First North Channel cruise


We joined the Trailer Sailors Association mid 2004. Not feeling quite ready for the annual North Channel cruise we drool over the images from the 2004 trip and decide that we will go in 2005. The float plan looks very interesting:

Float plan

Image courtesy Trailer Sailors Association -

For us, this represents a major undertaking. We sail Lake Erie. Escape has never seen anything but a sandy bottom. We have never sailed to a daily itinerary (you realize we sail with a 12 and 3 year old - so we never go anywhere fast!)). We have never navigated in a complex series of series of bays, channels, islands or anchorages where you have to follow range markers to stay off the rocks. Heck, we hadn't even towed a dinghy (didn't even own one at that time)!

But, hats off to the Trailer Sailors gang. After many, many questions on their forum we have lots of advice and encouragement. We learn there were only two kinds of NC sailors ? those who have hit a rock and those who will! Now begin the "preparations"...

We looked forward to seeing the crew of "Fair Dinkum" - another Matilda 20. We found the Blackwood family on the Matilda website forum and met up with them at the 2005 Toronto boat show. Kathy and Shawn have made all sorts of modifications and upgrades to their boat - can't wait to take a peek. Lindsey and Kira are also anxious to meet the Jr. Trailer Sailors, Emma and Shawna.

We start with a list of "fix/upgrade boat", "purchase" and "figure out" items. It was a long list, but we still had almost two months.

We progress through lists of charts, food, water and other items. A fellow TSA member from London Ontario calls to tell me a fiberglass dinghy is available a few blocks from his home (I had posted a forum question about inflatable dinghies.) That turned into a project in itself which I'll write a separate article about. We make sure she floats in the backyard pool. Quite a sight I guess. (Our neighbors are now convinced that we are truly mad about sailing) Then the work started. Suffice to say that I stripped the old black "porch paint", repainted with white CIL Yacht Enamel and replaced the hardware and rubber coaming - all in the week before departure! She looks beautiful, I on the other hand ? was beat!

Rub a dub dub - the Holderness family in a tub!

I did make another miscalculation. For some reason, I decided to strip and repaint the trailer before the trip. It's in pretty good condition, but a proper job will ensure it lasts. I decide to start this process three weeks before the trip - how hard can it be after all?
VERY HARD!!! I didn't have a clue how long it takes to wire wheel, repaint, redo electrics and replace bunks on a trailer that size!! Just putting two coats of paint on all that bent sheet metal is a major undertaking. Anyway, it's done and looks great. By this time I look exhausted!

So, after much packing and rearranging (Lenore bought food for the crew of a 40 footer) we're all loaded up and ready to roll...

 Ready to roll... 

Day 1 - Saturday July 18

We're up early and on the road before dawn. It's about 700km to Spanish with two girls plus the air conditioning is dead and it's promising to be one of those "hottest days on record"...

Not much to say about the trip other than it was long and hot, although we did stop to offer assistance to another TSA member pulled over near Parry Sound. But it seemed the crew of "Dreamcatcher" a Mac 26X had everything under control. We met Brian, Alice their daughter Maddy. Lindsey and Kira enjoyed meeting up with them again at a DQ in Sudbury.

We finally arrive in Spanish around 4pm, rig Escape in the parking lot and splash her about 6pm. IT IS HOT!!! After more trips to and from the parking lot than we care to admit - everything is aboard. The children are busy making new friends and we are tired and very sweaty!

No time to rest yet - it?s over to the beautiful marina building for the traditional Saturday evening "pot luck". We meet many of the other sailors, find out more about the trip itself and eat our fill of delicious food. I think I'm finally feeling less nervous about this cruise! Actually, it's been the first break in over two weeks. Between a huge project at work, getting Escape ready and trip planning/provisioning - I can't remember having 15 minutes to myself! Of course, I was the one who decided to rebuild the trailer and refinish the dinghy...

As the pot luck breaks up, the mosquitoes make their attack! The air is solid with them and everyone heads for their boat - or inside. We end up enjoying the great facilities at the marina building. A nice shower and hour chatting in the air conditioned lounge and the mosquito plague is mostly over.


Day 2 - Sunday July 19

Up early and off to an excellent breakfast at the Marina, then on to the "skippers meeting". Woo Hoo! We're heading out today. After months of anticipation, we are finally going to sail the North Channel!

