I have taken Priorities to the North Channel four times now. This year Kristin and I felt like we had seen most of the recommended hotspots, and there weren’t really any more “must see” anchorages left. This gave us the luxury of time, since we didn’t have to sail or motor all over the place to see someone else’s favorite spot and allowed us to travel on a more casual schedule based more on the wind and weather… and perhaps find something new.
Somehow, in years past, we hadn’t traveled east of Killarney. Killarney is basically at the east end of the North Channel, and the west end of Georgian Bay. Cruisers traveling from southern Georgian Bay or southern Lake Huron are familiar with much of the scenery along the well charted and marked Small Craft Route east of Killarney. Since our home port lies west of the North Channel, however, heading east of Killarney is somewhat out of the way for us.
This year, after spending two nights in Covered Portage Cove, we had a few days to kill before needing to be back in Little Current for additional crew. Light winds were forecasted, so we would either need to motor somewhere or not travel very far. We also had plenty of provisions, so a remote detour wouldn’t stress boat or crew much… and so we decided to check out the Collins Inlet.
The 10 mile long Collins Inlet begins a mere five miles or so east of Killarney. It’s a very narrow fjord like gap between mainland Ontario and Philip Edward Island, surrounded on both sides by large cliffs that occasionally loom well over 100 feet above the water. The mainland side is mostly in Killarney Provincial Park, and the island side has little development.
We leisurely sailed the five miles from Killarney to the western entrance of the Inlet, and as expected the winds got too light and shifty to continue under sail. With high cliffs on both sides, it would be rare to be able to sail the Collins Inlet… perhaps when the winds are strong from the east or west it might be possible.
Since the Collins Inlet is navigable for its entire length, the “Red Right Return” rule applies when westbound, or “returning” from the ocean. Even though we were leaving the relative open water of Georgian Bay and heading into what looked like a river, green buoys and marks were kept to starboard since we were traveling closer to the ocean.
Immediately we noticed a few promising anchorages for future reference… just southwest of Keyhole Island and north of the island at Mile 58. The water temperature was also in the low 70s here, much warmer than the upper 60s we had seen the previous several days in the North Channel.
Looking at the chart reveals few major hazards as long as you stay in the middle of the Inlet, except at the east end. Not wanting to miss out on the scenery from inside our cockpit enclosure, I joined Kristin on the foredeck. This was one of the few times I actually was glad I installed a wireless remote for the autopilot, allowing me to make minor course changes while standing on the foredeck and enjoying the scenery. It wasn’t the safest course of action… if the autopilot freaked out and suddenly turned hard in one direction I might not make it to the cockpit in time before hitting the sides of the Inlet… but the likelihood of a sudden electronics failure was pretty low and had never been an issue in the past.
After about an hour, we arrived in Mill Lake. Mill Lake lies about two thirds of the way into the Inlet when traveling eastbound. There’s not much there, but the scenery is very pretty.
We anchored on Mill Lake for the night just south of Green Island, out of sight from any cottages or boats. It felt very remote. While exploring around in the dinghy we did meet some kayakers who were camped on an adjacent island. They were on a weeklong trip exploring the Island and Inlet via kayak… certainly a great place to kayak or canoe.
The next morning we motored the rest of the way east out the Collins Inlet into Beaverstone Bay. Green buoys and marks were still kept to starboard here. In low water years, the channel at the east end of the Collins Inlet has silted to less than our six feet of draft. This August lakes Michigan and Huron are three feet above datum, so we were able to continue through the very narrow channel at the east end of Collins Inlet without major issue. Our depth sounder recorded a few depths of 5.8 feet, but I think weeds were to blame since it didn’t feel like our keel kissed bottom.
After the shallow section, we raised sails are sailed out of Beaverstone with a 15 knot north wind. Beaverstone is pretty as well, with a few cottages built on many of the islands on the Bay. Though we considered sailing farther east to the Bad River or the Bustard Islands, a forecast of west winds the following day led us to merely circumnavigate Philip Edward Island and head west again… to Thomas Bay.