Friday, July 31, 2015

Britt to Pointe au Baril - Canoeing Georgian Bay

Tanker and I were married in August of 2003, and set out 3 days later to sea kayak Georgian Bay from Britt to Pointe au Baril - the 30,000 Islands have always been my favourite place on Earth. We had an incredible time, I got insanely sunburned, and we've held fond memories of the area since.

The day we came off the water, hanging with Garnet at Larry's
(which has since burned to the ground)

So, we decided we'd try it again, in the canoe a friend of ours gifted to us a couple of years ago.

The warboat, aka the Punkrawkanoe

And then we tried actually paddling our boat while loaded down with 75lbs of weight (to simulate the gear we'd need for 5 days of backcountry camping) and nixed that idea completely. While perfectly seaworthy for an afternoon jaunt around a tiny local lake, there was no way in hell I was heading out into the whims of Georgian Bay with only 4" of canoe above the waterline.

My Mum is freakin' awesome, though, and agreed to spend an absolutely absurd amount of money on a new-to-us Souris River Quetico 16 kevlar canoe that would do the trip handily. It used to be a rental boat in White Squall's fleet and bore a few scratches from its former life, but those just add character. We have officially dubbed it Sheena, because she's a punk rawker now.

Me and my pretty new boat.

We dropped our car off at White Squall (which also happens to be the place we rented the sea kayaks from for our honeymoon trip) on the morning of Monday, July 20th, caught a ride from them up to Britt, then loaded our gear into the canoe and buggered off.

Ready to hit the water

Westward down the channel to the Bay, we faced a stiff headwind that brewed up some chop. Before we'd left the river the waves were up to 2' high and we were getting some spray over the bow.

Still sheltered in the river.

This would assuredly have been the end of the line had we been in the warboat, as we'd have swamped within minutes. The extra 6" of bow & centre height was already coming in handy as we paddled out to Gereaux Island.

Coast Guard house & lighthouse just a choppy crossing away

After a warm welcome and offer to refill our nalgenes & use of the washroom from one of the young Coast Guards, they took off in their boat - hopefully just to patrol the area & not because anyone was in distress. We wandered out across the island and had ourselves a bit of lunch on the windward side of the lighthouse. We could see white-capped waves breaking out on the open Bay as we munched - it wasn't a great way to start our trip, though we were quite content inhaling the fresh air from shore.

Tanker's just happy to be on dry, non-moving land for a bit.

As the wind continued to blow, we tried to stay in the lee of any land we could find a we made our way up into Burritt's Bay to find a place to camp. There was nothing that really offered any shelter, but at least we finally found enough flat land to pitch our tent.

Like camping on Mars, with the occasional tree stuck on it.

We got set up early, and laid down for a nap around 4pm. Tank crashed almost immediately, but the gusting wind kept me awake as it shook the tent. I kept wondering if it was going to shift the rocks we'd used to anchor it down, but she held solid. After an hour or so, though, the breeze coming through the wide-open windward side of the tent got much cooler and the gusts started to shift around. I popped my head up and saw a rain shower in progress just a kilometer or so north of us, so rolled out to pitch the tarp to give us both a wind break and a dry place to cook dinner.

Tanker hunkering under a classic Georgian Bay pitch.

I'd just managed to get everything guyed out and the vestibule on the windward side of the tent (which had been rolled back completely open) zipped down & anchored with another rock by the time the first of the rain showers hit us. Fortunately they were pretty minor - a few minutes of sprinkling here and there, with only one 10 minute period of moderately hard rain - and cleared off long before the sun went down. The tarp still provided a nice wind break to cook dinner, though.

Kitchen, dining & livingroom in one!

We had hoped for some calmer weather as we'd built a small fire pit from rocks and had plentiful driftwood around the site to burn, but the 40kph wind from the west refused to abate. It did, however, blow the clouds away as evening drew in, treating us to a magnificent sunset over Burritt's Bay.

No words needed, or indeed adequate.

As the last of the light faded, though, our campsite became overrun by mosquitoes in a way I've never experienced before. Even the onslaught at Lynch Lake in Frontenac Provincial Park earlier this year paled by comparison. With our bug repellent apparently ineffective, we unanimously said SCREW THIS and dove into our tent without even one last visit to the peeing rocks. Clearly the Georgian Bay mozzies were firmly in charge here.

I slept fitfully as the wind continued to  shake and rattle our tent all night long, fearing what this might mean for the following day's paddle. We had no cell reception at our campsite so I had no way to get a forecast - we'd just have to roll with the punches.

After a solid breakfast to sustain us, we loaded up and paddled out of Burritt's Bay back toward the open water...which was clearly still in a rather grumpy mood.

That's what 3+ foot waves look like breaking on the other side of some sheltering rocks.

We stuck inland as much as we could, using the outlying rocky islands as our shield against Georgian Bay's wind-fueled fury and eventually as a place to stop for some lunch. We saw innumerable herons and cormorants, and even a wild mink swimming around and playing on the rocks as we paddled.

Typical 30,000 Islands scenery.

