Lenore had always wanted to cruise Lake Nipissing. She grew up in the town of Sturgeon Falls, Ontario, which is only a few miles from the lake. She spent most summers during high school working at tourist lodges near the mouth of the French River. Her family has a strong commercial and sport fishing background and she has spent her share of time fishing, canoeing and pleasure cruising on friend's power boats. The idea of sailing those somewhat familiar waters intrigued her. The Sturgeon River flows through the town and out to the lake about 4 miles downstream. Her parents still live there and enjoy hauling their trailer into the bush for some excellent camping and fishing. No provincial/state/trailer parks - just head 50 miles back up an old logging road and set up on your own lake. Totally different than what we have here in what Northern Ontarians call "down south".
Lake Nipissing is the fifth-largest lake in Ontario. The lake's name means "BIG water" in the Algonquian language. It is roughly 337 square miles in surface area. Lake Nipissing drains into Georgian Bay, which is a part of Lake Huron, via the French River. It is relatively shallow for a large lake, with an average depth of only 15 feet. The shallowness makes for many sandbars along the lake's irregular coastline. It has many islands and beautiful sand beaches. The lake itself is almost the size of the area we cruise in the North Channel. It has areas that look just like the NC plus others which resemble more southern waters similar to where we sail on Lake Erie with a sandy, weedy, or muddy bottom.
Lake Nippissing seems not to have been "discovered" by cruisers so there was little information to be found. The Internet only has a few sites for fishing lodges and a couple marinas - and the yacht club in Callander didn't answer email or have a phone number. The Commodore of the local Power & Sail Squadron provided us with the most information. He mentioned a few anchorages plus advised against the North West corner of the lake. Supposedly very weedy shallow water, lots of marshy areas and many uncharted submerged rocks.
You need four charts to cover the entire lake, 6035, 6036, 6037 and 6038. If you have Garmin Bluecharts for the North Channel, it is supposed to include Lake Nipissing.
Day 1 (August 20) Sturgeon Falls to Iron Island
We splashed Teliki late in the day at the government dock in Sturgeon Falls. This facility is fairly new and has an excellent ramp and docks. It is also free, which is always a plus! We left the van and trailer at Lenore's parents place, about 4 blocks away. We drew many curious onlookers as we got rigged. Not many sailboats around here and most people haven't seen a trailerable sailboat. There are many questions and we try to answer them while doing our best to show them that rigging and launching is all a piece of cake. One gentleman asked how long we would be out. He was glad it was going to be for the week, since that seemed like a lot of work for couple hours ride! With Teliki loaded and ready we had to decide whether to sleep aboard at the dock or head to our first chosen anchorage, Iron Island. We had about two hours of sunlight left and decided we could make it - so we headed out!
The 4 NM cruise down the Sturgeon River was fun and relaxing. It's a wide river and fairly deep with lots of nice houses along most of it. We wished we lived in one of them! To have Teliki tied up in our own backyard would be incredible. We only saw one other sailboat though - mostly fishing boats here. In fact we had our picture taken more than once by curious (or possibly envious) power/fishing boaters. We passed the historic Sturgeon River House. It is built on the site of an original Hudson Bay Trading Company outpost, it is complete with 12 ft palisades. There were excellent docking and boat launch facilities available. Visit their website at http://www.sturgeonriverhouse.com/
As we neared the mouth we picked up the range and buoys. The water is shallow here and you need to stay in the dredged channel - even with a Mac!
Down to an hour of light and we cleared the last buoy and altered course for Iron Island, which we can easily see about 5 NM distant. There was a nice breeze and calm water making it as relaxing as the river cruise. Wind is forecast to remain moderate and out of the West, so we pull into the large "bight" on the Eastern side and drop anchor about 50 feet from shore in about 15 feet of water. It was getting dark and the mosquitoes would soon be upon us. We quickly got our pop-top and bug screens secured. It's late enough in the season though to be almost free of them - what a treat! We enjoy a light late supper and the kids get settled in pretty quickly. That kept the nattering of "she is on my side" complaints from the V-berth to a minimum. The stars were out and the water was like glass. With the wonderful experiences we've have had with TSA cruises we feel confident in our abilities, but the absence of other boats (compared to the NC) is also apparent. It feels like we are truly "on our own" here. We called it a night and looked forward to sailing new waters in the morning.
