Posted on July 22, 2016
The North Channel of Lake Huron was AMAZING. It was exactly what we had in mind when we threw all our resources at this trip. Quiet anchorages, hiking, wild blueberries, great sailing…we could have stayed for a month.
After two nights at East Grant Island, we headed to Blind River for a night at a marina. It was after Blind River that we got to see what cruising up here is really about, as we pulled into a tight spot at Turnbull Island. Wedged between two small islands, the kids could swim to shore on their own to explore the rocks and hunt for berries. F took the kayak and paddled out a bit farther on her own, still in sight of the boat, but exploring without the rest of the family. We didn’t see a single other boat. We recommend coming in from the south—apparently the northern anchorage fills up in the summer, but where we were was quiet.
From Turnbull, we headed down the Whalesback passage to Moiles Bay. The wind was behind us, and we flew down some very narrow channels, avoiding rocks and constantly on the lookout for markers. Our electronic charts proved invaluable; the more time we spent up here, the better we felt about trusting what the charts were saying. Of course, we still spent lots of time confirming our location with actual landmarks, and moved slowly when entering harbors; we also avoided any spots where we thought there might be shoaling, regardless of what the charts said. The water was clear enough to keep a lookout for stray rocks from the bow, as well. We heard lots of stories of people hitting uncharted rocks in the North Channel, but we only saw one we were lucky to miss—right in the middle of the Benjamin Islands.
Moiles Bay had quite a few boats, but it was large and we never felt crowded. The kids and I went ashore for some hiking, and found enough blueberries for pancakes the next morning and muffins the day after that. The large powerboat just above us managed to snag a log with their anchor—we found out later it was the second time for them in two days. It made us a bit nervous about our own anchoring, but we managed to make it through without any drama on the part of the Mantus.
The day after Moiles saw us squeezing through the Detroit Passage. There are a couple of choke points up here, where the land crowds up and all the water tears though a small gap between islands; Detroit was so narrow, two boats would have been unable to pass each other. Instead, people call a “security” warning over the VHF radio to let everyone in the area know they’re coming through, and from which direction. The passage was plenty deep for our boat, but it’s very stressful maneuvering so close to the rocky shore!
We anchored up in Shoepack Bay, which we shared with two other boats and a very vocal loon. Shoepack was roomy but deep; in order to get close enough to shore that we didn’t have to lay out a ton of rode, we set a second anchor off our starboard stern. Lots of boats who cruise up here have reels of line on the stern of their boats, and tie off to trees to avoid swinging into shore; we never found ourselves in that tight of a spot.
We tried to go from Shoepack to the Benjamin Islands…and for the first time, decided to abandon a spot after setting the anchor. The Benjamins are beautiful, and everyone knows it; arriving on a Saturday, even by noon, was not a good plan. The wide anchorage already held about 20 boats when we pulled in, and five more arrived while we were deliberating; we weren’t happy with our spot, we didn’t like how busy the anchorage was, and we overall had an ookey feeling about being there. Decision made, we pulled up the hook and headed across the channel to Croker Island.
Excellent choice!! We found a much better spot to put down our anchor, and met up with our friends Chuck and Care, whom we’d first seen way back at Manistee. The kids scouted out a fire pit on an island while the grown ups relaxed with gin and tonics; after dinner, we all headed ashore for a fire. No flies! No mosquitoes! Heaven.
We decided to stay an additional night, and the next day climbed the headland by the south entrance to the bay. We knew high winds and possible storms were forecast for that night, but we felt like we were in a pretty secure spot.
After a loud and pretty sleepless—but safe—night, we started making our way toward our easternmost point in the North Channel, Killarney. But first we had to pass the bridge at Little Current. This railroad bridge opens only at the top of the hour, and is supposed to stay open for fifteen minutes to allow boats through. Well, don’t believe it. The bridge is the only connection to Manitolin Island by land, and I guess the operator values the car traffic more than the boat traffic; when we were within sight, we radioed ahead that we expected to be at the bridge by 12:12, but it was already closing.
When the wind is up, all kinds of water gets pushed into the channel at Little Current; the current itself varies—there is no river, it’s all wind-driven. The day we transited, the wind was howling around 20 knots, and the current was up around four; instead of spinning circles in the narrow channel, we begged a spot on the wall in town to wait for the bridge. In retrospect, it would probably have been good to spend the night; the town is lovely, and the wind and waves were up so much that we were pretty tired, but we decided to push on to Heywood Island for one more night at anchor.
The next day we motored over to Killarney for their famous fish and chips, and some much-needed showers. It’s a lovely town, and apparently everyone stops there—the small channel was packed with boats, and if it had been the weekend, we probably wouldn’t have gotten a spot. After so many quiet anchorages, it was nice to meet up with some other folks; unlike Lake Michigan, everyone we’ve met is eager to compare notes on anchorages. Our tribe! We were sad to be leaving the beauty of the North Channel, but we’re feeling the need to push east; we have family to find in the Erie Canal and beyond, and the clock’s ticking.