will not allow the boat to float high enough to bail due to the gunwales being awash. With hatches secured in place, self-rescue is hardly ever a big problem unless there are big seas running.
For any reading this that is not familiar with the Wayfarer, it is a sixteen foot, double chine, open sloop. The British boat designer, Ian Proctor in the late 1950’s for racing, cruising and daysailing, designed it. It is an excellent family boat as well as being easy for the single hander. There are only a handful of Wayfarers in the United States, a few more in Canada and thousands in Europe and the rest of the world. My boat was built in 1984 in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada by Abbot Boats. To learn more about this boat please check out the website: uswayfarer.org or read the book Ocean Crossing Wayfarer by Frank and Margaret Dye.