Sunday, April 20, 2008


Well, last week I said it looked like summer was just about to burst -- and this week, lo and behold, it did. This meant it was time to haul the boats down from their winter slumber for the first paddle of the year.

In what's becoming an annual tradition, my wife Amy and I like to make our first paddle of the new season over to the Toronto Islands. The best way to get there by canoe or kayak is to launch from Cherry Beach, cross the channel they call the Eastern Gap, and you're pretty much there. Wetsuits are a good idea for this trip, which overall is a pretty easy paddle, but the Gap can really get rolling in a strong wind, and the water in Lake Ontario at this time of year is only about 5C.

The Islands are a unique community in Toronto. Aside from a group of permanent residents who live in a tight cluster of eclectic little houses on Ward's Island (the easternmost of the chain), they're pretty much all public parks and beaches. They're also home to a number of yacht clubs, the most notable of which being the storied Royal Canadian Yacht Club, which can trace its roots all the way back to 1852 and runs two vintage ferries back and forth from the city for its members. The islands are also home to the Gibraltar Point lighthouse, one of the oldest on the Great Lakes. You can read more about it here.

Yesterday, the islands were a beehive of activity. Boats were being untarped. The sound of sawing and hammering wafted through the air. Cranes and winches worked overtime to get freshly painted craft into the water as their owners watched from shore and dreamed of the nautical adventures to come. They're pretty much all sailboaters (or "stickboaters" as my father derisively referred to them), with boats with names like "Calamity II," "Breezy," or my personal favourite, "Sloop du Jour."

Being part of the city, of course, the islands have their wilder side. For the more risque, a clothing-optional beach is located on Hanlan's Point. But the devil-may-care vibe isn't limited to this little stretch of sand; in a very clothing-mandatory cove on Algonquin Island we came upon a couple of, let's say, amorous, Torontonians who did an amusing scramble for clothing when we glided our ever-so-silent kayaks in to see if we could spot some wildlife.

We weren't disappointed.

For more on the Toronto Islands, click here.

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