The North Channel: into the wilderness: Killarney to Drummond Island

From Killarney the small craft route goes west through the North Channel, between the Manitoulin Islands and the mainland, through a wild, rocky, isolated  area with islands dotted in the water, and with only a very few small settlements. It offers a relatively protected passage along the northern shore of Lake Huron, between the Manitoulin Islands and the mainland.

It took us 8 nights to travel the North Channel, staying sometimes in marinas, and sometimes anchored out, depending on the weather and our need for provisions, before we landed back in the USA at Drummond Island. It is still the ‘off’ season, and we’ve seen very few other boats, either on the water or in the marinas.

UntitledKillarney to Drummond Island

Killarney to Drummond Island

After Killarney the land forms long,  finger-like projections into Lake Huron, and we travelled up one of these ‘fjords’ to Baie Fine for our next mooring.

IMG_0115 (3)Georgian Bay from Killarney

Georgian Bay from Killarney

IMG_0118La Cloche from Lansdowne Channel

La Cloche from Lansdowne Channel

IMG_0119Entrance to Baie Fine

Entrance to Baie Fine

We got there early enough to take the dinghy out and explore the narrow channel leading up to the Pool, an area of calm water enclosed by trees and white granite rocks. From there, a marked trail leads up the hill through the woods and over the ridge to Topaz Lake, reputed for its beauty.

IMG_0128The Pool

The Pool, Baie Fine

IMG_0129The Pool

The Pool, Baie Fine

IMG_0132The Pool

Ian in the dinghy at the Pool, Baie Fine

The trail wasn’t so difficult as the Chikanishing Trail had been, but it was still quite arduous and took rather longer than the guide had suggested. We got to the top of the ridge and decided that as it wasn’t warm enough to swim, we would content ourselves with just climbing to the top of the ridge and taking the view. Even so, it was 7o’clock before we got back to the boat.

IMG_0138Topaz Lake

Overlooking Topaz Lake

IMG_0139The Pool

The Pool


Carina at Baie Fine


Evening at Baie Fine

The next day was clear, bright, and calm. We travelled to Little Current to stock up at Valu-Mart, which turned out to be a rather nicer supermarket than it had sounded to the British ears of a habitual Waitrose shopper, with an ample selection of fresh, good quality meat and produce.


Early morning at Baie Fine


Early morning at Baie Fine


Strawberry Island Lighthouse

Strawberry Island Lighthouse, near Little Current, is said to be the finest of the Georgian Bay lighthouses.

Our next stop was an anchorage at Croker Island, and then on to the small town of Spanish.

IMG_0164Evenin at Croker Island

Evening at Croker Island

IMG_0174Evening at Croker Island

Evening at Croker Island

In most parts of the route, the channel is marked by red and green markers, but sometimes there are markers on the shore which you have to line up to ensure that you don’t stray into dangerous areas. This one was at Detroit Channel.

IMG_0181Entrance to Detroit Channel

Entrance to Detroit Channel

A boat, even one as spacious and comfortable as Carina, isn’t really the place to be when you’ve strained your back. Ordinary tasks like putting clean clothes away or getting the breakfast cereals out, or putting things into the microwave, or re-organising the fridge because you’ve just bought several days’ supply of food and there isn’t room for it all, involve much more stooping and bending  than they do at home. And don’t get me started on the gymnastic feat that is putting clean sheets on a double bed when one side of it is permanently attached to the wall.

I’d done quite a lot of deep cleaning on the boat during our first week at Britt, and by the end of the week couldn’t stand up straight or walk properly. Going on the Chikanishing Trail and walking up to Topaz Lake probably wasn’t the cleverest idea, either.  A week later I wasn’t any better, had consumed Carina’s entire supplies of ibuprofen and had started on the paracetamol. I resorted to emailing Jane, our lovely Pilates teacher and physiotherapist, and her almost instant helpful advice (to do lots of back extensions) was very effective and within a couple of days I was back to normal.

