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Thread: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

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    Default A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Well, I thought I'd fritter away a little time on a thread about a little North Channel outing I enjoyed last summer (2019). The boat, as always these days, was my Alaska, designed by Don Kurylko for long-distance cruising. Yep. It works pretty well for that--I've got just a bit over 1,000 miles on mine now (Georgian Bay, Lake of the Woods, Georgian Bay, North Channel, Upper Mississippi, local northwoods lake systems, etc), and some bigger trips in mind (one of which got canceled this year when those pesky Canadians closed the border).

    As it turned out, other than a week-long trip to Lake of the Woods (which you can read about in the April 2020 Small Boats Magazine if you're interested), the only free time I managed to piece together that summer came in the form of small chunks.

    (A brief digression: I was expounding to someone or another--some might say "complaining" but don't listen to them--about how I wouldn't be able to manage a long trip, and all I had gotten to do was 5 days for this trip. And that how, in my experience, that just doesn't give you the same experience as being able to take a long trip. My listener paused thoughtfully, then said, "For most people, 5 days IS a long trip." I suppose he was right. )

    Part of the problem is, it's somewhere between 6-10 hours to get to big water for long cruises--Lake Superior, and especially Lake Huron, are the usual suspects. But somehow suddenly things all fell together so that I ended up with 5 days free, NOT counting driving time.

    My thoughts immediately turned to the North Channel (10 hour drive). Specifically, a nice little no-drama cruising ground called the Turnbull Islands, just about 10 miles from the nearest boat launch point at Blind River, Ontario:

    Overview.jpg

    I had camped here for a single night (Edit to say: nope, it was 2 nights) on my first big sail & oar trip, a 20-day circling of the western North Channel. More time there might be just the ticket for a low-stress, low-on-challenge cruising getaway.

    Tom
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-06-2020 at 06:33 AM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    By now, after 4 years using the boat, packing and preparation is routine: 2 big dry bags strapped in forward of the rowing thwart, water and anchor gear tied down in the gap between, anywhere from 2-4 25 lb bags of steel shot underneath them for ballast. Smaller items in bags under the aft deck, a few even smaller items in the sealed buoyancy chambers (car keys, wallet, and phone go here in a watertight bag, and a few daily snacks).

    DSCN6636.jpg

    I put all sleeping gear (2 yoga mats, sleeping bag, land tent, boat tent) in the dry bag on the starboard side. That way I can kneel on them when raising the sail. Everything else goes in the port-side bag.

    Most things are tied in; I suppose I should work on making that "everything" one of these days.

    Tom
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I launched from Blind River in the late afternoon, or more likely early evening, hoping to get to the Turnbulls for camp that night. Here's a look at them--a pretty little group of undeveloped (mostly) islands, maybe a couple of dozen of them--and just a couple of miles off the mainland, so fairly sheltered, with no big crossings to make.

    Turnbulls.jpg

    The entire group runs maybe 4 miles from east to west, and about a mile north to south.

    But, it was already fairly late, winds were light and contrary, and the sand-beach island I was hoping to camp at (too shallow for keelboats) was about 10 miles from the ramp. Hmm...
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-07-2020 at 06:16 PM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Following!
    - Chris

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Eventually I decided that the wind wasn't likely to last long enough to get me to the Turnbulls that night. Plan B (can you really call it a plan if you make it up as you go along?) turned out to involve turning west, away from the Turnbulls. Just a couple of miles that way, I knew from my last trip 10 years ago, there was a beautiful little sand-beach cove at Patrick Point--which is, I think, a long sandbar spilling into the North Channel at the delta of the Mississagi River.

    So, I headed that way, ghosting along at a pace far slower than rowing pace. I figured that was OK, since I knew where I was going, and only had a couple of miles to cover. I arrived at my cove at twilight, anchored just off the beach, and set up my tent on flat sand at the edge of a granite-and-pines backdrop, and crashed hard after my 10-hour drive.

    Woke up to the typical North Channel morning flat calm:

    Patrick Point cove.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-05-2020 at 10:09 PM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I always love hearing about these adventures...please continue....

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Thanks--a few more posts tonight. My route from day one's evening sail to windward--one tack to Patrick Point's little cove:

    Day 1 route.jpg

    I was now farther from my destination than I was when I launched! And with no wind, it would be about 5 hours of rowing to reach the center of the Turnbulls. Or (my natural slothfulness and general lack of ambitions for this cruise setting in)...

