Cruisers’ Net host to broadcast from home

Dubbed ‘the Walter Cronkite of the North Channel,’ Roy Eaton will be continuing his popular seasonal VHF broadcasts from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Predicts much smaller 2020 boating community presence

LITTLE CURRENT – My, how time flies. It has been 16 years since former educator and avid boater Roy Eaton founded the North Channel Cruisers’ Net and he has been hosting the popular VHF radio service from atop the Anchor Inn Hotel in Little Current every July and August morning since the beginning—but this year will see a few minor (and temporary) changes. The Cruisers’ Net provides a check-in and message service to boaters plying the waters around Manitoulin Island and has served as a critical connection during emergency and crisis as well as serving to help bond the boating community together.

“I will be broadcasting from my home for the time being,” confirmed Mr. Eaton. “My own antenna is as high as the Anchor’s at 110 feet, so there shouldn’t be that much of a difference in the coverage area. In the west, we might even extend further, but I might lose Killarney and Covered Portage to the east; we will have to see.”

The boating community generally enhances the range of the broadcasts by relaying messages to and from those who are out of direct range. “Absolutely,” said Mr. Eaton. “I expect that will help to fill in many of the gaps that might occur. The real impact will be in the first half of the program.” It is in that first half that Mr. Eaton fills boaters in on some of the things that have been occurring in the wider world while they have been enjoying the placid and secluded anchorages in what are confidently boasted as “the best freshwater boating in the world.”

Mr. Eaton is scheduled to begin the program at 9 am, as usual, on July 1, but the Cruisers’ Net host predicted a much smaller audience will be listening and checking in this year.

“Around half of the calls are from our American friends and from what I am hearing, about all the Americans are not planning on coming this year,” he said. “In fact, many of them say they are not even putting their boats in the water.”

Many of those boaters have been coming to these waters for decades. “Some of them have been coming for 44, 34, 24 years,” said Mr. Eaton. “They are going to miss the North Channel and are very disappointed that they will not be able to come this year, but they all tell me that they will be back.”

The same story is largely being reflected by the boaters coming up from southern Ontario as well. While the border closures between the US and Canada are largely impacting the American boaters, those from the south of the province are largely being dissuaded by the messages they are hearing from the Island.

“They read The Expositor,” said Mr. Eaton. “They see the letters to the editor and the concerns that Islanders have. When you are a cottager, you can come and hide out at the cottage and nobody really sees or interacts with you all that much. You can pretty much disappear out of sight. But when you are on a boat and pull up to the dock, well it’s pretty hard to not be noticed.”

That message is also coming from more official sources as well.

“From what I understand, the government is saying ‘stay in your home port this year’,” said Mr. Eaton. “One of the last things they want is for people to be flitting from port to port,” he said. “There are concerns about a possible second wave.”

The main thing Mr. Eaton will be missing under the new Cruisers’ Net format is that the traditional gathering of boaters in the Cruisers’ Net broadcast room at the Anchor Inn can’t take place. “I am really going to miss that,” he admitted. “Not only is it a wonderful group of new and old friends, they really help in recording the boats that call in.”

Mr. Eaton begins each broadcast by asking if there are any emergencies—it isn’t an idle question, over the years there have been a few such emergencies and the Cruisers’ Net host has successfully supplied those in need with the information and support systems they required. In fact, both the Thunder Bay Coast Guard and the Trenton Air, Search and Rescue Team have Mr. Eaton’s name and contact information in their files just in case they need that VHF channel 71 assistance. After the initial 20-minute broadcast, Mr. Eaton goes on to invite all the boaters to call in and give their vessel’s name and current location. It is also a chance for the listeners to get questions answered and inform other boaters of special news and events.

Mr. Eaton said that he is exploring several other options to help keep the boating community in touch. “I am going to be using Zoom (a popular web-based video conferencing program),” he said. “So the boaters who are out there can log into Zoom and connect that way.”

A little thing like a global pandemic is not about to slow the North Channel’s foremost ambassador down much. So, come July 1, tune into VHF channel 71 to hear Mr. Eaton’s signature tag line: “It’s 9 am. Welcome boaters, to the Little Current Yacht Club’s Cruisers’ Net.”