Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Georgian Bay - Franklin, Mink and McCoy Islands
(click on any picture to view full size)

When you discover a great place like Georgian Bay, the best thing you can do is to go back and that's exactly what we did!

This time, we chose the Mink-McCoy islands for a relaxing, self-guided, 6-day and 5-night outing. We've done 3-day trips by ourselves a number of times already. With our recent 6-day guided trip with Détour Nature earlier this summer (see earlier post), we felt ready to take on this new challenge.

Our planning started with our usual exhaustive Internet search followed by a valuable book "Guide to Sea Kayaking Lakes Huron, Erie & Ontario - The Best Day Trips and Tours" by Sara Ohmann and Bill Newman (ISBN #0-7627-0417-9). Route #6 in the book describes the Mink and McCoy Island Group in detail and provides useful suggestions.

Topping off our documentations was Chrismar's outstanding waterproof "Adventure Map - Sea Kayaking Guide - Franklin, Minks and McCoys" (ISBN #0-929140-76-1). It provides a great map on one side and tons of useful information on the back.

After a 6+ hour drive, we arrived in Dillon's Cove to load-up and put-in our kayaks at the municipal dock. We parked at Dillon's Cove Marina for $5/day. The parking next to the dock is reserved for residents of the Township of Carling. Given the time of day and windy conditions, our objective was to camp on King Island just North-West of Franklin Island. Equipped with my new Brunton 58 Kayak Compass, I was somewhat confident that I'd find the island easily.
Well, (insert your excuse here), we tried to find King Island but didn't waste too much time & effort. Instead we picked a small (unnamed?) island directly South of Polley Island (near buoy A42 on the Shebeshekon Channel). Our tent was somewhat exposed to the wind (as you can tell from the picture) but it offered us a great place to start our kayak-camping adventure. A nice sunset topped-off the first day on the bay.

Next morning we headed North past Morlock-Chilco-Essex-Fairhead-Burgon and Edge Islands before turning towards Twin Sister Island. From there we decided to head into the sheltered bay at the South of the Shawanaga Islands. Knowing that we'd have at least 2 miles of open-water in windy conditions, we rested up a bit in the bay before heading out to Big McCoy Island.

With the windy conditions over the past 24 hours, we selected a sheltered campsite on the South-East corner of Big McCoy Island. It was a rather large site (suitable for large groups) for one tent and our two kayaks but it suited us just fine. A small sheltered bay with very gradual sloping shore made it easy to bail out, unpack the kayaks and set-up camp for the 2nd night. A small fire pit with chairs constructed with flat rocks added to our comfort level.

We continue to be amazed by the plants and flowers that we've seen in Georgian Bay.

On this trip, we didn't see any bears or snakes on the island, only a few snakes in the water. However the picture below shows there was a least one relatively large snake that shedded some skin in our corner of Big McCoy Island. It may have been a venomous Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake or the non-venomous Easter Fox Snake.

My new portable weather station (ADC Summit) gave us advance warning of a storm on it's way. Sure enough, the rain came down hard and we were surrounded by lighting & thunder.

The next day we paddles South between Twin Pine and Archer Islands, past Birnie Island, across to Garland Island then behind Elmtree-Goodkey-Wallbank-Rapier Islands to get to Green Island, the last good camping spot before reaching what are mostly private islands in the chain of Mink Islands.

With the wind that day, we decided not to risk paddling over shores to the wreck of the Seattle (November 1903) West of Rapier-Green Islands.

Despite some shelter from the trees on Green Island, I still needed about 300 lbs of rocks and some extra rope to secure the tent and prevent it from collapsing.

We were treated to an absolutely fabulous sunset that night, below is one sample picture. I believe the trees that can be seen on the horizon are from the Limestone Islands Provincial Natural Reserve about 3 to 4 miles away.

We knew the next day would be a bit different. Most of the islands are private with cottages/homes. We also had the longest open-water crossing of our trip: about 4 miles from Stalker-Virtue-Castle-Old Tower Islands to Henrietta Point on Franklin Island. As we came up to Old Tower Island, my wife saw a lighthouse "just behind the island". I knew is was an optical illusion due to the small size of the island and the huge size of the lighthouse. In the first picture below, we're about 3/4 of a mile away from the lighthouse. In the second picture, you can see the size of the lighthouse relative to a 17ft kayak.

