Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Well, here we are in a place that most anybody would recognize. Who has not seen photos of the island's Grand Hotel with its colossal, colonaded porch sheltering a row of bright white (and mostly empty) rocking chairs so long that the distant ones are little more than specks on the horizon? Actually, if all those chairs were occupied it would be a little scary. Anyway, this ovate island on which the hotel is situated is all forested over and shaped like the shell of a turtle. It is only eight miles in diameter and out in all directions one can see open water with a collection of islands or mainland in the far or near distance. It is a place that deserves some level of national recognition if for no other reason than that it was the country's second national park. It isn't a national park any more; it has been demoted to state park status. One wonders what happened to bring this about. Demotion may not have been a bad thing. The island is free of national park uniforms and the standardized rituals that their wearers oversee--you know: campgrounds and visitor's centers and highly organized routes of exploration.
I decided to spend the day here and move on tomorrow. There were lots of things to do and I did most of them. Everything, that is, but one. Very rare indeed is the visitor who departs from Mackinac Island without any fudge. Fudge appears to be the gourmet item of northern Michigan and Mackinac Island is recognized as the standard bearer of fudge retailing hereabouts. There must be at least a half dozen fudge shops in just the few blocks of the main street of this island's one town. I am singular; I am special; I am one of the very few who made it out of town without tasting the stuff.
In most other respects, though, I conformed to the expectations that most locals have for visitors and most visitors have for themselves: I cycled around the island, visited historic Fort Mackinac, cruised up and down main street, did the bar scene (and watched the Heat defeat the Pistons in the first game of the playoffs--yes!), and generally joined the crowds of bicyclists on this island without any motorized vehicles. Evidently, the locals (about 400 of them in the winter) do have snowmobiles but there is a 20 mph speed limit that can be exceeded but only when one is certain of the location of the only patrolling snowmobile on the island. It is of course quite satifying to hop on your bicycle and go from standstill to lawbreaker in under ten seconds. Just think--world class sprinters would not be able to compete here for fear that they might be arrested for speeding. At this slow pace, Kobuk and I fit right in.
At one point during the day, I met an older man outside the library who has been a local here for many many years. I was asking him about the island and particularly wondered whether there was a cafe in the Grand Hotel where one could sit and sip and enjoy the view. He allowed that there was, but pointed out that the hotel charges twelve dollars to enter the grounds if you are not a registered guest. Well, this seemed like a good challenge and so I asked him if there was not some back way in. He allowed as how there was and gave me directions on how to make a rear entry--something that I proceed to do with the little Bike Friday. There was a thrill associated with acting as an imposter, strolling around in the lobby of this great old building with its garish carpet knowing that my presence was illicit. I was dismally attired and, although my hygiene was not out of control, one would have thought that my unwashed clothes were just a little too ragged to fit the standards of the stereotypical guest who wanted to leave the impression of being a commoner. But the good thing about a place like this is that no employee can afford to treat you as a commoner for fear of making a drastic mistake. Thus I was able to mix with the hoi-polloi.
After having my cup of coffee, I found a schedule of activities for the day and determined that there would be an evening showing of "Somewhere in Time," a film from the seventies starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour and set in the Grand Hotel. Naturally, after shaving and washing my hair and changing my clothes, I returned in the evening to see this fanciful production--the most striking feature of which was that it included scenes with seventies automobiles on the streets of the town, making me wonder whether they were brought in as part of the set or were part of the natural order of things back in those days.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
This was for me the toughest day so far since leaving Grand Haven. Yesterday had been mostly sunny with very little wind, but during the night a light easterly sprang up and began to exploit a slight exposure of the harbor to westward moving wavelets that, although very small, were sufficient to constantly bump Kobuk against the pier to which she was tied, a sharp and awkward lurching repeated over and over accompanied by shrieks of complaint from the 4x4 posts against which the rub rail rapped and banged. Three times during the night I got up to retie the mooring lines, hoping to find a more comfortable arrangement, but nothing would work and the only real solution--to move the hull around to the other side of the pier so that it would be blown downwind away from it--was too imposing a task to take on in the dark and in my sleepy state. It was, therefore, a restless night and my planned early morning start was delayed somewhat by the refusal of my unrested body to get out of its warm cocoon.
Even so, Kobuk was under way and out of the harbor a little after eight in the morning and with very light easterlies blowing in our face, we began the open water passage to Detour Village at the utmost eastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. After the first few miles, the main engine once again faltered and failed. Yesterday I had received a call from Werner, a good friend back in Salt Lake City, who thought he might know the source of the engine problem. He believed that the gas tank might not be properly vented and suggested that--if the waves and spray were not threatening to add water to the gas--I should leave the gas cap open to see if it made a difference. As soon as the engine began to falter, I opened the gas cap on the tank and immediately the engine began to run properly--only to die anyway a few minutes later. Evidently, Werner is on the right track but something else is at work here as well.
The Yamaha moved us along handsomely, but not long into the crossing the wind and waves began to increase and almost the entire voyage involved butting into a nasty chop at less than five miles per hour. It was a cloudless day with very little chance of worse weather to come, but a thick haze obscured all sight of land and reduced visibility to only a few miles. In most respects, this is not a serious problem, but it does leave you feeling awfully alone, and in this heavily used passage for Great Lakes tankers and freighters it also raises the discomforting prospect of a giant ship suddenly materializing only after its bow wave and rusty condition are clearly visible. Nothing untoward happened, however, and in late afternoon we arrived unscathed at the little harbor of Detour Village. It was an exhausting voyage, strung out by the need to be constantly on the alert for rogue waves and rogue ships. One good thing about it was that it marked the end of long open-water passages for a while. From this point on in Lake Huron, the day trips should be completely coastal with an unlimited assortment of islands, peninsulas, and ragged coastline within which to hide from all but the most perverse of winds. On the other hand, until now the shoreline has been mostly sand that would provide many places to intentionally run aground should the need arise. Here in northern Huron waters the littoral is almost entirely unforgiving rock.
The landscape has been changing in other respects as well. Until a few days ago, deciduous trees were everywhere ascendant, putting broccoli tops to the shoreline's forest canopy. But now we are far enough north that what you see is mostly pointed firs and other evergreens. There is a stark austerity to this northern forest that has always appealed to me. Longfellow did it justice: "This is the forest primeval / The murmuring pines and the hemlocks / Bearded in moss and in garments green / Indistinct in the twilight. . . "
I ran around Detour Village like the mad hatter, doing laundry, ferrying gas to the boat, stocking up on groceries, and generally preparing for the following day's departure. I had originally intended to request the services of a mechanic who the Ports o' Call Cruising Guide indicates can be found here. He, however, was out of town for a long weekend and the only other one would have to drive over from the town of Hessel. I decided to do without, partly because the people in this town left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. It probably is just the small assortment of individuals I happened to meet, but every one of them seemed to be unenthusiastic about my presence in their town. They all were polite, but they all seemed to be working at it.
There was a sign in town that caught my attention. It said that the Sacred Heart Church would be sponsoring a bake sale at the local bank. You know you are in a small town when a bank can be prevailed upon to host this sort of event--especially when the event is to take place on a Saturday.
