Thus far, the North Channel has been an amalgam of beauty, hilarity, and outright horror. For reasons that will become clear later, I would suggest that those with easily upset stomachs avoid reading the very end of this post, as there are some graphic descriptions that may be too much for the unprepared.
Crossing the border into Canada was one of the simpler processes that we have had to endure on this trip. As we did our utmost to outrun the black storm clouds behind us, (and failed miserably, becoming absolutely drenched) John called up the Canadian coast guard, told them that we were coming into Thessalon, Ontario, and gave them our passport information. Aside from their brief, albeit intense curiosity in the precise number of beers in our ice box, they did not seem overly invested in the customs process. I say this because, apart from that phone call and one very large and imposing sign that marked Thessalon as a Canadian Customs location, we did not see a single indication that any customs bureau or indeed officer had ever been in, or was aware of the existence of Thessalon. Given the stories that I’ve heard about crossing the border into Canada by car, and the draconian strip-searches that by all accounts occur regularly, I walked around all day in semi-discomfort, expecting at any moment to be dragged down to the boat by an irate customs official, hell bent on verifying the exact quantity of beer cans in our possession, and become incensed that we had underestimated our total by four.
Me fears were, thankfully, groundless, and as we looked forward to the evening, Pieter and I decided to check out what the bars look like in Thessalon. As we stared at the imposing “closed” sign on the door of the bar, we felt a vague sense of confusion. How could the only bar in town be closed at 10pm on a Saturday night? A helpful passer-by informed us that the bar is open only when the owners feel so inclined. Examining their posted hours was therefore entirely unhelpful, as they choose to ignore them and close on a whim. We started back to the marina, feeling vaguely dejected, with little conception of the 180 degree shift that our night would soon take. As we neared it, we happened to pass a house, filled with lights, with people spilling out from inside onto the porch. We walked up to ask what there was to do in this town, which they helpfully informed us was “not much”, but invited us inside. After picking up John and Ellen, we happily complied and walked into one of the wilder parties that I have seen. We left the next day at 4pm, the incredibly friendly dockmaster having informed us that we could leave whenever we pleased, and after a day of hanging out with some of our friends from the night before. We’d all like to send a huge thank you to the kids in Thessalon, Ontario, who welcomed us so warmly and showed us such a great time.
Our next few days were spent in idyllic relaxation, travelling a few miles from one island to the next, swimming in the morning, and pressing on only when embarrassment compelled us to, feeling that 2pm was, really, a bit late to be getting our day started. In fact, the only complaint that we could really make was of the wind at night. In the anchorage on East Grant Island, our first night out of Thessalon, we were perfectly protected from the southeastern wind that escorted us in there, but not, unfortunately, from the northwestern wind that kicked up around midnight. I would complain about being forced to remain on watch for a couple hours that night, but John kindly woke me up 20 minutes before my shift to inform me that the Northern Lights were in the sky. I came out on deck to find beautiful green lights dancing in the northern sky. The clouds obscured much of them, so the colors were not as vivid as they apparently sometimes are, but John managed to take a couple of great pictures, and I sat entranced, staring at the northern sky until the lights began to fade towards the end of my shift. They did not, however, wake up Ellen and Pieter, which Ellen was quite upset about the next morning. The next night on Sanford Island, which protected us nicely from our northwestern wind, but left us rather exposed when the wind started blowing from the southeast that night, I watched a rather more terrifying beauty as the skies north of us lit up with cast quantities of lightning strikes for the majority of my 2.5-hour shift. I was sent off to bed with a vision of the northeastern sky, which reminded me strongly of Mordor, given the red-infused black sky, with lighting strikes coming down intermittently, and a tall tower, angrily blinking red against the black background. Beautiful, but not precisely settling.
We were fortunate the following night on John Island in a beautiful little cove on the southeastern side of the island. The night was cloudy, but calm, and we awoke to an idyllic vision of the rock strewn cove, and cute little sand beach, bathed in sunlight. After a much needed swim to the island and back, broken up by a solid hour of playing in the sand on the beach, we returned to the boat to decide our ideal course of action. We eventually all agreed to take 3 days to cover the distance from John Island to Little Current. It is a distance that should really only require two days to complete, but we felt compelled to take our time and really soak in the beauty of the channel, rather than rushing through it. We pulled into Eagle Island that night, another Island that perfectly protected us from every direction except the northeast. If you’ve made it to this point in the post, you can probably guess what direction the wind ended up blowing from that night, tearing in 180 degrees from its daytime direction, and forcing me to spend two hours on deck, reading John’s Henry Kissinger book to stay awake, and periodically using the handheld compass to take bearings on the other boats in the anchorage to ensure that we didn’t move. We didn’t, and as everyone woke up that morning, we began to prepare for our quick trip down to Clapperton Island, the stop before Little Current.
And it is here that our story takes a turn for the horrifying. Those who easily suffer indigestion would do well to steer clear of the following section. Before we left, I decided that I needed to use the head. I unfortunately found it full of “water”(it was definitely poop water) and unfortunately had to pump it out before using it. It only emptied halfway before bubbling back up on me, and being the intelligent, educated young man that I am, the only thing that I could think of to rectify that situation was to continue pumping it perhaps 20 times. Eventually, John suggested that the system might be over-pressurized, and that “someone” should open the pump out cap on deck to let off the pressure. “Someone” turned out to be me, and I blithely walked up on deck, completely ignorant of the horror that was about to unfold. I began to gain an inkling when I cracked the cap (at first incredibly difficult to turn), and a bit of “water” dribbled out onto the deck, figuring that I had no choice but to keep going, I turned it again, and more of that unpleasant substance spurted out. I waited for the flow to stop before, assuming that all the pressure had been released from the system, turned it again. I had front-row seats to the show as built-up pressure shot the cap out of its lodging, and erupted a geyser of “water”, disturbingly reminiscent of Old Faithful that sprayed the deck, rigging, my hands, and the shins of my favorite pajama pants, and sent the crew of Reaching South (until this point supportively watching from the cabin) scrambling to deck for fresh air.
Needless to say, our plans shifted somewhat in response to this unexpected development. We turned our boat directly for Little Current and got ourselves moving as fast as we could possibly go, while simultaneously undertaking the most thorough and enthusiastic deck-swabbing since Britain’s navy ruled the seas. We finally arrived in Little Current that afternoon, all gratefully running for the bathroom when we did. We looked forward to a couple days of relaxation, exploring the town and meeting the people, but what we found in Little Current was ever so much more than we could have possibly predicted.