Wednesday, October 31, 2012
STRANGE BUT TRUE
In 2008 a rogue wave knocked 58 year old Scott Douglas and his 69 year old brother-in-law from their small 26’ Regulator fishing boat Queen Bee off of Nantucket, Mass. He thought that would be the last of his boat. Both swam to shore one mile and survived. Three years later, the Douglas boat Queen Bee washed up on the shore of Spain intact. The boat somehow had made it across the continental shelf and drifted north along Canada into the gulf stream which took it across the Atlantic.
Spain released the salvage rights and Douglas brought it back to the US. Regulator will be using the boat for shows and events. The boat requires not much more than clean up and repowering to get back on the water. That’s one tough little boat! They should rename it the Unsinkable Queen Bee.
Mother nature once again shows us who is boss! Hurricane Sandy leaves a path of destruction in the northeast United States with house buried in sand and swept away in New Jersey, blizzards in Virginia, flooded subways in New York and entire subdivisions burned to the ground. Millions are without power and will have to go without for days to come. Sandy packed a punch and combined with high tides, the hurricane flood levels were at a historical peak causing many deaths, extreme loss of property and billions in damages.
In Ontario we were lucky and just suffered the remnants as a severe storm. One woman was killed by a falling sign, lots of wind damage and power outages but nothing like the east coast received. Georgian Bay was west of the worst of it, but the highest recorded wind speeds in Ontario were 106 km hour on the Western Islands in Georgian Bay.
Ethan Meleg a well known Georgian Bay photographer shot this video at Indian Head. As you will see in the video, the waves are engulfing a 50’ cliff. Just a reminder how nasty and dangerous Georgian Bay can be in a storm.
In the old days, steamers moving goods and people would still be out on the Bay and this storm no doubt would have sunk many ships. With modern forecasts and ample warning this kind of loss is now a rare occurrence. Luckily pleasure boating was over for the season. Marinas had most of the boats out of the water and for those remaining they took precautions. Some of the hearty late fall residents in homes and cottages on outer islands in Georgian Bay may have experienced quite a show of nature - but no one killed or injured on the Bay.
Several marinas have commented that they have seen worse storms. Georgian Bay folks are a hearty lot – bring it on Mother Nature!
Thursday, October 18, 2012
We did a feature article on Lonely Island as being the loneliest island on Georgian Bay. Several people emailed me and said what about the Western Islands ... that they were very lonely to. And so they are ... but perhaps not as lonely as Lonely Island – albeit the Westerns have less vegetation than Lonely Island. But for those that are interested here’s a bit about the Western Islands.
The Western Islands are about 15 km from any land and are out of site of land when viewed from ground level. The island chain is about 43 km south west of Parry Sound and about 20 kms north west of Hope Island. If you know O’Donnell Point, it is directly west of the mainland some 15+ km The 1895 octagonal 45’ lighthouse is still standing on Double Top Island (part of the Western island group). To be honest the lighthouse was rebuilt in the same location three times since 1895. Little vegetation grows on the Western Islands except gold lichen. The weather exposure is too severe to support trees on the island. Even too inhospitable for a rattle snakes to exist. Just an outcropping of light gray rock islands alone in the vast expanse of blue water.
From the lighthouse you can see the mainland. The lighthouse is in rough shape but there are some old artifacts there. As you can imagine not very many people visit there and there is no decent harbour or shelter to dock or anchor a boat. In good weather the occasional visiting boat might visit and heave to go ashore by dingy. Officially it is Coast Guard controlled and off limits to the public. A small cement walkway connects the lighthouse to a helicopter pad. There is a small service building there. At one point in time there was a lighthouse keepers house and other ancillary buildings that no longer exist (except under water). By my count the island archipelago consists of about 20 small islands (in two groups north and south) and lots of others awash in rock. The North group islands that are named are North Island, Cresent Island, Harbour Island, Long Island and West One Tree Island. The south group of named islands are Thumb Rock, Block Island, Gull Island, Jagged Island, Pool Rocks and Double Top Island. In winter the spray turns the islands and buildings into an ice covered landscape and keepers used ice crampons to get around.
Now here is something unusual. The previous two lighthouses built at the same location and the light keepers house complete with personal items can be found in the water just off from the current lighthouse. The buildings were disposed of by just pushing them off into the Bay. You can scuba dive these once land based wrecks! No doubt there are many ship wrecks about the western islands but it drops off so fast that most would have slid to the depths and would be gone forever.
So if you ever get a really calm stretch of weather take a boat ride out to the Western Islands and imagine what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper on Double Top Island. Then think about going up to Lonely Island and you be the judge as to which is in fact the most lonely.
