Fetch; Faces of the North Channel

by · September 14, 2012



Aug 31 – Sept 6

Thursday August 30th I hooked Fetch behind the camper and headed north toward Sault St Marie. I was going to join a small group of boaters in the North Channel in Canada, about 200 miles east of the boat school. Driving into Canada I had high hopes to experience another country, but I was somewhat disappointed. Canada looks just the same as Michigan in this neck of the woods. Back in the Northwest a visit to Victoria or Vancouver always gives a definite sensation of going to a different country. It feels more European there. Anyway, following hwy 17 east, it took me about 5 hours to reach Little Current, which is a little town on Manitoulin Island. This is a huge island, which separates the North Channel from Lake Huron. I believe it’s the biggest fresh water island in the world.

The North Channel consists of thousands of islands big and small, a lot of them very rocky. Huge boulders of granite rise out of the clear fresh water and vegetation is struggling to grab a hold with their roots. Trees are fairly low and occasionally one has blown over showing a very shallow root system.

I soon met up with my fellow boaters, Anne Westlund, Eric Hughes and Dan Phy. Anne currently sails a Sun Cat (17’), Dan sails a Montgomery 15 and Eric drove a Ranger 22, which is a small tug with an inboard diesel. Anne happens to live in the same town I live in, Cedarville, which is a total coincidence because Dan and Anne started setting up this trip one year ago, when my trip was still just a thought. Anne and Eric have known each other for many years. I had met Dan last December in Port Townsend, where he built the first Scamp from a kit in the Maritime Center where I was his instructor. We have since sailed twice together in California earlier this year.


Eric, Dan and Anne on Eric’s tug.


getting Fetch ready


Anne’s Sun Cat.


The day I arrived, it sported a blustery westerly wind with rain of and on. The next day however it had cleared up and we decided to give it a go, in spite of the strong wind. I was immediately double reefed and flew a small jib, as we beated out of the channel in front of Little Current. I had my GPS standing by to check for shallows. Sun was shining, small white caps all over; it was a good start of our trip. Once we entered Waubuno Channel we hung a right and eased the sheets and the GPS showed between 5 and 6 knots. To slow down Anne had scandalized her main sail (lowered the gaff). Her Suncat has a cat rig with one big main of 150 sft. and no jib. Past Halfway Island we turned right again and headed for Sturgeon Cove. The entrance is a bit tricky and one has to do a zigzag to avoid some rocks that were barely awash. Anne had us well prepared for this, so we all got in just fine.


Anne has scandalized her mainsail to slow down


Eric and Dan


Anne and Dan entering the tricky entrance to the cove


Sturgeon Cove is protected from most any wind and soon we were swinging to our anchors. In order to go ashore or visit each other, everyone but me had a tender. Sometimes I would peddle Fetch over, or Anne would give me a ride in her dinghy, which didn’t leave much freeboard in the stern. After hanging out on Eric’s tug for a bit, each brewed something for themselves for dinner. Four boats, four people, four galleys. That night some of us heard bloody screaming ashore of some animal that was getting killed or something.


Dan in his inflatable


paddling Fetch over for a visit (picture by Dan)


getting a ride in Anne’s dinghy (picture by Dan)



Dan’s M15



Anne’s Sun Cat (picture by Dan)


sunset from Fetch’s cabin



Saturday we left the cove with a little bit of wind, but soon that died all together and we all motored toward Croker Island, about 14 miles to the west. Croker Island looks like one big lump of granite with some trees on it. There is a real nice cove on the west side, where we found a shallow little hide-away, away from other boats. I went ashore with Anne’s dink and had a great overview of the anchorage.


follow the leader (picture by Dan)


Shaded by the bimini


(picture by Dan)


arriving at Croker Island


Lots of granite

Our anchorage




reading in the sunset (picture by Dan)


sunset (picture by Dan)


There were several groups of powerboats rafted up together and as the sun slowly set and the bugs slowly rose, the music from those rafts got louder and louder. Big campfires and loud voices combined with firing a gun and later fire works up until about 11pm was our entourage while trying to get some sleep in our little boats. Finally it all calmed down.


Sunday we made our way across a small bay to the Benjamin Islands, which is less than two miles away. Anne had told me about magnetic disturbances in this area and sure enough my compass reading was about 60 degrees off from the GPS. She mentioned that people suspect that a meteor has hit this area somewhere in the past. Interestingly enough, when you look at a chart, there is a distinct circular pattern to this group of islands.


Chart showing circular pattern of the islands (Croker island on the right)


Again Anne brought us to a beautiful little anchorage. She knows the area very well, after having spent a lot of time in the North Channel. For the past 12 years, she has spent about three months per year sailing around these islands, always in small boats. She prefers small boats, because they are cheaper, easier to handle by her self and shallow.


our anchorage on Benjamin island



Keeping the sun off (doesn’t work well with low sun)


We’re in Canada!


