I’m writing to you from the public library in Blind River, Ontario, our first civilized landfall and reliable internet since Little Current.
First, the Leg Two cast of characters.
Asher Herbstman, 15- year-old son of my first cousin, Melanie Herbstman, nee Melanie Hoopes. This is Asher’s debut crewing aboard the Windleblo. Born in Brooklyn, Asher is between Freshman and Sophomore years at Hastings High School, home of the Yellow Jackets, in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Now five feet ten inches in height, Asher grew taller than his father just six months ago. Quick witted, sometimes lethargic, always hungry, Asher is self-admittedly the quintessential adolescent, liberally citing this condition to excuse whatever warrants it. His goal for the voyage: To do 100 pushups in a single session.
John Hoopes, my firstborn. If not for my First and Only Mate, Jocelyn, John would most certainly deserve the title First Mate. Having sailed aboard Windleblo many times, he knows the boat well and is competent in virtually all facets of her operation. Halfway through his 31st year on the planet, John is in transition between living situations, livelihoods, and girlfriends. He recently negotiated a phased separation from his Denver area employer of nearly two years, One Earth Future, and this September, he will begin an intensive year of study at University College of London in their Spatial Data Analysis Master’s program, making his time aboard Windleblo a buffer between the two. His goals for the voyage: sail, explore, read, relax.
Then there’s me, Captain Jack, 63. I see Leg Two as a priceless chance to spend time with my son while introducing Asher, a fine impressionable young man, to the cruising life. Slipping seamlessly between authoritarian grownup and agreeable companion, I’m wearing many hats on this voyage – captain, cook, trainer, shipmate. As with past voyages, my main goal for Leg Two is simple: To deliver boat and crew safely to our destination, Sault Saint Marie. A second priority? To have a good time in the process.
So we have a 15-year-old, a 30-year-old and a 60-something-year-old on this voyage. There’s some sort of symmetry there, but not quite sure what. We’re exploring one of world’s premier cruising grounds, Lake Huron’s North Channel. The scenery is spectacular and there’s no end to the islands, coves, and channels to investigate. Since we have only 150 nautical miles or so to make and almost two weeks to make them, there’s been no pressure to keep moving. We’ve enjoyed lazy mornings, short moves from anchorage to anchorage, and several layover days.
A typical day starts without reveille, everyone waking whenever. The early riser, say eight o’clock, might throw a few casts from the deck to try his luck. At Sturgeon Bay, our first anchorage out of Little Current, John did just this. On his first cast, he caught a decent sized largemouth Bass and reeled it in. On his second cast, he did it again! Easy peezy. We sautéed both for breakfast. Later that same day, in Barber’s Bay at the east end of the Bay of Islands, Asher outdid John by catching a large pike. We ate surf and turf that evening. The fishing was off to a stupendous start!
The next morning, we awoke to the 9 a.m. broadcast of the Little Current Cruiser’s Net. Borrowing from a practice during the winter season at Georgetown in the Bahamas Exuma Islands, Roy Eaton leads the popular broadcast on VHF channel 71. His daily show covers weather, international, Canada and local news and this day in history. Among other notes, Roy informed us that the Canadian authorities had declared an extreme fire hazard and comprehensive fire ban for the area, putting to rest any thoughts of enjoying an evening campfire on the shore rocks, a common practice around here. His show ends with call-ins from boats cruising within VHF radio range. Asher found Roy and the Cruiser’s Net enthralling, reporting in for Windleblo in turn.
We moved for our second layover day to South Benjamin Island, where we found Scandinavia style rings cemented into the rocks, allowing us to bind Windleblo securely to shore, using our anchor to hold the bow. It’s a good thing, too, as winds gusted to Beaufort Force Seven, Near Gale, throughout the evening. Windleblo didn’t budge and we slept well. On our layover day, we explored the island on foot, climbing up over rocks and down through thick forests. Like most of the other islands here, established trails are few and bushwhacking is standard. Hurdling deadwood, crashing through cobwebs, and dodging poison ivy make hiking here an interactive sport. Back at the boat, we enjoyed a cooling swim, the water finally warm enough to stay in for more than a plunge.
Next it was on to John Island, where we met some fellow cruisers and spied a bald eagle. I’d have to say the bald eagle was more impressive than the people. While nothing has challenged the veracity of the claim that all Canadians are Nice, we’ve noted a decidedly standoffish demeanor to other cruisers around here. No one seems to want to have much contact with other boats, even when casual encounters suggest it. It’s as if everyone here has come to get away from it all – duh – so encountering other boats and their occupants is unwanted. Private anchorages are expected and when another boat is found in an intended spot, often all the second arrival has to do is move around the corner for privacy. The boaters we met on Cara’s Beach at John Harbor were no exception…pleasant but a bit cool.
John gave Asher a haircut and then we hiked across Gowan Island, finding abundant blueberries at the top of the far west end of the island. We spent a half hour collecting and John used the harvest to bake a delicious cobbler. Next day, it was on to Long Point, where we found yet another delightful anchorage and again tried our luck at fishing. This time, no joy. It seems our early success was beginner’s luck. No fresh fish, just red beans and rice for dinner this night. After dinner, a movie (O Brother Where Art Thou).
Our final anchorage before returning to the world (i.e., Blind River) was in a small cove near Turnbull Island where we enjoyed an afternoon of swimming, fishing, reading and napping. John is now working on relearning high school math in preparation for his Master’s program. Asher is helping him. Oh, and BTW, did I mention that Asher finished reading The Catcher in the Rye, his summer school reading assignment?
Having dropped off our trash and restocked the fridge, we cast off from the Blind River Municipal Marina later this afternoon when we begin “move the boat” mode. We’ll sail from here to West Grant Island for an overnight anchorage, then 50 nautical miles tomorrow before stopping to sleep at anchor one last time before a final 15 nm to Sault Saint Marie by Noon Friday. John has to catch a mid-afternoon flight back to Denver.