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Boating Georgian Bay in a Group & the Lessons Learned (Part 1)

Boating Georgian Bay
Photo- Rick Layzell

Meant 2 Be was granted a second opportunity to participate in one of Maple Leaf Marinas annual 'Rendezvous' event and after our incredible 2021 experience we were thrilled to be invited once again. We chose their second event which would depart Beausoleil Island on Saturday, July 23rd, meaning we would have yet another opportunity to navigate Meant 2 Be through four locks on the Trent Severn Waterway.

The announced schedule (with our additions to get to Georgian Bay) was as follows:

  • Friday July 22 Lake Simcoe to Wye Heritage Marina (just Meant 2 Be)

  • Saturday July 23 Wye Heritage to Port Rawson (anchorage)

  • Sunday July 24 Port Rawson to Big Sound Marina (Parry Sound)

  • Monday July 25 Big Sound to Bustard Islands (anchorage for 2 nights)

  • Wednesday July 27 Bustards to Killarney (for 2 nights)

  • Friday July 29 Killarney to Port Rawson (anchorage for 2 nights)

  • Sunday July 31 Port Rawson to Port Severn (just Meant 2 Be)

  • Monday August 1 Port Severn to Lake Simcoe (just Meant 2 Be)

On paper, this schedule looked and felt like an amazing adventure filled with a mix of anchorage nights, rafting ‘on the hook,’ and nights in marinas. As always there were many lessons to be learned.

The Trent experienced a series of unique challenges in 2022, and specifically the Big Chute Marine Railway was impacted by the global staffing shortage that affected so many businesses. Essentially, the Chute found themselves down to only one operator capable of moving larger boats. We actively monitored several social media groups, kept ourselves above the fray of the complainers, and focused on finding solutions to the issue at hand – how would Meant 2 Be make it over the Chute? Once we weaved our way through the speculations of many and focused on the facts, we learned that there would be ongoing restrictions while they trained new staff on safely moving larger boats. I admittedly smiled broadly when we learned that large boats meant boats with a beam wider than 11’ 5”. Meant 2 Be has a beam of exactly 11’ 5”, so we were good to go.

Lesson #1 – Stay ‘above the fray’ focus on facts, not speculation. Ask questions and respect the decisions.

Lesson #2 - There is proper etiquette to be exercised in the locks – go to the blue wall if you are ‘locking through’ and pull your boat forward to make space for others.

We departed our Lake Simcoe home port by 9 AM on Friday, July 22nd, traversed Locks 42 through 45 in good time and found ourselves safely at Wye Heritage Marina by 4 p.m. Carly is the Lockmaster at Lock 42, and not only is she the youngest woman to ever be in this role she has a terrific personality and excellent lock management skills. Lock 43 is Swift Rapids and is the deepest lock chamber on the system. Lock 44 is the one and only (in the world!) Big Chute Marine Railway, and Lock 45 is the final lock in the system before you venture out and onto Georgian Bay.

Lesson #3 – The red/green marker buoys switch as you exit Lock 45. Pay attention or you’ll quickly find yourself in trouble. We had learned about this changeover in 2021 and this year I was able to acquire a dashboard marker indicator – a great quick visual reminder to keep you on your toes.

Day 2 began with calm winds and we eased out of Wye Heritage Marina to meet up with over 30 boats at marker M14 on the southwest corner of Beausoleil Island. We had all been advised that our trip Captains (Mike McKeown & Jerry Haggerty who have over 50 years of Georgian Bay boating experience) would communicate over channel 72 on our VHF radios. Day 2 featured lots of excited chatter as we safely headed north through picturesque parts of cottage country and seemingly endless anchorage options before making our way east and into Port Rawson. This first day would prove to be one of our best with calm flat waters wrapped in loads of sunshine.

Lesson #4 – Our captains repeatedly urged us to monitor our boat wakes to ensure minimal shoreline disturbance for cottagers and we were mindful and respectful every time we were sharing the water with sailboats or smaller craft that could be negatively impacted by the wake of over 30 large boats. All boat captains are responsible for their own wake at all times.