In the next picture, we're at Henrietta Point looking back at the Red Rock lighthouse which is 3 miles away.

By now we're getting tired of eating from our campsite cafeteria and we head out to Gilly's restaurant at nearby Snug Harbour for a fresh meal and cold drinks.

Unfortunately we had to leave the kayaks at the municipal dock which is our of sight from the restaurant. That meant we ordered our food for take-out and couldn't enjoy a cold beer in this charming restaurant. We headed back to Franklin Island as the sun was setting.

Since we hadn't been delayed by weather up to this point, we had time to head-up the West side to find our final camping spot instead of rushing-up the channel on the East side to drive home that day. We paddled by Lenice-Windsor-Gaspar-Speer Islands before pulling into Wrinkler Island. While we only found a few small & not quite level camping spots, it has a protected cove and a relatively high cliff that offers a great viewpoint of the bay and the now-famous sunsets.

We had an unexpected passenger on one of our kayaks on the final day who just wouldn't get off.

Our plan was to duck behind (East) of King and Dick Islands to reach buoy A37 on the channel, about 1 mile from Dillon's Cove. Instead, (insert another excuse here), it looks like we paddled in front (West) of King-Myrtle-Polley Islands and came out near buoy A42, more than 1 mile farther than planned...not a big deal but we could have done without the detour.

No matter what I say or what pictures I post on this blog, it won't do justice to the truly outstanding beauty of this area. I highly recommend this trip to any avid flat-water kayaker who doesn't mind being on open-waters for one to two hour stretch.

This trip and our previous trip near Killarney have turned Georgian Bay into our favorite destination. Our biggest challenge now is to decide which part of the bay to explore next time!

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Blogger Jean-Christian said...

From the date of the blog, it seems you trip was in late August? Is that correct?

3:46 PM  
Blogger Marc Charron said...

That's correct, it was somewhere around Aug 25 to 28. I'm ready to go back!!!

7:00 PM  
Blogger Jean-Christian said...

I am planning to go June 23rd; party of four (a double and two singles), for 3 to 4 days. Your itinerary was very inspiring; I hope the water temperature is good, so I don't have to wear my wetsuit!
i hope it isn't too crowded on McCoy.
I kayaked the Killarney/Bustard Islands return in 6 days several years ago and only came across two humans over the entire trip! Loved the 'Chicken Island' group; camping on Hen Island, which has a sandy beach at the end of a cove.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Marc Charron said...

If you don't have one yet, I strongly recommend getting Chrismar's "Adventure Map - Sea Kayaking Guide - Franklin, Minks and McCoys".

Can we see detail of your trip to the Bustard Islands anywhere on the Net?

7:57 PM  
Blogger Jean-Christian said...

Unfortunately not, we documented our campsites on the paper marine map set, but otherwise did not keep a journal. It was a bit of a 'mileage marathon', in July, and we were set back by severe squalls and thunderstorms on the return leg. If you are interested, I can re-construct the trip itinerary and get back to you.
I phone ordered the Chrismar map, as there are no dealers in Quebec City. Thanks for the suggestion!

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Marc,
I would really like to visit Big McCoy this summer...end it very busy? Do you think it is possible to paddle from Dillon to Big McCoy in the same day? We would like to paddle to Big McCoy and set up a base camp and then paddle around for the next 3 days....this is what we did last year in the Philip Edward Island area (Desjardins Bay)....loved it a result we are very eager to discover more of what GB has to offer.


Mairi (Rockland, ON)

10:19 PM  
Blogger Marc Charron said...

I've never been there at the end of July but I would expect that's close to the "peak season" along with August.

Checking the WhiteSquall web site, they run a 4-day expedition up to McCoy on July 16-19. You might want to avoid those dates if you don't want a crowd.

If you get an early start out of Dillon, you will need favorable conditions and good endurance to get to McCoy in one day. We got there too late in the day (after a long drive) to consider that option.

Using big McCoy as a base camp sounds like a fine idea. You'll have extra time to paddle and relax while you enjoy the great Georgian Bay.

Keep in mind that Little McCoy is a private island (it will be hard not to notice the numerous signs).

From McCoy, it will be a big challenge to make it out to Green Island and back in one day, if ever you want to see the wreck of the Seattle (to the west of Green Island). You'll also be too far to get to the (mostly private) lower Mink islands that are very pleasant to paddle in.

Enjoy your trip!!!

8:15 PM  

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