After saying goodbye to Tiit in Killarney I solo paddled the Margaret Riocea (the 17ft Swift Prospector from Algonquin Outfitters) towards Manitoulin Island. The boat was symmetrical so I was able to sit on the bow seat and face the stern in order to be more centrally located for handling the boat.
I hadn’t been paddling an hour before I found myself feeling the full force of a strong south wind blowing up through Georgian Bay. I was heading west so it didn’t seem too bad. I only had a couple of km’s to cross and then I would be sheltered from it. I soon found myself exposed to what seemed like much larger 2 meter set waves that came rolling in with their tops getting blown over in my direction. The occasional wave looked like it was going to break directly over my uncovered canoe, so I would strongly maneuver head on into the wave and as it passed under me, over half of my boat became exposed to the wind and air at the top of the wave.
Smack!!! I would crash back down on the other side, thankful that the wind had not forced my canoe to do a back flip. The occasional motorboat would pass me by and ask if I was okay and I would give an uncomfortable thumbs up. About half way across I saw a boat coming towards me that I assumed was coming to check in on me but I soon realized it was not slowing down..uh ohhhh I thought. They’re drunk and don't see me!!! ahhhhh they swerved just before they were to shatter my canoe to pieces and smiled as if they had done it on purpose to scare me. Unfortunately their wake doubled up with a set wave and created the sketchiest waters I had experienced yet. Thankfully I made it out of there open side up and found the nearest land to breath and rest. The land was scattered with DANGER: Explosives! signs. I paddled on from the active mine and camped in a calm harbour ten km’s down the channel.
The next day started with a headwind that was going to be painful to paddle into all by myself. I paddled for a few km’s and went to shore with the thought to either set up camp or wait for the wind to die down. After an hour of relaxing it went glassy calm and I paddled towards Little Current. It turned into one of the calmest days on the water and I was happily paddling along listening to music. As I neared an old lighthouse some folks came to the shore and waved me in to offer me a cold drink. Next thing I knew I was welcomed to a delicious lunch with an amazing group of family and friends. I stayed the night and instantly felt like a part of the family. I wish I could have stayed longer but the weather was optimal for paddling on.
The following night I found myself at a permaculture farm on Manitoulin Island where I was greeted with hugs and freshly harvested organic delights. Thanks to couchsurfing.com and warmshowers.org I was able to find refuge with amazing compassionate folks when I toured by bicycle down the Pacific coast from Vancouver to San Diego a few years back. This is how I found the leader of the farm, Justin. When I told him what I was doing he suggested I use his recumbent hand cycle. A racing trike designed for paraplegic folks. I instantly said “Yes!” to his surprise. He had some work to do on it to make it rideable and I had some paddling to do still, so he said he would get it to Thunder Bay for me to ride in a few weeks. Awesome!
After a great three day rest on the farm with lovely warm hearted folks, hot saunas, potato harvesting, and cardamom coffee, I paddled on, unsuccessful in my attempts to convince someone to join me. I saw my first deer of the trip jump off an island and start swimming two km to shore. Inspiration. The forecast two days from then was not looking good. Strong winds from the west. I knew I couldn’t paddle the big canoe into the wind effectively by myself so I decided I would cover as much ground as I could while the weather was more favourable. I paddled straight into the night with thoughts of continuing until breakfast. After 17 hours of paddling clouds moved in and it got very dark. A light wind chop picked up and I started seeing monsters in the dark water around me.
Not knowing what the waves were doing around me scared me enough to make the decision to go to shore and get some rest at 1am. I slept uncomfortably on a rock without putting up my tent and woke up at first light four hours later to continue paddling. A light tail wind turned into a strong beam wind with some decent sized chop by the time I was nearing Blind River. I was still making decent time but the conditions were getting dicey enough that the thought of a good breakfast and a potential spot to stay made me turn in towards harbour. This turned out to be an excellent decision...