I headed out for the Canadian border from the little town of
Essex on Lake Champlain at noon on Monday with a growing sense
of excitement. I had read trip reports, checked the charts and
spent weeks getting my blue 2007 Windrider 17 Onward ready for
a week-long cruising adventure on the North Channel of Lake Huron.
I was expecting strong winds and tricky navigation, scattered
small islands and submerged rocks and a wild, natural beauty.
If Lake Huron is a hunched over old woman, the Channel is a sack
on her back 100 miles long west to east. The Channel is about
25 miles wide from our planned departure port of Spanish on the
mainland to Manitoulin Island in the south.
I rolled into the Spanish on Tuesday to find Joe Murphy setting
up his white Windrider 17 in the marina parking lot. Joe is tall,
incredibly friendly, and a consummate sailor who has grown to
know these boats over the years. I sailed with Joe in Florida
on a trip to the Marquesas Keys in 2009. I trusted extensive knowledge
of and his sound judgment as a sailor. We compared notes and took
our time setting up. Instead of paying the marina fee we deployed
our pop-up tents on our boats and slept in the parking lot.
I met Rick and his brother David for the first time. Rick has
a yellow WR 17 that he has extensively modified. One of the beauties
of these trimarans is that they provide a wide and stable footprint,
and thus invite an owner to modify and customize to the boat to
suit his vision and his needs. Out of the box WindRiders are day
sailors and are not set up for extended beach cruising, so each
boat needs to be modified to carry gear and deal with the extreme
conditions involved in adventure over open water. Rick had cruised
his boat extensively on the Great Lakes, had sailed on the North
Channel and acted as our guide for the trip. David has shared
some of these adventures with Rick and has extensive outdoor experience
hiking, canoeing and camping.
David and Rick at Kagawong on Manitoulin Island.
This is only my third season Windrider sailing. I have sailed
bigger trimarans on Lake Champlain for 25 years, including 27’
and 31’ Searunners, and most recently a Corsair F-27. I
choose the WR 17 because I wanted to get close to the wind and
waves like a sea kayaker, be able to run my boat up on the sand
like a beach cruiser and still sleep and cook aboard. In my WR
17 I can be out in big wind and waves and feel like I am crossing
the Atlantic. For me the smaller the boat, the bigger the sensation,
and, sometimes, the reality of adventure. I had checked out a
number of beach cruising monohulls, some of them beautiful and
capable boats, but I was unwilling to give up the exhilarating
bursts of speed that are possible in a well-designed trimaran.
At the best of times I feel like I am flying an old biplane from
my rear cockpit.
DAY ONE: By noon the next day the flotilla was
motoring southwest down the Spanish River into the teeth of a
building wind. Once clear of the channel we tacked between some
small islands and stuck our noses out into the green water of
the open North Channel with their 75 mile fetch. We had the choice
of sailing among the islands, which offer protection from the
waves, or heading south into the open water. We choose south,
skimming along the lee shore of the islands on a beam reach in
building waves. Joe took two waves in quick succession into his
cockpit, and as he reached between his legs to pump the water
out, felt the bilge pump blow. He scooted into a rocky cove. Using
Gorilla Glue, twine and duct tape he repaired the plastic clamp.
The sailing was exhilarating. When in the lee of the land in
the flat water the boats would fly. I hit 11.8 knots, and Joe
was sailing even faster than I was. The open water was even more
of a thrill, crashing thru the waves with spray flying. It was
the most exciting day of sailing ever for me. I loved the long,
uninterrupted beam reach. I think we sailed about 20 miles down
to Kagawong at the south end of Mudge Bay. We tucked in in the
lee of the shore, in shallow water open to the east, set up our
tents and turned in.
We pulled in to this small bay so Joe could
repair is bilge pump.