Detour Village Municipal Marina: 45* 59.840' N / 83* 53.985' W
Distance: 41 miles
Total Distance: 2,799 miles
Friday, May 26, 2006
Detour Village sits on the western side of the De Tour Passage with Drummond Island across the water, only a ten minute ferry ride away. In mid-afternoon, with no solutions found for the engine problem but lots of other unfinished business finally brought to completion, I angled Kobuk northeastward across this narrow strait with the Yacht Haven Marina on the northwest shore of Drummond Island as my nearby destination. This short voyage made me feel as if I had arrived at the Nirvana I have been seeking. With only the faintest of winds from the south, Kobuk moved through placid waters into the broad and island-strewn Potagannissing Bay. Everywhere I looked there were islands, all of them thickly crowned with trees and very few with docks or houses or other obvious signs of human habitation. The air was warm, warm for the first time since leaving Grand Haven, and everywhere I looked there were retreats and embayments and slender cusps of land, so thinned in some cases as to afford footage for no more than a single row of trees. And yet most islands had some relief to them--not much, but enough to make them look ripe and appealing. This is the kind of place I had in mind when I was building Kobuk and dreaming about where I would take her. This is the sort of place where the salty crews of the Swallow and the Amazon would find endless retreats and priceless treasures.
The young men working at the Yacht Haven Marina seemed to be enjoying themselves. This is not too much to ask of your work, I should think, but it is not something that I could sense in the words or actions of employees I had met back in Detour Village. I arranged to have a mechanic named Carl look at Kobuk's engine sometime tomorrow and then cycled off to look around the little hamlet near the marina. It is, so far as I can tell, a town with neither a downtown nor a name. I came across a post office and a library, a school and an airport and a credit union, a handful of service businesses and retail outlets. All were well-maintained and none were clustered together. They were scattered over a few miles of paved country roads along with an appropriate number of private homes. Nowhere did I see a town name and really there was no town center. The closest thing to it was a crossroads with a string of three stores stretching down a street on one corner, a hardware store on an adjacent corner, a real estate office and an ice cream parlor on the other adjacent corner, and a private home located on the corner diagonally across. It this is a downtown then the lack of sidewalks and the eclectic array of establishments makes it a very queer town indeed.
That having been said, I would like to post a testimonial for one of the establishments there, a restaurant and bar called the Northwood where I had a beer and ordered an appetizer called "Little Hoggies." Little hoggies--surely an irresistible name--consists of three pork ribs of plump, tender, juicy meat on slender bones, drenched in barbeque sauce and accompanied by an array of celery sticks along with a big pot of mild blue cheese flavored dip. All of it was arranged as if being served in a gourmet restaurant and it was outstandingly good. Not as good as the pleasure of Potagannissing Bay, but about as good as food can be.
In the evening as the sun setting down a dancing track of silver on the deep blue waters, I motored out to an island in the bay. Shaped like a horseshoe with the shoe ends pinched towards each other so tightly as to leave only a narrow passage, Harbor Island contains a perfectly protected anchorage with the narrow entrance facing towards a near shore. There are no homes here--it is public land--and all around marsh grasses ring the shore. The island has relief to it so that the forest, which seems to occupy every square inch of land there, rises gently higher and higher as it recedes from the inner lagoon. As the sun set, the faintly blushing sky in the west hosted a train of little puffy clouds that floated there above the silhouetted treetops, looking incongruous in their slate colored attire and watched so carefully by the immobile trees below. As darkness settled in the crickets began to sing and when the first stars appeared their chorus became louder.
Harbor Island Anchorage: 46* 03.085' N / 83* 45.590' W
Distance: 11 miles
Total Distance: 2,810 miles
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Hard days are one thing; frustrating days are much, much worse. The difference, though, is that hard days can be objectively documented whereas frustrating days are ones we choose to define that way. Today I made the bad choice. Going to the mechanic is for me a little like going to the dentist in that I cannot help entering into that unknown expecting the worst. Since this is completely out of character, it is a state of mind with which I am ill prepared to cope.
Maybe the engine problem will be found right away. Maybe it will require so little in the way of repairs that Kobuk will be set to go before the day is done. Maybe. Ordinarily, I would choose to assess an unknown situation in this happy way, but, ah, when it involves mechanical repairs I find myself unable to give the prevailing circumstances such a positive spin. I motored across from Harbor Island to Yacht Haven Marina with this cloud over me. I knew better; I knew that the problem almost certainly was a fuel supply problem and probably not even so serious as to require a new fuel pump, but reason serves us poorly when we are in the grips of anxiety.
Yacht Haven had thought it might be possible for Kobuk to see the doctor in mid-morning, but in this regard mechanical doctors are little different from the medical ones. Noon was long gone by the time that Brent (instead of Carl) showed up and began to troubleshoot. A soft-spoken, somewhat begrizzled young man with a sort of Bhuddist demeanor and a most unusually good bedside manner, Brent immediately made me feel better. He proceeded slowly and methodically, and willingly conformed to my request to explain the thought process involved in his various procedures. It took him nearly two hours, but eventually he found the source of the problem and then repaired it.
Must I admit the source of the problem? Since I have carried on so about the difficulties with the engine I cannot very well avoid doing so--but to make such an admission is painfully embarrassing: Kobuk was out of fuel. I am guilty, guilty, guilty--but perhaps not quite so guilty as circumstances make me appear. Please permit me to plead my case. Back in Grand Haven when I was preparing Kobuk for launch, one task on the list was that of fixing the gauge for the aft fuel tank. It had not been working for much of the preceding season, and I had reason to believe that it was nothing more than a faulty ground wire. When I looked into the matter, I did in fact find that the grounding post on the tank was not as secure as seemed appropriate and when I tightened it the fuel gauge sprang to life, registering a half tank of fuel. I presumed that I had fixed the problem and started out on the journey north. Although the gauge seemed to work for the first day or so, eventually it went bad again and I disgustedly resigned myself to the fact that once again I would have to pull up the floorboard to work on the ground wire. Until then, I would have to keep track of fuel in the tank by means of a sort of dead reckoning. Since I knew the tank was about half full and I knew how many miles the engine would run on the tank, I simply added jerry can fuel whenever Kobuk ran for a few miles on that tank. She never ran for more than a few miles because the engine would always go south after a short period of time--only to start readily the following morning. I never topped off the tank because ferrying gas from distant gas stations is a difficult and time-consuming process, and I am not willing to pay marina prices for gas.
