If You Go
If time and money constrain you, it's
splendid to have a cruising ground so near, yet foreign and different,
and still so varied and downright challenging. The northern arc
stretches along the northernmost portion of Lake Superior along the
Canadian side from the Sibley Peninsula, near the mouth of Thunder Bay,
eastward to the scenic Slate Islands. But it's certainly remote: You'll
need to depend exclusively upon your own resources. If something breaks
or if you run low on fuel or supplies, there are few handy marinas to
Cruising highlights: Entering
the northern arc from the west, your first stopover is the sleepy
little hamlet of Silver Islet, which lies in the shadow of Sleeping
Giant Mountain, on the Sibley Peninsula. Up on shore is a refurbished
general store and, beyond, rusting mining machinery. The docks are
scoured and worn from ages of ice, but you can fix yourself a camel--a
stout board lowered alongside the hull to put your fenders against--as
I did to protect my hull. Watch out for winds from the east, when you
can encounter long, high rollers coming right through the breakwaters
to thump your boat against the dock.
Shoving off from Silver Islet and heading east, you'll enter an
archipelago of islands rising majestically out of blue waters. A
fitting ending to a day's sail is beautiful Loon Harbor. There's a good
This is historic wilderness country. The islands, often carpeted high
with firs, are about as untouched as when the voyageurs made their way
across the northern arc centuries ago. Incredibly enough, the first
European, Etienne Brule, paddled his way westward across Superior in
1620. Glance northward to the rugged Ontario shoreline; some bluffs
soar a thousand feet high.
Heading eastward again, there are many little islets and harbors to
choose from. Here you can easily spend days settling down to enjoy the
clear waters and the fresh air. Don't look for many of these little
anchorages on Canadian charts, however; they're too small. To find
them, you need a cruising guide that shows wilderness anchorages and
GPS waypoints to get into them.
A favorite harbor is CPR Slip. Here I found a few other wilderness cruisers.
Old Rossport, with its beautiful harbor, is worth a visit and gives you
a chance to catch up on civilization. Though the town is tiny, it has
several really fine restaurants, including the Rossport Inn, run by my
friend, Ned Basher. At Rossport, you can tie up to a good municipal
dock and replenish your gas and even take a shower (for a price).
Shoving off from Rossport, you can head out to the Slate Islands. These
were formed millions of years ago by meteorites striking the Earth;
from afar, they rise up like something out of the movie South Pacific. There are several good harbors inside the Slates where you can spend some pleasant nights.
Clearing into Canada: For U.S.
sailors, it's useful to apply to Canadian customs in advance for a
Canpass to go cruising. This permit allows you to enter Canadian waters
without first docking at an official port of entry, such as Sault Ste.
Marie or Thunder Bay.
Getting there: From the eastern
Great Lakes, cruisers can enter Superior through the Sault Ste. Marie
locks and set sail westward. Bring long lines to handle the boat as the
water level changes. Boats on other areas of Superior can simply sail
over if they have a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit or a Canpass.
Smaller boats can be trailered up and launched at several different
locations, including Grand Portage, Minnesota. However, not all
sailboats can navigate this rock-strewn harbor, particularly from the
western side, which has limited draft channels. From the well-equipped
Prince Albert Marina in Thunder Bay you can head southward on Thunder
Bay, then voyage eastward past the Sibley Peninsula and Sleeping Giant
Mountain. Rossport, Ontario, is a sleepy little fishing village nestled
beside one of the mainland's most beautiful harbors. From there you can
head out Schreiber Channel to the Slate Islands. You can then work your
way westward, ending up at Thunder Bay.
Bring warm gear: On July 4, in
Grand Portage harbor, I was wearing heavy longjohns, wool socks, and
fleece. I could see my breath inside the boat's cabin. Be prepared for
chilly, foggy weather, with nights getting down into the 40s F. You'll
also need good foul-weather gear. Some sailors wear yellow ski goggles
to help their vision in the fog.
The water you're sailing in is always cold--around 46 F at the surface,
and just a few degrees above freezing at the thermocline. But you can
also expect picture-postcard days with bright sun and fleecy clouds in
bright blue skies.
Weather forecasts: More than one
Canadian sailor will advise you that "if you listen to the Canadian
weather service, it'll scare you to death--and you'll never go
Navigation: A handheld GPS is
especially useful since you'll want to keep it close when you encounter
fog or bad weather. Compasses are essential, but some islands are
magnetic and can throw you off as much as 20 degrees. I mostly used my
GPS, with the compass as a backup. A depth sounder is useful, also, for
finding your way through rock-strewn areas before your built-in depth
sounder--your keel--is called into play. Radar becomes valuable when
you get caught out in cotton-wool fog.
Other hints: To obtain a Canpass, contact Immigration (221 Archibald St. N., Thunder Bay, Ontario P7C 343; 807-964-2095).
To file a sail plan either before or as you depart, call the Thunder
Bay Coast Guard by telephone (807-345-4618) or on your boat's VHF. That
office will take down information about you, your boat, and your
passengers as well as ask you specific sail-plan questions. You should
have determined in advance both your destination and your ETA. You
should file a sail plan daily.
Superior books: Bonnie Dahl's Superior Way
($40; 3rd edition) is the preferred cruising guide and has detailed
drawings of various island harbors as well as GPS waypoints. The
author, a former schoolteacher, is a devoted Superior cruiser, and her
book shows the way into many little harbors not shown in official
Canadian charts. She also provides a number of useful harbor drawings
and GPS waypoints, not to mention the locations of some of the rocks
and routes around most of them. It may be ordered from a marine
bookseller, from an Internet bookseller, or directly from the
publisher, Lake Superior Port Cities Inc. (888-244-5253).
To read about a day-by-day account of a voyage through the proposed NMCA, read my book, Wake of the Green Storm
($14; Marlor Press), or visit my website (www.marlinbree. com). An
autographed copy of the book is available by calling (651) 484-4600.
Useful websites: For information
on the proposed Lake Superior National Marine Conservation area and
color photography of the northern arc, go to www.parkscanada.gc.ca and
follow the prompts.
For an on-line guide to the northern-arc marinas, check out Superior
Boating (www.lakesuperiorboating.com). This website shows dock
facilities in major areas, such as the Silver Islet government docks
and Rossport, and tells what services are available at the docks and in
the nearby towns. It doesn't show the archipelagoes or anchorages, but
it's a very helpful guide to specific communities, harbors, and marinas
along the route.
A color brochure as well as a 28-page marina guide is also available
from the North of Superior Travel Association (800-265-3951).
The Canadian Coast Guard's Office of Boating Safety national website
(www.tc.gc.ca/BoatingSafety/menu.htm) contains information pertinent to
foreign pleasure-craft operators visiting Canadian waters.
The website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada
(www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/rabc.html) features information on the
CANPASS program for American sailors entering into Canada.