I notice that many boats head out early - very early. This happens most mornings. We, on the other hand, usually go much later. Remember those two little girls we sail with? Although being last does make it easier to follow all those sails. We motor out behind Fair Dinkum who is following Sea Quell. The Brandons, a much more experienced couple on Sea Quell are cruising the first week with their friends on Fair Dinkum - and have invited us to join them.

Once we clear the Marina and channel markers, I see Sea Quell hoist sail! Excellent! Most of the others motored, but we spent a few lazy hours ghosting to Little Detroit. Had to motor through the narrows, but the wind picked up in McBean Channel and we were off to Eagle Island. Lindsey and Lenore want to swim. Where do we anchor? Anywhere! Such beautiful scenery! We see why people come back year after year. After a refreshing swim and a minor head/winch incident for Lindsey, we arrive at Eagle late afternoon and anchor out in the middle. Everywhere we look we see sailboats! Lots of dinghies zipping about, people visiting and getting to know each other. We agree it is great to be part of this group. The water is calm and warm so we spend a good hour swimming. The kids pretty much live in the water...

For supper, we try a Mexican stir fry. Lenore scoured the web for one pan "skillet" recipes. She had all the ingredients cut and bagged in advance, so it was just a matter of cooking it while enjoying a glass of wine (or a few glasses). It was excellent! We all sleep well that night.

       Day 2  

Day 3 - Monday July 20

Day 3Morning brings a less than clear sky. The kids are in the water even before breakfast! At the 9am radio net we hear that a nasty storm is headed right for us. All the boats move close to shore at the south end of the anchorage. Being really shallow draft, we tie up right at shore. Whatever it was, it misses us and a debate about heading out ensues over the radio. The decision is to go, so we all head out for Sturgeon Cove.

After an hour of smooth sailing and playing leapfrog with Fair Dinkum and SeaQuell we see storm clouds coming our way. There is an anchorage close by on the chart, but the approach looks nasty and I wouldn't want to get caught trying to weave our way through the rocks and channels if the storm hits. Lenore is sure it will hit but I was convinced it would pass us. I should have listened to her! It rained off and on, and then the wind started to pick up. The Brandon?s tell us to expect it to get a little rough. We drop our sails and start the motor, heading out further from shore. If the storm gets bad, I want to be far enough out to simply anchor and wait it out. It might get rough, but well within the Matilda's ability to cope. The crew might not be too impressed though.

Suddenly, a huge gust hits us. It drove the rain so hard that it hurt! I turned us into the wind, which was also dead into the now 1 1/2 meter waves just before a bigger gust hits. This time, it doesn't drop off but continues to blow. We heard later that 40 kts was recorded in the harbor at Spanish! It was difficult to see as the rain was coming horizontal and stung our eyes. We're still with Sea Quell but cannot see Fair Dinkum at this point. Sea Quell heads back to search for their friends and we decide to continue south. We were OK at this point so with heavy wind and waves we try for the lee of an island about 5 miles distant.

The next hour was a fight to keep into the gale force winds. We are so busy with sailing we don?t have time to be frightened. At one point, the main started to get blown off the boom - the sail ties were starting to fail. A bit of sail started to flap and two battens ripped right out - pockets and all! Lenore got a mooring line and spirals it around the sail/boom which seemed to do the trick.

It was interesting to watch the dinghy through all of this. It would catapult off the wave tops and land only a few feet behind us. 80 lbs of fiberglass "flying"! It never occurs to either of us to let out more line.

I also get zapped off the backstay when lightening strikes close by. It jumps about 4 inches to my wrist - OUCH!!!!

Lenore took over the tiller while I head below to check the crew, take a quick GPS fix and see exactly where we are. It looks like we can make the anchorage at Bedford Island, about 3 miles distant. Lindsey is scared but hanging on and getting a wild ride. Up in the V birth she goes almost weightless as the bow drops over each wave. Kira is sound asleep!

