Thursday, July 28, 2005.  Thunder Bay

This update covers our travels from July 7 when we left Sault Ste Marie until our arrival yesterday in Thunder Bay. 



We are just about to enter the Soo locks        Our trip up the St. Mary’s river 


Entering the center break wall entrance at Thunder Bay


If you have read the book Paddle to the Sea, you know that Lake Superior’s shape is similar to a wolf’s head.  Sault Ste Marie is at the nape of the neck, Isle Royal is the eye, Duluth is the tip of the nose, and the Apostle Islands are the teeth.  We have traveled from the nape of the neck up the back of the wolf’s head and are now nestled in the wolf’s eyebrow.

The blue line represents our trip from Midland to Thunder bay


 We have been overwhelmed with the enormous size of everything in Lake Superior.  Bays that we thought would be cozy and snug are huge.  For example, we thought our first overnight in Batchewana Bay would be in a reasonably secure bay. 

Batchewana Bay or it could be anywhere on Superior during a hazy evening/day


There was a lot of haze when we were there and the visibility was not great, but we could not see the south shore of the bay from the north end.   The distance was at least 18 miles.  (The distance from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake … across Lake Ontario … is about 25 miles).  The bays and coves are large, the distances between ports are great, the expanse of water is broad, and the waves can be very large.  There is even an unpredictable tide, called a seich (SAYsh), on Lake Superior, up to 6-8 inches.  We pulled our dinghy up on shore at Otter Falls, leaving the stern in a few inches of water; when we returned 45 minutes later, it was entirely on land.


We have used a number of reports, guidebooks and personal recommendations to select just a few of the more scenic and popular sites to visit. It would take years to explore all of the anchorages available. We have been surprised at how the written word translates into the actual landscape. Everything is on a much grander scale than one would expect from the text.  The Great Lakes Cruising Club reports have been of great help but are a bit dated in some cases. We tend to rely on them because there is often more than one person’s opinion/ experience. 


Harbours visited:


Batchewana Bay:  (just north of Whitefish Bay) We anchored at the mouth of the Chippewa River and dinghied / hiked to the Falls.

Darcie, Jane and Jim ready to start hiking for the falls    Oops … low water

Based on the size of the trees caught in the falls it really must get wilder in the spring


Ganley Island:  Ojibwe pictographs on the rock cliffs and a lovely sunset in the haze.

The paintings are the red marks on the stone …   the sun is the red mark over the water

Cottages on Ganley Island  …and the rock face with the public walk/tethers


Brulé Harbour:  (near Wawa, NE corner of the lake)  The cobble beaches (there are at least 4 levels based on receding glacial levels of the lake) are composed of stones the size of basketballs, most difficult to walk over.  Between the 2nd and 3rd terraces, there is a mass of large logs / driftwood. 

One of the stone/driftwood terraces and a view of the boat eating rocks below the waters surface


In the top two terraces there are Pukaskwa Pits that early human inhabitants created.  There is very little information about how and why they were made.  The approach to the cobble beach shows the boulders in the water leading up to the beach.  The weather was so hazy and uncharacteristically warm that we could not see many of the fantastic scenery along the way (Devil’s Chair at Gargantua Harbour and Old Womans Bay), but the water was warm enough for a swim.

A misty morning


Slate Islands:  (midway along the north shore of the lake) A large herd of woodland caribou live on the Slates.  They migrated over the frozen lake sometime in the past and they have no predators on the islands, so are of great interest for biologists to study.  A parent and young caribou came to the beach near our anchored boat several times during our visit there. 

Just a guy going for a stroll on the beach … lookin’ for a date


The caribou thrive on lichen that grows in the trees, and the lichen actually “devours” the tree over a few years.  We had never seen trees dripping with pale green veils, with the very top struggling to stay alive. 

The end of another trees life and winter dinner for the caribou


The Slate Islands could have been an excellent setting for some of the Lord of the Rings saga.  We also found a large school of Lake Trout in one of the bays, a couple of pike in another and watched an Eagle soar down, grab a fish, then drop it and soar away. 