Day 2 (August 21) Iron Island to Manitou Islands Provincial Nature Preserve
Dawn brings a beautiful but almost windless day. We soon are all in the lake for a refreshing swim. After one of those delicious "boat" breakfasts (you know, where everything tastes wonderful just because it's on your boat) the kids explored what looked to be a cave along the shore. Turned out to be a little "grotto" but was cool to explore. Around noon Lenore cheers as we sailed off anchor (She avoids the motor at every opportunity) and tried to head south. I did say "tried" as the wind was nonexistent and the water like glass. I spent an hour setting waypoints into the GPS before finally firing up the motor (sorry Lenore!)
Our destination was Franks Bay, which is at the mouth of the French River. It is about 10 NM south, on the far side of Blueberry Island. This bay is special to us as we went there with Lenore's parents a few days after our wedding. My wedding ring was loose and as I swatted a fly, it flew off into the sand. After hours searching for it we finally had to go. As we were pushing the boat off the beach, Lenore's Father spotted it! Amazing! We promptly had it sized when we got home.
Half way between Iron Island and Blueberry Island the wind finally picks up but it's right on our nose. Lenore suggest we alter our plans to a much longer beam reach to the Manitou Islands, about 15 KM due East. She often says the destination hardly matters in such a beautiful location. She wants to just point the boat so the sails are "happy" and enjoy the ride. Off we go! The wind picks up to about 15 KTS and the waves build to about a meter. This is a long and shallow lake and it responds to wind quickly. It has a reputation for being as dangerous as Lake Erie, so I'm glad when we approach our destination of Manitou Islands Provincial Nature Preserve.
These islands are 6 NM SW of North Bay. They are an interesting "ring" of five islands with about a mile of water in the centre. They look like one of those tropic atolls where the volcano sinks leaving a huge pool of protected water surrounded by small islands. Lenore thinks more likely a crater from a distant meteor. After a little research we find out that they are an interesting limestone formation that was flattened by the last glaciers. They are of historic interest and the remains of an early uranium mine are still visible on one. Native people who used the islands seasonally for thousands of years are recognized in the name Manitou (Great Spirit). Champlain stopped there in 1615 as a part of his map making and recorded his observations. Follow the link to visit the following webpage for a more detailed explanation.
There is a mile of sandy beach along the south shore of the Great Manitou Island, it's out of the wind and waves so we head there to let the kids explore. There was one other power boat just leaving as things were looking pretty rough out of the protection the islands provide. The forecast was for strong south winds overnight, which means we were in the wrong place. We motored to the northern shore of Little Manitou Island and anchored close to shore. I put out both anchors and tied to shore - should be safe for just about anything.
It ended up being very windy with thunderstorms that night, but we were snug in the lee of it. The water started looking rough only about 50 feet in front of us - we were pleased with our choice of anchorage!
Day 3 (August 22) Romping the Manitous
Morning brings calm weather so we motor back to the beach on the northern island for breakfast. Unfortunately, it wasn't totally enjoyable. There were private float planes, OPP and Coast Guard helicopters flying low inspecting the shoreline of each island. They came over every half hour - at tree top level! Lenore jokes that her Mom who was concerned for us being out on the lake in such a small boat has called in the Coast Guard. I contacted a fisherman on the VHF and sadly learn two people hadn't returned from a fishing trip the previous day. Their boat was found washed ashore in North Bay. We were pretty much smack dab in the middle of where they went missing and North Bay. It turns into one of the biggest search and rescue efforts ever on Lake Nipissing. Unfortunately, the bodies were not recovered We didn't do much deep water swimming after learning this and Lenore was understandingly a little leery pulling anchor.