I head back topside and we continue our course. Still can't see more than 50 feet but Escape is handling the weather and we know where we are. Finally, the wind starts to drop and the visibility increases. We can spot our destination and Lenore is sure she sees another sailboat heading into the anchorage. ?Which channel? I yell to her? ?Follow him - unless he stops really fast? is her reply! We finally anchor beside two other TSA boats, Swallow and Lady Jane. Dave and Donna have everyone over to Swallow for hot soup. Man, does it ever hit the spot. We are all wet, cold and a bit dazed. John says that he has never been in a storm this bad - and he has sailed the North Channel and the Eastern Seaboard for several decades! We radio Sea Quell that we are safe and find out that Fair Dinkum lost power but was towed to the anchorage at McTavish by a power boater. Sea Quell was also there with them. We also get through to "the fleet" at Sturgeon Cove and let them know we're safe.

The consensus is that we may as well sail the last 6 miles to Sturgeon Cove and rejoin the fleet. The weather has cleared - you would have never known there had been such a storm! We screw up our courage and change to the smaller working jib and off we go with a decent wind. It's hull speed the entire way. We do run into one minor problem. The wind is ripping right down Waubuno channel. As we pass, the boat turns 45 degrees into wind and just hangs there. No amount of fiddling with sails, keel or rudder will move her nose - and we're starting to be blown into the channel towards the rocks. We have to use the outboard to get back on course. The boat is handling strange but we're almost at Sturgeon Cove.
We radio in and hear that someone will be out to guide us in. Sturgeon cove is a bit tricky as you head for the shore and then hang a left once aligned with the range markers. Hey! It's Dave from Swallow, rowing out to guide us in. We motor over and pick him up. The wind is probably 20kts and he might have ended up back at Spanish without a tow. He guides us through the approach and we gratefully drop him off at Swallow. We motor to a spot near shore and contemplate anchoring. After three unsuccessful attempts in a weedy area and Lenore near tears, John Clement rows over in his dinghy and helps us anchor. He knows that we are shaken and exhausted by the afternoon and his assistance is more than welcome.
Soon the kids are back in the water, we have a much needed drink and supper is cooking. The sun is shining and it's like nothing ever happened! We are in bed very early that night

        Day 3

Day 4 - Tuesday July 21

Most of the fleet decides to stay another day at Sturgeon Cove and recover from the previous day?s excitement. I think Lindsey and Kira spend the entire day in the water.
I take a look at the rudder. No wonder it was handling "funny" - the blade was bent 45 degrees! I figure that I can flip the blade upside down and drill another hole for the pivot bolt. I get on the radio and have a dozen offers of drills, bits, bolts - whatever I need! This is a major benefit of traveling with an experienced group. Besides learning seamanship, there is enough collective knowledge, tools and spare parts to rebuild an entire boat!

We spend the rest of the day getting to know other people. The crews of Breathless and Dreamcatcher join us for a hike. The girls climb over the rocks and enjoy the wildflowers, blueberries and find tadpoles. Tomorrow, the fleet will head into Little Current. About half will provision and immediately set out for Heywood Island. We elect to take a slip for the night as this is our "turn around" point, since we only have one week. Sea Quell and Fair Dinkum plan to head into Little Current from McTavish.

Day 4

Day 5 - Wednesday July 22

Little Current is an easy sail. Most of the fleet motors as there is little wind. We sail down Waubuno channel and end up at the back of the fleet once again. Hey - isn't that Sea Quell and Fair Dinkum in the distance! I radio over and it is them!
We motor into Spider Bay Marina and tie up. Fair Dinkum takes a slip almost beside us. Time to compare stories! Turns out their dinghy took flight and snapped their vhf antenna, and then the anchor came off its pulpit mount and went overboard followed by outboard failure... We are glad they are all safe and back with the group. The facilities are put to good use as we are reminded how good a hot shower can feel. We walk into town and all enjoy famous Farquhars ice cream cones. Delicious!
Rod, Shawn and I begin a search for replacement battens - we had all lost or broken several. A few yardsticks and mahogany trim from the building supply and we're "armed and dangerous"! Later, we head to the Anchor Inn for an excellent supper with many of the other TSA crews. Cleaned up, fed, gassed up, pumped out and laundry done - we turn in for the night.

