Sea Kayaking on the Great Lakes

“The lighthouse trip”


After a very successful trip to the West Coast of Sweden last October it seemed only sensible to plan to the same thing in 2014 (I was attending an international conference about children's diabetes). This year the Conference venue Toronto - so where to go paddling?


After using my usual system of getting advice (ask Nick Cunliffe!) we got some great advice from David Johnstone and contacted the guys at White Squall to arrange boat hire for a trip on Georgian Bay. White Squall are based about 2.5hours North of Toronto. Trip planned, flights booked off to Toronto..........


Sunday Liverpool to Toronto

The day started early for all of us, 4.30am for 3 of the group, even earlier for Don. After checking in at Manchester Airport and dropping the bags off and reassuring Keith that the bags were definitely checked through to Toronto we settled down to the business of international travel.


The flight was un-eventful and arrived on time after a delayed departure. Some trip planning courtesy of Paddling and Hiking the Georgian Bay Coast by Kas Stone took place at Dublin airport. Otherwise it was an uneventful journey. In the arrivals baggage hall things started to go wrong. Only Ian's bag appeared. Seems like I had been wrong with my earlier reassurance at Manchester Airport. After a frustrating experience reporting the missing bags, we collected the hire car and found a hotel for the night, wondering if tomorrow would bring good news and the arrival of our luggage.....



They say no news is good news.  We enjoyed a free breakfast.  Keith managed to convince the hotel we didn't need to pay for it as we had booked via a well known website and it indicated that breakfast was included. So we set off towards downtown Toronto to explore for a couple of hours before going back to the airport to hunt bags.  It turns out they never got on the plane in Manchester.  Despite not being tracked, they were going round a lonely carousel when I got into the arrivals baggage hall.  Phew! 24 hours later trip is back on track. A supermarket sweep followed in Wallmart (Asda) and the cheapest shopping cart belonged to guess who? Yes Keith & Ian.


A 3 hour drive north saw us arrive in Parry sound, sometime after 10pm.  It felt much later due to 5 hour time difference we had yet to adapt to.  After checking the directions we headed to the White Squall store and stuck our tents up by their lake and grabbed a few hours sleep.


More photos…..


Day 1 Tuesday – Dillon Harbour to Lookout Island


Waking up knowing that today we would be getting kitted out and on the water was a great feeling. Creeping quietly out of my tent the view was stunning. The lake shrouded in mist. Once up I realised that Keith had already stealthily slipped out of his bivvi bag to start the day and get the stove on for a brew. 


Shockingly, Ian not only won the award for the heaviest bag (24kg) but was the last up and last to take his tent down. Not what we expect of the one we christened 'Bear' in Sweden. 


After meeting Tim and Kathleen from White Squall we checked out the shop for maps and looked over all our gear. After some swapping and changing the boats Keith ended up with the only Canadian boat.  This had solid glass hatch covers so was the only raccoon proof boat.  This would be the food cache this year but risk damage should a bear happen across the camp.  We sorted out a shuttle to Dillon harbour where we were to begin our exploration of Georgian Bay.


Another group were loading boats and leaving from Dillon as we arrived. In typical LCC fashion Keith said let's see if we can beat them onto the water. So we packed (quickly) and I half listened to the safety briefing going on at the side of me. I paid attention when they got to the bit about rattle snakes - ugh!  Yes we got on the water first, they looked a little miffed as we carried our boats over theirs to get on the water. 


Onto the water, in murky sunshine with not very much wind we headed out into the bay, and spent a little while wondering just where we were on the chart. We decided to head towards the McCoy Islands.   A late lunch on one of the McCoy's was enjoyed after only 2 hours paddling.  This was our first chance to try out the apparently famous “squaller hauler”. A block of wood used to protect the boats from the rock. With at least 3 more hours of daylight we decided to explore further north and ended up at a fabulous campsite.


The tarp went up just in time before a heavy shower (one of very few in the whole trip) disrupted cooking plans. The camp site was a hive of insect activity and the smallest frogs I have ever seen.  Fortunately there were no sightings of rattle snakes or raccoons.  It was a great first day on the water.                                                

More photos…..


