Thomas Bay

When reading some of the cruising guides for the North Channel it seems every anchorage is “perfect,” a “must see,” or a “favorite,” and it’s hard to tell which ones are genuinely worth exploring (most are!). I had heard great things about Thomas Bay, but in three previous trips to the North Channel had never even seen it. We had the luxury of time and a good weather forecast, so Kristin and I decided to check it out.

Thomas Bay lies about four miles east of Killarney. The approach to it was well charted, but the actual Bay itself is a “white area,” with no real depth soundings, depth contours, or hazards depicted. I’m assuming it has never been officially sounded for government charting purposes. Armed with a cruising guide that had aerial photographs, I cautiously steered Priorities in while Kristin stood watch on the bow ready to point out any rocks we hoped would be visible ahead of us.

My what a pretty spot! Giant pink… nearly red… granite rocks surround the anchorage, with a giant staircase of them on the north side. A small island on the south side… also pink granite… helps the Bay offer nearly complete protection. The bottom seemed like flat mud, with depths between 8 and 15 feet with water 3 feet above datum. Holding was good, with not too many weeds to foul the anchor.

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Me sounding the anchorage from the dinghy with my portable depth sounder

Other than a cottage in the northeast corner (which might not have been occupied that night), we were the only ones there!

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Kristin took this shot after paddleboarding ashore. That’s me in the dinghy.

 

With flat, warm water, and plenty of sunshine, we spent a day exploring on our stand up paddle boards. The northwest corner of the anchorage had a few deadheads… logs that sank to the bottom during logging operations long ago… visible as we paddled over them.  The islands to the south were fun to walk around.

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Exploring via dinghy brought us to the barrier islands to the south

Just before we left on the second day, a rental J22 from the Killarney Mountain Lodge sailed in and anchored nearby for lunch. They left around the same time we did, and it was a nice sail with them back towards Killarney.

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Covered Portage Cove

Taking advantage of strong west winds, our previous day had been a fast but long 40 mile sail from John Harbor far to our west, through the Whalesback Channel, Little Detroit, the McBean and Wabuno Channels, Little Current, and finally to Heywood Island right before sunset. With the following day’s forecast of the west winds becoming light, Kristin and I wanted an anchorage nearby that would be a short, comfortable sail and would be somewhere cool to spend two nights on the hook.

We both like the beautiful Lansdowne Channel, with the trees on its heavily wooded shores pruned to a uniform height by deer and the white LaCloche mountains adding a backdrop to the north. It also runs east-northeast / west-southwest, so with west winds it makes a pretty cool spinnaker run.

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Spinnaker run down the Lansdowne Channel? Uh, yes, please!

Near the east end of the Lansdowne, near the town of Killarney, lies Covered Portage Cove.

Covered Portage Cove is one of the “must see” anchorages of the North Channel. Almost completely surrounded on all sides by thickly wooded steep hills on the southern shore and tall, white, rocky cliffs on the north… the anchorage provides complete protection.

Covered Portage is very popular, and therefore frequently crowded. While we had visited it many times in our previous North Channel cruises, we had never been able to find enough room to anchor on the inside. Low water levels had been an issue in years past, too, with our six foot draft. There is a decent amount of room and protection for anchoring just outside the cove, but with high water levels and a half moon to illuminate the cliffs we wanted to finally find a spot inside this year.

In order to squeeze into an already crowded anchorage we planned to eliminate the swinging of the boat at anchor by tying to a tree in addition to anchoring. In preparation, I got our spare rope rode out of the lazarette and got oars ready for the dinghy before we even entered the anchorage.

Approaching Covered Portage Cove takes you past a beautiful cottage perfectly tucked into the hillside above. It was for sale for a cool $2.8 million… including a dock, 50 acres of land, nearly a mile of shoreline, and a really cool deck overlooking the anchorage. Online photos revealed a spectacular interior, too!

At the entrance is a steep cliff which lately has partially collapsed to form a grotto near the water. At one angle, an outcropping on the cliff appears to resemble the face of an “Indian Head,” adding to the drama.

Entering the anchorage is a little tricky, so I had Kristin up on the bow looking for rocks. We communicated ahead of time that she would point in the direction I needed to turn… NOT at a rock! There are a few rocks at the entrance, but even with the high water they were pretty obvious, even from the cockpit… with Kristin’s guidance after the Indian Head I stayed left of center, swung wide, then steered to the center of the anchorage.

It was crowded when we entered, with almost a dozen boats swinging on anchors, plus another half dozen tied ashore. There was a Catalina 380 anchored in the middle of a small section just inside the entrance, leaving little room for us to use only one anchor here. In past years the water had been quite lower, and our depth sounder would be freaking out just inside the entrance… we had never even ventured much past the entrance before. Farther inside, a gap existed between the Catalina 380 and a Beneteau, but careful maneuvering around revealed we didn’t really have enough space to swing around here either since the cove gets a little narrower in that spot. Looking even farther in was more crowded, with boats at anchor swinging very close to boats tied ashore.

So, back to the gap between the Catalina and the Beneteau. With the light winds, we could drop the anchor in the gap and have time to row ashore, tie to a strong tree, then tighten everything up without hopefully hitting another boat or running aground. The Catalina and Beneteau would be free to swing at anchor if we could get close enough to shore to be out of their way. Since our depth sounder is in the bow and therefore forward of the keel, our deepest part of the boat, I slowly headed towards the tree to figure out how close to shore we could get.

