The Western Islands are a chain of low lying rock islands and shoals situated almost 9 nautical miles west of O’Donnell Point.
Barren and exposed with little vegetation they offer no protection from wind or currents; when the Bay starts to churn this is not the place you want to be! But when on her best behaviour the Bay can transform even this remote and rugged rock pile into a place of serene and magical beauty, particularly in the evenings!
The best way to plan a visit is not to plan at all, but rather wait for that perfect mix of sunny seasonal temperatures (less chance of squalls/thunderstorms if not too humid), and a long term forecast of very low winds. And remember to take a good assortment of ropes, grappling hooks, anchors and most of all patience!
The anchorage is located within the Northeastern group of islands. There is depth through the middle and a bedrock bottom making it tricky to get a good hold.
My preference for anchoring is with front anchor set, stern tie to shore and then add a midship anchor out each side to alleviate the pull on the front anchor. Alternatively, there are 3 pins in the rocks on the north side of Crescent Island and 1 on the small rock outcrop just north of those. The space between the two provide plenty of distance for a boat to sit 4 way tied, using the front anchor as a point. For this one you really need to be prepared with ropes ready to go ashore while another holds the boat steady as there is not a lot of room to swing. Here is a drawing (not to scale) with approximate depths noted and pin locations but be sure to post a bow watch.
Once your vessel is secure, take a deep breath and relax, knowing that now the fun begins – exploring time!
The hill on Harbour Island offers fantastic views of Georgian Bay, the Westerns, and best of all – your boat, making for some very memorable photo’s and awesome screen savers!
Below is a video giving a 360 degree view standing atop the highest peak – you will see it is definitely worth the climb!
Not to be missed is a dinghy trip to Double Top Island to see the lighthouse, operational since 1895. Situated on a jagged piece of rock at the southwest end of the island chain there can be quite a chop in the water even on fairly calm days. When approaching from the Western Islands there are many shallow shoals on the east side so stay to port and approach the light house from the south east, keeping a bow watch.
Amazing that at one point in history a keeper lived on this slab of rock from spring until late fall, managing the lantern so the commercial traffic could safely pass by the dangerous shoals. The house no longer exists and I have heard that when commissioned for demolition, it was dynamited and cast into the Bay late one fall in order for the demolition crew to escape the rock before ice over!
But on a hot summer night the only ice will be in your glass as you enjoy a stunning sunset – my favorite part about the Westerns! The true beauty comes alive as the dropping sun illuminates the pink granite outcrops, creating shadows in the deep crevasses as it slowly lowers in the sky.
The golden carpets of lichen that adorn the west facing rocks make for some stunning photographs during these magical hours. This is the time to relax on one of the rocks along the outskirts of the harbour and toast Captain and Crew for a job well done! Then sit back, enjoy that sunset and the sound of the waves as they roll across that sweet water to the rocky shoreline of the Westerns.
The Westerns are definitely for boaters that prefer the road less travelled, but hopefully my story will give some of you a little more confidence to go, if even just for a day visit. If going on the weekend, it can get busy mid morning onwards with cottagers day tripping so try to arrive early to allow time to secure your vessel. This is Georgian Bay boating at it’s finest; you will not be disappointed with this anchorage and will leave with many wonderful memories!