Tuesday, July 05, 2005.  Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Whenever friends heard I was sailing in the North Channel, they imagined the North Sea, NE of Great Britain and South of Norway, cold and dangerous.  Whenever I told friends I stopped in Thessalon during my cruise, they assumed I was in the Greek Islands.  So, where the heck are we?


The body of water that runs from the NE area of Georgian Bay almost to Sault Ste Marie, north of Manitoulin Island (the largest freshwater island in Ontario, Canada and the world) is called the North Channel.  One of the cities on the mainland between Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River is Thessalon, which is where we have been doing a major repair to our engine.


For the past two weeks we have been cruising in this beautiful body of water, anchoring in favorite harbours with no more than 3 other boats, sometimes alone.  The weather has been warm, almost sultry at times, with little daytime rain and water warm enough (over 65 degrees Fahrenheit) for swimming and bathing.  June has not done anything to harden us for the cold of Lake Superior.  Since our last update in Little Current (near the NE end of Manitoulin Island) we have anchored at :


Croker Island


South Benjamin Island


Fox Island


Shoepack Bay


Beardrop Harbour


Turnbull Island. 



What have we done?

§         Explored in the rowing dinghy and inflatable kayak


§         Tried every lure in the tackle box with very limited success ... in this case the perch was smaller than the lure … talk about a fish having an appetite exceeding its stomach


§         Sailed

The photo sequence shows us closed hauled at 18 knots of wind, how the computer navigation program sees the world and how the island we are passing really looks.


§         Caught two Pike, 7 and 4 pounds in Beardrop Harbour


§         Done basic living and boating chores


§         Tied out the new windvane … it needs a little more adjustment (It likes to sail in circles)


§         Sat out a gale in Thessalon .. the dock is shown pushed sideways because of the force of the wind (30 knots) on the boat .. the left hand wind speed meter shows 27.6 knots


§         Met interesting people, like the school teacher and his family who regularly go to Costa Rica to supply solar panels and LED cluster lights to poor rural villages, part of the “Light Up the World” campaign at the University of Calgary.


§         Met some interesting critters ... some we entertained others we swatted.


§         Replaced the exhaust riser pipe on the engine with the help of Harold and George, two very helpful GLCC members that carry pipe wrenches as part of their basic tool kit ...  Harold is standing, George is swinging and Brian is on his knees.


The photo sequence shows the old and new parts, the mad disassemblers, final part as put together by the local welding shop and the final installation


We have always talked about this summer as the “shakedown” cruise before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  We wanted to test the boat and ourselves.  When we left Turnbull Island, we had our first major test.  As we motored out of the harbour, the motor sounded “funny.”  Brian opened the cockpit locker (that leads to the engine room) and black noxious fumes poured out.  “Get back to the anchorage,” he shouted and ran below.  I got the boat turned around and headed back towards to anchorage.  He came up and announced the exhaust pipe had broken in two just where the cooling water is injected into the hot exhaust gases, the engine room was being flooded, and the exhaust coming into the boat.  I announced that we were headed into the wind (from the East) that was blowing just enough (5 knots) so that I could not keep us pointed back to the anchorage.  Brian was up on the bow with the anchor over in 17 feet of water.  (Are we ever thankful for the 60 lb. CQR plus 90 lbs. of chain; there was no question about drifting)


Brian waited until the worst of the noxious fumes had cleared from the engine room, and then began removing the insulation covering to reveal the exhaust riser pipe with major damage.  Brian began rummaging about for stuff he could use to fix the problem:  wire, hose clamps, muffler tape and the artichoke can from last night’s dinner.  Since we were anchored right in the middle of the channel into the anchorage, I kept a lookout for boats and monitored the radio.  In a relatively short 90 minutes, Brian said his jerry rig fix was finished.  I let Brian wipe his brow and catch his breath, then we discussed options for the day.  We decided to motor back to the anchorage so that we could test the jerry rig fix and determine if it was OK to get us to a port where a permanent fix could be made.  The jerry rig was not good enough.  The aluminum can was replaced with metal epoxy and additional wire supports were added.  The next day, we left Turnbull Island at 7:00, using the motor just long enough to get the sails up.  We sailed the entire 35 nautical miles to Thessalon, sometimes with no wind, and in the afternoon with 18 knots (40 KPH) wind, right on the nose, requiring us to tack (zigzag rather than straight line course) the last half of the trip.  We arrived in Thessalon at 1900 (7 PM). 

