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.

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!

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.

Covered Portage Cove, looking east towards the entrance
Covered Portage can get crowded, but we think it’s worth it
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!
Lots of boats tied ashore to trees, including Priorities, second from the top
Looking towards the west end


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.

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