Day 2 Wednesday - Lookout Island to Bouchier Island




The day started a little misty and damp.  We rounded the point and realised where we were when we saw the Pointe au Baril lighthouse. It was so named because some voyageurs travelling by canoe discovered a barrel of whiskey in the channel mouth.  After drinking the whiskey they stuck the barrel on top of a pole to mark the entrance to the treacherous channel.


This improvised beacon was modernised by local fisherman who cut a hole in the barrel and placed a lantern inside, in the late 1800s the barrel was replaced with a lighthouse. Point au Baril, once a thriving fishing community, is now a haven for the rich with multi million dollar holiday cottages, some complete with float planes.


We had the obligatory photograph in front of the lighthouse and a good look around the inlet.





 Point au Baril


Leaving Pointe au Baril behind we paddled northwards and as we were passing the least scenic area of the whole trip left me wondering if I'd made the right decision about our paddling venue. We saw a single loan kayaker whilst stopping for elevenses and a lot the so called cottages (shacks and summer lodges). We were passing one of the most populated and built up areas of the sound. It rained on and off most of the day but despite this it was warm, short sleeve cagoule weather.

The terrain of Georgian Bay is predominantly rock and this made spotting camping areas interesting. Often a pile of rocks would indicate a good camping area as they would have been used to anchor down the tent.  Tent pegs were totally superfluous.


As we hunted for a campsite towards the end of the second day we came across an old and very rusty 1950s American automobile.  We had to drag Ian and Don away from this as they speculated how it may have been left there.


With the possibility of a thunder storm that night and the probability of little wind and lots of midges we identified a suitable camp site.  This was only 3* compared to the previous night but it had enough space for the 4 tents. It was definitely midges 1 LCC 0 as the sun dipped and we all had a reasonably early night after a brief exploration of our little island.


More photos……………


 Day 3 Thursday - Bouchier Island to One Tree Island


 After spending the night on Bouchier Island we set off towards Byng inlet.  We could see the lighthouse though the trees of the island that it was on.  We just had to paddle round in front of Gereaux lighthouse again stopping for some photographs.


Soon after we had Elevenses on McNab rocks, group of low lying rocks in front of Byng inlet.


At lunch we were visited by a heron and more sunshine.  There were some very large cottages on the first of the Champlain Islands. Unfortunately the camp spot here was overlooked and we decided to press on past a group of islands called the Churchill’s.  We were now pretty tired and were looking for a campsite as the wind started to fill in. 


We decided to camp on “One Tree Island” rather than cross to the Bustard Islands. Don elected to pitch his tent on the highest point of the campsite which was definitely the best yet. Evening meals were prepared in a leisurely fashion, Keith and Ian had a very hot curry, far hotter than they planned and their facial expression along with the banter about the curry paste provided much entertainment for Don and I.


We ended the day watching the sun set looking out to Bustard Islands. Definitely a 5 star campsite, till the midges came out then Keith went to 'bed'.  We stayed up for a sunset photo and put up with the midges for a bit longer.   More photos……




Day 4 Friday - One Tree Island to the Bustard Islands


After a slightly later than planned start to the day, we got on the water as the fog rolled in. Forewarned is forearmed and the bearing taken the night before was used to set the course across to the Bustard Islands. Sticking close together we paddled in the foggy atmospheric morning, hoping we hit the right bit of land.


After about an hour and 15 minutes paddling, the increasing numbers of dead insects floating in the water indicated land.  Hitting land we stopped for elevenses and as we did the fog cleared and the sun came out. Phew, we were in the right place. 

We head off to try to count the 559 islands in the Bustard Island chain and see the Bustard Islands lighthouse, erected in 1875 to guide the Great Lakes steam ships into French River Village. We headed from South Point out to Bustard Rocks and stopped to take a good look at a snake swimming to land.   Ian had claimed to have seen 2 snakes in the water previously, now we believed him.


Rounding the rocks we paddled to Ridout Island and had a mini lunch stop before going to hunt for the wreck of the Coral in what is now known as Coral channel. On the way to the wreck we passed the harbour where the fishing industry once thrived through to the 1950s. After lots of attempts at underwater photography of the wreck which sank on the early 1900s we continued in a leisurely fashion round onto Tanvat Island and another great camping spot. As we were deciding on the flattest bits of rocks to put our tents on, a couple of Canadians paddled over to let us know they had seen a bear swimming across the channel onto the island just a little way from where we were camping earlier in the day. Great to know and bear precautions were added to the raccoon measures that night. I suspect we were all a little gutted to have missed sighting the bear though.



