Bayfield Inlet 1

Story and photos by Jennifer Harker

Bayfield Inlet sees travellers of all shapes and sizes

It is a stunningly surreal morning.

Wispy threads of morning mist rise slowly skyward off the unwavering water revealing a glassy expanse under sparkling sunlit skies. The smooth,still surface creates a canvas reflecting the surrounding landscape, mirroring every twisted tree and carved rock in an unnerving, almost hallucinatory manner.

Welcome to another simply glorious day at Bayfield Inlet on Georgian Bay.

Despite the tales of the “summer that wasn’t” due to cool and wet weather in 2017, we have been blessed with exceptional days to explore this often over-looked area of the 30,000 Islands. I stopped counting the cloudless days and blazing sunsets experienced in this hidden treasure. How many times at home do we not even notice the colourful sky that announces the coming darkness? On a boat you don’t just notice the sky; you have the time to fully enjoy it, revelling in the kaleidoscope of colour.

For most travellers, the scattering of islands and challenging channels from Hangdog to Charles Inlet serve merely as a diversion on their tripup and down the bay, or becomea necessary haven from wild westerly winds.

Gibraltar Island offers some protection and anchoring possibilities, as do many of the inlets and secluded bays, although many are dotted with cottages. While much of the land is undeveloped, watch for posted signs marking private property. As elsewhere, a little respect for personal property goes a long way to ensuring everyone can enjoy the water. During our summer travels,we found many cottages were not heavily used so there is room for anchoring in the vicinity without imposing on anyone’s personal space.
Bayfield Inlet 2

Immerse yourself in a paddlers’ paradise, whether you explore the back bays of Bayfield Inlet or venture along the Naiscoot River

Luckily for us, Bayfield Inlet has become a go-to destination thanks to a boat-savvy friend whose cottage dock has been supplemented by a mooring ball.

Although amazing anchorages abound on Georgian Bay, boaters can sometimes be guilty of becoming stuck in a rut. Proximity, convenience, navigational comfort-level, fuel efficiency – the reasons to repeatedly return to a familiar location are many; however, with such a rich resourceripe for discovering new destinations,maybe it’s time to venture a little further afield.

Several seasons ago I first glimpsed Bayfield Inlet’s raw beauty while stopping for a refreshing swim one scorching day. In a funny twist of fate, friends purchased a cottage here and we’ve been fortunate to return a number of times in the past two years.

Bayfield Inlet 3A kaleidoscope of colour created by spectacular sunsets is a hallmark of Georgian Bay boating

Entering from the south definitely tests your navigational skills, and if you have not taken the time to update your charts recently (paper and electronic) be sure to do so before venturing through Hangdog Channel. Chart 2203 between Pointe au Baril and Byng Inlet has several new sections. Fluctuating water levels mean new routes and new markers along the small craft route. As always, unforgiving granite is everywhere so being properly prepared is essential.

Venturing off the main channel takes a watchful pair of eyes– several pairs are better! – and a slow pace. Know exactly where you are as it is easy to become disoriented in the awesome maze of back bays, meandering channels, and rocky islands.

And that is part of the amazing attraction of boating in the freshwater goldmine that is Georgian Bay. There isa something for every style of boater. For those looking for social interaction, you can find a multitude of easy-to-reach, but perhaps overcrowded, popular places;for those who seek solitude, there are hundreds of hideaways off the beaten path that require some ingenuity to reach,but richly reward you for your troubles.

We watched a 38-foot flybridge wind its way through a channel we’d only seen fishing and cottage boats buzz through. It can be done, but rest assured seasoned boaters are unlikely to share their secret spot with you. No matter, discover your own and revel in its rewards.

Like other once-isolated pristine places on Georgian Bay’s eastern shoreline, avid anglers were attracted to the diverse and healthy fishing in Bayfield Inlet and beyond. American anglers from Ohio, western Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and beyond were regular visitors to provisioning places like Hangdog Camp and Brint’s Fish Camp that peppered the inlets here.

The monster pike that glided silently and tantalizingly close to our boat in the upper reaches of Charles Inlet (alas no fishing rods on board that day) proves that while perhaps not as plentiful as in the past, there are still healthy fish populations here.

Our quiet, radio-free existence is rewarded with wildlife sightings throughout our stay in the Inlet. We are treated to plenty of furred and feathered visitors in our travels this season. Nesting loons, daily visits from a frolicking mink family, fluffy rabbits, mergansers, snakes, a majestic deer who emerged out of the forest fringe on Gibraltar Island, and several sightings of Ontario’s only lizard: the skittish, bright blue, five-link skink. We also spotted a brightly coloured flicker checking out the pools of water left after an overnight seiche kicked up by high winds had receded, leaving a smorgasbord of tasty treats behind in its wake.

It is fascinating to observe the never-ending cycle of nature with a constantly changing shoreline. The green bays of low water two years ago have been replaced by rusty red trees drowned by the season’s higher water levels.

At home, endless chores and addictive technology claim our attention. On the water, an evening’s entertainment consists of watching the terns soar, wings outstretched, before homing in on dinner, tucking their wings back and dive bombing their prey, reeling away with a tasty morsel.