The search planes left to search the far shore of the lake. We made the best of it and enjoyed a relaxing "beach day". The kids had fun exploring, catching frogs, playing in the sand while we took in the pleasure of sunshine and happy kids! I took the girls for a dinghy ride to try our hand at fishing and Lenore relaxed on the foredeck. The sounds of a very large boat getting much too close made her finally look up. Yikes! The Chief Commanda II that provides scenic cruises and still services the many fishing lodges makes its way very close to shore. Now this is a 320 passenger, all aluminum twin hull - with obviously very shallow draft. Not sure what they were looking for, but they gave a friendly blast from their horn and everyone waved to her. See the website to book a cruise!
The forecast was calling for mild northerlies, so we just stayed put for the night and had a wonderful BBQ. We had looked for firewood hoping to make a campfire, but the island is close to North Bay and must be very well used making firewood scarce.
Day 4 (August 23) Manitous to North Bay
Another beautiful day dawns! Lenore heads out to the cockpit and waves to the guys in the OPP helicopter - which is following the beach at treetop height. For the rest of us down below, it sounds like a plane is landing on OUR deck - man, is it loud!
After a great breakfast, we decide to head to North Bay which is only 6 NM North East. Lenore's brother, Mike, lives in a waterfront apartment - we moan that "It must be nice!". We plan to sail right up to the beach at his place and pick him up for a little sailing. We find the place easily and anchor about 100 feet off shore. There were a series of sand bars so this is as close as we could get. We walked to shore and knocked on his door - he was quite surprised to see us. Even more surprised to learn that we were anchored almost at his front door! Mike had never been on a sailboat before, so we took him out for a few hours. Unfortunately, the wind died off but he did get a turn at the tiller before we anchored to make lunch on the BBQ.
After lunch we headed to the North Bay marina for pump out, gas and a slip for the night. The marina is quite new and has several hundred slips and controlled access. It only lacks showers which is strange for a facility of this size and calibre? The explanation is there are too few "cruisers" on the lake. Most business is from locals who keep their boats here and just go home to shower!
North Bay has a beautiful waterfront. They have invested wisely in developing boardwalks, parks, concert facilities, beaches and playgrounds that extend for about 5 miles along the shore. They have two absolutely beautiful, painstakingly restored, carousels and a miniature railway for the kids. We wish there were jobs for us IT workers up here!
That evening, Lenore's parents drive down from Sturgeon Falls (about a 30 minute drive) and we all head out for Chinese buffet. Lindsey heads back with them for a few days of camping in the bush at Grandpa's trailer. We sleep well that night, down one crew member.
Day 5 (August 24) North Bay to Thomas Bay
We wake to a promising day - fair winds out of the East. Perfect for a 15km run to Thomas Bay. This is the anchorage we diverted from on Day 2. We walked into town for a wonderful breakfast at the Magic Kettle (not to be missed!) and provisions as well as letting Kira have several turns on the carousels and train.
It was afternoon before we headed out, back through the Manitous and then turned west for Thomas Bay. As we passed Gull Rock - an apartment size boulder that is barely above water, the wind builds to about 15 KTS with gusts. Wave heights quickly build to around 2 meters. It's a brisk sail with both sails reefed! Kira is shouting "Whoo Hoo!" from the companionway and we all have a great sail. I am getting a little concerned though. The sun was once again close to the horizon and we had another mile to go. Plus, we needed to tuck tightly into the Eastern side of Thomas Bay to stay out of the strong Easterlies forecast for the night. But, we turned into the bay just as the sun tucked below the horizon and anchored in the twilight.
The only bad part was me having to wade ashore in the dark with the stern line. Call me a "city boy" but record setting Muskie come out of this lake. Last week, someone caught a 36 pounder!!! They go after small dogs and adult ducks when that large - I kid you not! Once again, we were nudged in very close to shore, out of the ensuing wind and manage another quick supper. We go to bed listening to the waves crash on the nearby beach and smash against rocks out in the wind.
