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Now’s the time to ride Ontario’s North Channel by PWC. The North Channel has long been a Great Lakes’ boater’s paradise. Today, experienced personal watercraft riders like Tim and Diane Vandersall of Ohio are discovering that it’s also an exceptional place for unique touring adventures. On their Sea-Doo watercraft, they recently toured the North Channel for six days and fell in love with its striking beauty and sparkling waters.
Located along the northern shore of Lake Huron, the North Channel runs 226 kilometers (140.4 miles) from Killarney in the east (part of Rainbow Country) to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in the west (part of Algoma Country). On its southern flank, the North Channel is protected from the full force of Lake Huron by a string of breakwater islands, the largest of which (east to west) are Manitoulin, Drummond (U.S.) and St. Joseph.
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What’s so special about North Channel PWC touring? Scenery for one: The rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield provides incredible eye candy and a strong feeling of wilderness. Variety: The North Channel features a seemingly endless myriad of islands, bays, channels, inlets and narrows to explore, while providing plenty of both big and small water riding choices. Destinations: Heading west from Killarney, at least 13 other Ontario communities offer waterfront facilities, including lodgings and restaurants, to welcome touring PWC riders. Marked Routes: As a premiere boating destination, the North Channel’s main cruising routes are marked with navigation buoys. Getting from here to there is often as simple as tracking the steady line of boats and cruisers that ply these waters all summer.
Our first day tour began at Hilton Beach Inn on the northeast side of St. Joseph Island. It’s located beside the Hilton Beach Marina, where I launched my 2011 RXT iS 260 and GTX iS 215 Sea-Doos. Our Hilton Beach Inn host, Natalie, made our stay very enjoyable. On departure, we followed the navigation markers along the Canadian shore and main shipping channel west and north about 64 kilometers (40 miles) to Sault Ste. Marie. If you want to feel truly insignificant, try steering your PWC alongside a Great Lakes freighter and run the full length of its towering iron wall!
We stopped for fuel and lunch at Bondar Marina, located opposite the entrance to the Canadian lock. The marina is easily spotted from the water. Just look for the large white “tent top” of the adjacent Roberta Bondar Pavilion to your starboard side.
Our return cruise followed the American shore, shipping lane and markers past The Town of Detour and Drummond Island, Michigan, around the south tip of St. Joseph Island and back to Hilton Beach. Our inbound route was almost twice as far as our outbound one, and we arrived on fumes. Next time, I would divert slightly to refuel at Richard’s Landing on the northwest shore of St. Joseph before completing this counter clockwise circumnavigation of the island. Note: Fuelling up on the American side is only possible if you carry a passport or NEXUS card, and check in with U.S. Customs & Immigration first, or are a U.S. citizen. Alternatively, if your citizenship is American, you will need to carry appropriate paperwork and check in with Canada Border Services on landing.
Day two, we rode out of Vance’s Resort in Spanish, where our host, Nancy, has housekeeping cabins and fuel on site. Located 128 kilometers (79 miles) east of the Sault on the North Shore, the Town of Spanish is also home to Diane and her Dixie Lee Chicken Family Restaurant where we ate several tasty meals. Launching next door to Vance’s, from Almenara En El Rio Marina and Campground (hosts: Russell and Jean), we headed west 37 kilometers (23 miles) to Spragge, intending to swing southeast to the Benjamin Islands that afternoon. But the wind had blown up choppy waves, so we opted instead to explore our way about 20 klicks (12 miles) up the sheltered Spanish River to the Town of Massey and back. Word has it that this river is navigable by PWC all the way to Espanola, but be careful of occasional rocks and shoals.
On day three, we toured out of the charming and bustling harbour of Killarnery, probably the best known and most popular of North Channel ports. Here, Rachell provided luxurious lodgings and fabulous cuisine at her newly renovated Sportsman’s Inn. We embarked from the nearby municipal launch.
This day, we rode 22 kilometers (14 miles) west to Little Current on Manitoulin Island and then explored our way back to Killarney. One highlight was an amazing hidden fjord called Baie Fiinn. It’s an almost river-like passageway bounded by rock walls that runs about 13 kilometers (9 miles) to end in a clear, secluded pool favored by boaters for overnight mooring.
The North Channel makes for spectacular and memorable PWC touring. It’s a multi-day destination, which can be experienced in as little as three riding days as we did, or up to a week if you want to tour from one end to the other like Tim and Diane. My advice is that to do this tour, you should be an experienced touring rider who carries charts, GPS and spare fuel on board. As with any large marine touring region, it’s also important to check the weather very carefully, and watch out for windy days when the big water can get quite rough. That said, there are lots of sheltered back areas to explore, but as usual in unfamiliar waters, be very careful about submerged rocks and shoals.
If you’re looking for a new destination to ride, you gotta try the North Channel. My crew is already planning to go back and by the sound of it, so are Tim and Diane: “As an adventurous couple from Ohio with some Sea-Doo touring experience, we loved every minute of our trip, and will visit definitely visit Ontario again by PWC.” You bet!
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