Brent eventually discovered that the fuel sending unit was not functioning properly and upon removing it discovered that its swing arm had become disconnected from the down shaft and was flopping around in the bottom of the tank. Parts requirements for repair? Two small screws. Total cost for parts and labor? About $170. End result? An engine that sounded like her old self. The repair was expensive, but this was quickly forgotten in the euphoria of knowing that at last the engine would run reliably. It was too late in the day to leave for Meldrum Bay, but I motored over to the gas dock and topped off all fuel tanks and prepared for an early morning cruise. Then I went off to "town" to have something to eat and recover from the tensions of the day. As the sun was setting, I cycled back to Kobuk and prepared to run out to Harbour Island for another peaceful night. This is when I made the wrong choice. The engine started but was missing badly and obviously had no power. There was now a new and different problem. It was Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend. Drummond Island, furthermore, is one of the most isolated locations in the eastern United States and any sort of replacement part probably would take days to arrive here. Since leaving Grand Haven over two weeks ago the engine has not run properly and now it seems that the drought is going to continue. I took this badly. It was not until the next morning that I was able to become a little philosophical.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
I was not expecting that Yacht Haven would have a mechanic available on Sunday, but when I spoke with Dennis Bailey, who is the owner, he reassured me that he could get Carl or Brent or someone else to take a look at the new problem. Eventually, Brent and Carl both showed up and diagnostic tests pinpointed the coil as the culprit. It would have to be replaced and early on Tuesday morning Carl would make the phone calls needed to get a replacement here. The best case scenario is that the part will arrive on Wednesday and be installed that same day.
Dennis is a short, square man of vigorous middle age who seems to be constantly afflicted with a sunny inquisitiveness. He helped to put me back in a proper frame of mind without even realizing he was doing it. He explained that he was preparing to close up shop for a short while because he had to go out and assist a grounded boat a few miles away in Potagannissing Bay. I mentioned that he must have to do that a lot, and with an energetic nodding of the head readily concurred. Just last week, he said, he had had to go out and retrieve a brand new 50' yacht that had run aground so hard that the lower unit was torn right out of the boat. He had only just sold the boat to its 70-year old owner who--out of consideration for his own advanced age and limited knowledge of local waters--had decided to hire a certified captain. The captain is in the doghouse, I imagine, but the owner must be in the doldrums. My problems began to seem a little less imposing.
My problems seemed to disappear altogether in the afternoon when I cycled up to the northern end of the island and stopped on the way back to have a few beers at Pins, a restaurant and bar and bowling alley located in isolation (like most establishments around here) a few miles away from the yacht harbor. Sitting by the window on a warm spring day with sunlight flooding in onto the book I was reading, I ended up staying long enough to finish Oliver LaFarge's Laughing Boy.
Most Americans find it hard to identify with Native American life. They can understand the concept of being decimated and conquered, although they are hardly able to relate to the actual experience. They can recognize the corruption and decay that have infected a demoralized people, although their judgments regarding the degree to which it is self-inflicted vary enormously. They can accept that the original native way of life was very different from that of the invaders, although their understanding of that culture contains virtually no specifics. Laughing Boy overcomes these deficits. Neither sentimental nor idealistic nor excessively anti-White, it is a tragic love story that, although completely immersed in the particulars of Navaho culture, talks of a universal human experience and makes Slim Girl and Laughing Boy into two people you wish you knew personally. This book was written nearly a century ago and yet its power is such that you cannot help but feel saddened by the personal and cultural losses of those who are becoming, in effect, strangers in their own land. My recommendation is that you go to Drummond Island with your boat, have a mechanical breakdown, and then spend your waiting time reading Laughing Boy.
Monday, May 29, 2006
From the looks of things, Drummond Island is composed largely of undisturbed sedimentary rock. I expect that Cockburn and Manitoulin Islands, Canadian territory extending eastward from here and marking a continuation of the southern boundary for the North Channel and Georgian Bay, will prove to be geologically similar. The land on the island is not really hilly, but instead has the look of irregularly terraced flatlands, with each terrace so eroded and rounded as to give an impression of hills. Aside from the occasional meadow and the many small clearances for private homes, the land is heavily forested and this greatly obscures the relief, making its subtle changes in elevation even less obvious. Bicyling on the island, however, rarely is a matter of cruising on the level. Usually it involves either a very gentle ascent or a slow-paced coast. In any event, the coastline is for the most part rocky or pebbly with few marshlands and even fewer beaches.
I would guess that the island is about fifteen miles in diameter and, although the map indicates that elevations get as high as 700 feet, in most places the changes in elevation are a matter of ten to twenty feet at a time with limited zones of flatness in between. When you are looking at the island from out on the water, it does have a little substance to it; that is, the trees do not simply present a front to the water as would be the case if the land were everywhere close to water level but instead can be seen even some distance inland, thus implying a modicum of elevation away from the coast.
The shape of the island is crudely spherical although its southern shore is more or less a straight run in the broader sense but highly fragmented and irregular when looked at in detail. Up to the northeast, a large, island-studded bay creates a giant concavity. Considering the size of the island, it is a massive bay. It is almost as if Paul Bunyan took a bite out of the island up here and left behind a scattering of crumbs as he turned away to check on the whereabouts of Babe. Since it is oriented more northerly, this bay--this Potagannissing Bay--is not so frequently or so powerfully beset by wind and waves as is that corroded southern shore. Yacht Haven Marina is tucked away in this large bay. It is the best place to be on the island so Kobuk and I are lucky.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Kobuk needs a coil. Today the search begins. It seems that this particular part is manufactured by Bosch but nobody has it. Manuals provide no cross-listed numbers for other manufacturers. In fact, they do not even list the Bosch number. It is as if the part does not exist. It is necessary to go to the source of the engine: Rotary Power Marine Corporation on Long Island in New York. John Lauter is the key person there and by some stroke of great good fortune he is reached by phone. Before long, arrangements have been made to have a replacement coil sent UPS, with good prospects of it arriving tomorrow afternoon. The mysterious lack of a cros- listing arises from the fact that the part is not typically used in the United States--only in Europe--and thus it is a relief to know that John will be able to send the part out directly.
It is important to not get too attached to this arrangement. It implies that Kobuk could be back in business by tomorrow evening, but so many things might transpire to stall the process that it is better to not expect anything until the part is here and installed, and the engine running. I suppose mistrust of high expectations is a sign of advancing age.
Now that the long weekend is over and the summer season has "officially" started, seasonal enterprises have flung open their doors to the crowds of visitors that have not yet arrived. Since August temperatures have invaded May (it is well over eighty today) and yet the island's country roads still are empty stretches of pavement through Michigan forests, it is almost unthinkable that this place ever becomes busy with traffic. But evidently it does. At least, that is what Gerry Bailey tells me. Gerry is a lean, smooth-faced, bespectacled octogenarian who, after completing a five decade career in Pittsburg as an engineer with the Army Corp, decided to retire to this his childhood home. He and his wife now tend the visitors' center here, and Gerry is a student of local history, with an engineer's mind for detail.
Gerry is a member of the Drummond Island aristocracy--that group of people who can claim deeply buried roots on the island--but then, most people who live here are members. You may already have guessed that the Bailey family staked an early claim here since the marina is owned by Dennis Bailey who of course is related to Gerry. The other family name that crops up with remarkable frequency is Seaman. The Baileys and the Seamans are, I think, the Drummond Island equivalent of the Cabots and the Lodges. After the visitors' center, I went to the local museum and happened to comment to the curator there that it seemed as if everybody on the island was either a Bailey or a Seaman. She looked at me from behind her desk and sweetly informed me that I should watch what I say because she is a Seaman.