Day 5

Day 6 - Thursday July 23

Up early and off to breakfast, then provision for the remainder of the trip. Load up Escape and head out by noon. There is a reasonable wind blowing up Waubuno channel, so we hoist sail and have a relaxing time reaching Mosquito Cove - our destination for the day. The wind is too nice to stop just yet so we sail past the anchorage and out into the channel to play for another hour or so. Grudgingly, we enter the cove and anchor beside Sea Quell, Fair Dinkum, Stargazer and Raggedy Annie. The kids immediately band together and head off to explore the beach while the adults enjoy cocktails on Sea Quell. The kids find abundant clay and use it as war paint! With the moon coming up we enjoy a great meal and end another perfect NC day.

 Day 6

Day 7 - Friday July 24

Day 7Today, we have a long sail ahead of us - heading to Croker Island. Fair Dinkum, Sea Quell and Stargazer motor out while we finish breakfast and take a last swim. Lenore wants to sail out of the anchorage - which we do on an almost nonexistent breeze. We felt pretty good not having to start up that smelly slug hanging off the stern. Once out of Mosquito Cove, it's a fairly fast sail to Croker. Sea Quell and Fair Dinkum have a good 2 mile head start but we catch up with them about 1/2 mile from Croker. Hmmm, must have been doing something right!
The wind has died down at this time so we use the opportunity to take lots of pictures before following Sea Quell into the anchorage. We anchor in a tiny bay in about 2 feet of water. This bay is so shallow it keeps the larger boats away - "trailer sailors" only! This is a truly spectacular spot. The kids go exploring and blueberry picking. We hike up to the top of the rocks too - what a view!! For supper we try another of Lenore's "skillet recipes". This one uses smoked sausage, rice, tomatoes etc. Man, was it good!
After supper, Sea Quell has organized a "dinghy party". All the kids pile into Fair Dinkum to watch a DVD while the adults raft their dinghies together in the middle of our tiny anchorage. Wine and beer flow, snacks, desert and stories of past sailing abound. It's a perfect night under the stars with new friends.

Day 7


Day 8 - Saturday July 25

We start off the day with sausages and blueberry pancakes, using blueberries the kids picked yesterday. Stargazer is headed to Spanish today but we'll spend one more night out with Sea Quell and Fair Dinkum. As usual, we head out long after the others have departed. We have excellent wind for a fast trip north to Frechette Island, but are forced to motor dead into the wind through McBean Channel. Back through Little Detroit and we see the windmill at Spanish once again. But, we're traveling on to Laurier and head in the opposite direction, kill the motor and try sailing again. It's dead upwind and a narrow bay but we did come here to sail! We almost make it around Shanley Island but resort to about 10 minutes of motoring as it's getting late. From there we are "wing on wing? and sail into Laurier ?pretty as a picture? and anchor beside Fair Dinkum. The weather is promising to be nasty, but we're in the lee about 10 feet from a solid wall of rock that?s about 20 feet high. The following picture is of sunset over this "wall of rock. The water is deep and this is the first time I had to get in the dinghy and row ashore with the stern line. Usually, the water is shallow and I just jump in. We have the anchor set and the motor idling in reverse to keep us in position while I head ashore. That evening the kids pile into our boat while the adults head over to Fair Dinkum. We watch "Master and Commander" on the DVD. Appropriate movie...

Day 8

Day 9 - Sunday July 26

We don't want to leave!!!! It's a grey morning and raining - one of those "everything gets wet? days. There is virtually no wind so we motor the 2 miles to Spanish and tie up at the dock. For the first time, we head out and arrive first! Everyone is quiet and probably thinking the same thoughts - "next year we'll do two weeks"!

The haul out is uneventful. Good byes are said to Fair Dinkum and Sea Quell. Sea Quell plans to spend another week and will head out tomorrow to rejoin the fleet somewhere east of Little Current. We thank them again for the knowledge they shared and the support they offered to us ?newbies?.

We all feel a little different as a result of this cruise. The experience we gained will serve us well in the future. Now we know that we can do it, and we definitely feel part of the TSA group. And the area itself is incredible. We'll know we will be back many more times over the coming years. We're also happy with our little Matilda 20. We can hold our own with most of the other boats when we want to and she is very stable in rough conditions. The only problem was with the rudder and that will be a continuing saga until it is "fixed right".

Day 9


We can't wait until next year!!

Happy sailors!

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