The North Channel and Sault Ste Marie

Sunset over the Benjamin Islands

For one evening in Killarney, we validated that the cell reception was bad and the marina wifi was worse, so in the morning, we booked it over to Little Current, which is a small town at the confluence between the Georgian Bay and the North Channel. You have to pass through this swing bridge in a small channel that actually has strong and shifting tidal currents because the size of the bodies of water on either side of it. Right on the other side of the bridge was the small town, and we tied up in their marina, quickly verifying that internet was usable for work starting the next day.

The Little Current Swing Bridge

It was a cute little town, and the marina actually had a few Canadian loopers, both past and aspirational (since the US is still rejecting letting Canadian boaters into US waters) that we chatted with. There’s even one guy who does a daily radio show on VHF 71 with the latest news, weather, and has boaters from the whole area check in to keep track of them. We went to a local brewery that was decent, but there was a known squall coming in in the afternoon, so we had to head back to the boat and hole up pretty early, at which point it rained cats, dogs, farm animals, and more, for quite a while.

We holed up in Little Current for two days of poor weather, leaving on Tuesday morning when the weather cleared up. All of the interesting spots on the north channel appear to be on the east end of the channel, so we had to figure out what to pack in during the work week.

Entering the Benjamin Islands south anchorage

The Benjamin Islands were a constant feature in everyone we talked to’s hit lists, so we headed there first. There were pretty strong predicted winds from the east overnight, so I picked the south anchorage, which is protected from all directions other than SSW. Unfortunately, the first thing we found was that Rogers had virtually no coverage here, so we had to fall back to our emergency Google Fi plan to work, and knew that meant our time here was limited.

In the evening, we both called it quits somewhat early so we’d have time to explore before sunset. We put the dinghy down, and tootled over to one of the other boats in the anchorage that had people hanging out on the back deck. We asked them where we should go to check out the sights, and they told us to go outside and around to the main anchorage to see the formations over there. We thanked them, headed out of the bay, opened up the throttle, and … plowed water for a minute. Incredibly perplexed, we checked the motor and propeller, fuel lines, and everything. No damage that we could find. Eventually, I just tried forcing the bilge pump on out of curiosity, and water came out … for about 90 seconds straight. So, apparently, at some point recently, the level switch on the bilge pump stopped working. We were used to, during rainstorms, hearing the dinghy periodically eject water onto the swim platform, so checking the bilge pump wasn’t part of our list. Woops.

After that short debacle, we finished emptying several hundred pounds of water from the dinghy and hopped right up on plane to head over to the other anchorage. The predicted winds for the night had started picking up, so after we got out of the bay, until we got into the lee of the island, it was pretty spicy — riding out ~2-3 footers in a 12 foot dinghy while trying to stay on plane isn’t the most fun. But this dinghy actually rode it pretty well. Despite being a cheap thingy, it’s proving to be quite seaworthy.

The sunset was rapidly getting very pretty, so despite the waves, it was looking worth it. We made it around into the central anchorage, and followed some other dinghies over to a rock formation with a view of the sunset, and were rewarded with a great view.

After catching most of the sunset, we chatted a bit with the locals there, who turned out to be one of the Sault Ste Marie council members and her extended family. She convinced us that it was a cute town worth going to, which nudged us over the edge to give it a shot later in the week. With the sun rapidly heading down, and a journey back directly into the waves, we headed back to the boat, and got to catch the last of the sun as we pulled into our bay.

I checked the Google Fi report in the evening and it didn’t look like we’d used too much data, so we went to bed and started working in the morning. Then a few hours into the work day, we get a text saying we’ve used all of our data and are now on reduced speeds. Oops. I checked the report and saw that the reports are delayed by quite a bit, so we actually used most of our monthly bandwidth the day before and had polished it off with the morning meetings. So we both tried audio-only calls all day with marginal success, and managed to get through the day, ish. But this was the end of our emergency backup plan — we had to make Rogers or marina wifi work here on out for the rest of our time in Canada. We were really sad we couldn’t hang around for more days there and the nearby islands, but without more internet plans we were completely hosed, having used our one emergency fallback day. Maybe next year.

Weather had also socked in, and I had late meetings anyway, so we didn’t bother going leaving the boat in the evening. Looking at the forecast for a few days, it was going to stay socked in, and start getting real windy later in the week. So we headed northwest to what looked like a pretty anchorage that was protected from all angles of winds (needed for that overnight), Beardrop Harbour, planning to head to a marina instead if reception was bad there, or the next day to avoid wind if not. It rained on and off for the day, and the anchorage was actually pretty bland, so we didn’t end up taking any pictures there, but at least the internet was decent.

Heading around St. Joseph Island, getting close to Sault Ste Marie

The weather forecast continued to degrade, and we actually had to wait to leave in the morning while the heavy winds from the early morning shifted direction to a more palatable forecast around 11am. We had checked out all of the marinas along the way from here, and all of them looked pretty much like small towns with nothing suggested by boaters or google to do there. With the forecast continuing to look bad, we decided to bomb straight to Sault Ste Marie at the end of the channel, hoping for some stuff to do for the weekend in the rain. Hannah and I traded off driving all afternoon between meetings to make the long trek, and pulled into the marina in some driving rain. But at least it was a Friday.

We spent a very rainy Saturday exploring the city, which was, well, actually kind of a dying town. 2/3s of main street was boarded up or for rent. Tons of closed restaurants and shops in the outskirts. The mall is close to empty. We had a fun time touring the Bush Plane Museum, which gave me some fun flashbacks to my year off after high school, working for Brooks Range Aviation in northern Alaska. We tried a brewery that only had things I wanted to drink. We stopped at a board game store and bought what turned out to be a good recommendation for a new game, Smartphone, and picked up some fancy olive oil from a local shop. We had two decent dinners at local restaurants, at least. And got rained on, a lot. ‘Tis the season. Time to head back south!

While we can skip Sault Ste Marie, at least the Canadian side, the pretty eastern part of the North Channel was definitely worth a revisit. We just need to come armed with all 3 cell providers next time…

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