Black Bay: Still Wild Enough

A key ambition of the 2020 season, with a new (to us) boat and a covid-19 lockdown urging us into wilderness, was to get back to Black Bay, north of Britt, on northeastern Georgian Bay. We hadn’t been there in close to 20 years, back when we kept a powerboat at Wright’s Marina in Britt and drove to it for excursions from our home outside Midland. Wright’s is still there, and is still as fine a family-run marina as it ever was, and after an overnight there, we reached Black Bay, just around the corner, to the north.

There were two big changes from the last visit. Water levels were at a record high, about four feet above chart datum. Getting into Black Bay off the small craft route at Cunningham’s Channel requires local knowledge and a sharp eye for shoals in water that is a bit opaque from tannin. With that much extra water, shoals that normally are two feet down are six feet down and well out of range of our prop. On the other hand, low rocky islets are the “new” shoals, and the general lay of the land becomes hard to recognize. The other big change, which I’ll get to, is the wind turbines of Henvey Inlet.

We made it in, and out, of Black Bay, without incident, but I was grateful for sunshine.

Sunshine is appreciated when you are trying to spot the shoals. You can just see one in the foreground.

Being so close to Britt, Black Bay is not an unknown recreational quantity. We saw three other powerboats anchored in the area, as well as a multihull tied to a rock wall where a campsite was pitched, and the usual small fishing boats wandered through. But it’s still a wild place. The first time we visited, a young black bear bolted from the shore at the sight of us. After anchoring for a few hours in a familiar spot in the back, we moved to a hidey-hole I had seen but never been in before (see Google Earth image below), after another boat departed. A reconnaissance in the dinghy gave me enough sense of the shoals guarding the entrance to poke our nose in, and we were rewarded with one of the nicest anchorages I’ve ever been in: quiet, and alone.

As for the wind turbines: the Henvey Inlet First Nation wind farm is impressively large. When I started running north offshore, coming out of Pointe au Baril, the forest of white turbine towers and blades started emerging on the horizon. I wasn’t sure how I was going to find the experience of them. Back in 2009, I drove through the Maple Ridge wind farm in upstate New York. About 200 turbines have been erected in the rolling countryside of Lewis County, and having all those rotating things, wherever you looked, was a bit unsettling to me. The Henvey farm is smaller in terms of the number of turbines, 87, but these are much bigger turbines: 3.45-mW Vesta V136s, versus the 1.65-mW Vesta V82s at Maple Ridge. (The model number refers to the turbine blade diameter, in meters.)

My perspective here is an aesthetic one, which does not take precedence over the environmental and community benefits of these turbine fields. The closest turbine was about 1.8-km away from our anchorage, as they are all grouped in an installation north of Black Bay, on either side of Henvey Inlet. I found them unobtrusive, silent at that distance. When I made a short run in the dinghy around from our anchorage into Sandy Bay, to inspect a couple anchorages there, their presence was much more keenly felt, even though they were still about 1.7-km away, because the view there is unobstructed. I’m not sure I could manage being anchored so close to them. But then, these are the Henvey FN’s lands, and all technicalities about anchoring rights aside, we’re a guest in these waters. (For the record, the mainland thereabouts is part of the FN reserve; the islands are Crown land.)

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