Go-to Islands Destinations: Manitoulin Island

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
Manitoulin Island

The author’s boat lies at anchor off Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island

By Fred Bagley45.7026° N, 82.0372° W

Ah, sailing off to a remote island—dolphins on the bow wave, palm trees on the beach and a tiki bar serving rum drinks until dawn...

Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron has none of those. Instead, you will find trophy bass on the end of your line, 200-year-old cedars lining the shore and local watering holes serving great Canadian beer on tap. Just to remind you salties out there, the Great Lakes are fresh; you can open your eyes when you swim, you can fill your water tanks with it and your boat lasts forever.

Manitoulin is the largest fresh water lake island in the world at over 100 miles long and 50 miles across. The island’s population is small, but its single stoplight doesn’t keep it from being designated a Canadian National Dark Sky Sanctuary. Archaeological digs confirm the island had Paleoindian settlements at least 10,000 years ago, and Canada’s First Nation members still make up nearly half of the island’s residents.

Coming up from Lake Michigan or southern Lake Huron, you can’t step ashore until you check in with Canadian customs at tiny Meldrum Bay, bustling Gore Bay or strategically located Little Current, all of which are on the island’s north coast.

Once the customs paper work is done, check out the towns themselves. Meldrum Bay, despite its small size, features an inn with the best food west of Toronto. Gore Bay’s marina is fully protected by a new breakwater, and the town is just a few blocks away. Even easier provisioning with its docks right on the main street is Little Current, which is also home to a cruiser’s net. At 0900 every day you can get weather, news, sports and local doings, plus find out where all your buddies are from the daily call-ins.

From Manitoulin, many cruisers continue on toward Lake Huron’s North Channel or northern Georgian Bay to explore the scenic anchorages on the Canadian mainland. But those adventurous few who choose to remain and explore Manitoulin Island itself are seldom disappointed.

Manitoulin

Manitoulin’s rocky shores alternate with sandy beaches

Manitoulin’s north shore, for example, has bold limestone cliffs that have withstood the onslaught of glaciers past; while Bayfield Sound is wide-open and spacious, making it possible to sail to several well-protected anchorages, including Ned Island, where the trophy bass hang out and 4ft-tall sand hill cranes prance on shore. On the eastern end of Manitoulin are Manitowaning and Wikwemikong bays, where you can walk to a pow-wow at the nearby First Nation settlements. On the island’s west end, lonely Mississagi light stands high off the water on a dramatic bluff. (If only the light were there in 1679 when the first sailing ship on the Great Lakes, Le Griffon, and its crew were lost nearby with a load of furs bound for Montreal.)

The south shore is rarely visited by cruising sailors, as its coves are mostly open to the prevailing southwesterlies and the open fetch of Lake Huron. Pick your weather window, though, and you will have a dozen anchorages to choose from. Most have sand beaches at their head and some have broad limestone expanses, known as alvars, with fossilized sea ferns exposed by eons of Lake Huron’s pounding waves. If your weather window holds, hop over to the Duck Islands, where you can climb sand dunes, snorkel over sunken wrecks and hike to the most remote lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Circumnavigating Manitoulin (check out Rattlesnake Harbour at the east end) takes at least a week, but you’ll be rewarded with some serious bragging rights back home.

No matter where you are on the island, park your boat for a bit and hoof, hitchhike or hire a car so you can visit Lake Mindemoya in Manitoulin’s interior. Once there, rent a canoe and paddle out to Treasure Island, where you can walk on an island, on a lake, on an island, on a lake. Only on Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron can you do that.

June 2017

Related

01-Lead-show

France’s Annual Multihull Show

If a boat show could be described as intimate, the annual Salon International du Multicoque in La Grande Motte, on France’s Mediterranean coast, is it. Held in the latter part of April, the multihulls-only in-water show is a boon for builders, because the people who attend come ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Check the waypoint  Most errors with GPS and paper chart navigation are caused by the operator punching in the wrong numbers or plotting the lat/long incorrectly. The surest way to double-check a ...read more

Furlex-Electric

Gear: Seldén’s Furlex Electric

Furl Power Seldén’s Furlex Electric offers an easy path into the world of sweat-free headsail furling. The compact unit can be retrofitted to an existing manual Furlex unit or installed as a replacement for whatever you’ve got now. Its DC-DC converter accepts your boat’s 12V or ...read more

11_DSC8423Tom-Zydler

Cruising: Nova Scotia

There’s a unique cruising ground that combines access to urban locations with easy escapes to wilderness and nature. Its native people may be the friendliest on the east coast of North America. Its coastline runs 250 nautical miles in a straight line, but that should be ...read more

01-LEAD-shutterstock_727849660

Boat Monitoring System

Boat Oversight In a world where you can track your friends’ locations in real time and stream yourself live on the internet, it should come as no surprise that you can also keep a close eye on your boat from the comfort of home. In fact, not only is there a plethora of options ...read more

pilot_saloon_42-_en_navigation_11

Boat Review: Wauquiez Pilot Saloon 42

Old salts grouse about modern aesthetics. It’s just what they do, and the hard lines and spartan interiors of today’s production boats give them many reasons to complain. French builder Wauquiez, however, seems to consistently be able to marry contemporary elements with ...read more