Friday, July 23, 2010

Mind the Gap

Danger, professor at work
Bill was stressing.  He needed to be available by phone Monday afternoon to take part in a grad student's dissertation defense.

But each place we stopped, cell phone coverage was unreliable or nonexistent.  We climbed the hills in Little Current, as directed by local residents. Half a bar.   Scrambled up sheer granite faces on undeveloped islands.  No bars.

Luckily, in the town of Spanish we found both a very nice marina (the main building, with a gym, restaurant, and store, cleverly doubles as the town's community center and is designed to look like a boat under sail) AND a strong cell phone signal.  

The photo at left shows our boat's flexibility:  It's an old-fashioned canal boat!  It's a high-tech office with video-conference facility!

From Spanish we continued west, clutching our chart scribbled with pencilled notations about the best anchorages in the North Channel as recommended by Roy, our friend back in Little Current.

We wanted to look into Beardrop Harbor, a protected bit of water sheltered behind a long, skinny island that parallels the shore.
The name comes from the blueberry bushes that carpet the shore, and from the local black bears who feast on berries and then well, you know.  We wanted to pick some berries but not necessarily meet the bears.

Sorry, no photos of The Gap itself--we were too busy navigating.
The channel at the east end was a narrow gap; the recommended entrance was down at the west end.  We didn't really feel like chugging west to enter the harbor and then backtracking east.  We eyeballed the gap.  It looked a little wider than our boat.  No hazards marked on the chart.  Water depth? The chart didn't say, other than "shallow," which could mean six feet of water or half a foot.

A disembodied voice floated down. "I wouldn't go through that if I were you."

We started.  But it wasn't Mom, reaching across the miles . . .  or God, or even our consciences.  It was a boater, a middle-aged guy in ball cap and sunglasses, who'd dinghied to the island and scaled the mound of granite, probably in pursuit of berries.

"Do boats go through here?" we asked.  "NO!" he said emphatically.  "Never seen it!"  Hands on hips, looking down, he said sternly, "There's a rock the size of a Volkswagen in the middle of the channel!"

Then he squinted. "What do you draw?" he asked.  "Three feet," we answered.

"I think the channel's two and half," he said.

He looked us up and down.  He looked at the channel.

"I think you can make it," he said suddenly.  "Stay to the right."

We were running on electric, which makes it easy to steer at low speeds.  The Captain nosed the boat into the gap, a millimeter at a time.  The crew scampered to the bow with polarized sunglass clip-ons in place to look for the legendary rock.

We were committed now, with half the length of the boat into the channel.  The Captain, to starboard, could brush the sheer stone wall with his hand.

"Do you see the rock?" the man hollered.  "You're practically on it!"

Through the transparent turquoise water I could see the floor of the channel--maybe six feet deep, sandy bottom, a few small stones.  But no big rock.

"Look farther ahead!" he yelled.  "Level with where I'm standing."

I lifted my eyes a few degrees and there it was--pale yellow under the blue water, square and sharp-edged and, as promised, big as a Volkswagen. Practically under our port bow. Heart-stoppingly close to the surface.

We sailed by and into the channel.

"Well, THAT was a first," our navigator exclaimed from up on the rock.

Proud and nimble boat awaits the stalwart blueberry hunters
See, we KNEW canal boats were highly practical for navigating on Lake Huron!

Safe in the harbor, we tied to a handy tree and scrimmaged for blueberries.  Lots of bushes, but not a single berry.  What's up with that? I wondered.  Did the bears pick the bushes clean?  Or the boaters?

We anchored that night off Turnbull Island, another boater's playground where one big, horseshoe-shaped island and a sprinkling of smaller islands form a sheltered harbor.  The Cap'n dinghied ashore and scored some berries.  Blueberry pancakes for dinner.  No bears here either.

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