After a seriously hairy crossing south of the Head Islands to get around the west end of Olwyn Island, we darted into the Naiscoot River to seek shelter and bail at least a couple of gallons of water that had washed in over the gunwales as the waves broke around us. After a couple of thwarted attempts due to lack of flat ground (and we weren't that picky about what constituted "flat"), we finally found a place to call home for the night.


We even had a shady spot to set up our chairs (a blessing after 2 days of nearly uninterrupted sunshine), and the little cove behind the point where we beached the canoe gave Tanker a place to fish and me a spot to go for a bit of a swim. I hadn't brought a bathing suit, so it was a good thing we were in a very secluded area - less of a skinny dip than a chunky dunk.

Having regained cellular reception (on account of being further East - closer to the Hwy 69/400 corridor), I also managed to check the weather and marine forecasts...discovering this, from about 20mins before we left camp that morning:

Well, that explains a lot.

The wind was supposed to drop a little overnight, so we hoped to have a better day on the water on Wednesday. My bitterness over not being able to have a fire the night before was appeased just after another wonderful backcountry dinner - our chosen digs already had a fire pit built and a massive supply of driftwood, plus a big chunk of birch bark to get things rolling. 

This is what contentment looks like to me.

We managed to plan things a bit better, getting our teeth brushed (woo!) and one last visit to the pee rocks, plus dousing our fire before retreating to the safety of the tent as twilight came and the mosquitoes once more took over camp. While the early evening had been a bit calmer, the darkness brought strong, shifting gusts that once more saw me making do with a series of short naps overnight. I knew this was an ill portent for conditions for the next day.

Awaking early to get a start before the worst of the chop could blow up, I checked the forecast again to see that the wind warning had been renewed at 6:30am with no respite anticipated until evening. With the Bayfield Inlet as our intended destination, we decided to try to shoot the Chicken Liver Channel to cut the distance we'd have to paddle without protection from outlying land by almost two-thirds. After one false start, we found our route and enjoyed a lovely jaunt through the calm, shallow waters.

In the Chicken Liver Channel.

We still had to round Naiscoot Point before we could duck into the relative safety of the Charles Inlet. The waves were even nastier than the day before, with cross-swells running due to the shifting winds overnight. I had my work cut out for me to keep us on track as we weren't able to ballast the stern of the boat enough to stop it wanting to turn upwind - guess I need to put on some weight (ha, ha)!

In the Charles Inlet, letting the adrenaline die down.

No, there are no photos of us out in the open Bay - I was a little too busy trying to keep us safe to be taking photos. Conditions were rather similar to when I worked water safety for the Wasaga Beach sprint tri back in 2013, so here's a photo from that day to give you an idea:


Pictures would not do it justice anyway - you'll just have to either take my word for it, or go paddle a 16 foot canoe with 4' waves hitting you broadside to see just how small you feel for yourself (NB: do not recommend). The only good thing about it all was that we could surf those buggers when we finally made our way around the point and could head straight downwind again.

Things were a bit fraught even crossing the Charles Inlet, but eventually we made our way through the the Alexander Passage and headed east toward the Bayfield Inlet.

Calmer waters.

We stopped on a rocky point beside Jean Island to have some lunch and remove some of Georgian Bay from our little canoe.


Bailing out.

We continued southeast until we hit the Hangdog Channel, then scooted down along Gibraltar Island's shore. We just managed to sneak through a little passage (that every chart & map I've seen swears is solid land) to find a sheltered little cove to call home for Wednesday night.

It was a bit vertical and spread out, but it was ours.

These photos are actually evidence of another blissful dip in the Bay - having a waterproof/shockproof camera rules!

You know it's shockproof if it didn't die taking pics of me in the buff.
(Photo cropped for your comfort & protection)

No fire pit at this site and the sunset was blocked by the land behind us, but we did get a treat just as the golden hour arrived - a beaver came swimming into our cove, hopped out of the water for a moment on a rock across from us, then splashed back into the water and swam back out the way he'd come...all to a soundtrack of loonsong in the distance.

We just felt so Canadian.

We nailed our timing for our retreat to the tent as the wind finally, mercifully died. We awoke to a beautiful, calm morning.

View out the tent flap.
A person could get used to waking up like this.

After fixing an issue with our stove and another hearty breakfast, we paddled back out to the Hangdog Channel to make our way around the Hangdog Reef. Unfortunately, while the Bay had settled a bit overnight, it was far from calm out there.


We worked hard to make it into the relative safety of the Nares Inlet, then paddled past Leblanc Bay and Laura Bay while wishing the Armstrong Rocks offered more shelter from the continuing rolling waves. At least they'd stopped breaking around us so we weren't taking in water over the gunwales. Tank was a total trooper.

So impressed with this guy!
He'd never paddled a canoe before about 6 years ago.

Of course, I had my one and only navigational cock-up of the entire trip just when it counted: we managed to miss the turning into the Pointe au Baril Channel, instead coming around the south side of Lookout Island...which meant an extra ~400m of paddling in the open Bay when we could have been headed downwind.


