The North Channel … with a day job
By Brian Bartel & Vickie Eiden

Years ago, when I graduated from college and got my first job, one of the first things that occurred to me was, “I can’t wait to retire.” Now, halfway to retirement, I still envy retired cruisers who can explore the Great Lakes with a flexible schedule. After all, conventional wisdom among sailors states that the best way to enjoy a sailing vacation is to throw out the schedule and do what the weather tells you to do.
Passepartout anchored for a lunch stop at Darch Island.
Photo by Brian Bartel.

There are few sailors who haven’t heard about the celebrated North Channel, on the northern shore of Lake Huron. The magazines that cater to our sport repeatedly include articles on the North Channel, and boat shows often have one or two people giving seminars about cruising there. Unfortunately, the articles and seminars often describe cruises lasting three weeks, four weeks, or more. To someone aching for the day when he can sail for four weeks at a time, these articles and seminars are entertaining, inspiring…and frustrating. The North Channel is full of beautiful anchorages, quaint marinas, and quirky towns. It isn’t possible to see it all on a quick one-week vacation.
After a good night’s sleep, we ate breakfast and looked over the misty, glassy-smooth waters of The Pool. Photo by Jason Beren.

But you don’t have to see it all at once. In one week you can sample the highlights and have a pleasant vacation. On August 4, 2006, my wife and I did the unthinkable. With two guests on our Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45.2, “Passepartout,” we sailed from Sister Bay, WI and explored the North Channel — using only six vacation days! In this article you’ll learn how we did it, and you’ll see that, although we had to make some sacrifices, we had (and gave) a lovely 10-day vacation.

“Vacation mode” is that relaxed state one reaches after long stretches of leisure time. The schedule ceases to be important, the daily inefficiencies that creep into one’s life stop being such a big deal, and my bitten-down fingernails start to grow back. It takes me three days to get into vacation mode, and it takes my wife, Kim, closer to four.

Vacation mode hit me very suddenly, at the end of Sunday, day 3. My wife and I were sitting with our friends, Jason Beren and Erin Luken, on a deck outside the Meldrum Bay Inn. We had just finished dinner and were laughing and listening to a duet playing the blues. The innkeeper played the drums, and a friend of his from the Carolinas played guitar. We had made it to the North Channel in three days, we were checked in with Canadian customs, and now, as promised, the pace was going to settle down to something resembling a vacation. Our only set-in-stone schedule was to have Passepartout in Little Current by next Sunday.

That night I also discovered my favorite food. It’s spelled poutine, but the locals pronounce it as if it’s Vladimir’s last name. It’s not a health food. You start with crisp French fries, smother them in gravy, then melt mozzarella cheese over the top. I made it my mission that week to sample poutine wherever it was served. I gained ten pounds.
Passepartout tied up and checked into customs at Meldrum Bay.
Photo by Jason Beren.

Following the advice of the Beach Boys, we had decided to get there fast and then take it slow, so the first two days are a bit of a blur. We left Yacht Works marina at 4 AM Friday and arrived at Beaver Island thirteen hours later. We had time for a quick walk and a shower before dinner, and after dinner we went right to sleep. On Saturday we sailed to Mackinac Island, and it was the same story; a walk, a bar, a restaurant, and sleep. It was a full day’s sail to Meldrum Bay, so we had to get up early Sunday morning. We were still in “delivery mode.”
Erin, Brian, and Kim are entertained by fish inspecting the dinghy painter. Photo by Jason Beren.

The schedule on Friday and Saturday was a sacrifice. You see, I like Beaver Island and Mackinac Island; you could easily spend a few days in each place. But we only had 10 days, so we pushed on.
Monday morning we watched a 40' Carver leave Meldrum Bay only to return an hour later. It was blowing 30 kt out of the northwest, and the seas were kicking up. But the weather was clear and we were headed east, so off we went for some of the best sailing of my life. Seas were four to six feet, and our beamy cruising boat with a yard sale of toys tied to the deck could still surf. It was a fabulous five-hour sail to the Gore Bay marina, which was well protected. We had a nice time kayaking around the anchorage and talking with other boaters. The staff of Canadian Yacht Charters, based in Gore Bay, was particularly helpful in suggesting other North Channel destinations.
On an absolutely calm Saturday morning we motored down Baie Fine on our way to Little Current. Photo by Jason Beren.

