cetus.jpgWith the paddling season in high gear, it’s been hard to find a few moments to sit down at the computer to write about what’s been going on here in the Great Lakes. In late May, Nick Poelking, Larry Fordyce and I guided a group of 14 high school students and two teachers on an 5-day backcountry trip to the Mink and McCoy Islands in Georgian Bay, Ontario. The area we were paddling in is called the 30,000 Islands region, and the name isn’t hyperbolic. Cold, clear water, windswept pink granite islands, lonesome pines, and good company all combined to make this a memorable trip. It also gave me a chance to put the new Cetus to the test on a multi-day trip.

DAY 1: SNUG HARBOR TO LAKE IMRE. We met our group at Snug Harbor, a tiny little spot that is home to a few seasonal cottages and a small marina and restaurant. Nick and I drove through the night (and about 250 miles out of our way!) in order to swing through Detroit to meet up with Kelly Blades and pick up my new Cetus. We pulled in at 4:30am and were able to get about 45 minutes of sleep before the minibus full of bright eyed and anxious paddlers were ready to get fitted. It’s amazing what a great stimulant taking a trip is…nothing like it to make you forget you’re operating on less than an hours rest! Cosmos gradually emerged from chaos as we helped our group pack their sea kayaks. Franklin Island -- Georgian BayI was amazed at the load carrying capacity of the Cetus…it’s got ample room for personal and group gear, with a surprising amount of space behind the skeg box. Best of all, the boat handled quite well, even with a full load. After a quick breakfast at Gilley’s Restaurant, we explored the eastern edge of Franklin Island and paddled up the coast about 9 miles until we found a good spot to bivy on the mainland near Lake Imre.

Staying warm...DAY 2: WIND DAY ON LAKE IMRE. It’s not uncommon to get a lot of wind on GB, so it’s always wise to plan a few extra days in the itinerary. We’d had a wet evening, but high pressure was moving in, bringing along quite a bit of sunshine and a steady 20knots wind. We moved our bivy out of the wind, stayed warm, threw the frisbee around a bit, and did some day paddling along the coast.

DAY 3: BIG McCOY ISLAND. On Monday, we were able make a short crossing to Big McCoy Island, our shortest paddle of the trip (under 5 miles), but one of the most scenic. Boats and gear on Big McCoy Island...The McCoys are a series of big round boulders, smoothed out and dropped in place by glaciers, and unlike any place I’ve been before. We found a great landing spot for our 18 boats on Big McCoy, and there was plenty of room for tents and gear…not a lot of protection from weather, but the forecast was looking good. After lunch we did a circum-ambulation of the island, which gave us a chance to see quite a bit of wildlife, including some extremely active and entertaining beaver and a rather sizable Eastern Fox Snake. An Eastern Fox snake on Big McCoy The geology of the island was really striking, with distinct veins of granite, quartz, and mica. It warmed up enough to allow for a quick swim in the 45-F (7 celsius) water. After dinner, a few of us took a night paddle in the maze of islands and shoals. It was an easy place to get lost while gazing up at the stars and we definitely found ourselves taking the long way back…

DAY 4: THE MINKS, RED ROCK LIGHT, and FRANKLIN ISLAND. imgp1076.JPGOn Tuesday morning, rather than paddling as a large group, we divided up into three groups of 6, each with a guide and left at staggered intervals. We had done a quick navigation class the day before, and each group plotted their own course through the island chain and was responsible for all the on-water navigation decisions, with the guides only intervening when need be. Smaller groups definitely move faster and having the students actively engaged in the trip worked out really well…they were ones pushing us to finish our breakfast, pack, and get moving in the morning! This was our longest Red Rock Lighthousepaddle of the trip…we had a 9 mile paddle down the chain of islands, where the groups met up before undertaking a 2.5 mile open water crossing to get back to Franklin Island. One of the highlights was a short 1 mile detour out to Red Rock Lighthouse, a 60-ft tall light built onto a huge red granite boulder marking the southern end of the Mink and McCoy Island chain. The crossing back to Franklin went smoothly, with only small 1 foot seas to contend with, and our group arrived ready for a hot dinner on Franklin. As usual, the last night of the trip was something of a celebration…lots of leftovers to eat, stories to share, and planning already underway for the next time…

DAY 5: BACK TO SNUG HARBOR. Because we’d only used up one wind day, we had a very short return paddle, which made for a leisurely morning paddle back. On the way back, I came across a Gardner snake swimming pretty far off shore. I gave him a boost onto my front hatch and, with some difficulty, gave him a ride back to the coast. Like the rest of us, he arrived safely, wet and a bit tired, and ready for his next adventure.