So, what else can boaters do with their time here?

One day we took the canoe and stand up paddleboard and disappeared into the alluring collection of channels, rocky outcrops, and islands. We checked out some Bayfield Inlet 4cottages for sale. While delightful, we have yet to see something to convince us to trade in our ‘moving cottage’ for a permanent place, and the hefty price tag helps assure us boating is still the way to go.

Bringing out the best: Abundant blueberries meansome delicious meals like One Pot Boater’s Blueberry Chicken

The higher water levels are a double-edged sword for paddlers as well as cruisers. Many channels that were previously impassable are now open for exploration, but more water also hides rocks that were easy to spot with lower levels. A kayak, canoe, and SUP are fine, but if you’re using your dinghy, watch the prop as you explore and be ready to tilt up the outboard at a moment’s notice.

Another day we took the small boat and venturedout through Hangdog Channel to Pointe au Baril lighthouse. The bay showed us another face that day as the water was flat calm, rounding the marks that usually bob and weave in the waves. In the unusually still water it is easy to pick out the deadly shoals hiding beneath the surface that challenge mariners heading this way.

We’ve visited the lighthouse before, but it’s always worth a repeat visit when entertaining guests to provide them with an intriguing glimpse into the way life on the bay was once lived by dedicated lightkeepers.

Afterwards we weave our way back through winding slashes that appear in the rocky landscape to explore Nares Inlet, which offers some anchoring possibilities in its sheltered waters.

Bayfield Inlet 5Photographs and painters will find palette pleasing landscapes abound in Bayfield Inlet

Then we head out again,stopping at several bare rock islands on the outside for photographs. When the wind blows hard, waves wash completely over many of these outliers. At night, you can hear the crashing sound well inside the protected bays and we’ve been lulled to sleep by the odd roaring sound, thinking it sounds much like heavy highway traffic.

After hours of exploration miles from our home-base, we shift into reverse to make the final approach to the dock, and suddenly the outboard refuses to drop back into forward gear. We marvel that luck landed us at the dock and not stranded far away.

A quick call to nearby Thomson’s Marina brings out friendly and helpful Corey. On-site repairs were impossible so he towed us in and provided a rental. Thomson’s Marina is your go-to spot in the area for fuel and offers a few transient slips if you prefer the comfort of tying to a dock rather than anchoring out in the Inlet. While the marina itself doesn’t offer groceries, there is a small supply store nearby to satisfy your craving for ice cream or to replace some necessary items on board.

When travelling the northern stretches of Georgian Bay, plan accordingly and be sure of your fuel as there are few amenities outside of communities like Pointe au Baril Station, Britt, and Byng Inlet.

The positive trade-off of course is that means less development and more secluded spots than the busy southern stretches of the bay.

Another delightful day dawns. This time we head out through Alexander Passage to the north of Bayfield Inlet, zipping past many more channels ripe for exploring before making the turn into Charles Inlet. We head up the Naiscoot River and this season’s higher water means it’s possible to go much further in this popular paddlingparadise. We pass several kayaks and canoes full of happy explorers.

There are a couple of small nooks in the rock here, suitable for one boat if the weather is fine. Back at the mouth of the inlet we sidle up to the low rocks and find several secure spots to tie up the boat before frolicking over these ‘painted rocks.’

It’s an undulating canvas of colour stretching away before us. Photographers have a plethora of vistas, intriguing rock patterns, flora, and minutia to fill the lens. Area cottagers arrive for picnics, swimming, and dog-walking as the flat land stretches further up the shore.

As we walk along the long stripes and skip over water-filled crevices pausing for pictures, I crouch over the warm surfaces. Here, as in many other places, I feel as if I Bayfield Inlet 6am running my fingers over the face of Canada. We discuss how few Canadians have the means or opportunity to visit these special places and count ourselves very fortunate.

Mirror, mirror: Calm, quiet mornings are a welcome retreat from hectic home life

Back onshore it is blueberry time. Wet weather seems to havebrought out a crop of bountiful blueberries. Filling bowl after bowl of the flavourful blue treats provides a nice diversion from the bagful of books I have been rapidly reading while lounging by the water. We devour them by the handful, savour salads livened up with blueberries, cover our morning pancakes, and even adapt a family favourite recipe to an easy version of blueberry chicken (see recipe below).

Our time on the water winds down and raising a glass to another splendid sunset, we vow to return again, but also set our sights on new Georgian Bay destinations when we can slip the bounds of shore life and again make our way to the bay.

One Pot Boater’s Blueberry Chicken
4 chicken breasts
1large onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon of olive oil
Pepper and salt
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary (if your galley has it, if not, leave it out)

Heat one tablespoon of oil in pot.
Sprinkle chicken with black pepper (I usually use half a teaspoon or more) anda dash of salt.
Brown both sides (two minutes per side) and then remove chicken from pot.
Add second tablespoon of oil and gently sauté onion until soft, about five minutes.
Add blueberries and cook for two minutes.
Add balsamic vinegar and maple syrup (and rosemary if using) to pot and simmer for seven to ten minutes until blueberries break down.
Return chicken to pot and simmer until done.

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