Thessalon is a small village with a hardware store and machine shop.  Over the past two days we have been able to buy new pipe and fittings to rebuild the entire riser once we had recovered one undamaged part from the old exhaust.


The North Channel has been a favorite cruising ground for US and Canadian boaters since the 1940’s.  Although there is little commerce and industry in the area now, this has not been the case in the past.  Humans lived in the area as long as 9000 years ago (the Plano).  The First Nations people associated with the area are the Ojibwe (Chippawa in the US), Odawa (or Ottawa) and Potawatoni, all part of the Algonquin linguistic tradition.  There are currently reserves for First Nations people on both Manitoulin Island and the North Shore.  Europeans arrived in the early 1600’s and realized the wealth of natural resources they could exploit.  Traders from New France began a keen competition for fur pelts from the First Nations.  The French made alliances with the Huron (in the southern Georgian Bay area) and Odawa.  The British, not to be outdone, allied with the Iroquois and Ojibwe and by 1640 the Iroquois Wars had begun; they continued until 1701.  Epidemics (such as smallpox) and wars weakened all the First Nations communities.  In 1670 the newly formed Hudsons Bay Company build forts in the area and the French retaliated by building their forts.  Competition between the British and French trading companies was fierce until the mid 1800’s.  The First Nations population suffered; they lost traditional skills and were forced to depend on traders for goods.  Liquor became the currency of choice.  First Nations were forced to sign treaties giving up great resources of land, setting up reserves and setting up hunting and fishing rights.


The last half of the 1800’s saw accelerated settlement and industry introduced.  Logging was the first major industry and there are many harbours in the North Channel today that bear remains of logging camps.  In almost every anchorage cruisers must be on the lookout for “deadheads,” logs that are water-logged and either have a tip of a head showing or are submerged a few feet below the surface of the water.  They are usually vertically free-floating, but may have one end submerged in the mud bottom.  Pilings, cribs, iron rings in the rock-face and some building remains can be found in some harbours. 


Fishing also became a major industry hitting its peak in the 1890’s.  The major catches were whitefish, herring (smelt) and pickerel.  Some net fishing is still done today by First Nations people, and within the past 10 years, fish farms are being developed in many areas.

With the construction of the first lock in the St. Mary’s River (1850’s) linking Lake Superior with the other Great Lakes, shipping became an important industry.  Because roads were poor and bridges non-existent, both passenger and provisioning boats ran back and forth to serve new lumber camps, fishing centres and the emerging mining camps (copper, nickel).  By the 1880’s passenger excursion boats were popular, bringing city folk to the cooler (and buggier) northern climate before the days of air conditioning.  With increases in shipping, collisions also increased and a number of shipwrecks are still underwater today.  The increased traffic also brought a need to construct lighthouses and other aids to navigation.


By the 20th century, much of the logging, mining and shipping through the North Channel tapered off.  Since the mid-1940’s the area is increasingly used by cruisers and cottagers.  The mining of limestone was begun in the late 20th century on Badgley Island.  First Nations, environmentalists and cruisers successfully stopped a major mining operation in Baie Fine in the 1980’s and 1990’s.


It is amazing how little the environment has changed since Jane’s first cruise aboard Allegro (a 44-foot wooden schooner) in 1960 and Brian’s and Jane’s cruises together in the last 1980’s.