Eclipse in the Benjamins

We had nice weather for our trip east from Moiles Harbor, and tried to find a place to anchor in Fox Harbor. Known for being a tricky anchorage, we didn’t have any real luck finding a suitable location in Fox, so we decided to head to the Benjamin Islands for the night. The winds went light so we motored, rather than sailed, our way south to the Benjamin Islands Archipelago.

Passing around the southeast side of South Benjamin Island, we approached a navigationally challenging area of rocks known as The Sow and Pigs. Boats coming from the west, like we were, can save a few minutes by cutting through the Sow and Pigs, though hazards exist: some rocks are several feet above the water, while others lurk just below the surface… and they all kinda look alike. With very, VERY careful monitoring of our position with the GPS chartplotter, crosschecked with a radar overlay, and careful reading of the paper chart, we motored amongst them with no issues. Amazingly, we can pass between The Sow and a neighboring rock (Pig?), a gap of just over a boatlength, with depths way over 20 feet. In the narrowest part, depths were way over 50 feet! It’s a little disconcerting how deep it is so close to the rocks… in the space of a fraction of a boatlength, covered in perhaps a second at five knots, depths go from “more than adequate” to a rocky cliff several feet above the water. Monitoring the depth sounder here doesn’t really provide any practical protection against an unintentional grounding.

Approaching the Sow and Pigs

Despite navigational hazards, The Sow and Pigs are very pretty. Pink granite rocks covered in orange moss, striking out 5 to 15 feet above deep water all around. Some rocks are big enough to be small islets, with dark green bushes or small trees growing out of them, adding to their color. Kristin and Teresa hung out on the foredeck taking pictures, with the occasional glance back at me and a look of, “can we really do this?”

The Sow and Pigs

Benjamins04Benjamins05Benjamins06To our north lay our intended anchorage in the Benjamin Islands. Anchoring just east of South Benjamin and just south of North Benjamin gives protection from most directions. Being pretty makes them very popular with other boaters, so sometimes finding a spot to anchor can be challenging. Depths vary, though with water levels high this year we found depths from 15-35 feet within about a boatlength from shore in much of the anchorage. Holding can vary as well… this year we had no issues with holding when backing down on our anchor, but I’ve occasionally had to reset an anchor here in previous years.

Both Benjamins, South in particular, are basically giant rocks of pink granite. There’s definitely vegetation, including plenty of trees, but much of South Benjamin is an almost pavement-like smooth granite that makes exploring fairly easy and fun. It has a ski-slope-looking ramp running from near it’s highest point right down into the anchorage that’s fun to walk up. I probably should have gotten my running shoes and made it a workout. One cottage lies on the north side of South Benjamin in a spectacular location, but otherwise it’s uninhabited.

The “ski slope” on South Benjamin Island
Much of South Benjamin is a nearly pavement-like granite


View from South Benjamin Island

Some shallow sections of the anchorage were great to explore on the stand up paddleboard, with the unusual rock formations visible just under the surface. Kristin and I took a long dinghy ride close along the east and south shore of South Benjamin, discovering some mini anchorages and hideaways we had never seen before. Some areas looked like perfect anchorages as we motored in the dinghy, but occasionally we’d suddenly bottom out the motor on rocks hiding in unexpected locations, so I might leave those areas to the locals. We saw two boats basically “docked” amongst the rocks, fenders and all, spider webbing themselves so close to shore they could disembark via a plank rather than via a dinghy.

We saw plenty of wildlife, like this belted kingfisher, while exploring the island

In many of our travels in the North Channel we try to find a beach to sit on and have “happy hour,” even if the “beach” is the tiniest sandy area that can only fit a few chairs. There’s one such tiny beach on North Benjamin, which we found, facing the sunset. On our way back to the boat, we experimented with ways to tow someone on the stand up paddleboard with the dinghy… fun and stupid all at the same time!

Our plan was to spend two nights here weather permitting. In the morning after our first night, we got the weather report for the upcoming 24 hours: sunny skies and light southwest winds through late evening, then a strong wind warning for 25 knot southeast winds around midnight quickly becoming south in the early morning, with strong winds from the west the following day. This was also the day of the big solar eclipse of 2017, and we wanted to take advantage of our pretty location to view it. A strong west wind could be good for us the following day, since it could mean a fast downwind sail back to Little Current to the east.

Our location that morning was a little too exposed if the southeast winds materialized, so we decided to move slightly south, closer to South Benjamin for better protection. Normally I like to have a decent amount of space between Priorities and any other boats or rocks when unsettled weather is forecast, giving us space and time to deal with any anchoring issues in the night. Like so many other things in boating, we’d have to compromise. After about a 30 minute process of squeezing in other anchored boats which had done the same, I was pretty happy with our protection vs. space vs. scope situation.

That second day in the Benjamins, after our first night there, made any weather worries worth staying for. We had excellent conditions for seeing the solar eclipse, made better by Kristin’s good idea of buying a bunch of “Eclipse glasses” on Amazon (the standards-compliant ones, not the recalled ones!). We handed out extras to our neighbors in the anchorage, chatting about the weather forecast, too.

Checking out the solar eclipse. We used glasses that met goverment standards for observation of the sun.
We had about 75% coverage this far north
Obviously, the sunlight got very dim during the eclipse. Our solar panels’ output was reduced a bunch, despite not having any clouds in the sky.

It was a lazy day of warm weather, drinks, swimming, stand up paddling, dinghy-ing, and momentary eclipse viewing. I think our area was about 75-80%, not total darkness but definitely an observable, strange light. We made pizza for lunch, using the grill on deck to keep the heat out of the cabin. Vacation is tough.

That evening, I checked the wind forecast on SailFlow. It downplayed any southeast winds that Environment Canada were forecasting, so we stayed put and had an uneventful last night on the hook before Teresa and Kristin needed to be back in Little Current.

Benjamins17The next morning we awoke to cloudy skies and light southwest winds. Most of our neighbors had left by 8am. Not wanting vacation time to end, we took our time with breakfast (gotta eat up all the food before the crew leaves for home!) before weighing anchor and heading to Little Current.

The sail to Little Current, however, had a bunch of challenges… but that’s for my next post.

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