Dan and I did some exploring in a dinghy and a kayak. Huge boulders were worn smooth by glaciers, still showing deep gouges. Many rocks showed cracks running through them, presumably caused by alternating freezing and thawing. One boulder in particular seemed to have been cut by a huge bread slicer. Other rocks showed just the beginnings of cracks and vegetation took the soonest opportunity to wiggle some roots in there. Some low areas on these rocky islands had collected enough organic material for small trees to grab foothold and looked like roof gardens on a granite building. Puddles filled by rain water, some as big as ponds, had plants, fish and frogs in them. It was warm and sunny now, but the winters are pretty severe around here with temperatures well below zero Fahrenheit (-20C) and several feet of snow.




Big boulders cracked like sliced bread.




(picture by Dan)


(picture by Dan)


‘like a roof garden’


Rain puddles as big as ponds


Photographing a frog (picture by Dan)







Monday we motored through some real narrow passages between rocks at the Benjamin Islands. I was exploring close along the rocky shore and watched a mink slip in the water to come up with a fish just a minute later. He sat there right in front of me chowing it to bits.


Mink eating a fish


through narrow cut



We motored just a few miles north to Fox Island and anchored at the end of a narrow inlet. I beached Fetch for the time being to be able to go ashore. There were beautiful marshes around and I took a long walk along the waters edge. A bigger yacht anchored nearby and the owners, Rob and Linda invited all of us aboard for supper. Linda made delicious lasagna with salad, which made for a pleasant evening. They were at the end of their sailing season and were about to put the boat away for the winter.


Nearing Fox Island


Anchorage on Fox




Dinner with Rob and Linda.


Next morning I witnessed a nice sunrise and after everybody’s breakfast rituals we gathered on the tug for a little pow-wow.


Sunrise on Fox Island




Eric invites us over.



During the night I had woken up and looked around in the moonlight. It was completely still and I noticed the reflection of a rock in the water, which created a face when I tilted my head to the side. During the morning, as we motored to our next destination, I noticed faces everywhere. I was tilting my head both left and right, till my neck started protesting. After a while they just popped out at me, as I motored by and I took many pictures. I felt like these rocks were staring at me as if they held the spirits of bygone people. The pictures I’m showing here are not ‘photoshopped’, just turned on their sides and sometimes cropped.
















We motored to the small marina in the town Spanish for supplies. Bags of ice would keep our coolers cold for another three days or so. A flushing toilet seemed like a luxury after having been without for a few days. We got a ride up to the town, had lunch and went to the grocery store. Back at the boats we noticed a Banded Watersnake sneaking along the rocks.


Banded Watersnake


While Anne and Eric motored, Dan and I sailed to our camp spot for the night in a glorious evening sun with a mild breeze. At the beach Eric had made a fire, our one and only fire on this trip. Next morning we gathered on the beach again for pancakes. Anne had brought pancake mix and maple syrup and I made coffee in my French press.


Sunset sail


campfire on the beach


pancakes for breakfast


It was time to start heading back toward Little Current. The forecast was for more wind and possibly thunder. Apparently Lake Superior was cooking up a hefty brew. After motoring for about an hour, the wind kicked in and we had an exciting sail between some islands. The wind in the narrow channel was quite fluky and gusty and a double reef was in order. The bay we were heading for wasn’t going to be protected with the given wind direction, so we changed course to Croker Island, where we had been before. This little cove offers protection from any wind. That night a huge thunderstorm passed us to the north with lightning about every minute or more. At times lots or rain and gusty wind made us feel very cozy in our little cabins.


Back toward Little Current


Thunder (picture by Dan)


and rain


from inside a cozy cabin


Next morning





The last day we goofed around in the morning for a bid and started heading home. Again, first not much wind, but later it came in loud and clear. During that afternoon it kept building to about 20 to 25 knots, under picturesque skies. First I did an occasional 6 knots, then peeks of 7 knots and finally I was surfing off waves at 8 knots at times. Going downwind under full main, no jib and the centerboard mostly up, Fetch maintained very controllable. I kept thinking of taking a reef, but didn’t have to.  Anne, with her Sun Cat was doing exactly the same speed as Fetch. She had her full main up as well. When it’s wavy, the speed varies a lot, depending whether you fall off the back of a wave or surf off the front. Once out of the waves in the channel, Fetch kept up a consistent 6 knots semi-planing for the last quarter mile or so. The wind was from dead aft while running, which made me a little nervous, because of danger of an accidental jibe. I therefore reached more while jibing between each course. It was a very exciting end to our trip in the North Channel.