Tuesday we anchored in the Benjamin Islands group. I spent the afternoon learning how to “Eskimo roll” my kayak. It never worked, and I was mainly rewarded with a lot of swallowed lake water. The Benjamin Islands, however, did offer us beautiful scenery and a chance to anchor North Channel style, with one anchor out and another line to shore. With our draft of 6'8" we typically don’t get that close to shore.

On Wednesday we sailed to Killarney and spent the night parked at the Sportsman’s Inn. Then it hit me. Although we had all made the transition to vacation mode, we were still sailing from place-to-place every day, not taking the time to truly experience each destination. Did we really need to leave Killarney? I brought it up with the crew and we agreed to stay in Killarney a second night.
Staying put was the right decision, not in the least because I discovered the best poutine in the North Channel at Gateway Marine. After Kim and I went on a short bike ride, I inflated a floating mattress and lay on my back sipping a dark and stormy all afternoon. That night we dined at the Killarney Mountain Lodge.

The highlight of our trip almost didn’t happen, and it wouldn’t have happened if Jason hadn’t brought a hand-held depth gauge. We kept hearing that Baie Fine (pronounced Bay Finn by the locals) and The Pool were amazing places. Baie Fine is a fjord-like bay that leads to a narrow channel which in-turn leads to The Pool, a beautiful and remote anchorage. Although Baie Fine itself is deep, the channel at its west end is only seven feet in places and the channel at its east end, which leads to The Pool, is marked with five-foot depths. Jason surveyed the depths ahead with the dinghy, and we crept over both shallow spots, seeing a minimum depth of 7 ft. We had made it to The Pool.

The Pool was extremely calm and there were only two other boats anchored there. We kayaked, hiked and swam in a crystal clear lake just north of The Pool. Although the whole North Channel was beautiful, Baie Fine and The Pool were exquisite. This was a perfect finale for the trip.

Saturday we headed to Little Current, our rendezvous point for the crew change. Crew change!?! That’s right, the aces up my sleeve that made such a short trip possible were Jo “Torpedo Jo” Reis and Tim Nolan, two extremely competent and absolutely trustworthy friends of ours. They brought along a volunteer crew from the Hoofer Sailing Club in Madison, WI.

After looking at the cost and time of other modes of transportation, we all agreed that chartering a twin-engine plane was the best way to do the crew change. We hired Orion Flight Services in Sturgeon Bay, WI. Jo, Tim, and the Hoofers flew out of Cherryland Airport in Door County, WI and into the Manitoulin East Municipal Airport. After handshakes, a boat briefing, and well wishes, we switched places. Erin, Jason, Kim and I flew home.

It was just 10 days, and we missed many beautiful North Channel spots, but we saw enough to know that we will definitely return. We experienced some fantastic sailing and broke Passepartout’s speed record (11.4 kt), we met interesting people, we saw amazing scenery, and I discovered Poutine. Not a bad vacation at all.

The Return Cruise
When I ( Vickie Eiden) was invited to join the return crew for the North Channel trip I was thrilled for several reasons; 1) our crew of eight was comprised of good friends, including several expert sailors, 2) I’d never been there, and 3) there’s a lot of interesting history in the area…and I’m a museumaholic. A perfect blend, but a lot to squeeze into seven days; we enthusiastically jumped on board, knowing there would be compromises but that we’d have a good time regardless.
The Handoff: Brian Bartel and Jo Reis discuss Baie Fine shallow spots. Photo by Tim Nolan.

I should mention that the outbound and return cruises had rather different vacation styles. Both groups had fantastic weeks in the North Channel and visited several of the same spots, but with distinct variances. Firstly, crew size; the Return Crew had twice as many crewmembers, which made for “friendlier” accommodations but a highly social atmosphere. Secondly, we anchored out more, allowing us a few more kayaking adventures and several nights gazing up at the final dazzling streaks of the Perseid meteor shower. Thirdly, we had four enthusiastic hobbyist chefs on board who enjoyed the challenge and camaraderie of creating gourmet feasts in a tiny floating kitchen, which also greatly pleased the remainder of the crew.
John Dreger, Wes Culberson, Andy Evenson, “Torpedo Jo” Reis,
Dale Carder, Vickie Eiden (co-author), Mary Giblin and Tim Nolan, the Return Crew, arrive at the Manitoulin East Municipal Airport.