Even before the Baileys and Seamans settled here, though, a couple with Murray as a surname came to live on the island. That was in the 1850's, only a few years before the Civil War and nearly a decade after Utah was settled by the Mormons. Speaking of Mormons, that is what the Murrays were. Evidently, they were part of the Mormon colony that settled on Beaver Island up near the north end of Lake Michigan. but they struck out on their own when they found it hard to accept the recently revealed principle of plural marriage. Today, there are no resident Mormons on Drummond Island. I wonder what the situation is on Beaver Island.
Before the early White settlers there were of course Native Americans living here, but as far as I can tell they no longer have any presence on the island. Also, in the years leading up to the War of 1812 there was a British fort over next to the Detour Channel, but afterwards it became just another archeological site.
The economic history of the island is really tied to three words, arranged in chronological order: timber, dolomite, tourists. Each was a phase. The first phase has ended; the second is still functional; the third is on the rise. For those who might not know, dolomite is a particularly hard type of limestone rock that has a variety of industrial uses. I should imagine that in these trying times of industrial outsourcing and downsizing the prospects for dolomite are cloudy.
When I asserted that the days of commercial timber cutting are gone, I lied. I was only telling you what I wish were so. In fact, timber cutting is one of the bigger political issues here. The state owns most of the island and in recent years has been selling timber allotments to private firms that have done the "harvesting." This drives the locals crazy because most of them now treat the state lands as an Edenic domain for hunting and summer camps. Timber cutting means logging roads, which in turn means that outside visitors--four-wheelers in summer and snowmobilers in winter--now have access to many of the places that used to be secret retreats for the locals. As usual, the local position is driven by matters of crass self-interest--but even so, the locals are right. Places like this, places that are picturesque and inaccessible and largely publicly owned, ought not to have their trees cut down for dollars.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
I should have had more faith. The coil for the engine arrived UPS in mid-afternoon, and Brent came to the boat shortly thereafter to do the installation. He caught me at a time when I was gritting my teeth because shortly before he got there I discovered that the little Yamaha outboard would not start. I had struggled with fair success to banish my early thoughts--the ones along the lines of "Why is this happening to me?"--and had gotten down to the business of trying to troubleshoot this new problem. I think I actually am beginning to learn something about engines. I did not find the problem; Brent did. But still, for the first time I at least began to feel as if I was looking at the problem in a sensible and systematic way. The problem, it turned out, was a cracked fuel filter. I had replaced that filter in Grand Haven so it was surprising that such a new part should have failed so quickly.
Evidently, it also was surprising that the coil for the main engine should have gone bad. Brent had the impression from Carl that this was the first one John Lauter had seen fail (How's that for second-hand, hearsay information?). John had been so doubtful about the coil being faulty that he had asked Brent and Carl to retest it.
Surprise or no surprise, the whole damned mess was a budget buster. Two weeks of live-aboard expenses down the crapper for nothing more than a coil, a fuel filter, and an easily repaired fuel sending unit. When I started out on this journey I thought that the biggest risks to it would be a piloting error on my part, a piece of particularly bad weather, or attrition through theft. These possibilities do remain, but up near the top of the list I ought to have put the risk of having to buy gas or get repairs in a marina. Marinas are catering more and more to the rich--for the price of fuel is driving many others off the water--and that means the marinas no longer need worry much about overcharging. Whatever their prices, the rich will pay since excess disposable income readily pays a premium for convenience. In spite of my ranting, I would be unfair if I did not recognize that the staff at Yacht Haven Marina were very professional and treated me well.
In the evening, I motored out to spend another night in the secluded inlet at Harbor Island. This time, there were no other boats in the bay and the peace and solitude helped soften the financial blow just dealt to me. Also, in spite of my better judgment, I was beginning to get excited about the prospect of being able to voyage each day with both engines working on demand. Up until now, I have almost always had to rely on one engine knowing that the other could not be relied on in a bad situation. The whole idea behind the auxiliary engine in the first place was to have a fall-back means of propulsion. Ever since Grand Haven, that security has been missing. Let us hope that this cause of constant stress has at last been found and that for a while the complicated machinery inside Kobuk will function as flawlessly as it did for two seasons on Lake Powell.
Thursday, June 1, 2006
Early in the morning, when Kobuk slipped out of the protected lagoon of Harbor Island, there was a gentle wind blowing out of the northwest. Kobuk was pushing into it, but there were only little wavelets, hardly big enough to create a slight rocking horse motion in the hull. This was a minor, and in fact temporary, impediment; as soon as we could clear the northern limits of Potagannissing Bay we were be able to turn right and head eastward with the wind and waves nudging us along.
Adios, USA--we're off to Canada. The international border runs just north of Drummond Island and Cockburn Island, the next isle east, is in Ontario. Cockburn (pronounced "Coburn") has no permanent settlement, though, and no truly protected harbor, so today we crossed the False Detour Channel, passed along Cockburn's northern shore, navigated the Mississagi Channel, and then tucked into Meldrum Bay at the northeastern end of Manitoulin Island. There were forty miles to run in total, and by getting an early start we were able to to do the whole of it by early afternoon using only the Yamaha. This time, everything was going right: the wind and waves were a help instead of a hinderance; the sun was out but not too bright; the breeze was refreshing but not chilling; no big ships were around; once clear of the Bay, no invisible hazards lurked beneath the surface. But best of all: all systems worked--the main engine ran as she should, the Yamaha did too. Even the chronically troublesome Remote Troll had yielded to a Rube Goldberg repair that I dreamed up while waiting for things to happen on Drummond Island.
I finally came to realize that the problem with the Remote Troll was not that its pulley was slipping on the little drum driven by its electric motor, but instead a simple matter of the electric motor being not quite strong enough to steer against the torque of the engine when at full throttle. Using coat hanger wire and an old fashioned screen door spring, I rigged a little extra tension on the port side of the Remote Troll's pivoting plate, and that has proved sufficient to overcome the problem. Now, when the Yamaha is operating at is usual full throttle, it actually can be turned in either direction. It is not foolproof; it does not work all the time. But it works most of the time and that is a major improvement.
Meldrum Bay turned out to be one of those places whose charm lies in the fact that nothing ever happens. With a year-round population of about twenty and a summer season that has not yet started, the little hamlet seemed to be sound asleep. There was one general store, there, but it had gone out of business and was up for sale. There was a small burger and soft drink stand, but it was not open for the season yet. There was a small inn that serves meals, but it wasn't going to be taking guests until the weekend. At least the inn had people around getting the place ready. The other two places were boarded shut. As a matter of fact, so was the marina. The office building for the marina had its doors locked with a sign on one of them suggesting a call to Debbie if there was a need for anything. That same small building happened to have an office for Canada Customs, and its door was not locked. When I went inside, however, there was hardly anything there--no pictures on the wall, no chairs, no filing cabinets. As I recall, there were only two things in the room: a simple but substantial desk and a black telephone of the old corded type. When I took the phone off its cradle, a man with a Canadian accent said hello. I explained that I was in Meldrum Bay and wished to pass through customs. The man paused momentarily and then indicated that he was not aware of a port of entry called Meldrum Bay. I was startled by this and almost rushed outside to confirm where I was. But then I got a grip and responded that there was too, that it was located at the far western end of Manitoulin Island, and that it had a Customs office in which I was now talking to him. He then corrected himself and said "Oh, that's right," after which he began to run through his standardized list of questions about whether or not I had with me such things as alcohol, tobacco, or weapons. I think I must have been talking to Toronto and perhaps I was the first spring arrival at Meldrum Bay.
