Friday, July 29, 2011

Kayak trip DAY 2 – “Halfway to Lonely”

DAY 2 – “Halfway to Lonely” – Georgian Bay - July 2011

Bob’s “Spirit of Adventure Tour” 2011
Following our wildlife encounter on Bears Rump Island, I was ready to leave the isle of giant arachnids and get started on our second day of paddling. It was going to a big day for us – more than 20 miles across open water with only one small island to offer a place to rest. To save time, before we emerged from our tents in the morning, we started packing up our sleeping gear. Once we all had something to eat (oatmeal, etc.), we packed up our remaining things, carried the kayaks to the water’s edge, loaded the hatches, and prepared for a big day of paddling. My stated goal of rising early and being on the water by 6 A.M. each day fell to the reality of sleeping past sunrise, eating a good breakfast, and taking the time to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. We launched at 9 O’clock.

I took a compass bearing from the chart and made visual contact with Halfmoon Island, 10 miles away across the deep water of the great bay. Like the first day, we had just a little wind and mostly calm water for this long crossing. The marine weather forecast was good, with the only rain, wind, or fog being generated off the main land mass across the bay near Killarney Provincial Park, some 50 miles to the east. Waves were about “a half-meter”, as the Canadian NOAA weather forecast put it, and were quite manageable. At our normal cruising speed of just over 3 MPH, we expected to reach tiny Halfmoon Island in 3 hours, the mid-way point of our day’s goal on the north side of the much larger Lonely Island. From 10 miles away, Halfmoon resembled a distant city skyline, with trees forming an irregular outline against the horizon. While doing my research, I read discussions by paddlers and sailors wondering how far away you could see an island with only 12 feet of elevation above the water. People spouted formulas that took into account the island’s height, how tall the trees might be, and the distance of the paddler’s eyes above the water while seated in a kayak. The concern was whether somebody in a kayak could see an island that small from 10 miles away, or if one would have to navigate by compass or GPS alone. I was prepared to do either, but we had no problem establishing visual contact on the horizon, and we simply aimed for it.

We all quickly learned a paddler’s perspective of what an island looks like from 5 miles away, and how long it takes to paddle those final 2 miles when it looks like you’re almost there. Because I had the only GPS receiver, I had the advantage (or disadvantage) of knowing how fast we paddled, how far we had traveled, and how much farther we still had to go. We aimed for the right side of Halfmoon and paddled into the bay that was formed by the narrow crescent shape of the apparently misnamed island.

Halfmoon Island landing report (YOUTUBE):

Dozens of terns flew over the highest crest of the stony ridges, while others were on the rocks, as if nesting. A few tall cottonwood trees dominated the skyline. One of the sleek, black-capped birds flew toward us, as if deployed by the avian residents to look us over and warn us away. We landed on a flat rock shelf in shallow, algae-filled water, as far away from any birds as we could get. We made our way across wet, slippery, weathered rocks, to a flat, pavement-like shelf where it was apparent that a small cabin of some sort once stood. While we sipped water and snacked, a few of the terns continued to protest our presence by flying overhead and emitting a scream that sounded very much like “GET OFF MY ISLAND, GET OFF MY ISLAND!”, while large fish spawned in the shallow water nearby.

I’m sure that hundreds of fishermen and pleasure boaters in powered or sail craft have been to Halfmoon Island, and maybe even a Voyageur or two came this far back in the fur-trading days, but in all of my research, the only mention I found in any website or book (trip reports or comments by kayakers, sailors, etc.) of paddling to Halfmoon Island was by 2 men who planned that route but didn’t go, and another man who planned a trip around the bay a couple years ago, but had to cancel. We planned. We went. We conquered. I am claiming THE FIRST DOCUMENTED LANDING ON HALFMOON ISLAND IN MODERN TIMES BY ANYONE IN A HUMAN-POWERED PADDLE CRAFT. Significant, if not newsworthy.