STRANGE PLACE – STILTSVILLE
Going back to 1922 wood stilt houses started going up on a sand banks called “the flats” one mile south of Cape Florida on the edge of Biscayne Bay in Miami Dade County. The structures stand on wood or concrete pilings about 10 feet above the shallow water which is a couple of feet deep at low tide.
In 1933 Crawfish Eddie Walker put up a shack near the end of prohibition to allow gambling which was then legal one mile or more offshore. He also sold bait and beer and crawfish chowder. Over time more shacks were built for boat clubs, fishing clubs and shipwreck seekers. The area became an on water shack colony. Crawfish Eddies shack was destroyed in 1950 by a hurricane.
The Calvert Club was built in the late 1930’s and hosted fishing clubs. In 1940 Edward Turner built a large house and named it the Quarterdeck Club. Membership was exclusive by invitation only and cost $150 ... a princely sum back then.The club was a $100,000 play palace with lounge dining room and dock slips for wealthy yacht owners. It became a tourist attraction know for partying and gambling. It burned to the pylons in 1961.
From the 1950’s to the 1960’s Stiltsville morphed from being run down to a collection of lodge type private residences and places to party. By 1960 there were 27 buildings. Some of them that have survived hurricanes and are preserved in a historic non profit Stiltsville Trust put in place in 2003.
Miami Springs Power Boat Club built a club on a barge and grounded it in Stiltsville. In 1962 Harry Churchhill grounded a 150’ yacht named Jeff and turned it into a club serving free drinks to women wearing bikinis. There was a nude sundeck and rooms were for rent for any purpose. It became know as the Bikini Club. It was raided in 1965 and closed down for selling liquor without a permit. In 1966 what remained was burned to the waterline. Hurricane Betsy came in 1965 and destroyed many Stiltsville buildings.
By 1965 the County stopped issuing building permits. Owners had to pay a $100 annual camping fee and secure their quarter acre of water. Any building that suffered more than 50% damage could not get a permit to rebuild. In 1967 WRIZ radio station built a transmission tower in Stiltsville. Commercial operations were stopped after 1969. By 1976 the leases were $300 year and all leases were to terminate by 1999 with buildings to be removed at the owners expense.
In 1980 the area came within Biscayne National Park boundaries and the Park service extended the lease terms. By mid 1990’s there was a public push to preserve the buildings. Only the seven buildings were standing by 1999. In 2000 they were successful with the Park negotiations and leases were extended again. By 2003 the Trust was put in place and existing lease holders became caretakers of the properties.The buildings are owned by the National Park Service who reinforced the foundations but the caretakers (former owners) can visit and help maintain the remaining buildings. Stiltsville has been the subject of books,TV shows, movies and advertising photo shoots. It is a very unique place with a interesting past.
Monday, October 01, 2012
THAT’S A WRAP
Well, the 2012 recreational boating season on Georgian Bay is coming to an end. Those boats that do go out are staying close to home. The water in the anchorages is getting a bit to brisk to swim. I am always amazed at the transformation in weather in Ontario at this time of year. It seems only a few weeks ago we were anchored out in baking hot sun and swimming in bathtub warm water. While there is still plenty of sunshine, the colder overnight temperatures and clear night skies shed the heat even faster and the water gives off heat in a hurry.
The little towns along the Bay like Killarney go from bustling to sleepy like someone turned of a switch. The island anchorages change their pattern of regular boat visitors to no visitors. At dinner the other night I talked to a chap that just came back from the North Channel on a September fall cruise and there only one other boat in all of Baie Fine. Makes me wonder what it would be like to visit the Bustards or other remote anchorages in November for a week. It would be a completely different surreal experience with no other boats and the odd gale roaring through.
I was surprised at how many boats are out of the water already. Boats are already being blocked up on the parking pavement in my marina. Gosh the season is short on Georgian Bay. It seems like only yesterday that the season started. Well we had a good summer this year if it’s any solace. The only way to get your boat fix now is to head south for the many upcoming boat shows or charter in some warmer clime. Just south in the Chesapeake folks can cruise up until December or later if they are lucky. It really doesn’t seem fair does it? ... but I suppose Georgian Bay is so intense and such a feast for the eyes that we should all be satisfied with a five month season. Here’s a pic from the Bustards that will help tide you over until spring. If you look carefully you can see a sailboat in the distance at anchor through the dinghy passage between the two anchorages.I was surprised to see them show up there. They had the whole anchorage to themselves even though it was summertime.