A Georgian Bay Paddling Adventure

By Scott Parent, son of MNO staff member and citizen, Jo-Anne Parent, who works in the MNO office in Midland. Story was originally published at: http://markscriver.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/5-day-georgian-bay-sup-trip-report-by-scott-parent/

eorgian Bay Paddling AdventureScott Parent’s Paddleboard moored on an island in the Georgian Bay

On Aug 01, 2011, I departed on a 14’ coast runner stand up paddleboard (SUP) that I had named "Papanaatyhianoncoe", from Lion’s Head Harbour. I set out at 6:00 A.M. and paddled out to Gun Point. There, I spent an hour observing the weather, and open water conditions. The winds were strong, around 10 to 12 knots out of the northwest. Weather was in a stable period.

I set out from Gun Point sometime after 7:00 A.M., toward an east heading. Though it was east, my actual line of paddle calibrated as northeast power zigs and southeast paddle surf zags. Points along the Bruce Peninsula soon appeared as islands. I used the Isthmus Bay as a tail sight reference. Only Cape Croker and Griffith Island south of the Cape were visible by mid-afternoon. Cape Croker was almost out of view when Christian Island appeared far to the southeast. I paddled on a supportive swell over most of the distance. By late afternoon, Cape Croker had disappeared, and only the distant Christian Island was visible. I used the visible sight reference of Christian Island, with my memory of Cape Croker’s location, and triangulated where I thought the Westerns should be. The swell had augmented into choppy peak waves as strong north and west winds converged.

Sometime during early dusk, I reckoned the Westerns' lighthouse on Double Top Island, to the east. It would be a long while yet before I actually reached the Westerns. I suited up and secured my paddle with a line. Though the winds were high, weather was quite stable and the water temps were warm. At late dusk, the lighthouse beacon became visible. Over the next hour or so, multiple lighthouse and buoy lights along the eastern shore and southern islands came into view. A half hour of resting in the falling night, upon the "moshing" liquid bull, had rendered me a little south. I had adjusted my direction toward my beacon and paddled onward into a strong wind. (The Westerns' buoy had marked 17 knot gusts that night.) I fixed my sight on the beacon, counting as it disappeared in the black night behind the peaks and troughs of the dark water. Because the beacon only illuminates every 10 seconds, there would be many extended periods between sightings. As a heading I would choose a random star above the lighthouse, and change stars as the hours of the night passed.

After a long crossing, I was underneath the Westerns' lighthouse riding out the peaks and troughs. With my headlamp, I could see the granite boulders underwater. I knelt on the Papanaatyhianoncoe, in search of an exit site. I paddled into the fold between the two isles of Double Top, and threw my dry bags high on the main island. Then I jumped in the waves and escorted the board and paddle onto the island in a crash landing. As I was securing the board, the waves toyed with my belongings by swiping them back into the water. The next day I saw that the waves would have to climb four meters up the shore to reach my bags. I stopped my SPOT device (A "SPOT" connects a smartphone to a global satellite network that lets you send messages and GPS coordinates from virtually anywhere on the planet.) and checked my phone for reception. I found "ok" reception with a tower on the island. My arrival time was around 3:30 A.M. I explored the island under the charming haunt of the lighthouse beacon and a wealth of stars. The warm summer winds and high waves roared about me. After a while, I lay down to sleep.

A few hours later I awoke to calm weather and flat water. It would be another hot summer day. I swam at Double Top and paddled up the chain of the Western group. I explored a couple of the islands and paddled further northeast toward Frying Pan Island. This 15 km line had a supportive tail wind with calm water, and I arrived at the north end of Frying Pan around 4:30 P.M. I camped out my second night on the shore of Frying Pan, and ate all I could eat at Henry’s Fish Restaurant, having completed my crossing of Georgian Bay at Henry’s.

Over the next few days I paddled south from Frying Pan to Manitou. From Manitou, I paddled to the Gilford Rocks; to the Pine Island chain; across the Gull Rocks; and, south to the Giants Tomb. Then from the Giants Tomb, I paddled east over to Beckwith Island. Here I portaged across Beckwith, and continued paddling over to Christian. Then I continued south into the Nottawasaga where I completed my sojourn at Wasaga Beach that evening.

I paddled over the course of five days, unable to paddle day three, due to strong winds from the east carrying a persistent rain. I was paddling with a Werner bent shaft paddle. I highly recommend the use of this paddle on long distance runs, due to its light weight, and extended purchase on paddle strokes. I was using a SPOT tracking device that allowed friends to monitor my progress along the distances. I saw dolostone cliffs, expanses of inland freshwater sea in action, granite island groups and shallow passages, as well as pine stands upon pink islands surrounded by open water, long vegetated dune islands, and the world's longest fresh water beach. I swam, cliff jumped, fished, and dove, not to mention the capsizing, and graceless fin snags along the shallow shorelines of Wasaga. I experienced a wealth of weather intimately, and met interesting people, including family I had not previously known.

It was a phenomenal out-trip, one that will remain in my memory. I thank Tatiana Jasinsky and Birch Behmann for the SPOT and monitoring of my progress; Mischa Call for engineering a nautical light that we mounted on the board; Andy and Kilty Elliot for their support behind my endeavour, and for breaking the ice and opening the swimming season back home on the Bruce Peninsula; Mark Scriver for sourcing the board, and providing connections in the paddling community that would offer valuable beta pertaining to the crossing. I also thank the staff at White Squall in Parry Sound for their account of their group sea kayak crossing from Lion’s Head to Snug Harbour. In a way, the act of the crossing itself was propelled by a deep gratitude and appreciation for my immediate and greater family, for exposing me so intimately to Georgian Bay, and for having lived a remarkable history.

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