Later in the afternoon, I cycled around a bit and visited White Sea, a fishing lodge over on the other side of the bay. The proprietor there and his wife spent some time talking with me, exuding a certain contentment with the isolation that surrounds them in the days before the summer rush starts. He actually stays in the place year round, but every winter his wife returns to New Glasgow in Nova Scotia because she works for a university there as the girls hockey coach. I must be reaching old age, for I had no idea that there were women's hockey leagues nowadays. Of course there must be; I just never thought about it.
Meldrum Bay, Manitoulin Island: 45* 55.538' N / 83* 06.856' W
Distance: 40 miles
Total Distance: 2,850 miles
Friday, June 2, 2006
As everybody knows, the bugs are bad in the Canadian bush. This year, according to the locals, they are particularly so. Sometimes the mosquitoes swarm so thickly that they actually begin to obstruct the view--rather like a dirty windshield. I have to say, though, that at least around me they have not been as predatory as I would have expected. They do bite, but many don't bother and all of them float around lazily as if high on Mary Jane. If one gets you it is easy to get him back by swatting him dead. They have no agility. They have no ambition. This must be a phase; soon enough they will remember their role in life and begin to act upon it.
The black flies are actually more of a bother around here because their small size and silence gives them a stealth capability that would do honor to the US Air Force. Unlike the mosquitoes, they are biting as you would expect them to and they move around unpredictably. I don't much care for them. The one good thing about them is that so far they do not seem to be quite so pervasive as mosquitoes. That is, they hang around in locales, and as long as you avoid their hang outs they do not bother you much.
I have turned to this topic because Meldrum Bay is particularly infested with both these insects and the prospect of settling down on the boat in the evening with them as company was sufficiently sobering that I spent time developing a combative strategy. Here is what I did. I zipped on all the curtains and made the inside of Kobuk as bug tight as possible. Then, holding my breath, I took up the Raid can and sprayed the bejesus out of the entire interior, paying particular attention to all the gaps and holes where bugs might get in. With my lungs craving oxygen, I scrambled out of there and zipped the entry flap shut--and finally began to breathe. Only after taking a short bicycle ride around part of the bay did I go back to Kobuk and slip inside for the night.
The massacre was appalling. Everywhere I looked there were bugs lying dead--dead on the floor, dead on the engine box and the front seat, dead on the dashboard and even dead on very small projections, like the boat hook hanging horizontally across the port side of the cabin and the little window ledges where pieces of trim hold the glass in place. Nothing moved anywhere; all was dead. I developed a certain respect for the power of Raid and thought to myself that this stuff must be at least as toxic as the dust of fibreglass and lead based paint that I was occasionally inhaling back in Grand Haven when sanding the bottom of the hull.
The boater's natural strategy for coping with bugs is to get moving and get away from shore. This does work, but a surprising number of mosquitoes show up even then. It is amusing, though to see them on the outside of the windshield and the side windows holding on for dear life. It seems that even Kobuk's modest speed is enough to threaten them with being lost at sea which, if their feet lose their grip on the glass, must surely be their fate.
Running up towards Gore Bay, the light breeze mottled and dented the surface of the water without carving or shaping it. Our bearing was to the east, and the morning sun glinted and flashed silver ahead of us on the surface of the lake. It was mercury, not water; it had that quickness of superficial motion along with that underlying stillness and solidity. Another day of untroubled cruising on gentle waters makes two in a row--a record for this season. Only near the end did a headwind begin to create something that Kobuk had to work against, but then we turned south and entered the protection of Gore Bay. This is a deep-V notch that penetrates a couple miles into the north shore of the island. Here the land is elevated. From a standing start at the water's edge, the forest runs up steep bluffs on both sides of the bay to reach a table land that stands proudly above the level of the lake. The town of Gore Bay is situated at the apex of the V, nestled by the bluffs. A rock breakwater creates a little harbor there that is well protected from all winds except those that originate one point east of north.
Let us say that you happened to arrive in an isolated small town that has a large and intriguing, three-story octagonal building, constructed of logs, and right on the harbor front. On the main floor the building houses a visitor's center (not yet open) but up above is a gourmet restaurant, the name of which is Rocky Raccoon's and the fare of which is largely Nepalese. Would you go eat there? Of course you would. Curiosity would get the better of you. You are fortunate because it actually is a gourmet restaurant and the chef actually is an accomplished chef who creates his own special fare. Not only that, while you are there you would discover a delightful paperback book with a title something along the lines of "The Best Restaurants in Canada." You will find the book because it includes Rocky Racoon's and the proprietors would like you to know how special the place is. This book, incidentally, is a perfect example of one thing I have always found irresistable about Canada: it may be a vast country with a population of thirty million, but it still is small enough for someone to actually research and write a book of this sort. I spent the better part of an hour trying to see where else along my planned route I might be able to dine as a gourmand.
Gore Bay Anchorage: 45* 55.104' N / 82* 27.656' W
Distance: 36 miles
Total Distance: 2,886 miles
Saturday, June 3, 2006
Sooner or later, any extensive commentary about Manitoulin will include reference to the fact that it is the largest fresh water island in the world. It is shaped like a giant wedge, about a hundred miles in east-west extent and gradually thickening from only a few miles deep at its western extremity to a few tens of miles at its eastern end.
Some places in the world latch onto a trivial fact like size because they have nothing else notable to recommend them, but in the case of Manitoulin there are other attributes to which the locals might refer that would give a more intriguing image to the place. It has more lakes, for example, than a slice of Swiss cheese has holes and its settlements are so small and isolated that there is not a single movie theatre on the entire island. It is isolated. There is a bridge connecting Manitoulin to the Ontario mainland, but the connection is made in a region of the province where nobody lives. If you are going to drive to Manitoulin from Toronto, I think it would take the better part of a day to get here. There also happens to be a ferry running between the island and the Bruce Peninsula (the tail of the Ontario elephant, if you look at a map carefully) but I suspect that it only gets used for a couple months in the summer. All in all, Manitoulin is not the sort of place that sees a lot of traffic between itself and the outside world. It is "a world apart," so to speak, and I think the island could more productively establish a distinct identity using that vague tag line rather than constantly referring to its own bigness.
