The wonderful thing about small boats — 18′ or less — is that you can enjoy them in so many ways. And they are so economical compared to the shiny plastic brand name jobs in most marinas.
Drop a 10 horsepower (or smaller) outboard motor on a 14′ aluminum boat, get youself a pleasure boat operator’s card, buy the necessary safety gear, get a weather forecast, plan a route and tell someone, and the waters out among the Georgian Bay islands can be yours.
My first summer in Midland I spied a lovely little cedar strip with a For Sale sign at Midland Boat Works. She had been built by the Blondins in Lafontaine and, while only 13′ long, was good and wide. She would take a 20 hp. outboard nicely. Before long the boat and a new motor were mine, and the islands became my discovery territory whenever I could find a few spare hours.
The possibilities for using small outboards had come to me a few years before. One calm November day (yes, that month does have some good ones) my father wanted to make a fast trip up the shore to the Manitou area. He would take photos of the islands to use creating composites for his watercolour paintings of the Bay. He and I set out from Wahnuhke in a 14′ cedar strip with a 10 hp. motor and plenty of gas. We had a couple of bottles of beer, four tins of sardines, and a box of crackers. We explored inlets and channels that enthralled the artist in him and the nature lover in me. The only other humans we saw the entire trip were in a couple of local boats. It was a memorable day.
Later, in my little boat I continued to explore more of islands and backwaters of the Bay and I had a lot of fun doing it. All the way to Parry Island I poked into bays and channels, some too small for bigger boats. If a waterway became too shallow, I would stop and tilt the motor, paddle her through and re-start the motor when the water got deeper.
There were lots of cottages then, of course, but I tried not to encroach on their privacy. Jet skis had not been invented yet and these secluded little coves were seldom visited. If the day was warm, a skinny dip over the side was welcomed. Once in awhile simply dropping the anchor and stretching out for a nap was in order, with only the sounds of birds, breeze and ripples for company. The possibilities for exploring and whiling away a day on the water were endless.
For me, the mouth of Twelve Mile Bay was a favorite destination. Bays and channels around O’Donnell Point and Manitou Dock had many un-cottaged stretches then that would beckon to be explored. There are several wide open sections of the Inside Passage to cross, however, so I had to watch the weather carefully to avoid getting marooned up there and unable to be at work Monday morning. There were no cellphones in those days.
Sometimes the temptation to linger was too strong, or I guessed that a stiff wind would drop around sundown. That would mean night travel. So I wrote down compass bearings and running times between them, including the few lighted beacons, all the way to Midland. I only did that two or three times, and I remember especially feeling very exposed while running down the west shore of Beausoleil Island at night past Brebeuf lighthouse and feeling some comfort in lights from distant cottages a couple of miles across The Gap.
In experienced hands small boats can survive quite rough seas. My inspiration in this was Frank Rourke who, when lightkeeper at Western Islands, would cross the open Bay in a small open outboard, first to Hope Island and then to the mainland, when the waves would keep fainter hearts rooted firmly ashore. The key was to be constantly alert and in control of every movement of the boat.
As one tends to do in this materialistic world, I replaced that little boat with a succession of bigger ones, expecting to get even more enjoyment out of them. But somehow that never quite happened. They cost more to buy, maintain, operate, moor and store for the winters, so I didn’t use them nearly as much as the little boat. I spent more time tinkering and daydreaming instead of actually going out in them.
The joy of small boats is their ability to get you out there and explore often, but wisely, and create your own store of memories on the water.