Flying back home



The next day we all enjoyed showers and breakfast in town and I hit the road, back to Cedarville. In a week I’ll start teaching at the boat building school. I’m sharing a cottage on the waterfront with Bud, who also works for the school. It’s about a 3-minute bike ride from work. I’ll keep you posted on the boats we’re building.


Our cabin near the school




pretty nice inside


My home for the next nine months













Discussion10 Comments

  1. Carmen says:

    Great photos! I am living vicariously until I build my SCAMP here on the west coast at Port Townsend. Gorgeous sailboat.

  2. Wim says:

    Kees jongen. Weer een mooi verhaal
    en vooral bijzondere foto’s van die soms enge gezichten.
    Daar kun je vast wel iets bijzonders mee doen.
    Succes met de as periode.
    Wij naderen de Spaanse grens. Nog een dag of vier.
    1800 km op de teller. Het gaat nog steeds heel lekker.

  3. Bob Throne says:

    Hello Kees,

    I enjoyed this well written & illustrated blog will pleasure and a touch of envy. It was a great sail and you had good company. I was pleased to hear of Eric Hughes who is a really good fellow and has been instrumental in making the Eastern Messabout at Elk Neck, MD such fun. A year and a half ago, prior to meeting any of us, he offered to provide hot dogs and all the fixins for Friday evening 2011 as folks arrived, and indeed he did .. graciously and free. This year he again pitched in; Fiday evening was washed out, but lunch Sat. and Sun. were again provided. He had a Potter 15 this year and as you now know, is a wonderfully congenial companion. I’m not surprised he gathered the closing campfire. Thanks again for the blog. Bob

  4. Annie Westlund says:

    You did a great job on the blog report about our North Channel fun excursion. You negelected to say we all gobbled up the biscotti Mary, Dan’s wife, had baked for us. There were enough to last all during the time we were cruising. Breakfast had coffee and biscotti leading the way daily. Wonderful and thank you Mary. It was fun showing you part of the North Channel area. Wish we had had more time to explore more. Your finding faces in the rocks is fascinating and wonderful. Thank you for those wonderful photos.
    Have a good school year and stay warm,

  5. GeoB says:

    Hey, loved yer pics! I am a bit jealous maybe, with all of that water to explore. Thanks for the write-up and pics.

    On the Banded Water snake… it just don’t look right to me for that, plus it would be Waaay out of its (official) range. Lotsa variations in these critters. If tortured, and I HAD to venture an opinion, I’d try Northern Water snake. Some color phases look right for it.

  6. Gary S says:


    Nice pictures and glad to see your travel pics and new digs with Bud. He seemed like a great guy and I enjoyed his steady touch at the school in the same way you instructed us. Take care, Gary PS My boat going to start back up soon as I have restored my driveway and am finishing rebuilidng my shed…the school must have woke up my hands. Your Eastern Pram student.

  7. Gary B. says:

    Hi Kees,
    Internet hassles have kept me out of contact for about a month. We were on dial-up for awhile! Have a new wireless connection now. We’ll see how it works. So far, so good. Great photos and the faces were wonderful. I’m looking around here for them now, too.
    Its been so long since your trip I suppose the weather has changed quite a bit. Looking forward to more of your continuing history!
    Thanks much,

  8. Linda Swan says:

    Really enjoyed the story of your adventure and the pics. of the rocks and of course the boats. I have a question. I sail solo every summer on Lake Michigan in my Newport 16. The boom is not tethered to the mast. It comes down as I lower the sail. I have a jib too. Any suggestions as to how I might reef such a sail.? Would it be all right to get one of those gizmos that the boom rests on. I believe one of you had one? Thanks for any help you can give. Happy sailing, Linda

  9. Gary S says:

    Thanks Kees for posting progression pictures of our pram class. Was interesting to see your travels post class and the nice family pictures in Washington. You have been seeing some worthy sites in Michigan. My boat in drydock garage for now but just finished two major hands on projects including refurbishing my driveway and rebuilding a storage shed. The boat will be my winter project.
    Best regards, Gary S.

  10. Bill Hanchett says:

    Nice set of pictures and blog. I have enjoyed many of the same places though I am presently almost boatless. We had a Nauticat 33 for many years at our homeport of Duncan Bay in Cheboygan, MI, 15 miles east of Mackinaw City. We’re presently living in Rogers City, straight south of the North Channel. I’ve just gotten hooked on Small Craft Advisor in the past year and really enjoyed your coverage, especially of the SCAMP. I’m just starting a B&B Spindrift 10. It’s my first boatbuilding project in about 45 years and I’m really looking forward to it. What type of building projects are you doing up at the school?

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