With the wind now at our backs and surfing the swells up the channel, we finally found ourselves somewhere with flat ground that didn't have a cottage stuck on it and set up camp. The forecast said the wind would back to the north and drop as evening came, so the land would provide shelter for us. In the meantime, we tripled up the rocks that anchored our tent.

Feeling a bit windswept.

With it being only 1:30pm, we took time to relax knowing that we only had an ~8km paddle up the channel for the following day. Thursday being our last night on the Bay, we drank in the beauty around us.

Including the very stone on which we camped.

I got in another skinny dip in the little lagoon behind our point, and Tank tried his hand at terrifying the local aquatic population again. We also finally saw another paddler! As the golden hour drew in we spotted a canoe heading down the channel on the south side - no idea if they were tripping or just out for an evening jaunt, but we hadn't seen a single other canoe or kayak the entire time we'd been out. For that matter, we'd seen very few boats at al anywhere but in the inlets though we did watch an elderly couple run a small powerboat aground in the Shoal Narrows. The buoys are there for a reason, kids!

As we sat enjoying the lovely evening we got to watch a couple of little minks play around on the rock just across the lagoon mouth from us, too - they really are the cutest things ever.

I miss having a pet ferret.

The wind still blew around us, but we felt like we had won.


After dinner our sense of triumph was even greater when we discovered a huge patch of perfectly ripe wild blueberries. I'd been finding little handfuls of them here and there throughout the trip (as well as a couple of wild raspberries on Gereaux Island), but we'd hit the motherload!

This was the sparser of the two bushes.

Tank and I did a few minutes of picking (because it would be a shame to have such a bounty go to waste), and in no time at all we had ourselves about the best dessert you could ask for...especially since we'd eaten the last of the fresh food Wednesday evening!


We watched agape as another beaver came swimming up the channel past our campsite, diving for minutes on end with a powerful whack of his tail and resurfacing a hundred yards or more from where he'd gone under. A loon serenaded us as he swam into the mouth of our lagoon before flying away to parts unknown. The wind shifted and died as promised, and we had a wonderful night's sleep after once more retreating to the tent as dusk settled: we could see dozens of mosquitoes swarming the outside of the tent as darkness fell! Then, just because it's us, we both awoke at dawn - almost 90mins earlier than any other morning of the trip, on the day we had the least distance to cover.

Did not mind watching this, though.

Because we were up so early, we could take our time packing up - I figured we had a maximum of 2hrs of paddling to get to our extraction point, and our ride wasn't due to show up until 3:30pm. Tanker did some more fishing, and I took advantage of the calm morning and our sheltered little lagoon to try a solo paddle in our awesome little canoe.

Little known fact: I'm not wearing any pants.

By 10am, despite our best efforts to dawdle, we were packed up and ready to go. I called White Squall to request an earlier pickup time, and we got it bumped up to 1pm to allow for any unexpected delays. At 10:05am we pulled out for our final jaunt up the channel to Pointe au Baril Station.

Headed for the Brignall Banks Narrows.

Conditions were near perfect - a milder, breezy wind behind us and lovely calm water. It was the hottest day of the journey so far, though, so we actually rather missed the cooling of the wind! We had to pull our sunglasses away from our faces to keep them from fogging, and drank water at an astonishing rate. Despite a quick stop to use the washroom at Payne Marine just past the Narrows, it was only 11:30am when we reached our final destination: Desmasdons Boatworks, which is the same place we extracted at the end of our honeymoon trip almost 12 years prior.

Glad to be there.

We treated ourselves to a wonderful cafe mocha each from their ice cream and espresso bar, then happily pulled up on a bench outside the marina store to await our shuttle from White Squall. Not too long afterward we were picked up, brought back to our car, loaded up all our gear and lashed on our trusty new canoe, then headed home to wash 5 days worth of sunblock, bug repellent and sweat from our tired bodies.

A real bed has never felt so wonderful and I could have done without the (ahem) intensity of Georgian Bay during not one but TWO days of high wind warnings...but I wouldn't trade the memories we made for all the comfort and safety in the world.

It fills my heart with joy, really, that as a Canadian I am still able to simply walk (or rather, paddle) out of civilization and find a patch of land on which to rest for the night. I can still meander off into the back of beyond and visit with the animals that call it home, sharing just a tiny piece of both their struggle to survive and the tranquility of the wild. A taste of our forebears, who explored this vast land in just the same way to open it up to a couple of punks like us.

You can see almost the exact route we took here.

Now we're off for an insane motorcycle tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway - see you in mid-August!


  1. Hi K. really enjoyed this blog.. didn't know you were such an outdoor enthusiast! Nicely done girl!! Proud of you beyond belief. Be safe, love you.
    BTW - I love Georgian Bay with a passion & so happy you took her to task.

    1. So nice to hear from you Paddy, and thanks for your kind words! The backcountry calls again; headed to Algonquin next weekend to solo the Highland backpacking trail again (while Tank camps with friends of ours at Mew Lake & does some fishing), then up to Bon Echo for a paddle out to Joeperry Island with Tanker for Campsgiving. Hope you've been well - lots of love xo


Go on, have at me!