The challenging and exciting tight route.
Colin & Dawn on “Movin' On” along with Ted & Sue on our buddy boat “My Dream” begin one of the highlights of our AGLCA trip in Georgian Bay.
We left the last lock of the Trent Severn Waterway with some regret. This had been enjoyable ,and although an easily navigable route it held some great surprises, and you have got to see each lock as a challenge, as they all had their idiosyncrasies.
We spent a relaxing two days at Penetanguishene ( we needed two days just to learn how to pronounce the name), doing some touring & boat maintenance in Beacon Bay Marina. Boat maintenance is on going, and is never completed. The dock master made their car available to us for the two days, and they were really helpful folks.
Georgian Bay, where we are heading is in the north eastern corner of Lake Huron. It is large with so many choices it is difficult to know what to do. There are over 30,000 islands in the Bay and our charts no longer show a magenta line on the chart plotter (GPS) or the paper chart for us to follow.
There is a cruisey route almost straight across, or you can go south stopping at small islands or travel along the more difficult but interesting northern coast line.
Because all of the bay is clear water, pine covered and rock strewn we decided to add to the adventure and go for the adventurous route north. We then had to work out where we were going, what we wanted to see, which islands we wanted to anchor in according to the wind direction and how many other people also knew of this favoured anchorage, any other alternative anchorages if it was too crowded or the wind direction had changed, rocks to avoid, then throw in distance and time factors and it became a challenge - & I thought this was a holiday.
Along the route were further alternatives and we chose the narrower, tighter spots where the advisory books state “not recommended for large boats with drafts of over 5 ft, or 42ft long” or “first time boaters to the area”. Sounded like a challenge to Ted & Colin so we decided to travel through these areas and although you had to be careful it added some great adventure to the routes for the next few days.
The main fear of course were the sides of the narrow channels and the bottoms which are all granite rock – definitely keel & prop crunching. These were OMG spots as we ventured in and after exiting and looking back, OMG again.
Most of these were alternate routes to the main one – Monument Channel which had a couple of U turns & a right angle one. Starvation Bay had a tight squeeze at north & south ends with the warning “channel is very narrow & congested with many boaters not bothering to slow down”.
So true, we had been surprised that the polite & courteous Canadians were the worst offenders during our whole trip, ignoring no wake zones, speeding past and swamping smaller boats. It was rare to find a boater slowing to pass others.
We stopped for lunch at Henry's World Famous Fish Restaurant on Frying Pan Island then continued to a popular anchorage for the evening ( Echo Bay) but it was too crowded so found our own in Spider Bay – just us two boats – calm & quiet.
Next day we headed up to Parry Sound via the South Channel with warnings to call on VHF to warn other approaching traffic before entering narrow channels, 7 mile narrows, 5 mile narrows and 3 mile gap.
We went through a “Hole in The Wall” in Parry Sound unlike the one in NZ it was a natural slit forming a channel. We also passed an “Aussie Island”. We dropped anchor for lunch in Kilcoursie Bay & then found anchorage further on in Snug Harbour for the night
We took our dinghy into the village and brought an ice cream & watched the huge number of people queuing up for their Sunday meal at the only restaurant there. On weekends these small places have many boaters visiting and it's best to stay away if possible.
Remember the challenge mentioned in the title - well today we did the toughest of them.
The first was just a warm up called “Narrow Island” then we came to Hangdog Reef and Hangdog Channel. It had many U turns and it was necessary to count the buoys as you went so you knew exactly where you were – there were a lot.
It kept the navigator (using a chart is vital) & the skipper on their toes. It was a narrow winding channel through huge round boulders usually only protruding between 1 to 3 feet out of the water (they looked like whale's backs). You were very aware that there was also a lot of the boulder under water. We completed that passage and came to Alexander Passage where we read warnings about shoals, and “ in the event of low water or 2 foot running seas that there would be changes in depths and not as per charts and new buoys may have been added “ (but that's a good thing). We were lucky on all counts – we had calm days and height above datum was 25 inches.
We never had any bad outside factors when doing these tricky runs. We found an anchorage at Golden Sword Island -another quiet night. Our second to last tight squeeze was next morning and was the most challenging. It was called Roger's Gut. All these names were great – a good warning of what was ahead and very descriptive.
It was 6 ft deep and had been blasted through rocks long ago - “the buoys are routinely moved to narrow the channel & to find the deepest passage” - quoted the book. That day we also took an alternate route called Dores Run which included a section known as Parting Channel. We read many warnings about this and I as the appointed chart plotter (navigator) had to confer with the skippers and read out the relevant comments from my reference books such as – “do not attempt this if draft is more than 5 ft “(we were OK ) “or if this is your first time here”, (it was, but both skippers were confident - not sure about all crew ) “or if the boat is longer than 40 ft”, (well -one is 38 & one is 42) and finally “ if you have only a single engine, (we both do) do not attempt it”. The author of the Water Way Guide stated “gave myself a nasty fright going through here in a 29ft boat” !!
However our captains were up for it & are both competent. The crew had quiet faith in their abilities. The first problem is that you turn a blind corner into a very narrow channel which is made even worse by the large rock sitting in the middle of it. You then do a tight right hander around the rock and between the red marker (denoting the cliff) then another dog leg left & then right between 2 green markers. The markers were barely wide enough to get the boats through. But do it slow & with accurate precision and it works. This is a very short distance and probably in real time is no more than 5 – 7minutes – but it felt like forever. Sue, on the our buddy boat didn't take breath until after we were compelled to stop along side each other and celebrate. The route up to this 'dogleg squeeze' and the pool at the end were crystal clear and exquisite. This was a highlight of the trip – no wind, calm water and a perfect execution.
To complete the Georgian Bay navigation we began the the last leg towards Killarney in the north western end of the Bay. It was a 24 mile stretch appropriately called Collin's Inlet. We anchored for the night after 7 miles at Mill Lake for another peaceful night. The route we took was exciting but never dangerous. As long as you used the charts, took your time and kept a very careful watch it was fine. Our props and keels were unscathed.
We recommend the tight route.
Written by Dawn Warrington
'MV Movin On'