But it did rather cramp our style in Spanish. Ian cycled off alone to replenish our food stocks at the supermarket. Rather than eat out, we decided to avail ourselves of the services of the local pizza restaurant, Pizza 17, which claimed never to use frozen dough and would deliver to the door of your boat. It was an unaccustomed luxury to sit drinking beer, waiting for dinner to arrive, but after about an hour we were beginning to wonder where dinner actually was. Ian rang the lady at PIzza 17 and politely enquired. We were glad he had been polite, because it turned out that they thought that the first pizza they had made for us had been overcooked, and they had made another one. And it was excellent.

Sunday began as another brilliant day, and we made an early start, to get to Blind River before the forecast strong winds and thunderstorms materialised.

IMG_0186Leaving Spanish, approaching Norquay Island

Leaving Spanish, approaching Norquay Island

IMG_0199Looking back towards Spanish

Looking back towards Spanish

IMG_0203Near Daly Islands

Near Daly Islands

IMG_0210Whalesback Island

Whalesback Island

It was still bright sunshine when we got there at 4pm, but by 5pm the sky was black and we had every single fender out, and every line secured, to protect Carina against the storm.


Storm at Blind River


Storm at Blind River


Storm at Blind River

Blind River was our last stop in Canada, but before we crossed into US waters we finally saw a pair of loons, sitting in the water a few yards ahead of us.

IMG_0234Leaving Blind River

Leaving Blind River

IMG_0241En route to Harbor Island

En route to Harbor Island

Oddly, it wasn’t until we were almost there that it occurred to me that the US Customs and Immigration officers might be interested in the contents of our fridge. I had once tried to import some bacon for Ted, top-quality, vacuum-packed, Richard Woodall Waberthwaite bacon, and it had been seized and tossed unceremoniously into a bin with other proscribed articles. I wondered whether Canadian bacon would attract the same censure.

But we had a night at anchor at Harbor Island, a small horseshoe-shaped island containing a lovely natural harbour, before we had to face them. It was at last warm enough to shed a layer of clothing and roll our trousers up, though that didn’t last.

IMG_0247Afternoon tea at Harbor Island

Afternoon tea at Harbor Island

IMG_0253Harbor Island

Harbor Island

IMG_0254Harbor Island, looking towards Drummond Island

Harbor Island, looking towards Drummond Island

We arrived at Drummond Island Yacht Haven in the late morning, and Mackenzie, the dockhand, told us that as it was still the low season, the Customs and Immigration Officers were not actually in situ, but ensconced some distance away in Sault Ste-Marie. She very kindly rang them up for us, and returned with the news that they wanted photographs of our passports and visas, which she would supply with her smartphone. They then rang back and spoke to Ian, to say that we would have to go to Sault Ste Marie to be dealt with. Ian very politely pointed out that Carina only does 6 knots and it would take us a whole day to get there, so they said they would come to us, by car and ferry.

We had about an hour to eat anything incriminating, and decided on steak and salad for lunch.

The two officers were very nice. We were allowed to keep the bacon, and the Canadian Merlot. There was some puzzlement about the numerous stamps in our passports, especially when Ian seemed unable to remember for some minutes that we had visited Virginia last January.

Then they spied the fruit bowl. The oranges, lemon and limes had to go, but we could keep the apples and bananas. I opened the fridge.

‘Is that a tomato?’ Indeed it was, and the tomatoes, a green pepper, lettuce, and anything from the onion family which sprouted leaves went too.

After they had gone, we borrowed the marina’s ancient jeep and went to the grocery store to make good our supplies.









Georgian Bay: Britt to Killarney, and hiking the Canada way

The Captain’s keenness to get going with the next part of the trip was counterbalanced by a reluctance to repeat the Lake Ontario Experience, and risk further mutiny from the crew. The route to Killarney included a 15 mile stretch of open water, so he thought it wise to wait for the perfect day to leave Britt.


