Bayfield Inlet to Byng Inlet: A Georgian Bay Sectional
August 19 to 28, 2013
Charts: Canadian Hydrographic Service Chart 2203 – Carling Rock to Byng Inlet (Sheet 3)
Topographic Maps: 041H10 Naiscoot River
Intersecting Trip Reports: Byng Inlet to the Limestones and Back
1. Bayfield Inlet to Chicken Liver Channel.
2. Chicken Liver Channel to Byng Inlet.
3. Byng Inlet to Foster Island.
4. Foster Island to Chicken Liver Channel.
5. Chicken Liver Channel to Bayfield Inlet.
The Heart of Stone project typically has me doing distance paddling, always on the move, never in the same place for more than a night. This time I decided to go deep, spending two or three nights in each location, and let the cameras do their thing. I wasn’t disappointed. Often paddling a chart a day, a trip can require entire packs of charts. This trip would only require a single chart, sheet 3 of the CHS Chart 2203.
Bayfield Inlet is one of the closest putins to the Naiscoot River delta, a beautiful area where the Naiscoot River splits into three channels as it wends its way to the Bay, the aptly named North, Middle, and South channels. There are cottages here, but they lack the density of areas further south. Much of the area is still wild. The charts show an inland passage between the north and south channels, but it’s only advisable during times of high water, and even then you might be in for a long slog, dragging your boat through the muck.
The Chicken Liver Channel: Finger Licking Good
The area around the Chicken Liver Channel is wild, and lovely to explore. Mink, beaver, and herons haunt the area, and it has the highest concentration of Five Lined Skinks that I’ve seen anywhere, their blue tails flashing in the sunlight. In late August the blackberries are in full swing, juicing up any breakfast. There are some five star campsites here, and one has a perfect view of the setting sun and rising full moon at the same time. A clever inukshuk marks the entrance from the North Channel, an arch using an improvised keystone. It’s been there for years, an improbable yet uniquely Georgian Bay marker.
Like the French River further north, a lot of canoeists frequent the area. Paddling down the Naiscoot, one can get a taste of the Big Water without having to portage or journey through anything unprotected. Kayaking in from Bayfield Inlet you’ll have to pass the headlands around Charles Inlet, open to the full force of the Bay and exciting if the wind picks up.
Byng Inlet: That’s Pronounced “Jeroo”, not “Gereaux”
Hopping up the coast, I fast-forwarded to the area around Gereaux Island for some time with the lighthouse. A friend who grew up on an island in Bayfield Inlet corrected my pronunciation, locals have Anglicized the name to “Jeroo”, and Prisque Bay is pronounced “Pris”. Even Pointe au Baril is “Point-O-Barrel”.
Gereaux Island is home to the lighthouse of the same name, and the Coast Guard station with a matching red roof. The future of the lighthouse is uncertain, even on their own island they aren’t interesting in maintaining the structure. If you haven’t been following the issues around the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, click here to find out what’s going on. You might not have much longer to visit these lights.
Above, clockwise from top left: the Byng Inlet front range, different angles on the Gereaux Island lighthouse, having a coffee break off of Danny Island, discarded shotgun shells and a 180° panorama of the clifflike shoreline off of Olga Island.
Georgian Bay is typically pristine, but occasionally neglectful campers or boaters will leave their trash behind. Hunters seem to be a special breed, and often discarded shells litter hunting areas. The area around Olga Island was littered with dozens of shell casings floating in the water, bright red plastic competing with blooming Cardinal flowers in the bright sunlight. Why they don’t pack them out is beyond me, they’re glaringly obvious in the natural Bay environment. I hate restating this: pack out what you pack in.
Much of the rock around Byng Inlet is rough and undulating, and good campsites can be hard to find. There can also be a lot of boat traffic heading to and from Little Britt, so it can seem busy. But there are some lovely secluded spots if you take your time to find them, and visiting the lighthouse and ranges make great day trips. The original location of the Byng Inlet light was on Old Tower Rocks, just off of Duffy Island.
Foster and Bourchier Islands, and the Norgate Inlet
Turning south from Byng Inlet, I threaded the long sheltered passages leading to Norgate Inlet. If you look at the charts you’ll see their long distinctive shapes, and they’re still passable to kayaks even in late summer. The area is home to Foster and the Bourchier Islands, and the beautifully rebuilt Duquesne lodge. Kenerick and Prisque Bays break off to the west, there’s an awful lot of this area to explore.
Above, clockwise from top: sunset on the Duquesne lodge, swimming beavers and racoons in Prisque Bay, boats washed up after the storm, sunset behind the Bourchier chevy, and a black bear on Foster Island.
Landing on Foster Island, a large black bear trotted unconcerned around the shoreline. It headed inland, and reinforced an important point: if you ever ask the question ‘are there bears on my island?’, the answer is always yes. Hang your food, and keep your campsite clean. I’ve seen bears all over the Bay: near Killarney, on Franklin Island, in the French River system, in the Massassauga, here, and more. You never know who might show up in the morning.
While in the area a massive storm system blew through, with high winds and immense roll clouds. Lightning struck constantly, so close you could smell the ozone in the air, a real Georgian Bay treat. Exploring after the violence, I came across a kayak lashed to a zodiac, washed up on the rocks. I recorded the registration number and asked some locals to phone it in, but by the next morning the kayak and zodiac motor were gone. Only the zodiac, with it’s easily identifiable number, was still there: 59E42698.
Chicken Liver: Back to the Beginning
South of the Norgate environs are the Head Islands, whose cottages have a beautiful unrestricted view to the west of the Bay. It must be a long trip to get there, the islands are equidistant between Bayfield and Byng Inlets, but it’s an absolutely spectacular property. The maze of rocks between the islands and the mainland are passable, but more confusing than the charts suggest.
Returning to the Chicken Liver Channel, I set up camp for the final night. The moon was still out, and a twilight paddle through the myriad glasslike channels was inspiring.
Above, clockwise from top left: the heart of a flowering water lily, portrait of a mink, Cardinal flower in full bloom, frog among the lily pads, star trails over a Chicken Liver campfire, moonlight on a prime camping spot, yawning mink, and dewdrops on a spiderweb.
Distant northern lights came out that night, as the stars wheeled over a warming campfire. In the morning a dense fog rolled in, adorning the many spider webs with beads of reflective pearl. Frogs floated serenely among the lily pads, Cardinal flowers bloomed, and mink scampered among the rocks, the relaxed business of life in the Chicken Liver Channel. Preparing to head back to civilization, a mink curiously watched me pack gear from amongst the Canadian Shield grasses.
Another perfect day on Georgian Bay.
All photographs © Sean Tamblyn. All rights reserved.