We came to the North Channel four summers ago not sure what we were looking for. What we found that first summer changed us and has brought us back again and again.
This year we came looking to find new anchorages, see new areas of Georgian Bay and to reconnect with many of the boaters and locals we have met over the last few summers and now call our friends.
The new anchorages we have found and many we will visit the next time we are here. Some like Collins Inlet and others east of Killarney we may visit again, some this year were once-in-a-lifetime anchorages that we are so glad we have gotten to experience.
Georgian Bay was really spectacular and we may do parts of that again soon.
The people we encounter never cease to amaze. We have met both young and old, who have been drawn, like us, to the North Channel for reasons they often don’t understand as we didn’t at first, but have heeded the call and are better for it.
We have talked to those who came seeking solace for their broken hearts, those who have never cruised before and have decided that this was their chance – retired teachers who come to the North Channel after years in the classroom because they gave all they could and retired on emotional empty and come north to recharge.
Whatever the reason, the draw or the happenstance, the North Channel seems to have the magical power to heal the soul and drastically improve one’s state of mind.
Ours is certainly better.
We met Canadians Don and Nancy in Little Current. They bought a 23-foot older sailboat a year ago and have been doing parts of the North Channel a week at a time.
Our first sailboat was a 23-foot Hunter and while it was fun to sail on Muskegon Lake, I can’t imagine spending days on end on it is the North Channel but they could and have found that not only do they love sailing, they still love each other after spending the time so close together. They have grown children and decided to try cruising in a small boat first before they invested in a bigger boat.
Doug is a musician we met last year in Little Current. He had had success in the music world years ago then for whatever reason walked away and hadn’t played his guitar much in the last 20 years. Doug first came to our attention last year when we were docked in Little Current and saw him swimming in the marina.
Swimming is probably the wrong term at least as a former swim coach like me thinks – Doug was moving through the water slowly going under, spending time under the surface then returning to the surface slowly as if he were a manatee. He spent several hours each morning and evening swimming in around the docks as if the water was somehow slowly washing away whatever it was that had dragged him away from his music.
Doug was not in the Little Current Harbor when we docked in June but we saw him a couple of weeks ago when we returned. While he was still swimming, he also had a guitar sitting on a bench on shore, waiting for him to finish his swim and start playing.
Now instead of playing classical guitar, he was playing slide. As he started to pick, his face somehow transformed and one could hear the music and see the look on his face as joy had somehow returned to his life. He said it was a process and was still working through the issues but was glad that the music had returned to his life.
We met Bill in Gore Bay. One of those meetings that boaters don’t want to have but glad they found the right person. Respite has had a small seep in the bilge since we have owned it and this summer it had gotten worse. We had hope to find the problem after we pulled the boat this fall but decided to have the boat hoisted in Gore Bay so we could make sure a small issue wasn’t becoming a big issue.
Bill is a retired teacher who at 71 still thinks that he is 30. He has made a living – first as a side business and now his business over the last 20 years doing high-end fiberglass work and canvas repair.
Bill took one look at the back of the bilge area where it meets the keel and said “You have an ‘Oh Shit.”’
Seems a previous owner had had a repair done there and not done it properly but covered the area up nicely so you couldn’t see the issue. Bill agreed to fix the issue. While he was first digging out the old repair then fixing the area, I learned that he too suffered from a broken heart.
As his hands worked like a surgeon to carefully take out the damaged fiberglass, he talked of the boats he owned, the places he had sailed and the women he had loved.
The work took three days to make the repair but the days were enjoyable because of the stories.
Richard and Susan own Buoys restaurant in Gore Bay. The couple has built a great restaurant based on good food, great service and fair prices.
They allowed me to spend some time in their kitchen while our boat was being repaired as the restaurant is next to the marina where the boat was being repaired. We were able to stay on the boat at night but had to be off the boat in the morning.
The first morning while Bill was working on the boat, I saw the kitchen door of the restaurant open and Richard and his staff were prepping for the day’s customers
I walked over and started talking to Richard, and next thing I knew, I was standing next to the dish sink and prewashing dishes from the prep that then went into the dish washer. Somehow standing in a kitchen, listening to stories and not working wasn’t acceptable.
Great stories and really good food.
We were able to catch up with friends Becky and Paul from Owen Sound who we met a year ago. Becky and Cindy became fast friends as they both love to race and are captain of their ship.
I have a theory that there are few times in life when you can make fast friends because you have time to talk and at anchor or at a marina in the North Channel are some of those times.
If you get to the North Channel, make sure you take the time to anchor in Hotham Bay.
Norm and Elaine have a cottage on the southern end of the bay. Each evening they host those who have anchored in the bay to their cottage for a happy hour. Some time as many as 30 people - most who don’t know each other gather to drink a little wine or whatever they have brought, share appetizers that the boaters bring and tell stories.
Norm and Elaine used to be boaters who stumbled on the bay and the original owner of the cottage they now own. The original owner took years to build the original building. Over the summers, boaters would anchor and then volunteer to help with the construction, the original owner got cancer, sold the cottage to
Norm and Elaine.
Volunteers still come to help as the compound has expended to several buildings all built over the course of several summers by volunteers.
The happy hours are their way of giving back.
Norm and Dianne Fogal have become our dear friends. We met them several years ago when we had a pretty dramatic inappropriate interaction between Respite and a large rock. Norm fixed the boat and Dianne worked hard to fix Cindy and my boat relationship.
We had stopped to see them now in Gore Bay every time we come north and each time met and leave with lots of hugs and new stories.
Finally, this year we also met Lysanne and Mark.
Mark works doing boat repair with Norm Fogal and Lysanne owns "Preivale Baking Company."
Mark worked on the boat a little in June when we arrived and said that his wife,
Lysanne sold baked goods at the Gore Bay Farmers Market on Fridays
Turns out she makes great pies and other baked goods, but the finest ginger snap cookies we have ever eaten and we have sampled many across the continent.
We bought a couple of dozen at the market when we were in Gore Bay a month ago but the last time, we were there having the boat repaired, the timing was wrong and the market wouldn’t be for several more days.
I mentioned to Mark that we absolutely loved the gingersnap cookies. Just as we were leaving a few days ago to start working our way back home, Mark appeared with a bag of dozens of cookies. He presented them to us, gave a big hug and a smile, then thanked us for taking the time to get to know he and his wife.
While it is easy to get depressed and think that world is going to Hell in a hand basket, stepping away and taking the time to actually talk to the people you meet changes the view.
We are heading back to Muskegon as another experience is about to change our view of the world.
Our youngest son and his wife are expecting a baby any day now and while we love to sail and explore, we'll cut the time short to welcome a new grandchild.