    I could row west up the shore just a bit farther, and explore the branching birdsfoot delta of the Mississagi River, hoping the wind would pick up later for a lazy hands-free passage to the Turnbulls.

    I turned west again, leaving my destination even farther behind, hoping to spend the morning calm exploring the Mississagi Delta under oars:

    Delta Overview.jpg
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    A beautiful little cove to camp in:

    Anchored near Patrick Point.jpg

    I left the tent standing with some gear inside to hold it down, packed a few snacks, and headed out.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Right around here, at Patrick Point and the Hennepin Islands just a bit farther west, is where the "real" North Channel begins--you don't see much of this exposed granite terrain farther west.

    Leaving camp.jpg

    Just behind the rolled-up sail bundle (perhaps foolishly optimistic to expect wind), you can see a little mesh bag hanging under the port gunwale. This works really well for me as a place to put the mainsheet so it's always ready but never in the way. With a boomless rig like mine, the sail can really start whipping around if you release the sheet. Since I use a heavy steel snaplink to attach the sheet to the clew, it's a potential head-clobberer. Also, the sheet thrashes around so wildly that it always ends up in the water.

    So, if I want to release the sheet and not worry about a concussion, I unclip the sheet from the sail and take a couple of seconds to feed it into the bag--sheet, snaplink, ratchet block and all--the entire sheeting set-up goes here. It's a very handy little trick to keep the cockpit uncluttered--maybe one of the best routines I've discovered for this boat.

    Without the sheet attached, the sail is free to flap around without causing any problems.

    You can also see the tie-in lines I've rigged under the gunwales--they run through holes drilled in the hanging knees. Very handy for attaching gear (the bailer's lanyard/leash, my hand compass, my shoes, etc.--all tied in and secure, and out of the way).
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-05-2020 at 10:11 PM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    After about a mile and a half, I was rowing up the main channel of the Mississagi River:

    river mouth.jpg

    where I dodged through some old pilings and leftover footings from what had been at one time the largest pine sawmill east of the Rockies:

    Pilings.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-06-2020 at 06:41 AM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I rowed past a few fishing boats in the main channel, then dodged up a side channel to the west and left them behind:

    side channel.jpg

    For the next couple of hours I rowed through the delta, stopping for a bit of breakfast and another chapter in my book. By the time I started heading back down the delta by another route, I was rowing into a fairly stiff headwind (a beam wind for the passage to the Turnbulls), so I was hopeful that my stint at the oars would soon be over.

    leaving the delta.jpg
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-06-2020 at 06:44 AM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    But, nope:



    Hot. No wind. But the Alaska rows nicely, so not really a hardship. It was kind of neat to see how the blue of the water and the sky matched so closely that the horizon was almost invisible.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I stopped in at camp, packed up my gear, and started rowing for the Turnbulls. If this was anything like a typical North Channel summer morning, the wind should be picking up soon.

    And after two or three miles at the oars, there it was--a faint southwesterly breeze that kept on getting stronger, giving me a nice easy passage to the Turnbulls:

    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-06-2020 at 07:20 AM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    By mid-afternoon I had made it to the heart of the Turnbull Islands group, all on the starboard tack with the wind behind the beam (we're heading NE in the video below, but most of the trip had been a bit south of east):



    Even though it had been 9 years (almost to the day) since my last visit, I remembered the layout of this little group of islands so well that I didn't even bother looking at my chart. I'm not sure why that is, but it seems to happen a lot--if I have been somewhere in a small boat, my mental map seems to remain accessible for a looong time. I'm curious to know whether that happens to anyone else?

    Honestly, I think I'd be perfectly comfortable going anywhere in the North Channel without a chart at all. Would be an interesting experiment someday. Then again, I like charts--they offer all kinds of suggestions for what might be neat places to explore that I might never find if I were just sailing around without them.
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-06-2020 at 07:20 AM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I sailed right up to the exact island I had in mind, a little thickly wooded island with a few granite outcrops and a small beach on the north side. With record high waters in Lake Michigan/Lake Huron (really the same lake, despite the different names), the beach had almost completely disappeared.

    But an "almost" beach is good enough for a little sail & oar boat with a captain who doesn't mind getting his feet wet:

    beached.jpg

    After unloading my gear (keeping almost everything in 2 large bags really simplifies that--no more stowing in sealed compartments with tiny hatches to drag stuff through), I rigged an anchor off the stern to keep the boat off the beach (a tiny 3-lb Northill folding seaplane anchor that fits neatly under the aft deck wrapped in a PFD) and tied a line to shore from the bow, and that was that.