In honor of the occasion, I performed a little sea shanty that I thought up as we paddled, sung to the tune of Andy Williams’ “Moon River”
YOUTUBE video link:

That probably makes this the “First recorded visit by a paddler”, as well. Entertaining, if not good.

After about 30 minutes of rest, we accommodated our host’s request, and got off their island. We slipped back into our boats and paddled out of the lagoon, while the terns continued to scold us until were a safe distance away from their home. I reset my GPS to “go to” the north shore of Lonely Island, another 12 miles away. Weather continued to favor us, with little wind, a mostly sunny sky, and half-meter waves. After another 3 hours, we approached the southern tip of Lonely Island and paddled to the right, up the eastern shore. After an hour more of paddling, we could see the lighthouse high above the water on a hill that overlooked the rocky beach. We landed on the rounded stones that occupied a wide expanse of shoreline, or “beach”, as we all began to explore. The lighthouse on the hill and its companion building are the only structures remaining from the complex of wood-frame houses that once stood near the shore and concrete dock. Now, all that remains is concrete pads and the overgrown sidewalks that once linked all of the buildings.

As I walked around, Joe and Patti determined that the concrete pad by the dock and haul-out slip would make a suitable campsite. My research showed that there was a wooden deck somewhere, and I eventually found it. Apparently, the people who lived there and tended to the lighthouse prior to its automation in 1987 had made things comfortable by constructing a deck on the stony beach, complete with cedar trees all around the edge (most of the buildings were destroyed in 1995). The deck, approximately 10’x15’, was originally built around a large cedar tree, now merely a stump to be used as a table. The small trees planted around the perimeter had grown large enough to shade the entire deck under an aromatic canopy of green, making the deck area resemble an oasis in the otherwise barren, rocky ground. A sod-filled walkway led from the deck to a low, arched footbridge made of small cedar logs that was more ornamental than functional. Like most of the islands around there, a thick cedar forest covered most of the land, providing ample building materials for the residents. We decided that a shady wooden deck was more hospitable than a concrete slab, so we set up camp below the old cedars.

Further exploration led us back over the quaint footbridge and up a very wide, rolling path through the forest that paralleled a set of power cables laid on the ground – perhaps from generators that used to be situated on the empty slabs. The path climbed up a gentle grade that obviously served the former residents as a promenade connecting the lower buildings with the beacon on the hill. Just below the lighthouse, the hill steepened and thick vegetation blocked our path. Pushing through the shrubs would have been a sweaty, uphill bushwhack, and the thought of disturbing more large spiders and rattlesnakes made the prospect of reaching the top very unappealing. We turned back. (Note: Once we had returned home, further research showed that the automatic light is now serviced by helicopter, and there is a helipad on the hill). With the only access to the top now abandoned and unmaintained, it would be quite an effort to reach top, with minimal benefit. We walked back down and explored the wooded area at the edge of the beach. Joe found the graves of 2 pets, dogs I think. I knew about them; the beloved pets were in a tiny 2-grave cemetery that was fenced in by low pickets, and marked by wooded signs bearing the animals’ names, as well as their years of birth and death. That put a human touch on the abandoned homestead, and made us realize that people and their pets lived their lives on that remote island. Joe brought a large water filtration bag, and he hung it from a tree so the gravity-feed system would let us fill our water bottles without pumping. Once he fired up his stove, we boiled water for “cooking” (rehydrating). As the sun dipped toward the horizon, biting flies came out. It was time for bed. With another good weather forecast overnight, we did without the tent’s rainfly. The wide expanse of our mostly screen-mesh shelter kept the bugs out and let the grand views in. The near perfect east-west orientation of the island’s north shore afforded us a very unique vantage point. In the evening, we watched the sunset from our deck, and in the morning, we could see the sunrise; all without leaving our tents. Another great campsite. Next up: Day 3 & 4 trip report with a final wrap-up, and more photos.

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