 The glorious sunshine saw all of us brave the cold water of the bay to freshen up, Keith actually went for a swim, Ian amazed us all by putting shorts on and jumping in. Then he realised how cold the water actually was! Refreshed, we had a bear safe evening meal, a rubbish fire - no trip is complete without “one match Bell” setting several fires to burn anything that can be burnt. Then we just sat, chilled and enjoyed the views across to French River until sundown.   More Photos….


Day 5 Saturday – “turn around day”, Bustard Islands to Henvey Island


Having decided that we should allow 6 days to return to Parry Sound, Saturdays plan was to begin to head back and take in parts of the bay we had whizzed past in our journey to the Bustard Islands. First stop, Dead Island. The local Ojibwe buried their deceased on the island. The 'burials'  involved cloaking the body in fur or birch bark with a few possessions and placing them under trees or rocks.


After enjoying elevenses on the island and checking the Eastern shore for the burial site we headed due East towards Key Harbour. Over 50years ago Key Harbour was a busy port; today it is a summer cottage community with hundreds of fishing lodges. The harbour used to serve the coal and iron ore industry with 3 train tracks running off the main spur down to the docks by the river mouth. The remains of the port are still visible between the cottages.


By now it was scorching and we meandered to a sunny rock to stop for lunch and a spot of sun bathing (standard expedition activity obviously). Setting off again we had a difficult decision to make, stop at the first good looking camp site or paddle down the Churchill Islands towards Byng Inlet, which we knew had fewer favourable options. So we stopped at an (I think) unnamed spot looking towards the Henvey Inlet Indian reserve and enjoyed the sunshine.



 In fact complaints that it was too hot were heard to be uttered by at least one member of the group. The answer to glorious sunshine is a swim in a cold lake, followed by more sun bathing. Sometime after eating our evening meal Keith returned from a walk looking slightly pale and reporting that he had almost stepped on a snake, after that several more snakes were spotted but none of us had quite such a close encounter.   More Photos…..



Day 6, Sunday Henvey Island to McHugh Island


Another (beautiful) morning when Ian was last up and packed again, clearly he's on holiday! Another hot day ahead, possibly our last with very light winds for a couple of days.  Today we needed to make reasonable progress, though it did seem like we had some time in hand. We set off heading initially back towards Gereaux Lighthouse taking a slightly different route (or so we thought) to the one on the journey out. We stopped for elevenses and a sunbathing session on another unnamed island and relaxed before remembering we were meant to be doing distance! So off we headed and found ourselves somewhere we recognised, by a white cross on the end of an island with the name Petronas on it. We had sat off this same point looking for One Tree Island.

Inland route was the cry, and we paddled onto McNabs rocks where we stopped for lunch, and enjoyed more sunshine and dealt with a coffee jar incident. Thou shall not pack glass is a motto to remember.


From lunch we retraced our steps to the lighthouse, this time paddling through the channel which ran behind it.  Then, as if drawn by a magnet, Keith began to paddle offshore towards a rock which was much higher than everything else around.  It was a couple of kilometres from the shoreline. Well at this point you knew it was a possible camp site, no trees and wind equals minimal midges (you hope). We got closer, wondering if Keith really was thinking camp site, then we got really close, wow what a magic bit of rock. A perfect campsite, amazing views, and enough breeze to keep the midges away if the weather forecast wasn't for too much wind.  Happily it wasn't.


Just as we were settling in a motor boat pulled up, locals come to visit us possibly? A family who had camped on the rock the night before had come back to look for a lost bag. After assuring us it was an “awesome spot” to spend the night, they headed off to retrace their steps bag hunting.  We later found the name of this magical place – McHugh Island.   More Photos…..