It is strange to see a Canadian place doing this sort of thing. Americans often use the superlative to label a place that is seeking attention in one way or another. "Biggest little town in the West." "World's largest truck stop." "America's best lemon meringue pie." Etc., etc. Somehow, Americans cannot help themselves: whenever it comes to promotion they feel compelled to bill themselves as unequalled by anybody anywhere. The whole world notices this national behavior trait, and certainly Canadians do. Perhaps in an effort to establish an identity separate from that of the States, Canadians often engage in self-effacement and self-deprecation--perhaps not so much because they believe what they are saying but more likely as a way of saying "I am not American." Given this difference between Canadians and Americans, it is a shock to see Manitoulin advertising its own bigness.
The voyage up from Gore Bay to Little Current took us past a part of the island that is getting more substantial in all respects. The bluffs that enfold Gore Bay carry on as we move east along the shore and even get higher. From some distance out on the lake, the land has a distinctly layered look. That is, the top of the island is a low plateau that appears to be nearly horizontal but not entirely. It looks as if there is a gentle slope downward to the south, on the opposite side of the island from the North Channel through which we have been travelling. I suspect that the terrain visible from here is the most bold and dramatic that the island has to offer. It is rare, incidentally, that layers of flat lying sedimentary rock can be so easily identified here in the east. Usually, the combination of thick vegetation and more aggressive weathering and erosion take the edge off bluffs and scarps but here on Manitoulin neither those forces nor the grinding effort of the Laurentide ice cap have been sufficient to hide them.
We arrived in Little Current shortly after noon, and I spent the rest of the day catching up on work. The Internet computers in the public library were tied up by a class of some sort, but the librarian there put me on to the fact that the Anchor Inn recently installed wireless service. I spent some time out on the sidewalk working with my computer. Evidently, a number of other people often park themselves in this vicinty to take advantage of the free service, but most of them are able to do so in the comfort of their car and do not--as I was doing--sit on the sidewalk with their backs against the outer wall of the Anchor Inn. The connection was so good that eventually I felt obliged to actually enter the place and have a meal there. It was not so good (although the help was friendly).
Spider Marina, Little Current: 45* 59.190' N / 81* 55.845' W
Distance: 30 miles
Total Distance: 2,916 miles
Sunday, June 4, 2006
The sun had barely cleared the horizon when Kobuk slipped out of the harbor and headed for Killarney. As we passed under the ancient swing bridge that connects Manitoulin with the rest of Ontario, we formally left behind the North Channel and entered the part of Lake Huron known as Georgian Bay. Almost immediately the landscape began to change. Instead of layered sedimentary rocks, the islands in the first bay we came to were rounded and scalloped mounds of ancient crystalline rock lying under a mantle of green. We obviously had moved into Canadian Shield country. Before long, we entered Lansdowne Channel, a long, narrow slot of water running between Badgeley Point and a string of islands. The protected waters were smooth and untroubled, and the bright sun shone benevolently. The peninsula and the islands were hummocks that rose magnificently from the lake and I felt as if we had entered an enchanted world.
It is not far to the Killarney Channel and the little town of the same name that favors the mainland side. The channel itself is only about a hundred yards wide and the town has found a way to line both sides of it--even without a bridge. There is a steady flow of small boats shuttling back and forth between the more substantial retail strip on the mainland side and the string of modern homes and marinas on the George Island side. The town is actually very small--only a few hundred residents in winter--and when you walk down the main street there typically is not much going on. There is life, however, on the channel where boats and seaplanes taxi around and also there is life at the fish and chips shop that seems to be attracting out of towners in surprising numbers.
Out at the dead end of a single paved road, located hundreds of miles from any sort of significant city, Killarney is the sort of place that you see only if it is your destination. If you are travelling by car, nobody ever would "pass through" Killarney. Now, if you are on a boat it is a different matter. The Killarney Channel is a logical choice for any yachtsman travelling along the northern Huron shore. Thus, in recent years the town has become ever more involved in boating. The number of boat docks per capita is remarkably high, especially for a place that is not involved in commercial fishing. This puts Killarney in the curious position: it has little to do with Ontario because it is so removed from the centers of provincial population, but it finds itself increasingly influenced by the international crowd of summer boaters who come from great distances. The town's charm is largely parochial but its most devout worshippers are ever more likely to be expatriots for whom absence makes the heart grows fonder. Just like me.
There is one realm in which Killarney has not been able to ignore its home province: politics. Ontario recently passed two laws that have been highly controversial. First, a prohibitionist smoking ban has forced the locals to get their nicotine elswhere than their favourite (since we're in Canada) of the town's three bars. In a small community such as this, where virtually all customers may be friends or may be enemies, but certainly are more than just passing acquaintances, it is rather personal to be telling Jamie McIntire who has practically lived out his life in your establishment the he must extinguish that cigarette or else get out. It is one thing to tell this to a stranger. It is another to tell it to somebody you know well. It is particularly hard when you have to tell it to virtually all your customers.
The other Ontario law that has the town in an uproar was precipitated by an incident a few years back when a small town's water supply became contaminated and caused the death of a few people. The province has stiffened the law regarding the techniques and procedures involve in water treatment, and this has obliged the town to build a totally new water treatment plant costing well over a million dollars. Divide that capital expenditure by about a hundred families living in an area of high unemployment and low income and you begin to see why small town folk may not like their provincial bretheren down in Toronto.
Pitman's General Store had kindly let me tie off at their dock for a few hours--something that would be out of the question once the hordes start to arrive--but by early afternoon I began to feel obliged to move on. Throughout the afternoon, Kobuk weaved her way along the sinuous channel of Collins Inlet, a narrow gap running eastward between the mainland and a large island before finally turning abruptly southward where it joins up with the broad waters of island studded Beaverstone Bay. This route allows a boater to avoid the vagaries of open water while observing the scenery close up, rarely more than fifty yards away to either side. Collins Inlet was still and calm, of course, but at one point where bluffs pinched in from both sides to create a particularly narrow passage, the surface of the water in the middle of the narrows suddenly began to swirl very aggressively. It was not so extreme as to create a downward whirlpool, but it was an eerie thing because it appeared to be alive and growing. Since there is no current in the channel and no significant wind was blowing through it, there must have been a whirlwind in the air to have caused the water to do this. But the whirlwind was not visible and we seemed to be travelling through still air. As we approached, the swirling waters slowed and by the time we reached the spot there was no sign of them.
Burnt Island, Beaverstone Bay: 45* 58.242' N / 81* 11.690 W
Distance: 44 miles
Total Distance: 2,960 miles
Monday, June 5, 2006
We had spent the night tucked in behind Burnt Island on Beaverstone Bay. The wind had kicked up from the south and a healthy chop had been racing in at us from the open waters farther out. It had seemed appropriate to hide out for the night and hope for stillness in the morning. Once out of the bay, Kobuk would have to do about twenty miles in open water before tucking in behind islands once again. It would be more comfortable to make that passage when the surface of the lake was a little less lively and this condition typically prevails only for a short time early in the morning. We set out at sunrise and sped across this exposed stretch unnoticed and unbuffeted. There were swells and lumps left over from the fracas of the previous evening but nothing that Kobuk could not bound across. No sooner had we slipped in behind the Bustard Islands than the wind began to blow a little, so the early morning departure had proven to be an excellent idea.