    About 9 miles of rowing, and maybe another 10 miles of sailing. That's pretty close to a standard day on one of my trips (mileage, anyway--often there's less rowing).

    Luckily there was a tiny quasi-clearing just above the beach on a low rise where a fallen tree had cleared a grassy/mossy space to set up my tent. The nice thing about a low-ambition short cruise like this, one that intends to explore a limited area, is that I wouldn't have to pack everything up each day. This would be home for the next few days.
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-06-2020 at 07:32 AM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I thought of you this year when we anchored Drake in Black Bay, north of Britt. A Tom kind of place. EC339CA7-A82C-4480-9E18-0B598975B97E.jpg

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Oh, yeah--looks like a Dave kind of place, too, eh? All that area around Britt offers incredible small boat traveling. Thanks for posting! I'm glad you were able to get out there.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Thanks for taking me on your trip to the North Channel. I'd love to explore that area someday. The 2,000 mile drive not so much.

    Woody

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Yep, that'd be a looong drive. Makes sense to come for a couple of months, then!

    On with the trip. Here's the route from the my arrival in the Turnbulls:

    camp.jpg

    Water levels were indeed high--that red circle in the image above is a bunch of rocks that were completely underwater this year.

    Woke up the next day in my little cove to a gray uninspiring kind of day--but not actually raining. Yet. Still, I'd rather be a bit rained-on in my boat than dry in my tent. I decided to head over to the main anchorage in the Turnbulls (just a bit east of my island) to see who might be there. Maybe there'd be someone I knew.

    No wind, really, so I was rowing again. Kind of fun weaving my way through all the islands:

    day 3.1.jpg

    There were half a dozen keelboats and powerboats in the main anchorage (just west of Turnbull Island, it's a popular spot for big boats), but everyone was still belowdecks. I imagine I'd be the same if I had a comfy cabin with a dinette and cozy bunks. Being in an open boat tends to keep me moving--being too comfortable can be a real obstacle in some ways.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    From there, I could see the tall(ish) cliffs of Round Island about a mile north of the main Turnbulls group. I decided to head that way and check it out.

    day 3.2.jpg

    A neat island. I thought about landing at a bouldery beach at the southern tip, but would have had to anchor in chest-deep water and swim ashore. Instead, I rowed along the cliffs an oar's length offshore:

    day 3.3.jpg
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I rowed north along Round Island's western shore, but wasn't ambitious enough to try to land and go ashore. Would have been hard to do on the west side because of all the cliffs. Eventually, I hoisted the sail for my return to the Turnbulls when the wind came up:

    day 3.4.jpg

    This is heading SE toward the southern tip of Round Island, just before making the crossing back to the main anchorage. Pretty blustery, one reef in, probably not absolutely necessary--but it does create better visibility forward to have a reef in.
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-07-2020 at 06:24 PM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom View Post
    I rowed past a few fishing boats in the main channel, then dodged up a side channel...

    leaving the delta.jpg
    Tom, i saw this pic on the interweb this morning and couldn't help thinking about you and your adventures involving navigating up n around so many crooks n nannies on your many trips

    92f5839b10c2689b84b160bf118af166.jpg

    sw
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    steve

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Now THAT is close quarters sailing! Neat photo. Not a passage to make unless conditions are right, eh?
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I sailed back to my island by pretty much the same route--a southerly wind, so it would have been faster to row (but who's in a hurry?) Still no one abovedecks in the main anchorage--did anyone leave their cabins all day? Who knows?

    I kept tacking through the narrow channels between islands--shifty inconsistent breezes and gusts, but I did sail back up onto my little beach without resorting to oars. Another quiet evening in camp:



    There are decidedly fewer physical comforts offered by this kind of sailing, and I think sometimes people let that scare them away from sail & oar. But for me, the unquantifiable benefits you get from foregoing a bit of comfort make this mode of travel far more rewarding. It's a bit like backpacking, which I love--except you don't have to carry anything! Maybe that perspective is what makes it so appealing to me--I don't see it as a decrease in comfort compared to a comfy cabin, but rather as a vast increase in comfort over a hot sweaty day of backpacking with a 40-lb pack and 7,000 feet of elevation gain.

    I'm not sure why it's so satisfying to watch a little boat that you've sailed all day tucked safely away in a little harbor for the night--but, for me at least, it is:

    day 3.5.jpg
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    The next day dawned gray and windy--REAL windy! It was going to be my last day in the Turnbulls, though, so I wasn't about to sit around in camp all day. Instead, I struck the rig and set out under oars.

