Saturday, September 1, 2012

Little Current and Benjamin Islands, Ontario

August 1-3, 2012

When we left Baie Fine, we cruised across a beautiful flat Frazer Bay and on to Little Current, the largest town on Manitoulin Island (which isn’t saying a lot).  As we wound our way through the islands approaching the town, we passed the picturesque Strawberry Island lighthouse. 

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Little Current has an 18’ swing bridge that blocks the entrance to the channel that runs through the town. This 100 year-old bridge is the only bridge from the mainland to Manitoulin Island and it opens only once an hour on the hour. We just missed the noon opening, so we decided to go directly to the marina on the outside of the bridge where Craig and Marc’s Ark had phoned in orders for oil filters several days earlier. It was a good thing we hadn’t planned to stay at that marina. It was small, shallow and rocky and a very long walk from town. 

The Little Current bridge, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year:

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After we passed through the bridge with Wind Song at the 1:00 p.m. opening, we tied up at the Little Current town dock.  They put us at the dock wall rather than in a slip, which made it very easy for the dogs to get on and off. We went to lunch and took a walk through the small but pleasant downtown. We found the grocery store up a hill and got a few things we needed, and returned to the boat in time to join several other Looper boats for docktails at a picnic table on the docks.


As we were finishing dinner on the sundeck, a nice Canadian family we had met the previous week at Wright’s Marina in the Byng Inlet came by our boat and said they were heading for the ice cream shop on the dock.  So we joined them!  We knew the shop was open until  9:00, but when we arrived at 8:55, we found it was already closed.  We knocked on the windows and told them they couldn’t possibly refuse ice cream to these darling children, so the shop reopened and we got our ice cream, too!  It was Farquhar’s, the local favorite in this part of Canada.


The next morning, we joined Marc and Michele from Marc’s Ark, and few other Loopers at the Anchor Inn in town.  Every morning at 9:00, the Little Current Cruisers Network at the Anchor Inn broadcasts on VHF an hour or so of news and weather and updates of current locations of and questions from cruisers in the North Channel and part of Georgian Bay. It was fun to sit in the room with host Roy Eaton and watch and listen as he ran the show.  We were surprised to see the burgee from our home yacht club, Four Seasons, hanging on the wall.  (Right over the head of the man on the left.) I guess we aren’t the first Cincinnatians to visit!


We decided the weather looked iffy enough to stay in port another day, so Craig and Marc (what a friend!) spent 3 hours in our engine room changing oil. After that the four of us returned to the Anchor Inn for a really good lunch out on their balcony. 

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Later, I walked up a hill in town to find a spot where I could get a phone signal to call my mother to wish her a happy birthday the next day.  I also spent an hour checking out cafes and eventually sitting on a rock down by the docks, trying to get a wifi signal.  Communications remain challenging for us in Canada! (Which is why our blog is so far behind!)

The town was getting ready for the annual Haweater Weekend festival, the biggest event of the year in Little Current.  It’s a celebration of the hawberry (the fruit of the hawthorn tree) which was at times the only food predictably available to the early settlers of Manitoulin Island during their long winters. Today the islanders still refer to themselves as “Haweaters,” hence the name of the festival.  We wouldn’t be around on the weekend for the festival, but we did buy a jar of hawberry jelly. Haven’t tried it yet.


That night we ate on board again, got ice cream again, and enjoyed watching the moon rise over the harbor on a beautiful evening, sitting on our boat.


The next morning we got sort of a slow start, still wondering about the wind and weather.  We decided we would go, heading for an anchorage in the Benjamin Islands. Marc’s Ark left before us and said they would call back with a wind report.  Before we left, we had a visit from a Coast Guard/Royal Mounted Police officer asking if we had had an opportunity to check in with Canadian Customs yet. We had been nervous about this happening, because we seemed to be the only Looper boat that had not been issued a Canadian Customs number when we crossed the border back in June at the New York/Canada line.  But after Craig told him we had checked in weeks before, the two of them went on to talk about everything from Looping, to the Mounties patroling by boat now, to water temperatures in Lake Superior (37 degrees at the surface!).  So he never did ask for our Customs number.  Whew!

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As we neared the Benjamin Islands, we heard from Marc’s Ark that it was pretty windy at our originally planned anchorage, so they had opted for a bay on a neighboring island where we would be sheltered from the wind. Shortly after that, we joined them at a large, pretty bay on Croker Island.

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Eventually several other Looper boats joined us – Seabbatical, Rickshaw, Seabiscuit and Passport. That evening we had a really fun docktail gathering on the big sandy beach.  We all took our dinghies to shore, brought chairs, snacks and drinks, and had a wonderful time.  It would be our last night with the group for awhile, because our plan was outrun some incoming weather and to hurry on to the Les Cheneaux Islands in Michigan the next day.


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As we returned to the boat, Joey was there to greet us, while Bailey as usual peeked out the door. We enjoyed a conversation with a passing kayak carrying two people and their two Dalmatians.  Quite a boatload!

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Later, we were surprised by a visit by dinghy from the Canadian family we had first met in Byng Inlet, and  later shared ice cream with in Little Current.  Now they were anchored in the bay with us.  The kids, Tristan and Samantha, came on board to visit our dogs and sample some of Craig’s Twizzlers.  Nice family, with a handsome yellow lab – it has been fun bumping into them along the way.

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After a great steak dinner on board, we watched another pretty sunset and got ready to return to the United States the next day!

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Next, crossing the border and the Les Cheneaux Islands, Michigan.

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