For the rest of the day we motored along at Yamaha speed, snaking through narrow channels with small islands all around. Everywhere there would be islands and to have made a successful passage through them with neither charts nor buoys marking channels would have been a slow and fitful process, perhaps even slower than navigating the upper Missouri where Kobuk was snagged on sandbars many times every day. Here the lucid water gives warning of shallows, but here no mistakes can be made because anything you hit will be rock. I cannot imagine what it would be like trying to come ashore in Georgian Bay when it is foggy out. Even with radar and gps and all modern navigational devices, such an endeavor would be foolhardy. Openings and channels and passages often are no wider than your one-car garage, and to either side may be an island or possibly just a big rock inches below the surface.
We are accustomed to think of a coastline as a definitive line between a mainland and a body of water, but the word fails to capture what one finds along this shatter belt between land and water. Although technically the notion of coastline continues to adhere, it is made moot by the reality of the situation. You do not have land on one side and water on the other. You have a zone of many miles breadth--in some areas, many tens of miles--and within that zone the side of it lying closer to the mainland consists of larger, wooded island with a warren of channels running between them whereas the part of the zone lying out near the open water of Georgian Bay is a stretch of somewhat open water in which literally thousands of small, rocky islets obscure the open waters in the same way that the leafless, autumn branches of deciduous trees obscure the view through the forest even though most of what you are looking through is atmosphere and not branches. Between these two extremes of the shatter belt lies the sort of transition zone you might expect, with moderate sized islands moderately wooded and separated by moderately extensive areas of open water (with God knows what beneath the surface). What is not moderate about all this is the fiendish complexity of the supposed "coastline."
The Chickens, Batt Bay, Maitland Bank, the Fingerboards, the Bustard Islands, Whistler Bay, Rogers Gut, Cunningham Channel, Black Bay, McNab Rocks, Norgate Inlet, Alexander Passage--these places did we pass through during the day and, in spite of what each name may suggest, it is more than anything a special cluster of myriad islands. And, oh, how exquisitely beautiful these islands are. Only an assiduous search could ever turn up one that is awkward in shape or inappropriately forested or incongruous next to its neighbors. This is not to say that it is an altogether inviting landscape. The islands are often spare and windswept. They are glacially scoured swales of bedrock on which trees, if they are able to grow at all, grow stunted and bereft of branches on their windward side. Often the wind blows and the sky turns leaden and when that happens the water changes like a chameleon, abandoning its aquamarine clarity for a darkened blue that looks sullen and running scared. A chill comes over the place. But who cannot love such moods? Only those who do not truly love nature.
When I went to university in Montreal many years ago I knew little of Canada, but early on in my career there I was made aware of the Canadian Group of Seven, a band of landscape artists a few of whom loved to paint scenes in this region. I saw some of their paintings showing islands and trees in Georgian Bay, and the power of what they depicted infected me with the notion that before I die I must see that area. Decades have passed and never was I able to get here until now. When I was building Kobuk I was sustained by the prospect of finally visiting this place--this one and a handful of others. I developed totally unrealistic expectations about what I would find here, all of which have been surpassed.
Government Dock, Pointe au Baril: 45* 35.704' N / 88* 22.728' W
Distance: 70 miles
Total Distance: 3,030 miles
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Pointe au Baril is one of only two towns along a hundred mile stretch of the Georgian Bay coast, and everywhere else roads do not know how to get into the area. Even Pointe au Baril and the other little town of Britt farther north are accessible from the water only by making extensive journeys up long inlets to reach true mainland. When navigating inland to Point au Baril from the outermore islets I had had to pass through about eight miles of channels and small embayments until finally reaching a place where a highway and the lake get together.
As you progress down toward the southern end of Georgian Bay, more and more summer cabins appear on the countless islands. Many are lovely creations that help to alleviate the feeling of insignificance that overwhelms you in a place like this, but you cannot help wondering how in the world people ever managed to develop these little patches of real estate. The answer, of course, is "with money." Each of these summer homes is built with supplies brought in by small boat. Each has to conjure methods of sewage disposal and power generation and water supply. In short, most of these cabins are totally "off grid" projects inaccessible by country road and constructed on rock that precludes basements and won't allow anything to buried. There are thousands of them.
In the morning before leaving Pointe au Baril I visited a nearby gas station and convenience store to have a cup of coffee and ended up sitting across from a young man who happened to be employed in the business of building and maintaining these cabin estates. He was very black in complexion, probably of South Asian origin, and he had three silver rings in his left earlobe. He said his name was Eric. He spoke with no accent and sounded like a local. He was congenitally happy with a sort of uncontrollable laugh that issued from him involuntarily whenever he spoke or was spoken to. He worked for a firm that builds and maintains cabins in this Georgian Bay area and he confirmed that the standard methods of construction and supply do not work here. Septic systems, for example, often are plastic holding tanks that have to be pumped out, just like on yachts or RV's. I can only imagine a fleet of "sewer tankers" plying these pristine waters and doing their dirty work so that the region can remain unspoiled. Eric did point out that from a logistics point of view things get easier in the winter when the water freezes over since it gets much easier to travel or move goods from cabin to cabin. Absentee owners abound, of course, and operations like the one Eric works for spend a lot of time raising boats that sink and repairing docks that get detached.
Summer is beginning to reappear. It made a provocative showing in early May when I was working on Kobuk in Grand Haven, and it put in a brief appearance for a couple days when Kobuk was out of commission at Drummond Island, but otherwise there has been little in the way of weather that would make you sweat. Yesterday and today, though, the solar heat occasionally forced me to open the cabin top, only to shut it again some time later when a few clouds would reestablish the spring chill. This is the way I like it, actually, and I hope that the summer will be spent so far north that the sticky weather is at a minimum.
By mid-afternoon, I had reached Parry Sound, the one significant town along this entire northeast shore of Georgian Bay. Its year-round population is around 6,000, but in summer that increases tenfold. Kobuk and I have been fortunate to arrive when it is still at that year-round figure. I tied up at the town pier, a massive landfill with vertical concrete walls rising up out of the water to a height greater than the anchor light on the top of Kobuk's cabin. There are a few places along the wall where a few steps have been notched into the concrete and I was able to tie off next to one of them. Once you are on top of the pier, you are on a causeway that projects out into the bay so far that its outer end, with its square gazebo and picnic table, looks diminished by distance. As I bicycled down the pier towards town, Kobuk disappeared from view before the second turn of the crankshaft. That is a good thing; less visibility means less chance of theft.
Municipal Wall, Parry Sound: 45* 20.295' N / 80* 02.163' W
Distance: 37 miles
Total Distance 3,067 miles
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
In the morning before it was light outside, I heard a few drops of rain on the canvas. That convinced me it would be a gray day and so I turned over and went back to sleep with no sense of urgency about getting an early start. When eventually I did arise the conditions were less downcast that I had pictured them and in fact the sun was beginning to chase the clouds away. From here to the start of the Trent Severn Waterway could be done in a full day of motoring with the Yamaha, but I have decided to stop over for one night at Georgian Bay National Park, a collection of islands located not far this side of Port Severn. The park could be reached in a short day, so I was in no hurry to get going.