The hidden message behind these perks: for those who are wont to be more budget-conscious, a brilliant vacation can still be had! Our crew was comprised of a number of individuals who are currently paying for advanced degrees, starting new business ventures and buying homes. We spent less by anchoring out, eating in, and splitting our costs between eight people, and our thriftiness rewarded us with a very rich experience indeed.

The morning of Sunday, August 13, our crew met at the Cherryland Airport for a chartered flight to Manitoulin Island; the 10-seat airplane gave us an aerial preview of the waters we would enjoy for the next week. During the cozy cab ride to the Little Current Marina I’ll admit I felt a twinge of longing as we sped past the Little Current-Howland Museum, but it was only Day One and there would surely be more museums.

The chatty crew change gave us the opportunity to hear a first-hand account of the highlights of the Outbound Crew’s week and get several recommendations, then we in the quartet of chefs provisioned the boat. Another perk for the return voyage was that the Outbound Crew had thoughtfully abandoned a fair amount of rather nice “leftovers”…including a few cases of Canadian beer. We spent our first night in the marina dining on chicken curry, washed down with bottles of Molson.
While Vickie Eiden (co-author) takes the helm, Mary Giblin trims the spinnaker on the way to Drummond Island. Photo by Tim Nolan.

Eagerly anticipating a bit of down time, I had brought a book I’d been meaning to read for ages; the title of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days” seemed to hold a challenge similar to that of sailing through the North Channel in one week. At the time I hadn’t realized that it contained our vessel’s namesake, Passpartout, a character who had earned this name by his ability to get himself out of tricky situations. I considered this a good omen for our voyage.

Monday we followed the wind towards Killarney Bay, timing our exodus with the opening of the historic Little Current Swing Bridge. The shorelines we passed were simply exquisite in their natural form and my imagination took flight as I daydreamed of early fur-traders navigating these waters in canoes, riding low under the weight of raw fur, over 200 years earlier. I waved wistfully as we motored past Killarney and the red fish and chips bus, but Tim, our Great Loop veteran, had good reason to be enthusiastic about proceeding to Covered Portage Cove. A climb up the rocky cliffs revealed wild blueberries, beautiful outcroppings, and a morbidly fascinating pile of dried bear scat laden with pink crayfish exoskeleton. Back on board, we uncorked a Shiraz and created our “Italian night” dinner — spicy pasta sauce over penne.

We arose early Tuesday to begin our journey along the stunning freshwater fjord that creates Baie Fine. Anchored in The Pool, we hiked up to Topaz Lake for a swim. Peering down into the bright, clear water of this aptly-named lake the rock walls cradling it seem to drop into the center of the earth…freaky but cool. Kayaking that evening we discovered a small waterfall and impressive beaver dam in the stream connecting The Pool to Artist Lake, then slept well after a hearty dinner of mushroom-zucchini risotto and a few dice games.

Wednesday morning we cut the weed ball off our anchor and began our return westward. Making a pit stop in Little Current, we refueled, stocked up at the local deli, created a marinade for our gargantuan steaks, and bought a lunch of fish and chips. We then sailed on to Croker Island, a great stop for kayaking and a geologist’s dream for rock hunting. Discovering that the bag of “charcoal” was actually mesquite wood chips, we had nothing over which to grill our massive sirloins, resulting in a spectacular experimental dinner. That night’s impromptu meal of tomato-vodka-cream sauce over penne paired with a Merlot, followed by dessert crepes filled with a rum-soaked raisin and citrus compote was truly a totem of Passpartout’s luck.
After two weeks of touring the North Channel Passpartout enjoys sunset at home in Sister Bay, WI. Photo by Vickie Eiden.

Thursday we proceeded to Drummond Island; back into U.S. waters. As this was a brief stop only to check in with Customs, just one member of the party was allowed to walk to the one general store for the sole purpose of procuring charcoal. As that individual, I considered it a great personal sacrifice to walk directly — if with hesitation — past the Drummond Island Historical Museum, but our triumphant return to carnivorism that evening was a great comfort.

With one day of vacation left before the long stretch to Sister Bay, we divided into three shifts for an overnight sail, intending to stop at Mackinac Island for breakfast before continuing on to Beaver Island. Night sailing was quiet, breezy and beautiful, and the experience of navigating by the stars was thrilling, more like flying over the dark, horizon-less water than sailing. We made such good time that we reached Mackinac Island at sunrise, too early for a breakfast Captain “Torpedo” Jo decided we shouldn’t wait for: We would proceed to Beaver Island; it was a waste of time to wait for businesses to open.