Evening at Britt

We were sad in a way to leave. Graham and the staff at Wright’s Marina had looked after Carina for us over the winter, kept us well-informed and been very helpful with all the things we needed to do when we came back.


Ian and Pauline


Ian and Graham hoisting the dinghy

But Saturday was that perfect day and we cruised from Britt down Byng Inlet and out into Georgian Bay  in the bright sunshine and sparkling water.


Morning at Britt

IMG_0013Georgian Bay ahead

Georgian Bay ahead at the mouth of Byng Inlet

We followed the small craft route, hugging the coastline and following the clearly marked channel between the many small islands.

Britt to Killarney

Britt to Killarney

IMG_0024near Golden Sword Island

near Golden Sword Island


Flying the flag of the American Great Loop Cruisers’ Association near Golden Sword Island

IMG_0054Near vFrench River Provincial Park

Near French River Provincial Park

IMG_0058approaching Obstacle Island

Approaching the channel leading to Obstacle Island

The season hasn’t really started here. We saw only two other boats on the water all day, and had to wait while one of them exited this narrow channel before we could go on.

We anchored for the night in Mill Bay, 15 miles east of Killarney, and had the anchorage to ourselves except for a beaver who obligingly came out at dusk and entertained us by gliding around and occasionally diving down, resurfacing with something tasty for his supper. Too far away for any photos, but this is his lodge.


Beaver’s lodge near our mooring

It was hard to believe that Sunday would bring relentless rain, as forecast, but it did. So we stayed put and delayed our departure till Monday morning.

We passed along the narrow gorge of Collins Inlet, between the mainland and Phillip Edward Island, and then another stretch of open water before reaching Killarney.


Collins Inlet


Killarney East Lighthouse

Until the mid-50s, the small town of Killarney was a centre for the lumber trade as well as a fishing village, and the surrounding area would been de-forested and have looked very different. Now, it’s a very popular venue for boaters, and the Killarney Provincial Park attracts hikers and campers. Until 1962 there was no road access, but it now has a road link with Sudbury.

We moored at the Sportsmans Inn Marina and had a warm welcome from Ryan and Dee, the dockhands. The next day Debbie, the receptionist, not only kindly gave us a lift to the start of the Chikanishing Trail, but insisted on lending us bug-hats, without which we would have been prey to the many biting insects. She also made sure we knew what to do, should we arouse a bear’s curiosity.


Crocodile Dundee in his bug-hat at the start of the Chikanishing Trail

By this time we had realised that hiking in Canada is not quite like hiking in Britain. ‘Trail’ does not mean ‘path’. It simply means a straight line joining a series of waymarks, some of which are attached to trees and some painted onto slabs of rock.


Trail marker on the pink granite. We decided to comply with the Park advice to tuck your trousers into your socks, to minimise the ingress of biting insects

The straight line might just mean traversing a slab of rock, or it might involve picking your way up a rock face, or sliding down one. The Chikanishing Trail was 3.6 km long, and the information board suggested it might take 2 hours or more to complete. It took us nearly 3, owing only in part to frequent photography stops. It was quite a challenge for someone in their 7th, or even 8th, decade.

But it was worth it, with stunning views out over Georgian Bay and towards the hills behind us.


Killarney Provincial Park


Killarney Provincial Park


Killarney Provincial Park


Killarney Provincial Park

We didn’t see any bears, but we did see some lovely wildflowers, including the rare Showy Lady’s Slipper orchid.


Showy Lady’s Slipper


Clintonia Borealis


Starflower, Lysimachia borealis


Bunchberry, cornus canadensis

We had no map. Debbie had assured us that the way was so well-marked that we couldn’t possibly get lost, or need one. But I realised after some time that the value of a map is not simply that it helps to identify where you are, but perhaps more importantly, gives an indication of how much further you have to go. We had been scrambling over the rocks, apparently getting further and further away from the starting point, for what seemed a worrying length of time, before the trail suddenly took a sharp left and led us for the last half-mile along a wooded path through the trees.