On the north shore of Covered Portage, depths are quite deep very close to shore. Our bow pulpit was nearly in the tree branches and we still saw depths of 7 feet with no nasty rocks visible… good news. With depths around 9 feet where we wanted to drop anchor, plus 5 feet for the anchor roller height, we wanted about 70 feet of rode for 5:1 scope ((9+5)*5= almost 70), but we can safely get away with 4:1 (60 feet or so) in good weather when tying ashore. Since 60 feet of rode is a boat length and a half, I positioned the stern about two and a half boat lengths from shore (bow away from the tree) and dropped anchor from the bow, backing down in the direction of the tree.

We still haven’t really found a good way to keep the line that goes to the tree organized. It probably ought to be a fairly thin double braid line on a spool, but all we have is a heavy, slightly oversized, three strand rope that doubles as our second anchor line. It’s probably the original anchor line that came with the boat when it was new (including the rusted-in-place anchor shackle on it, as well!). Preferring the easier job of steering the boat, Kristin nominated me to row ashore with the tangled mess to tie to the tree. Eventually, it worked out.

 

With a snubber on the anchor chain, we motored in reverse to get much of the slack out of the tree line. I considered leaving some slack so the line would rest in the water, preventing “critters” from getting aboard, but preferred to be as out of the way as possible. We finally settled for having the stern about 30 feet from shore… and Priorities was safely tucked into Covered Portage Cove, tied to a tree less than a boat length away!

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Tied ashore!

We spent more than a day exploring the anchorage. It’s a great place to stand up paddleboard since the water is so flat, and there’s lots of scenery to explore. Being so protected and shallow meant the water was warm, too, so we did plenty of swimming… I even cleaned off the fender marks on the topsides!

Taking the dinghy to the west end of Covered Portage gives access to hiking trails, including a few that go up the cliffs to the north. Though it’s only about a half mile each way, it’s a very steep climb and good exercise after being on the boat for a while. It’s also a really good spot to get some cool photos.

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Covered Portage Cove, looking east towards the entrance
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Covered Portage can get crowded, but we think it’s worth it
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There’s a few places in the North Channel to get a photo from above your boat… and this is one of them. I just wish we had taken the colorful beach towels off the lifelines before hiking all the way up the hill!
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Lots of boats tied ashore to trees, including Priorities, second from the top
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Looking towards the west end

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We discovered a heron surveying the anchorage from a tree nearby

After two very calm nights, it was time to move on and explore somewhere new. We upped anchor and headed for the Collins Inlet.

Beardrop Harbor

This year I’m fortunate enough to have enough vacation time to take six weeks off in the summer and bring Priorities to Lake Huron’s North Channel once again. I worked it out so my singlehanded delivery didn’t involve any overnight passages that can be very fatiguing when sailing alone.

A singlehanded delivery is still tough, though, since everything on the boat from sailhandling to washing the dishes is my duty and responsibility. After covering 360 Miles in 8 legs alone, fortunately about ⅔ of which were under sail, I finally dropped anchor in Beardrop Harbor. The “delivery” part of my trip was nearly done, and it was finally time to relax!

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Priorities anchored in Beardrop Harbor in Lake Huron’s North Channel

I needed to be in Little Current by Friday to have enough time to reprovision before my girlfriend Kristin arrived via plane on Saturday. Since it was merely Tuesday, I could afford to spend two nights here… I had a full day to relax, explore the area on the dinghy, and clean up the boat a bit after all the long days spent traveling. I no longer felt pressured to be in a certain place at a certain time since I was nearly there (less than 40 miles) with several days to go.

I have a fondness for Beardrop Harbor partly because it’s one of the first easy wilderness anchorages I get to on the west end of the scenic part of the North Channel. It has protection from all directions, save for a tiny sliver from the west. Holding for the anchor is pretty good in mud (except maybe the south central part), and there don’t seem to be any hidden, uncharted rocks waiting to catch my keel.

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Looking west, there’s a tiny sliver where waves can creep into Beardrop, but otherwise it’s very protected

Though surrounded by cliffs on nearly all sides, and far from civilization, I wasn’t alone… there were plenty of other interesting cruising boats anchored nearby.

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Climbing the cliffs on the south side of the anchorage reveals nice views of the Whalesback Channel

While climbing over some of the rocks and cliffs surrounding the anchorage in the afternoon, I heard an unusual screech… and glimpsed a bald eagle! It circled over the Whalesback Channel to the south, then continued south to soar over John Island.

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For much of my travels up Lake Michigan, across part of Lake Huron, and along the western section of the North Channel, I found water temperatures in the mid 60s, Fahrenheit. Both the water temperature sensor on the boat and my handheld sensor in the dinghy reported a water temperature of 72 at Beardrop. I’m pretty sure many of the anchorages in the North Channel have warmer water in late summer due to their relative shallow depth and protection from wind and waves. The air had been quite warm and calm for a few days, making it easier for the protected spots to warm up quickly. Having warmer water “up north” seems quite ironic to me, though.

After two nights in Beardrop I was rested and ready for more sailing for the last push to Little Current. I got underway early due to forecasted east winds, sailing a beat across the North Channel to Clapperton Harbor for my last stop before Little Current.