Friday, July 9, 2010

World Famous Fried Fish and Aerodrome

It's like O'Hare with scenery!  Multiple flights a day!
On Wednesday we cruised to an area called Sans Souci--and to a harbor on Fryingpan Island.   

We’d been advised to watch out for floatplanes coming and going at the dock.  And sure enough, a small white plane circled and landed on the water as we were approaching. 

This is the home of “Henry’s Fish Restaurant and Aerodrome.” It’s been in existence for decades and we understand it’s a “must-stop” destination if you are boating in the area.

There really was a Henry, a local fisherman, as I understand it, who opened a small restaurant to sell some of his catch.  The place has grown . . .  Henry retired . . .and he sold the business to a genial guy in a safari shirt named Paul (who answers to Henry, because that’s what people expect).

Anyway, Henry’s is now “World Famous” thanks to an article in the foodie magazine Saveur  singing its praises.  As for the float planes, Georgian Bay Airlines has a package deal for tourists out of Parry Sound, ten miles away:  Scenic air tour of Georgian Bay, lunch at Henry’s included in the price.  You sit at long tables, family style, next to pretty much every other boater who is passing within a 20-mile radius. (Helpful hint: take your charts with you to dinner and you'll meet lots of interesting people!)

Not too far to walk to dinner!
It’s a restaurant, but it’s also a marina. So I called ahead to request dockage, supressing giggles meanwhile:  “Henry’s Fish, Henry’s Fish, Henry’s Fish, come in please! (When you are hailing a marina--or a lock, or a swing bridge operator--you always say the name of the place three times.)

Some places we go, we worry whether the docks wil be long enough, or whether the water at the docks will be deep enough for our boat (which is considered large at 41 feet!)—but not here. The shoreline on Frying Pan Island falls off precipitously; about three feet from shore the water is 20 feet deep.

As we approached the dock, I followed my usual routine: walk along the little outside walkway (which is about 10 inches wide), up to the bow, and grab the heavy, green nylon mooring line, ready to jump to the dock.  We got used to handling our own lines on the Erie Canal, where the locktenders won’t touch them, and where--at the public docks where we spent the nights—there are no attendants. 

We’d assumed this was the norm, so we were surprised, on the Trent-Severn, when in some of the busier locks, like Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls, we saw the locktenders taking the ropes for some boaters.  Weren’t we supposed to do it ourselves?

Turns out these locks are close to businesses that rent houseboats . . .  and houseboat skippers with no previous experience are said to receive a good few minutes of training before they go out on the water. So locktenders on the Trent are used to helping out.  

 But we quickly learned that the Trent Severn locktenders were NOT too used to vessels of our weight. The first time a locktender signaled, “Pass me your rope,” I thought, “Oh wow, how civilized! I don’t have to leap four feet out, two feet down, from the moving boat, across the water, onto the lock wall. I don't have to worry about whether I'll land upright, or whether I'll be able to run fast enough to loop the rope around a bollard and retard our motion before our boat smashes into the wall, or the boat in front of us. This is a locktender. She knows how to handle boats. 

So I handed off the rope, and the locktender took it . . . and she stood there.  And the boat still had plenty of forward way . . . and it was gliding, gliding . . .  gliding . . .  and she was standing there . . .  and it was evident she had no idea how much mass was on the other end of the line and was about to get yanked into the canal while our boat smashed into the wall.

So I yelled for her to step back and jumped out and grabbed the rope and looped it around the bollard and all was well.

But the experience made us kind of protective of our lines.

Approaching Henry’s, we could see the wharf crew—college kids in bright red shirts and khaki shorts--hustling to handle the lines on a small runabout.

We’d been directed to “Dock C”--very long, the perfect height, no other boats to maneuver between.  An easy approach for our skipper, an easy jump for me.  Yay.

We didn’t know the local etiquette, apparently. As we approached, the dockhands, who'd been helping another boat, glanced up, saw us, looked distressed, and came literally sprinting over to take the lines and tie us up securely--spring lines and all.  They seemed politely perplexed by the idea of self-service boaters, kind of the way staff in a really good hotel are perplexed when you handle your own suitcases. 

While dockhands hustle, boaters relax
I have never seen young people in a summer job work so hard.  It was a hot, humid day, the docks were in full sun, and boats were coming in like Porsches for valet parking at the hottest new restaurant in LA. Not only did these dockhands literally run to help us, they (very politely) insisted on handling the lines, insisted on plugging in our electrical cable (another job we are used to doing ourselves), answered ALL our questions (are there showers?  Can you walk to a grocery store? How late is the restaurant open?), and then, literally bolted down the dock to take care of the next boat.  They do this till 9 PM each night.  On an island with no other particular entertainments for young people.  And no showers (just the lake to swim in).

When we went in to dinner (deep-fried pickerel, it’s mandatory) we noticed the rustic dining room has historic photos on the walls---and some that are a bit more recent.  And we realized why it is these dockhands are so good with big boats.   One of the photos shows a Henry’s deckhand, hands on hips, smiling, in front of a 100-foot-long cruise ship, tied up securely at the dock.

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