Man­i­toulin Is­land

45.7026¡ N, 82.0372¡ W

SAIL - - New Boats - By Fred Ba­gley

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 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’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. s

Man­i­toulin’s rocky shores al­ter­nate with sandy beaches

The author’s boat lies at an­chor off Man­i­toulin Is­land; it’s a na­ture-lover’s par­adise (left)

Em­brace the glow of slow, and find peace wher­ever you sail

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