Commodore Charlie Tatham

Cruising in the early days

When we moved here in 1970, it was pretty obvious there wasn’t much cruising going on out of Collingwood and we thus tended to line up with sailors from Thornbury.  

We used to hear references to Christian Island, which we learned was some glorious island about 20 miles off Collingwood, which was the closest cruising “destination”.  

In 1972, Barry Loft (the future founding Commodore) purchased a 30 ft. canoe-sterned wooden sloop from a fellow in Kingston, Ontario and one of the conditions was that this guy would bring the boat up from Kingston to Trenton.  Barry would then bring the boat from Trenton to Collingwood.  He was not a sailor at that time and corralled me, Louie Foubert and Dan Malloy assist him in the task.  

It’s a small world but it turned out that that particular boat had been owned by a neighbour of my wife Louise, on the Bay of Quinte.  It was called Winddrift.  In any case, the four of us motored it up the Trent system and then through Peterborough and the Kawarthas to Lakefield.  There was a crew change at Lakefield wherein the boys left and Louise arrived, and we then moved Winddrift from Lakefield to Orillia.  Barry then, with other, brought the boat from Orillia to Collingwood.  

In 1973, Barry and his wife invited Louise and me to join them in a cruise to Beckwith Island, which was my first visit there.  Other than for us, it was deserted but certainly appealed to us as a pleasant destination, in the right wind of course.  

We bought our first cruising sailboat in the fall of 1973 (Northern ¼ Ton) and made our first trip to Beckwith in June, 1974.  Many trips followed.  In those days we had no navigation instruments, not even a depth sounder, let alone a VHF.  So navigation occurred through dead reckoning with the help of charts, parallel rules, and dividers.  Dead reckoning at its best.  With roughly 18 miles of open water between Collingwood and the Christian Island Lighthouse, keeping track of positions on a chart was important, especially for the return trip because the shores around Collingwood are low lying and somewhat shoaly.  Especially in low visibility and/or at night and a bit of tacking, spotting the Terminals was always a reassuring occasion.  

There were many trips back and forth to Beckwith during which we learned the importance of predicted wind directions and strengths.  The east cove on Beckwith is perfect in a southwest breeze but virtually awful in a northeast breeze.  What with no radio or weather information, there were many nightmarish occasions brought on by a stiff northeast wind at 2am.  

The coves at Beckwith remained our mainstay for years but then we noticed Wayne and Lyndell McNabb (in their bright yellow CS 22-Bumblebee), would seem to be going to Beckwith but then continued north to what we understood to be Hope Island.  How unsociable and mysterious that seemed to us until we sneaked up one day for a look and discovered that Hope Island was absolutely the perfect spot to be in when breezes had a north component.  

In those days, we literally had Christian, Hope and Beckwith to ourselves.  There would be for sure no boats around during the week and perhaps one or two sailboats on the weekends.  I think the Midland Bay types must have viewed the area as fraught with danger and equivalent to rounding the Horn. 

Next in the line of discoveries was Little Sandy Bay, on the northeast side of Christian which also seemed undiscovered.  It proved to be absolutely the most beautiful spot in a southwest breeze and was superior to Beckwith as you could get fairly close to shore with a keel boat, but definitely not good in breezes with north in them.  We knew, in the early 70’s that Gordon Lightfoot had an exquisite 41 ft. wooden sloop – GOLDEN GOOSE, built by Vic Carpenter of Victoria Harbour, a highly talented builder indeed.  Especially after his song, ‘In the Lee of Christian Island’, we often wondered if we would encounter him, but didn’t.  But as the anchorage became more popular, we used to spin the tale about finding crumpled up sheet music in the woods, where someone was attempting to write songs but giving up – something about sailing near Christian Island. More often than not, people’s eyes would get as big as saucers, and exclaim, “you’re kidding… do you know what that means?”… all fun of course, especially after a few toners.  

Our first trip “north” was in the late summer of 1974 in the Northern ¼ Ton.  We made the trip going east from Beckwith to Beausoleil and then north up the inland channel to Peter Perry’s cottage near Snug Harbour, with an overnight stop in Indian Harbour – up bound and down bound.  Many trips north followed thereafter and we soon discovered we could save a lot of time and aggravation by going direct from Hope Island to O’Donnell Point, where we would enter the channel beside Timber Island.  This was a bit hair raising at first because we were strictly going by compass and landmarks through apparent passage ways, dodging reefs, etc. 

All sorts of “discoveries” ensued.  One of them included Echo Bay, which we discovered by pouring over the strip charts and picking out likely spots, which we would then check out.  The long narrow entrance led to a T intersection and we chose the north arm which was beyond perfect.  The entrance was shallow and with boulders, so you had to be really careful.  But once past the entrance, it was a beautiful anchorage where you could have easily ridden out a hurricane.  It was so cozy to be anchored in there in glass flat water while the west wind roared through the treetops.  

Another treasured discovery was what Peter Perry called, ‘Lost Lagoon’ on Franklin Island, just north of his cottage in the Walton Group.  While visiting him in the summer of 1977, he took us via runabout to this amazing spot which was half way up the west shore of Franklin, opposite Louth Rock.  One entered a somewhat narrow entrance, then hung a right and went down a relatively narrow but deep channel, which amounted to a lake within the island, more or less directly opposite Regatta Bay on the east side.  What an amazing spot, which we came to many times in the ensuing years.  Sometimes alone and sometimes with others – The Bessies, Vermulens, Arnotts and Fouberts (in the early days).  We would spend weeks there with virtually limitless explorations possible – great fishing, and total privacy.  This allowed dinghy trips out to the Minks and supply runs to Snug Harbour.  We’d often stop for an afternoon at the Western Islands when south bound.  It’s hard to imagine now, but we had Franklin Island to ourselves in those days too.  

We did tend to favour the east shore in the early days, but did ‘do’ the west shore as well – just not as much.  Our favourite routine for the west shore was to sail from Collingwood to MacGregor Harbour at Cape Croker.  It too was a beautiful and relatively secluded anchorage and the perfect stop off point on route to Wingfield Basin, which we had visited once in 1974.  From there we would basically ‘hit’ Tobermory for a couple of days in The Little Tub before some secluded anchorages on the south shore of Cove Island.  Next stop would be Club Island, which is a magnificent anchorage west of Lonely Island.  Thereafter would be Rattlesnake Harbour on Fitzwilliam Island, another beautiful and secluded anchorage (not anymore).  These trips were usually with the Fouberts, Armstrongs, and Walls.  Louie Foubert thought the girls would be afraid of the anchorage so he called it ‘Teddie Bear Cove’.  

We often felt you could spend your life cruising the bay and never see it all.  We are truly blessed!