Tobermory is a small town situated at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, which separates the Georgian Bay from Lake Huron, and is considered the fresh water diving capital of the World. The harbor boasts over 25 shipwrecks that divers and snorkelers can explore, as well as a few wrecks that tour boats can take visitors to. Tours also include a visit to nearby Flower Pot Island.
After much debate about how to spend the day we headed toward the Visitors Center for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. Shortly after arriving at the center, the rain started up again. That would turn out to be the theme for the day. Rain, short break, rain … and so on. We contemplated skipping the day and simply moving on, but decided that, just like our first day at Niagara, the reality was – we were here, and this was the weather we had. So, we took a brief tour of the museum at the visitor’s center, watched the museum movie, and then geared up for a rainy day.
After the visitor’s center we headed downtown in search of a boat tour of the famed shipwrecks and Flower Pot Island. Stopping into the Blue Heron Co. revealed there were a few options to choose from. A quick 25 minute jet boat tour; a 2 hour round trip tour; and a 1 hour, 20 minute tour that dropped you off on Flower Pot Island for hiking, picnicking, etc. As tempting as that last option was, a look at the radar showed we could potentially be stranded on the island, in the rain, for two hours. A not-very-appealing prospect.
We opted for the two hour round trip tour on the glass bottomed boat, and with 45 minutes to kill, set out for a quick lunch. Most of the places we checked in on looked like they would definitely not get us to the boat in time, so instead we ducked into the local grocery store and picked up some salads and such at the deli counter. By the time we finished our purchase the sun was miraculously out again for one of its brief appearances. We spread the rain poncho I had packed on a bench and sat and ate before getting in line for the boat.
As the weather had cleared up (for now), a lot of passengers headed topside for the open boat experience. We had debated our choice while in line and had decided the inside was better in case the rain came back. Plus, what was the point of being on a glass bottomed boat if we were upstairs and couldn’t benefit from the view? The decision was definitely the right one.
The first shipwreck came into view about 10 minutes after we left the dock. From the outside, looking down from the side of the boat, it was mostly just shadow. You could see that something was there, but that was it (the view is apparently better from the outside on nicer days). Looking through the glass bottomed section of the boat was very different. I was shocked at how closely we passed over the wreck – a mere 5 feet above. And the water was so clear you could see remarkable detail of the ship. Here is a collage of a few of the photos I took.
It was fascinating looking at the remains of the ships and hearing the stories of survival and loss. One shipwreck of particular interest noted that while no one had died in the wreck itself, many people had died diving to the wreck. Diving in the area is only recommended for the highly skilled.
The boat tour continued on it’s way over to the famous Flower Pot Island. The island gets its name from rock formations along the shore that look like flower pots. Along the way we saw many kayakers and boaters; beautiful shorelines; and a variety of birds, including two immature bald eagles.
As we finally approached the side of the island with the “flower pots,” the boat began to list to the side – everyone had moved to that side of the boat for the best view. I glanced back at the crew member manning the snack bar. If he wasn’t worried, neither was I. The “flower pots,” which are sea stacks formed over many, many years, were interesting. I didn’t think they looked much like flower pots, but they were certainly unique.
One of the formations had a face in profile, reminding me of New Hampshire’s famed “Old Man of the Mountain,” which collapsed in 2003. For anyone who never had the pleasure of seeing it in person, you can find it memorialized on the back of the New Hampshire state quarter.
After the boat tour, we took a drive around town and strolled out to the Tobermory Lighthouse over in Big Tub Harbor.
We happened upon a group just finishing a shipwreck dive. We stopped to chat for a bit. One of the divers seemed really exhausted and frazzled. He mentioned that he’d been diving many times, but had never had such difficulty.
On the way back to the car we came across a couple who were also from the States. They had just come from the area we were heading next so offered some ideas of places to check out. They were really friendly and it was a great chat.
As the weather still wasn’t terrific, we later checked into a local motel for the night. The next morning we packed up (with the never ending tweaking of our systems included) and headed for the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry which would bring us to South Bay Town on the other side of Lake Huron. It was the first time I’d been on a car carrier ferry. It was fascinating.
The Chi-Cheemaun (which is Ojibwe for “big canoe”), holds 638 passengers and 250 cars, and can travel at 16.25 knots. The ship is 111 meters on length, and 19 meters across the beam. The bow of the boat opens up to allow cars to drive aboard.
As we waited in line to drive aboard we watched as small passenger cars drove into a long chute. The entire chute is then lifted to create a new row for larger vehicles beneath it. Our roof box put us onto the lower level, as the car became too tall to be in the chute. Just ahead of us in line were approximately 25 Mazda Miatas, with their owners all donning Mazda jackets. Clearly they were heading to or returning from some large Miata-family gathering.
The crossing was otherwise uneventful as there was no view to speak of due to the fog. Sriram actually remarked on the unusual fact that our ferry repeatedly used its horn while at open “sea” due to just how thick the fog was.
When we arrived on the other side we headed for the border via Sault St. Marie. We’d heard the American city of Sault St. Marie was more interesting than it’s more industrial Canadian counterpart. However, a quick drive through left us unimpressed. Despite being tired and hungry, we moved straight through Sault St. Marie on both sides of the border, and headed to our new destination of St. Ignace.