Day 7 Monday - McHugh Island to Fair Wood Island


 Waking up with a swelling lower lip that felt like it was taking over my face wasn't how I planned to start the day. After a dose of antihistamine and a relaxed breakfast on our awesome rock it was time to set off. Leaving our campsite on the amazing rock we opted to head towards the shore to duck out of as much of the wind as possible. Or did we, Ian seemed to be heading offshore into the wind at full pelt. Once the error of his ways was pointed out we took a slightly closer to shore course and slogged in some parts into the freshening wind. The change in wind strength and direction produced waves! All 0.5 metres of them. Still it was fun to have a little bit of surf action over the shallow rocks every now and then. It might have been windy but it was still warm and mostly sunny.


Our aim was to get back to Pointe au Baril and then find an inner route out of the wind weaving our way round small islands looking for a campsite. After passing the lighthouse and taking the photos from a different angle we began to paddle past the 'cottages'.  Why they are described as such one wonders given the size if many.  Some of the boathouses were bigger than a typical cottage. This part of Georgian Bay is clearly a different world.


Having found places en route to stop for elevenses and lunch before getting to 'cottage'  land the options for camping looked thin. The general rule being if there is a cottage it is private land, lots of small islands all with a cottage. Then Keith spotted a possibility, a wooded area that he gave 4*. Now I did have some reservations at this point and was “Mrs Slow” getting my tent out of the boat as we were so close to some big cottages. Then a lady on a SUP appeared and told us you can't camp here, it is conservation land and she was a steward.  Keith tried being persuasive, the forecast was for a 15 knot headwind. She wasn't convinced.  Then whilst we debated what to do next a gentleman turned up in his kayak to say “you can't camp here, it’s a conservation area and there may be bears about”.  We had just decided that and let him know that we were moving.  He helpfully offered some alternative suggestions for camping and we got back onto the water and headed onwards.


As it was now close to 6pm, options were limited and we found what looked like a likely campsite on Fair Wood Island.  As it was close to yet more cottages we opted to cook, eat and then get out tents up after sunset. As we were eating, a canoeist came by and talked to us about the weather forecast for Tuesday, hottest day of the year in Canada! Then a few people came and sat to watch the sunset just a little way from us.  No one said anything so we figured we were ok. Sunset passed, a few moments were spent watching a fox, then we began to get our tents out and a lady appeared and asked if we were planning to camp.  It was a heart sinking moment. After telling us it was private land, she said as it's late you can camp here, but please don't have a fire. After thanking her and reassuring her we wouldn't be having any fires our tents went up quickly and we headed off to bed. I settled into my tent thinking about the bear that was mentioned, it was the wind that woke me through the night though, not bear noises.  More photos…….


Day 8 Tuesday - Fair Wood Island to McCormick Island


Tents down before breakfast as this seemed the right thing to do in the middle of cottage land.  What was this, Ian was last up again! Breakfast completed we planned to paddle round to the Ojibway hotel and have a closer look and then see how far toward the McCoy Islands we could get punching into the south easterly wind that was forecast for 10-15 knots. We (or possibly just I) marvelled at the hotel which opened in 1906 and is now a community club.  


Time to head towards Shawanaga Island via the wreck of The Metamora just off Turning Island, we found the wreck, (the old boiler house now has a channel marker on it).  We stopped for lunch on Turning Island. The sun came out and with it the smiles and sun screen.

From lunch it was time to see how far we could get before finding the next camp spot. Reaching the McCoys was a possibility but the wind was forecast to pick up a bit more. As we paddled through Shawanaga Inlet the number of cottages started to drop off and we spotted what looked a cottage free island.  It was a little early to stop but the island looked very promising. So hopping out we attempted to get another weather forecast and checked out the camping options. Lots of flat ground and some trees meant that we weren't in line sight of the cottages across the water. Scarred by the previous day we found a spot as much out of sight as possible and debated the likelihood of being evicted again, we had paddled past a white sign and not got close enough to read it, but assumed it said no camping. Given the wind forecast the McCoy's weren't an option so we were staying, as we got ourselves organised Ian went off to find wood for a rubbish fire.  During his explorations he read the sign, which said campers should leave no trace and campfires were permissible down by the water. Happy Days.


