Island entrepreneur purchases tour boat for N. Channel cruises

100-passenger vessel in service next spring

LITTLE CURRENT—Chris Blodgett of Discovery Yacht Charters has been even harder at work than usual this season, besides offering people the experience of a lifetime with charters on one of his nine yachts for hire, the North Channel proprietor now has his sights set on entering the cruise line business.

This fall, Mr. Blodgett and a crew will reposition Le Grand Heron, a 75’ tri-hull passenger tour boat with a 30’ beam, from its current dry dock in the Magdalen Islands to the Port of Little Current, a 1,700 nautical-mile journey, thus launching North Channel Cruise Line Inc.

“We will then spend the winter refitting and commissioning the vessel with scheduled service to each of the feature destinations to commence in May 2014,” Mr. Blodgett explained. “Cosmetically the boat will need a lot of work, but structurally and mechanically she is in great shape. This boat is truly one-of-a-kind and will be a perfect fit for our intended use.”

His “intended use” is to operate North Channel tours with the spacious 100-passenger vessel. Tours will operate three to four days per week, he noted, and feature destinations, such as Baie Fine, the Benjamin Islands and Killarney. These tours will be approximately five to eight hours.

“Shorter duration tours will be available as well,” Mr. Blodgett added. “These might include sunset and dinner cruises. We are also considering offering guided hikes inside Killarney Park to Lake Topaz. Other specialty tours might include bicycling tours in Killarney and overnight camping tours. We also hope to offer a connecting ferry link to Killarney a minimum of two days per week. The list of possibilities for this craft just keeps growing and is pretty endless. The vessel would be berthed in Little Current and operate from May to the end of October.”

All routes, he noted, are less than 20 nautical miles and are in sheltered waters.

The vessel is fitted with galley, head and bar facilities capable of servicing onboard patrons with food and beverage services to be offered on varying levels dependant on demand, he explained. A small canteen and gift shop will also operate on board and Mr. Blodgett hopes the craft will also attract North Channel yachters. “The boat can also act as a floating canteen for people at anchor,” he shared. “We would welcome the general boating public to come enjoy a drink in our bar (after Alcohol and Gaming Commission licencing).”

The vessel’s salon area will be finished to attract weddings, semi-formal and corporate events, as well as atop the upper deck. “We will fit the vessel with the latest in both navigation and entertainment electronics including large screen televisions so our clients can take in the big game inside the pub at the same time as they have the LaCloche Mountain range as a backdrop,” Mr. Blodgett said.

The tour boat has the added bonus of a glass-bottom section of hull, which is sure to captivate its travellers with the treasures that lurk beneath North Channel waters.

Safety is paramount to Mr. Blodgett, who explained that the vessel was originally built in 2006, manufactured completely out of aluminum, and is “an incredibly stable three-hull style ship. The hull, deck and railing design and materials make this vessel incredibly durable, lightweight for its size, shallow draft, highly economical and most importantly—extremely safe.”

“Because of its 18 water tight bulkheads, the vessel’s stability, even in the event of a collision or damaging weather conditions, should not be compromised,” he added. “Reliability and safety will be paramount and the vessel will be thoroughly, numerously and professionally surveyed, inspected and licenced by Transport Canada. Certifications will include approval from Transport Canada for routes to and between the Benjamin Islands, as well as Baie Fine and Killarney.”

“In the time I’ve lived here, I’ve spent enough time on this dock and seen the pedestrians looking for something to do that I’m hoping it will become a feature attraction for the area,” Mr. Blodgett said. “During the market analysis phase of our business plan, the data collected pointed overwhelmingly to the fact that such an attraction is long overdue in our tourism market and would be well utilized. Exciting opportunities will now exist for gathering family and friends together in the paradise that is the Benjamin Islands or Baie Fine. While we will be offering regularly scheduled tours, the vessel will also be available for private charters.”

Mr. Blodgett said he is also pleased to add to the job market on Manitoulin with this new venture, noting, “We will be recruiting for various professional crew and food and beverage positions for next season and we have already contracted a licenced captain to take command of the ship.”

“The North Channel Cruise Line will enable access to the area’s most rich and unusual landscapes for many members of the public that would otherwise not get the opportunity to see such local treasures,” the proprietor continued. “I can’t believe the number of people that I run into up here that say they have never been out on this waterway; have never seen the Benjamins or Baie Fine. That just seems wrong to me and I am going to provide an affordable way for everyone to be able to spend some quality time out there. Our sister company, Discovery Yacht Charters, has been offering crewed tours for up to 10 guests, but due to the limitations of our fleet, these offerings are sporadic and not always available. It will be great to have such a service available on a regular schedule.”

Mr. Blodgett said he has already been in contact with the Great Spirit Circle Trail, Little Current tour operators Franklin and Frobisher and the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, all of which are keen to see this new venture afloat.

“We were very pleased to have the support of the municipal councils of the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands as well as the town of Killarney,” he added. “Both councils discussed our intentions at their regular council meetings and provided written support in principal of the plan. We were very happy that the councils and administration staff are so welcoming of the project. MPP Mike Mantha has also stated his support, as has the new Manitoulin Hotel and the Anchor Inn. We are really excited to work with all of these well-respected Island organizations.”

Le Grand Heron will be ready for business in the spring of 2014.

Alicia McCutcheon