Harbour masters should be a beacon of welcome
To the Expositor:
I love the North Channel. Over the past 15 years I have been exploring its waters on my 14 ft. racing dinghy and enjoying the company of like-minded people spread out across its islands, bays and marinas. However, when I arrived in Gore Bay by boat in late July, I have never been made to feel so unwelcome. One of the first people I met shouted at me, “Why did you have to come to our town?”
Indeed, within 12 hours of arriving in Gore Bay I was asking myself the same question.
After nine hours of sailing in strong winds from Kagawong in my boat, I was exhilarated, tired and in need of rest. From previous visits by boat I knew there was a small patch of sand on the waterfront just beside the marina, and this is where I beached my boat. I understood that for a nominal fee I could use the restrooms as a guest of the marina. With the Janet Head Lighthouse campground long closed, I anticipated pitching a small tent beside my boat for one night, and as a courtesy to the harbour master and the bylaw officer, I called and left a message explaining my situation and my plan.
In the morning I met the bylaw officer. He was kind, courteous and firm in his resolve that my tent would come down immediately. He shared the awkward news that his phone was ringing at six in the morning about my presence on the beach. After a flurry of conversation, he reminded me that I hadn’t “done anything wrong.” I already knew that, but it was less clear what I had done right.
With the tent coming down I met the harbour master, and he was equally firm that my boat—shorter than any canoe or kayak—could not stay on the beach for any length of time and offered a place to tie it up along an empty wharf or dock. He also offered to store my gear inside the marina while I found a ride back to Little Current to fetch my car and trailer.
I appreciated their help, but I was aware that I was a nuisance that must be whisked out of full public view quickly. Also, they seemed to be less concerned with helping and unfairly burdened by the ‘optics’ of the process: Who was watching? Who complained? How fast could this problem be resolved? Would it be understood that they were doing their jobs?
I did not expect the kindness of strangers, but two boaters took an interest in my small boat and smaller irritations about being hustled off the beach. They shared my view that it’s idiotic to have a waterfront if you can’t use the waterfront. Through them I understood that I might be caught up in the wake of deplorable behaviour by RVer’s in previous summers.
I own and enjoy 27 acres on the waterfront at Misery Point where I spend many happy hours in my log cabin. If someone arrived on my waterfront property—a canoeist, kayaker, sailor or frogman—my first instinct would be to offer assistance and aid as necessary; I would not expedite their experience and usher them hurriedly back onto the cold water.
Shakespeare wrote that “Ships are but boards, and sailors but men.” What will happen to other men, other people, dinghy sailors, canoeists, and kayakers when they sail or paddle into Gore Bay? Will they also be driven away as quickly as possible and be made to feel unwelcome? If so, that would be callous and shameful behavior.
I view the office of the harbour master as a lighthouse, as a beacon of security and refuge from the cold water and turbulent seas. I fully realize I am not sailing in on a pimped-out yacht or trawler from Toronto or Michigan. I realize that as a sailor of small craft I may not fit the target demographic of Gore Bay’s brand. What I did expect was a little less haste in pushing me off the beach and a little more compassion. If the office of the harbour master is merely viewed as an ‘optics’ neutralizer and cash register, I would caution kayakers and small craft sailors to steer well clear of the turbulent waters of Gore Bay.
I would encourage town council, the harbour master, bylaw enforcement and other interested residents of Gore Bay to discuss how in future they can help people in small craft coming off the water. It doesn’t take a lot to make someone feel welcome.
Owen Sound and Misery Point, Manitoulin Island