    As soon as I rounded the corner of my island, into the teeth of a strong SW wind, I knew I'd made the right choice. While you can't row fast into a strong headwind, you can row steady. So I did--a clockwise circumnavigation of my little island to begin:

    day 4.1.jpg

    Or, really, a half circumnavigation. When I saw a little inlet on the eastern side, I rowed up into it, tied to shore, and ate a second breakfast (which, really, was nothing fancier than a few graham crackers dipped in a packet of chocolate pudding).

    Here's the view back out my little hidey-hole (no wind here!):

    day 4.2.jpg
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    It dawned on me that I'd never really seen the east side of Turnbull Island (that's the big one forming the eastern edge of the group). So, I rowed out into what were by now some pretty serious whitecaps--a strong westerly now--and headed that way, knowing that as soon as I rounded the tip of Turnbull Island I'd be in the windshadow, with flat water for rowing. Nice to have a little heavier boat for chop like this--it was a casual (if slow) row over there--would have been a bit of a white-knuckler under sail.

    day 4.3.jpg

    Yep. Calm water in the lee of Turnbull Island. I spent the afternoon rowing at a leisurely pace up the shore:



    I love this kind of bare-granite-and-pines terrain, which stretches from the middle of the North Channel westward and southward all through Georgian Bay, getting rockier and jaggedy-er the farther you go.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    I anchored for a while to read and enjoy the ultra-comfortable lounging seat in the bow of my Alaska (one fat firm cushion to sit on, one for a backrest against the coaming). It was turning out to be a very non-dramatic, non-ambitious cruise, but that was OK. Well, mostly OK. I'd rather have been out for 6 weeks on a long journey somewhere or other, but five days in the Turnbulls wasn't bad, either.

    Finally headed back to camp--the westward leg along the north side of Turnbull Island was TOUGH going, fierce headwinds that almost made me wish I weren't too lazy to bother with feathering my oars--and then cutting through a marshy little slot at the NW tip of Turnbull Island that would've been dry land just a few years ago, before these record high water levels set in.

    day 4.4.jpg

    I had sure made the right call striking the rig and going to oars--fierce!

    Back at camp, my little beach was perfectly calm in the lee of my thickly-forested island. A last quiet evening at camp:

    day 4.5.jpg

    I quite enjoyed myself, even if dinner (a packet of expired--but only recently!--instant potatoes) was perhaps somewhat less than tremendously inspiring.

    day 4.6.jpg
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    And that was about it. Had a strong SW wind in the morning, just right to put me close-hauled back to Blind River, where my car and trailer were waiting. And that was it:

    day 5.1.jpg

    Nice friendly marinas, Ontario. Quiet, un-busy, and very welcoming for small boats. When I had asked what I needed to do to arrange parking, I was told "Just park over there"--no charge. Laundry, Internet, etc.

    Now if only they'll open the border for next summer...

    Tom
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Lovely trip Tom. Thanks for sharing.
    - Chris

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Thanks for sharing another adventure. Always a joy to read, and I find your use of maps adds a great deal to the reader's "cruise" experience.

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Always fun to relive a trip on the WBF like that.

    The Turnbulls really are a great destination if you don't have much time. Or even if you do--you could easily extend a cruise there with a 6-mile eastward hop over to Beardrop Harbour and the Whalesback Channel--some of the prettiest territory in the North Channel.

    Tom
    Last edited by WI-Tom; 09-09-2020 at 08:59 PM.
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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Thanks for sharing your trip! It looks like a great place to explore with all the nooks and crannies.

    Quote Originally Posted by WI-Tom
    I'm not sure why it's so satisfying to watch a little boat that you've sailed all day tucked safely away in a little harbor for the night--but, for me at least, it is:


    It really is satisfying to look at a small boat that took you somewhere safely.

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Quote Originally Posted by The Jeff View Post
    Thanks for sharing your trip! It looks like a great place to explore with all the nooks and crannies.



    It really is satisfying to look at a small boat that took you somewhere safely.[/COLOR]
    SPECIALLY when you built her ;-)

    sw
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    steve

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    Default Re: A North Channel Sail & Oar Cruise (pre-COVID-19)

    Just a bump to this thread to say that the latest issue of Small Craft Advisor has my article about this trip in case anyone's interested in a more text-heavy account.

    Cheers!

    Tom
    You don't have to be prepared as long as you're willing to suffer the consequences.

    www.tompamperin.com

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