Grace Anne II is a deluxe floating fishing lodge that has been cruising the pristine waters of Lake of the Woods practically since it was launched in 1931.
Chef Nicky Dartiailh is a solid six footer and the kitchen he commands measures a mere six feet by seven feet.
Yet, even with a stiff wind slapping white caps against his kitchen bulkhead, Dartiailh turns out gourmet meals that win raves from some of the toughest cuisine critics a chef can face.
When you’re paying $1,000 a day to catch fish, two things are vital to keep you happy – hungry fish and hearty meals.
Lake of the Woods is famous for both – particularly when you are a passenger aboard Grace Anne II, one of Canada’s most historic yachts.
Dartiailh’s small galley is below decks on the 82-year-old yacht and despite its size, he manages to lay out delicious multi-course meals with fine china and tingling crystal around the eight-seat banquet table.
Passengers however don’t eat all their meals in the elegant, mahogany-lined dining room. Some are consumed while sitting on a pine log, beside a fire pit amidst Precambrian rocks. And they’re eating their catch pulled earlier in the day from the teeming waters of Lake of the Woods.
Grace Anne II is a deluxe floating fishing lodge that has been cruising the pristine waters of this northern lake shared by Minnesota and Ontario practically since it was launched in 1931. For much of its career it pampered only passengers who did business with 3M Corporation of Minnesota, or were friends and family of a wealthy Manitoba businessman.
But today anybody can taste its luxury in the wilderness, if they gather seven other friends or cohorts willing to pay $1,000/day U.S. to cruise one of the world’s most beautiful lakes.
The yacht was built in Gravenhurst, Ontario by Ditchburn Boats and launched in Orillia to start a long, challenging trip to Lake of the Woods.
The 25.9-metre-long (85 ft.) vessel has the sleek, elegant lines of its namesake, Grace Anne Forlong, the daughter of a wealthy Manitoba businessman. It sailed as a private family yacht for its first 10 years on Lake of the Woods, but fuel rationing during W.W. ll confined the yacht to its boathouse for much of the ‘40s.
Soon after emerging from its war-time hibernation it was sold to 3M Corp. of Minneapolis as a corporate retreat to entertain preferred customers, suppliers and executives on hunting and fishing trips to northern Ontario.
Lake of the Woods is the boundary between Ontario, Manitoba and Minnesota. The yacht has always been based in Kenora, a popular resort town on the north shore along the TransCanada Highway. It’s also the hometown of the Kenora Thistles, a hockey team composed of lumbermen who won the Stanley Cup in 1907.
The Stanley Cup returned to Kenora in 2012 when Los Angles King centreman Mike Richards, a Kenora native, brought it home to accompany him on a fishing excursion aboard Grace Anne II.
To move the yacht from Orillia to Lake of the Woods, a crew motored it up the Trent-Severn Canal to Georgian Bay and across Lake Superior to Thunder Bay, then called Prince Arthur. There it was severed into three pieces and loaded on a flat car for a harrowing rail trip to Rainy River.
Only two inches separated the hull from some railway bridges and rock cuts while traversing northern Ontario.
Today the vessel appears as a modern replica of those elegant by-gone days in the cruising world, yet it’s still wearing the luxury finishes with which it rolled out of the Ditchburn factory in Gravenhurst.
Of course it has all the modern safety and guidance equipment required of a public passenger vessel. Up in the wheelhouse, Captain Brad Doerksen guides the vessel around the 14,500 islands in the lake using a combination of high tech gadgets, plus his knowledge from growing up on the lake and an oil-lamp-lighted compass.
Doerksen and a partner bought the Grace Anne ll from 3M when that corporate giant cut back to its core business. He operated it as a touring, fishing and hunting lodge, but eventually sold it to Winnipeg businessman Morris Chia.
Grace Anne II sleeps eight in quaint mahogany-lined staterooms. The owner’s cabin in the bow has its own shower. It’ll anchor overnight in a secluded bay, or it can tie up to the dock on Big Narrows Island.
When aboard Grace Anne II professional fishing boats with a guide come alongside to whisk passengers off to the best fishing holes on the lake. Although you are out in the wilderness you are being closely watched.
Bald eagles sit in the tall pines awaiting one of Doerksen’s favourite tricks. He’ll catch a trout, snap its neck and throw it high in the air. Before the water has settled from the splash, a bald eagle will swoop down from the treetop and snatch the fish off the surface.
But many of the fish in this lake are too big for an eagle to carry. Grace Anne passengers pull 54-inch-long Muskie out of Lake of the Woods and they’re still out there. It’s mostly catch-and-release for that size, but the passenger gets their photo entered in the yacht’s scrap book.
Doerksen says there’s likely not a more abundant lake in North America for game fish.
Most cruises aboard Grace Anne II are three days, but your group can customize its own excursion. More details are available at www.graceanne.com.