Georgian Bay port towns have a wide range of personalities. Some, like Honey Harbour, have a neat, clean, almost obsessively regimented feel to them. Like little bridges between the big city that lurks to the south and the quiet cottages that line the many small islands beyond.
But most, like Bayfield Inlet, where Amy and I found ourselves last weekend, are much more rustic, and owe their existence to some long-gone industry, like forestry or the railway. Today, many still cling to a precarious existence along the Bay's rocky shores, with gas, groceries, cigarettes and other cottage necessities now driving their tiny economies. But despite (and perhaps because of) the relentless march of time, they retain a subtle coziness. And you never know just what you might stumble across.
The Blue Bastard, demon scourge of the Great Lakes, sits partially submerged at her dock in Bayfield Inlet. Her last beer run complete, she waits to be reclaimed by nature. Or at least her hull does. That's a pretty nice outboard that probably won't stay hooked to her transom for too much longer.
A couple hours' paddle out of Bayfield Inlet delivers you to the outer islands, which shelter the inlet from the crashing waters of the open bay. Some of these rocky atolls only barely break the water's surface, but others, like this one, make excellent spots to set up camp for a couple days of exploring.
On Sunday, we picked our way through the labyrinth of the outer islands, occasionally braving the open water. Out here, you never lose the sense that a new mystery lurks around every corner, just waiting to be uncovered. Here is one of the lesser ones; an old Piper floatplane, lovingly restored and docked at a remote cottage. Not much wider than a human body, she was capable of holding a pilot and exactly one passenger. Later, we saw her proud owner looping low over our campsite, no doubt taking in a pretty awesome view.
A slightly more harrowing mystery waited on an island quite near our camp. As we looped back for a nice dinner and a long night's slumber, we came upon him, feasting on weeds and grubs. I can tell I'm getting more comfortable with the presence of bears on the bay. Paddling to within a respectful distance, I held up the camera and made a "tst, tst, tst" sound, like one does when one calls the family cat. Later, I thought: "Did I really do that? There's no way that was smart." But it resulted in a pretty great picture, nonetheless.
I've never slept more deeply than I did during those two nights out on Bayfield Inlet, lulled as I was by the symphony of bugs and the long, echoing wail of a nearby pair of loons. It has been a long, dark winter indeed, but Georgian Bay sure wasn't slow to remind us what a special place she truly is.