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
Oak Bay's depths are full of fish and its coast is thick with blueberries. Once anchored comfortably under the sheltering bluffs inside the bay, pile all available crew into the dinghy and put fishing rods in their hands: by now the larder will need fresh fare and the bass in the bay are just the thing. Best afternoon trolling is around Goat Island. At sundown, the bass school in the weed bank at the edge of the northwest cove. A little bacon rind on the hook ought to bring in enough keepers to fill a serving dish with bass. You can get blueberries for dessert by calling on the Indians who live ashore on the reservation bordering the bay. They will come rowing by in families, carrying buckets of berries to market. A dollar will buy all one man can eat in a week. (Caution: do not invite the Indians aboard. Time, as we think of time, has no meaning to them. They camp on deck with no qualms and no intention of leaving.) While the bass are being prepared for dinner, row down the channel leading west from the bay, slipping through a curtain of bulrushes at the end of it and into the hidden cove with its quiet surface silver in the late evening light.
SIDE TRIP 7: McBean Harbor
In McBean Harbor you'll see your first vacation colony on the Canadian side—houses that are neat, spic-and-span, all set on the promontories of a trim little fiord that runs into the base of McBean Mountain. To stretch your sea legs, climb the trail that leads up to the top of McBean and get a look at the Whalesback strung out like a rock garden below. You don't have to climb all the way up. Leave time to get out of the harbor and into Croker by dark. The Canadians in the cottages are not eager to have you anchor off their beaches and will be especially annoyed if you dump garbage in the 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.