I stopped in at the information office at the landward end of the pier and inquired for information about the national park, but the young girl working there was not aware of its existence. She was enthusiastic about a couple of nearby provincial parks but denied the reality of a national one. I insisted to her that Georgian Bay National Park does exist she was disbelieving and it was rather to sustain my argument since I was a poorly informed outsider who had come to her for information. Eventually, she suggested that if I wanted to I could walk over to the provincial government building a short distance away and inquire there. I thought this a good idea as I had come to believe that she was an inexperienced summer hire who had not yet learned her work. To my utter amazement the provincial building's receptionist also dismissed the idea of a national park and only when she asked two other people in the office did the second of them know of this Georgian Bay National Park. Eventually, I was given a phone number to call for the national park office down in Honey Harbor and I left, shaken but unbowed.
Can you imagine such a thing? Can you imagine someone in Jackson Hole not knowing about Yellowstone or a person living in Missoula who is unaware of Glacier (especially a person working in a tourist information office)? Most Americans are pretty ignorant about geography, but there is a sort of kudos associated with national parks that imparts status to the region: "Our state has this national park." I guess that for Canadians the National Parks are not a source of emotional satisfaction in the same was as they are for Americans.
In retrospect, the corruption of my departure plans can be traced back to those early morning drops of rain. Now it was a nice day, but I just couldn't seem to get myself going. With a little time to spare and the sun shining occasionally, I decided to bicycle the few miles up the fitness trail to the lookout tower on the hill. There was a museum up there that probably would be open by ten and I thought to myself 'I can get a little exercise, learn a little history, and still be on the water well before noon.' At some unknown point during the excursion, Parry Sound began to look better and better. By the time I had returned to Kobuk, departure had been put off until tomorrow.
Jamie Monastyrski is responsible, I think. This brown-skinned, black-haired, round-faced young man who manages The Museum on Tower Hill treated me as if all exhibits therein were designed for no other purpose than to edify me. Jamie is an Ojibway. He used to work as a reporter for Indian Country Today, but some time ago he returned home and found this current job. It fascinates him, but it is not enough to complete him. He is consumed with the arts and has been publishing a remarkable magazine called Spirit. It is a survey of the avant garde arts scene in the world of indigenous peoples--mostly but not entirely Native American. Spirit is a sleek, sexy, glossy quarterly that appears to be conceived and written mostly by Jamie. If you were to see it in a mainstream magazine outlet you might very well buy it: it is that striking. Each issue features a sensuous, mesmerizing indigenous woman on the cover, usually only partly dressed and always posed in a way that is certain to catch your attention. The most recent issue, for example, features Tanya Tagaq Gillis, an Inuit throat singer from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Her photo cover is shot with her facing you straight on, looking between two animal bones held close together in her right hand. Her eyes examine you through the dark, narrow slit between the bones and her red lips are pursed in a way that leaves you wondering whether she is musing about whether to eat you, or maybe kiss you.
And then when you look inside the magazine you discover that the articles and reviews are actually something you find yourself reading. It is a visual feast and it never strays off message: "Indigenous people are modern, creative, and appealing." Literature, music, art--it covers them all and one can't help but think that Jamie must be one of those people who simply gets things done. It is all very surprising since he does not leave you feeling as if he is on a mission. He is energetic and enthusiastic, but he never gives the impression of marching in a certain direction. I find him fascinating.
Once the die was cast, I ambled around the waterfront on the Bike Friday letting time slip away like sand sifting through fingers. At one point, the original Parry Sound railway station came into view. It is a recently restored building of Victorian design that now houses art exhibits. I went in to look around and ended up spending a couple hours talking with Christina, the young woman who has been hired to manage this non-profit endeavor. Sometimes when you meet someone there is a sort of unspoken linkage that has no explanation. Christina and I simply couldn't seem to break up. We said goodbye four different times before finally carrying through with the actual separation. Naturally, all this delaying meant that I learned about all sorts of new things having to do with Parry Sound--things like the fact that there are summer parking police who stand in critical locations where they can observe whether or not you are using the facility your parking suggests you are going to use, things like the fact that Henry's fish restaurant out on Frying Pan Island which is distant and accessible only by boat or float plane never has vacant tables, things like the fact that Christina is not nearly as formal and uptight as you might think.
Thursday, June 8, 2006
A set of narrow channels runs southward from Parry Sound, offering protection from the fickle winds of Georgian Bay and giving a shortened route to its southern end. Kobuk and I used this back door to slip out of town early in the morning. The waters in these narrow inlets were crinkled here and there but never so much as to put some pitch or roll into Kobuk's gate. We motored along uninterruptedly with a flotilla of islands to each side. Summer cabins peeked through the trees along every shore. It was the end of the Georgian Bay wilderness, a rugged setting that down here has been brought to the brink of domestication. The presence of summer homes with their porches and small docks and boathouses and Adirondack chairs did not fragment the rampant forest or overshadow the toughness of all that exposed bedrock, but it did insinuate the notion that all this wilderness exists only because humans choose to allow it.
Navigation still required constant attention, but the high risk zones of zero tolerance for error became less frequent and the occasional presence of another boat travelling around at speed made decision-making seem somewhat less fateful. But other considerations were at play here as well: growing familiarity with how the game is played encouraged me to relax my vigil somewhat. No longer did I constantly plot course, seek out landmarks, and estimate travel time to the next visible waypoint. Back when we departed from Killarney I was obsessed with these things but by now I had become much more casual in my approach. It is hard to find the right balance between obsession and inattentiveness.
Georgian Bay National Park is the smallest in Canada. Beausoleil Island is its centerpiece, a twisted and deformed club with a ragged perimeter. It differs little from many other islands in the area except for its lack of development. Actually, there are a few houses on extensions of land that jut out from the western side of the island. This land must still remain in private hands and I doubt any of its owners will be selling out any time soon.
I guided Kobuk into Frying Pan Bay near the island's northern tip, and tied off at a lonely dock floating on still waters with marsh grasses clustered in patches close to shore. The bay was accessible only by a narrow, curving entrance channel that only allowed the most perverse of waves to make an entrance. Once inside, the breadth of open water was more ample, but still so limited as to preclude any sort of unpleasant chop. I prepped Kobuk for the night and went for a walk.
A breeze had kicked up in the afternoon and as I sat on a rocky outcrop looking across the waters we had just traversed, I thought how unlikely it was that I would ever be this way again. There are many such places along the route--places that Kobuk and I probably will see only once in a lifetime--but here there is a stark magnificence that feeds my soul and nowhere else along the way have I come as close to retrieving my childhood. One of the compensations of aging, though, is peaceful acceptance of the fact that some things can never be retrieved. At least I have been here once and that should be blessing enough for any reasonable man.
Frying Pan Bay, Beausoleil Island: 44* 53.887' N / 79* 50.821' W
Distance: 42 miles
Total Distance: 3,109 miles