Believe me, my young friend,
there is nothing- absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing
as simply messing about in boats.
Water Rat in "Wind in the Willows"

The North Channel

Matt and Ted learn to sea kayak on a Black Feather trip

Instead of our usual 5 or 7 day summer canoe trip, Matt and I decided to try sea kayaking for a change of pace. We also hoped that our "rain and wind" jinx could be broken. Rain and strong winds have always plagued our canoe trips.

Knowing that Black Feather is one of the best, we decided to book their 5 day North Channel trip on Lake Huron. This trip is basically from the town of Spanish, through a series of islands, to Whitefish Falls about 60km to the East. Having less than 4 hours paddling sea kayaks and no practical kayak tripping experience, we thought that having professional guides for our first trip would be a smart thing to do.

No, we didn't break our jinx but having two great guides to mentor, guide and feed us was definitely the best of ideas.

Monday July 17th

Emily and Colleen The Black Feather guides, Emily and Colleen. Good navigation skills, terrific tripping skills, and an unsurpassed joie de vivre. A very professional team. First day's lunchFirst lunch and time to get to know each other. The team met up at Mitchells Camp in Spanish, Ontario at 09:30. During the short meet 'n greet we were told that the other clients had to bow-out at the last minute. I was thankful that Black Feather, although down to only 2 paying clients, felt honour-bound to run the trip anyway with just Matt and myself. Says something about the high calibre of Black Feather, doesn't it?

running from the stormRunning from the incoming storm. Time to find shelter. Our two guides were Emily and Colleen, two young women with great personalities and fantastic tripping skills. These attributes came in handy over the next 5 days when the weather, taking a cue from our jinx, took a nasty turn for the worse. What could have been a so-so experience, became a great holiday that Matt and I really enjoyed.

After learning why packing a sea kayak can be considered an art-form, we headed out into the delta and found a nice place to have lunch. A short while later, the wind picked up as did the whitecaps.

storm arrivesThe storm is heading right towards us. Glad the guides put up a large tarp. hiding under the tarpHiding(?) under the tarp, waiting out the storm. Obviously unfazed! A small craft and high winds warning forced us to run to a sheltered camping site within the protection of the Spanish delta. By utilizing islands to protect us from the brunt of the winds, we managed to make about 7km for the day before distant thunder forced us ashore. (Colleen used a VHF radio to keep tabs on the weather for the whole trip.) The rest of the afternoon was spent on the lee side of an island under a large tarp watching the storm front move over us.

cooking supperGourmet supper from a campstove. I seldom cook like this at home! first sunsetOur first Georgian Bay sunset after the storm. (This picture has not be Photoshopped.) Supper was delightful. Stir-fried fresh vegetables and chicken with rice noodles cooked in a wok over a campstove on a rocky shore. All right! As a one-pot freeze-dried canoe tripping kind of cook, I was very pleasantly surprised at the cooking skills shown and the thought that went into the menu. The weather calmed to a georgeous sunset. The picture hasn't been altered - that really is the sunset as we saw it!

Tuesday July 18th
Tuesday morningTuesday morning started out wonderfully. Tuesday's break spotA great spot for a break with lots of unusual rock formations.
Tuesday started with a nice breakfast to give us the energy for a good weather paddle. Just how holiday brochures would picture it: flat seas, blue water blending into a blue sky. A few clouds floating above a few rocky islands. Perfect.

interesting rock formation Very interesting rock formations with many eroded seams. Tuesdays campTuesday's campsite with lots of really unusual rock formations. Mid-morning, we stopped at a small rocky island. Lots and lots of really unusual rock formations. Colleen, with her Physical Geography background, donned her Professor's cap and, at my urging, held class. I really enjoyed the lecture. Good info.
After lunch the wind picked up again and, as we had moved out of the protection of an island, the waves became chop on top of long rollers. A few big ones strained my comfort level. Emily and Colleen pulled alongside several times to give pointers and chat. Unfortunately, I was much too pre-occupied to take any pictures. A real shame as they would have been fantastic.

The geology lecture continued after arriving on our camp island, well before we even started to set up camp. Large amounts of rock with very small fossils from a long-ago sea. When I get time, I'll compare my pictures to known fossils to find out the correct era and species.

Wednesday July 19th

group paddlingOff into the horizon. On easy water, these kayaks really move. matt paddlingNow were talking! Matt enjoying the trip on a great day for paddling. Thanks to the two days of foul weather along with Matt's and my limited experience in that environment, we need to make up some distance. The weather is now perfect for cruising. Colleen wants us to try for 20k today. Sounds like a lot, but in good weather and calm seas these sea kayaks can move quickly with little effort. Colleen stops the group regularly and enforces a water break. The water is needed and the stop is nice.

I missed the perfect picture this morning - sunny sky, blue water, shoreline in the distance, paddles flashing in the sun, smiles all around. Lunch today is on top of a rocky hill with a great view. Finished with a cooling swim at a sandy beach before getting back on the water.

We start seeing more and more evidence of wind damage from Monday's storm. Glad we were on the cusp, rather than in the thick of the storm. Really glad we were laughing under a tarp on the leeside of a protected island. beach sceneDrying gear on a nice large beach. shady campShade is good after the all-day sun.

Emily navigates to a nice campsite with a large beach and lots of wanted shade. A fair amount of trees down or partially down.
Emily's Vegetarian Tacos with the last of the fresh veggies for supper. Colleen does blueberry pancakes for breakfast the next morning. Not a freeze-dried meal to be had for the entire trip. Matt is making comments about my cooking again.

Thursday July 20th

last campsiteOur final night's campsite. tentNote the use of rocks rather than pegs. A couple of days of great paddling are starting to run together. I should have made better notes. The wind is from the West as good winds should be. We're going East so it's fair winds and following seas. Lots and lots of similarly shaped small islands. Emily's navigation skills are good. She's using a map and compass whereas in this maze of islands, I would need my GPS running all the time.
The miles are knocked off at a great rate so Emily and Colleen decide to stop and set up camp in the early afternoon. With the islands being mostly rock, tent pegs are useless. Everything is tied off to rocks instead.

The rest of the day is spent playing with the kayaks, practising rescue techniques, reading and having a nap (at least for one of us).

practicing rescuesEmily talking Matt through some rescue techniques. practicing rescuesColleen trying to teach Matt a roll. emilyEmily setting up for a roll - she did it too! Wish I had a video of it. colleen scullingColleen demonstrating just how far you can lean a kayak with a sculling brace.
Spaghetti for supper followed by Colleen's made-on-the-spot dessert. I wonder if I'm going home a pound or two heavier. I guess pushing away from the table is needed even here, especially when Emily and Colleen are cooking.

Friday July 21st

group pictureThe group picture. waterfightAnother water-fight that Matt loses. Darn - last day. This should have been a 7 day trip! We're within 8K of the take-out at Whitefish Falls, which now is an easy 2 hour paddle. So we have the chance to sleep in for an extra hour but I don't. Instead, I spend the extra time just sitting on a rock watching the world wake up.
We reluctantly break camp and take a leisurely cruise toward home. On the way we stop for a snack and last swim. Matt tries to beat Emily in a water fight. Colleen sneaks up behind Matt and catches him in a crossfire. Matt is now getting soaked front and back. He loses yet another water-pump water fight. But, from the grin, you wouldn't know it!

The van is waiting to take us back to our truck at the put-in. It's over.