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Continuing last week's cruise from Mackinac Island to the great cruising grounds of North Channel, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED takes the yachtsman through lovely Whalesback Channel, beautiful Croker Island and then eastward to the wide, blue waters of Georgian Bay.
AIRD ISLAND: third day
Aird lies well down in the Whales-back Channel and is possibly the most pleasant of the dozens of anchorages along the way. The course through the Whalesback starts just after Turnbull and runs through maze after maze of islets of brown and sunset-purple rock, scrubbed smooth by the huge glaciers of the ice age. The rocks rise from the bright blue water like the curving backs of seals, whales and behemoths. They stand in rings like seats around a swimming hole or crowd together to make fields of half-sunk boulders, inviting cruising families to stop, spread out a picnic lunch and forget everything but the delight of soft breezes, the sound of lapping water and the warmth of the sun reflected from the surface of the stone. This is where you slow your cruise to a walk, putter about a bit with your boat and pick your way artfully among the countless passages with the help of your Fathometer or lead line. Take the time to stop and put your dinghy over the side, and row along waterways too small for your cruiser, looking for places to fish and places to dive or just places to lie down and sunbathe.
As you move along the Whales-back you will come to the passage between Villiers and Unnamed Island. This slot takes you into Aird's West Anchorage. You can spot the anchorage by locating the fine beach 300 yards east of it. The beach slopes into the water so gently that powerboat men simply run the bow of their boat up on the shore (there are no big rocks to worry about). You will find a number of stray logs washed ashore here and there. They are just the right size to make a raft for the youngsters. In the evening you can break up the raft and use the logs as seats for a cook-out party ashore.
After Aird you will want to nose about in the Whalesback some more. This coast has more inviting crooks and crannies than anything you will hit from here on. When you want to make your way out of the Whales-back you will run due east through the high walls of Little Detroit passage and then head for Croker Island—with side trips to Oak Bay and McBean Harbor if you have the time.
SIDE TRIP 6: Oak Bay
SIDE TRIP 7: McBean Harbor
CROKER ISLAND: fourth day
Croker's inner harbor is a scene out of Treasure Island—a lagoon with green trees and grasses piling down to the pink granite shore from the heights on every side. You can pull up to the granite on the south side and put the anchor ashore. You may just want to manufacture a permanent gangplank and stay here for the rest of your vacation: fishing is good, and bathing off the tiny beaches on the south side is perfect. (On sunny days the mica content of the sand glints and shimmers like 24-carat flakes where the bottom stirs under the swimmer's feet.) Porcupine Island, right outside the harbor entrance, has a miniature cove on the west where the dinghy can be beached. Near the cove is the fattest blueberry patch in the channel. At the top of the island is a strange, shallow, craterlike depression filled with a delicate forest of fern.
A mile west from Porcupine are the two Benjamin islands, bridged by great pink slabs of rock, like giant steppingstones. Here you can go from rock to rock, swimming hole to swimming hole, diving and drying, until the afternoon has gone.