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"Cruiser's Net" featured in Cruising World Article

Below article originally appeared in May 2006 Issue of Cruising World

Permission to reproduce: March 2007 | Writer: Fred Bagley



You wake up with some chest pain. Could be the jalapeños from last night, but your spouse is nervous and thinks you should call someone. Or you simply want to reach your brother, who's cruising nearby, but you can't raise him. You're in a great anchorage, but it's a cellphone black hole. If you're cruising in the Lake Huron's North Channel, you're in luck.

Flip on VHF Channel 71, and you'll hear, "It's 9 a.m. Welcome, boaters, to the Little Current Cruisers Net." You've just tuned into a local North American VHF radio network for cruisers, and for the next 15 to 20 minutes, along with hundreds of other like-minded sailors, you're in touch with the rest of the world.


The announcer identifies himself as Roy, past commodore of the Little Current Yacht Club. Roy is Roy Eaton, and he'll be the first to insist that this program isn't about him--and of course, in the larger sense, it isn't. But without Roy, there'd be no program. Roy is a lifelong North Channel sailor, certified Canadian Yacht Association instructor, retired principal in the local schools, and ham-radio operator. He's an affable, burly, avuncular sort, with a professional on-air delivery no doubt perfected over all those years of making announcements over school intercoms.

Three years ago, while cruising in the Bahamas, he developed a Canadian news program. He pulled in news off his onboard SSB radio, wrote his scripts, and sent a few minutes' worth of news of Canada out over the Caribbean airways. It was a big hit. When he returned home, he wondered why a similar service couldn't be offered in his local cruising area. The geography was perfect for it.


Little Current, Ontario, is where the North Channel narrows to 100 yards. Sailors can't get from one end to the other without going through it. It's a great place to reprovision and get locally made ice cream, and within a few miles of town in both directions are, as Roy says, "dozens of five-star anchorages." He realized that few Great Lakes sailors have a single-sideband radio on their boats; instead, they rely almost exclusively on VHF channels. But with all the high hills, VHF coverage is spotty in the region's tiny coves.

Enter Bruce O'Hare, another local sailor and owner of the Anchor Inn Bar and Grill, located on Little Current's harbor. He bought a VHF unit and mounted an antenna on the roof of his bar, 90 feet off the ground. The Canadian coast guard, which zealously monitors use of marine radio traffic on VHF, gave its tacit support, and on July 1, 2004, the Little Current Cruisers Net was born. Unlike its Caribbean counterpart, the Little Current Net has no commercial support and no commercials.


Roy starts his day at 6 a.m., updates the local weather, gets world and Canadian news off the Internet, sprinkles in some sports and entertainment gossip, and always includes news from the Little Current area. Then it's off to his studio under the stairs of Bruce's bar. At 8:58, he goes on Channel 16 to remind boaters to switch to Channel 74. Every broadcast opens with, "Is there any emergency, medical, or priority traffic?" This is your chance to get help with that chest pain.

And every broadcast ends with call-ins. Boats over a 50-mile radius call in by name and location, often adding tidbits about northern lights or where a taxi can be found. If Roy gets a garbled message, he asks for a relay from another boat. This is when you get passed through to your brother in the next cove over.

How successful has the Little Current Cruisers Net been? During that first summer, as few as three boats would call in a day. In the summer of 2005, upwards of 40 called, and for the year, the net recorded 1,022 call-ins from 342 boats. Roy estimates that while only one in 10 boats actually calls in, several hundred hear the broadcast every day.

This year, the tower on the bar roof is 120 feet high, and a new 25-watt unit with improved wiring has gotten the signal farther and clearer. This year, Roy plans to incorporate more local weather into the program by installing a local weather station and looking at three surrounding Doppler weather Internet sites to help local sailors with their plans for the day. And Bruce has promised to move him out from under the stairs and into a room with a view of the waterfront.

So if you're in the North Channel next summer, check your clock, turn on the VHF to Channel 71, get another cup of coffee, and wait for, "Good morning, boaters. It's 9 a.m." That'll be Roy calling.

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