Talk about a sacrifice! The museums…the horses…the fudge! How could we possibly bypass an island with an ice cream named after it?! I broke down and complained. Our captain held firm, but as we motored under the Mackinac Bridge and watched the sun rise, he diplomatically assured me I would appreciate the extra time on Beaver Island.

We arrived at Beaver Island at 3 PM, two hours before the four museums closed; keeping with the theme of the trip, I selected one to enjoy thoroughly. The Old Mormon Print Shop Museum contains a fascinating exhibit on the dramatic life, reign and death of King James Jesse Strang, ruler of a Mormon settlement on the island from 1848 through 1856. When it closed I looked through a few shops and biked to the lighthouse, admiring the historic homes along the way. That night in the marina we ate thick, spicy chili on the boat before heading to an Irish pub for a nightcap. I have to admit our Captain was right…I thoroughly enjoyed Beaver Island, and with seven museums and living history parks Mackinac Island would have required a much, much longer visit anyway.

Early Saturday we began our journey to Passpartout’s home port of Sister Bay. Distant storms had sent us eight-foot waves and small craft warnings; several sailors enjoyed the opportunity to take the helm and ride the rougher water, and several shared their bagel sandwiches with the fish. After the tiring day we were grateful to reach Sister Bay, where we opted to go out for dinner and dropped off to bed shortly thereafter.

Sunday we treated ourselves to breakfast at the White Gull Inn (the Door County cherry-stuffed French toast was incredible), cleaned the boat, and thanked Brian for the use of Passpartout before driving home. It was a full week of beautiful places, interesting conversations, great food, diverse amusements and learning opportunities that went beyond sailing. Sure, I would have liked to make more stops, but those places will still be there for future trips (mmm, fudge!). Trying to squeeze too much in only leads to stress; the trick to enjoying the North Channel in a week is to go in with a relaxed attitude and be open to the experiences that come your way. Most importantly, make sure you have a mix of good sailors, good cooks, and good storytellers on board; to be honest our crew would have had a blast even if we’d never left the boat.

Despite the hassles associated with travel, planning the logistics of the crew change was surprisingly easy. We just made sure we were docked near the specified airport, and we stepped into the cab that brought the relief crew. The costs weren’t outrageous, either, especially if one compares a powerboat’s fuel price to the logistics costs of doing a one-week sailing vacation.

People are getting busier and vacation time is getting hard to come by. Unfortunately many people respond to this time pressure by buying a powerboat, a more expensive yet much faster alternative. A one-week North Channel vacation on a powerboat isn’t a challenge at all; you just shell out a lot of money for fuel. But a sailor can pay a little less than that for a return flight and a delivery crew, and (s)he can accomplish the same thing.

This is certainly the way I will visit the North Channel in the future — until I retire, that is…
Tips for Doing the North Channel in One Week
• Get there fast. Put in some long days early on.
• Despite the short time available, avoid schedules.
Go where the wind takes you.
• Sail one-way; don’t worry about getting the boat both there and back.
• Have a trusted friend or a delivery service take your boat there or home.
• Talk to your insurance agent about how your vessel is covered with someone else operating it.
• Charter a flight there or home. From this remote location it was cheaper and much less time consuming than flying commercial.


• Having your boat delivered preserves vacation time.
• The trip may be impossible otherwise.
• Having your boat help generate new stories for people adds depth to your boat ownership experience.


• One week only gives you the abridged version of the North Channel.
• A greater percentage of your vacation time will be spent transitioning into “vacation mode.”
• A smaller time window means an increased risk of bad weather eating up a greater percentage of your trip.

Brian Bartel is the owner of Weather Gauge Marine, a professional captain and yacht delivery service ( On weekends, he and his wife Kim can be found sailing Passepartout between the harbors and anchorages of Door County.

Vickie Eiden is a freelance writer and owner of Expressive Experiences (, offering creative applied arts workshops for personal and interpersonal wellness. A Hoofer of seven years, she spends much of her free time on Madison’s Lake Mendota.

All contents are copyright (c) 2007 by Northern Breezes, Inc. All information contained within is deemed reliable but carries no guarantees. Reproduction of any part or whole of this publication in any form by mechanical or electronic means, including information retrieval is prohibited except by consent of the publisher.