Keith probably instigated cooking at yet another early time, there was a threatening cloud that looked like rain was coming. Don and I held off until it got past at least 6pm before getting the stove on. After burning all the rubbish on the shoreline, we relaxed and chatted until Ian said he had just seen a turtle. Really? Really he had, swimming about in the rock pool behind where we had been cooking. Lots of attempts to take photos followed, not one of us will have a turtle photo! Oh and there was another snake in the water. Ugh.   More photos……



Day 9 Wednesday – McCormick Island to the Mink Islands


With another slightly iffy wind forecast we set off to head back out into the Lake proper and paddled towards the McCoy's and The Mink Islands. The effects of the wind direction on the Lake were evident and as we got out into more open water it started to feel a bit more like the sea again.


Getting to the McCoy's was a pretty short trip, so it was suggested that we kept going to the Minks, as we were approaching we debated heading over to the Limestone Islands.  The guide book suggested they were a 5km paddle away, but we could see an Island that didn't look to be too far. So we headed in that direction to see how far we got. The wind continued to freshen and the lake had waves and swell, it was fun to paddle and before long we could see the Island ahead looking much whiter than any other we had seen so far. Sure enough we had made it to one of the 3 Limestone Islands. This was our only pebble beach landing of the entire trip.


The small group of Islands are a conservation site, with landing only allowed outside of the nesting season. Camping is prohibited, which could be why the man in the sail boat got off the beach and 'sailed' away quickly hardly saying a word as we arrived. After a very quick snack stop, no stoves for this break we jumped back in the boats to find a camping spot on The Mink Islands.  By now the wind had filled in some more and we had a following wind and 'sea'. Whoopee - it was a fun and pretty quick trip back to find yet another awesome camping spot.


Our tents were held down by the biggest rocks we could find we sunbathed and relaxed our way through the afternoon and evening.  We even saw a couple of mink, plus some groups of kayakers who paddled by.  We speculated about how disappointed they may have been to find us on the camp spot.  The usual bear and raccoon precautions were taken and when the midges struck after sunset we all dived into our tents anticipating a lie in, as the wind wasn't dropping anytime before midday. 


More Photos…….


Day 10 Thursday - Mink Islands to Franklin Island


Having had some time in hand, the change in wind direction and strength meant that we had another short day on the water.  We decided that we would head to the southern end of the chain of Mink Islands and then cross over to Franklin Island, home of the particularly clever raccoons who have been known to chew through plastic hatch covers to eat your food. Not that we had much food left, as the precise planning meant that no one had any leftovers.


The crossing was another with more action in the water than we had seen for most of the trip due to the wind and swell. We passed Red Rock Light on our continued tour of the lighthouses of Georgian Bay and picked a point on Franklin Island to head for.  As we arrived and started to look for campsites the first possibility was dismissed due to the man standing with a butterfly net in the trees!


We soon found another great spot.  After a slightly tricky landing we set up camp and settled down for our last night camping on Georgian Bay. While the ground wasn't as flat we had managed to find previously it was more than good enough.  There was even a fire circle for burning the remaining rubbish and getting rid any smelly stuff that might attract bears.


As we were being picked up at 12 midday at Snug Harbour we decided on an early start and the alarm was set for 6.30am.  More photos…..





Day 11 Friday - Franklin Island back to Snug Harbour and home for some


Amazingly after 10 days of leisurely starts we almost made it on the water for 8:00am. Shockingly it was Keith who was last on the water with his coffee!

We made our way down past Snug Harbour heading towards Snake Island, we reached our most southerly point on the lake and appropriately a channel light which looked a little like a miniature light house.  We then had to turn back towards Snug Harbour taking advantage of a very narrow channel between an island and the mainland.  On rounding the point we entered Snug Harbour and passed our last Light House, we took the obligatory group photographs.


At this point we realised we didn't know exactly where the landing point was.  As we paddled on it soon became obvious, the spot where all the boats were being loaded for the Labour Day weekend escape.


So that was it we had reached Snug Harbour and our trip around the Lighthouses of Georgian Bay was done, we got off the water and unloaded the boats and waited for our lift back to White Squall and the rental car. Just a 3 hour drive back to Toronto and a flight home for the boys.  For me there remained a few days exploring Toronto and then diabetes conference time.  More Photos….



Thanks to Don Brooks, Ian Bell and Keith Steer for an AWESOME!!!! exploration of Georgian Bay......

And in 2015 - well the conference will be in Brisbane! Apparently Lucinda to Mission Beach is a great sea trip...........


Frankie A