Day 6 (August 25) Thomas Bay to Blueberry Island
Morning finds it still windy, except out of the North and blowing right into the bay. We are protected but 10 feet out it starts to ripple. The main beach is about half a mile away and those big waves crash onto it. We motor over and set 2 anchors about 100 feet from shore hoping for a visit to the sandy beach but we're getting too beat up to leave Teliki. We make one valiant attempt to bring the dinghy along side, but it seems an impossible maneuver. Lenore suggests we just jump in and wade to shore but we decide against it.
We weigh anchor and head North to Blueberry Island. It's only about 1 NM away, across a deep channel. There are quite a few small islands and coves along its northern shore to protect us from the main lake - which is really nasty at this time. We passed several inviting coves and can picture the TSA fleet filling them. We chose one of the smaller coves in front of an abandoned cottage. It's about 40 feet across and 40 feet in with a spectacular sheer granite cliff towering over us and a tiny strip of sandy beach. Beautiful island exploration, sunshine and a happy little girl, great food and good wine went with an incredible sunset and all made for another day in paradise!
Day 7 (August 26) Blueberry Island to Sturgeon Falls
Today, we plan to sail to the mouth of the Sturgeon River, pick up Lenore's Dad and take him sailing and then reluctantly head back up river and haul out in Sturgeon Falls.
The weather is good - 10 to 15 KT winds and 1 meter waves. This is ideal weather for a fast and spirited sail! Also, it's wing on wing and an exciting long run all the way. We are challenged to keep the boat on course and it takes a lot of concentration as we take turns at the tiller. None of those unexpected gybes wanted this morning - thank you! We really like how this boat handles.
We picked up Lenore's Dad and Lindsey rejoined us at Sunshine Marina, owned and run by old family friends. It is near the mouth of the river and we are quickly underway. Lenore takes us back to Iron Island. Conditions are great and Grandpa gets a near perfect "first time" sailing experience. The winds are still strong but now under close hauled sails we are flying! Over the summer have been learning Teliki's ways and are getting pretty good at balancing her and controlling heel in these conditions. Lenore gets her set up well enough to take her hand off the tiller for almost a minute at a time. Grandpa is grinning ear to ear and seems somewhat relieved that we seem to know what we are doing - or at least doing a good job of fooling him if not! We anchor on the West of Iron Island and have lunch. He tells us that a local man has purchased the island and rumours are that he plans to make a golf course of it! We are horrified with that possibility and wonder why anyone would tamper with near perfection. On the way back, Lenore's Dad even takes a hand at the tiller and sails us back to the river mouth. Both granddaughters give him a helping hand and Kira even had a few sailing pointers for him too!
Back at the marina, Lenore's Mom comes on board. She was much too nervous to go out in strong winds but enjoys a gentle late afternoon river cruise back to the Government Dock. Our parents are impressed with Teliki and all her amenities in comparison to Escape, our old Matilda 20. They are surprised at all the room inside and how stable she feels. I motor us back upriver while Lenore plies our company with wine and munchies. Lindsey and Kira ask to be towed in the dinghy. They were hoping for some action, but the river is as smooth as glass.
Argh!!! There be the docks! Haul out was uneventful and we had Teliki all packaged up by dusk. We stayed at her parents that night and headed out for that 300 mile trip home the next day.
Lake Nipissing is both similar and different from the NC. It would take more than a week to explore - we didn't even touch Callander Bay, South Bay or the French River. There are many islands and anchorages (and rocks to hit - just like the NC). There are fewer sailboats and many more fishing boats. There are fewer towns and cities as well and far fewer marinas. The water is warmer and has a yellowish tinge to it, like in a smaller lake. There are open areas that can provide exhilarating sailing but can be dangerous in heavy winds. There are big fish! Everyone agrees it has been an excellent place to explore and we have left a lot for a definite return trip.
Like Arnie - "We'll be back"!