Big Chute Marine Railway
High atop the Big Chute Marine Railway

Our hosts had advised that there would be an onshore potluck dinner and this was a great way to start building new and reacquainting old friendships. We were advised to be ready for a next day 1 p.m. departure and I am certain we were all quietly monitoring the strong wind warnings that were forecasted for the next several days.

Day 3 saw the group depart the calm waters of our Port Rawson anchorage for the trip into Big Sound Marina in Parry Sound. With the storm building momentum, Mike & Jerry made an early call that we would try to outrun the worst of it and our originally scheduled 1 p.m. departure was pulled forward to 10 a.m.

The mix of 30+ Rendezvous boats included ‘fast boats’ like ours that are capable of travelling at 25 knots, along with ‘slower boats’ that need to cruise along at 7–10 knots to maximize fuel efficiency. Both types of boats are great and unique but a group like this needs to split the fast boats from the slow boats – our 32’ Regal will poke along at 7–10 knots but our fuel efficiency is horrific. A few of the experienced slow boat captains chose to take the inside passage into Parry Sound which relies on the timely opening of the often unreliable Wasauksing bridge. On this day they lucked out and made it safely through in a timely manner.

The remaining group would go on the outside of Parry Island. The ‘conga line’ of 20+ boats took about an hour to exit Port Rawson and we slowly eased past Henry’s Restaurant in San Souci with the water starting to get ‘busy.' As we rounded the corner to the Waubuno Channel, we had all been repeatedly advised to safely and securely stow everything that was loose down below as we were headed into some big open water. My First Mate, as always, did a fantastic job of getting us prepared. I did my best to mentally prepare for the big water and pounding waves that were ahead of us.

Lesson #5 – When told to stow your belongings safely and securely – do it. There were several tales of broken items after we exited the big water on Day 3.

Lesson #6 – Plan for change. Have Plan A ready but be prepared for the very real possibility of change. See below for more changes.

The original plan was one night at Big Sound but the storm was relentless and the winds continued to build. Our planned Margarita night in the Bustard Islands became an on-shore event as the crew at Big Sound accommodated us for a second night while we waited out the storm. Day 4 was spent building boating friendships and touring around Parry Sound.

We departed Parry Sound at 9 a.m. on Day 5 for the trip out to the Bustard Islands. Along with a handful of others we set out to Killbear Marina to top up our fuel tanks and pump out our holding tanks. The process entering a marina is simple with most marinas actively monitoring VHF channel 68 to streamline incoming traffic demands. We called in to Killbear and immediately found the microphone sticking on our VHF just as it had done the previous year.

Lesson #7 – Check your equipment – everything – before you go. Change your engine oil, have spare impellers, 100’ of stern line on board etc. We exited the fuel dock at Killbear with a brand-new handheld VHF radio on board. If only I had attempted to repair the known sticky microphone issue before setting out on the trip…I will add this repair to my winter projects list.

Captain Mike was once again cautioning us of strong winds and big waves in the open water. The run up the inside channel into the south entrance of Pointe au Baril was calm and uneventful…foreshadowing what was ahead of us. We exited into the open water for the 2 ½ hour trip across to the Bustards to find ourselves facing 4’ waves. The conga line immediately spread out to create space and minimize impacts of boat wake and there were constant check ins from our captains to ensure we were safe. These couple of hours were filled with new experiences as I learned the critical importance of monitoring the waves from all directions and doing my best to anticipate and prepare for their impacts – admittedly I was relieved once we rounded the north western edge of the Bustards and entered calmer waters.

Lesson #8 – Patience. I think most of us were a bit weary as we entered the Bustard Islands and we were anxious to settle in. Our captain (now down to one after a power steering pump failure on Jerry’s boat at Killbear) advised that he would go in first, get his bow anchor secured and stern lines tied at which time he would begin calling in the other boats – one by one. All we had to do was sit in the now calm waters and wait until we were called. Seemed simple enough. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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