A fine pair of Lake Trout, a mess of suckers- their guardian pike  and the pike that got away from me


Boat Harbour (Wilson Island):  (north of the Slate Island) Our first (and only, so far) encounter with fog. 

A grey day starts to get lighter


Rossport:  One of the few harbour towns along the north shore of Lake Superior.  We stopped for fuel.  Some call the city “quaint.”  It is an example of a small Ontario town trying to stay alive.

Billed as quaint … read … they need the tourist dollars …


Morn Harbour (Simpson Island):  We searched for agates along a rocky beach and found one.  Also found a decaying picnic table complete with decayed firewood and some wild peas.

The peas were interesting but inedible and the table with fire wood somewhat out of place since there was nowhere to safely build a fire.


McNab Harbour (St. Ignace Island)

Directions for getting there – head for a stone wall 200 feet high and just about 150 feet from the face turn immediately to starboard (right). Once there try to anchor in a 30 foot depth with a smooth stone bottom littered with deadheads…and by the way there is a wonderful surge that will keep you rocking in all weather and wind conditions…delightful.


West Otter Cove:  The cove is at the end of a long bay, and must be entered by a narrow and shallow passage from the bay to the cove.  The cove is fed by the Otter River, which has a beautiful falls.  The water from the Lake above the falls is warm, so the water in Otter Cove was warm enough for a quick swim.

One of the few times we had company in an anchorage. In this case a raft of 7 sailboats from Thunder Bay, a raft of 2 US sail boat.  The next night there was a raft of 3 US power boats and two single sailboats from the US.


Loon Harbour:  The perfect harbour formed by three islands, with water deep enough to be safe and shallow enough for a good secure anchor.  The dinghy ride between Borden and Spain Islands brought us to a marsh where we saw a large buck (6-8 point antlers) getting a drink.  He darted back into the woods before the camera could get an image.

This was described as a popular and crowded anchorage … we shared the anchorage on our 2nd day with another sailboat. The third “boat” had been used in the lumber operation and has been left to rot in the weeds ... just the boiler, steam engine and one belt pulley remain.  


Walker’s Channel:

A great sail, a tight squeeze, a very large beaver house and an abandoned structure … It is hard to predict what awaits you at the end of the day

In this case it was a peaceful evening but a rather windy night


Tee-Harbour:  Anchoring in the shadow of the Sleeping Giant is awesome; a spiritual experience.  We hiked along some well-marked trails but were not hardy enough to scale the giant.


Thunder Bay:  We will spend a few days doing repairs, re-provisioning the boat, doing laundry, and trying to find a high-speed Internet connection.  Then we will continue our trip around the lake.

Entrance into Thunder Bay Harbour             Thunder Bay Marina

Thunder Cape


The history of the area has been fascinating to follow as we traveled along the east and north coasts.  The Ojibwe culture is evident everywhere.  Two characters dominate:  Nanaboozho, who is both human and spirit, the teacher and protector of humans, and Mishepeshu, the horned lynx of the underworld, the waters of Lake Superior.  Many rock structures reflect adventures of Nanaboozho, the most famous of which is the Sleeping Giant forming the eastern side of Thunder Bay.  The giant can be seen from a great distance, and clearly has a head, Adam’s apple, crossed arms and feet. 

Sleeping Giant from 10 miles away

The logging industry was prevalent in this area during the 19th century.  Many pulp trees (red and white pine) were cut down, floated down rivers to Lake Superior where they were captured in log booms and transported to pulp mills.  In many bays there are a great number of “deadheads,” waterlogged logs that sometimes rest on the bottom of the bay and sometimes stand at an angle, as well as whole trees with the roots near the surface and the top of the tree imbedded in the mud.  These deadheads and trees present a challenge to us boaters, since a large deadhead firmly imbedded in the bottom could damage a boat, and the logs on the bottom of a bay make anchoring difficult.

Upended trees abound in may anchorages even at depths of 30 feet… they are even more dangerous than deadheads because of their size and surface structure