THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Gregory Heroux, owner and founder of Sail Superior, says they are ranked at the top of the list of Ontario experiences yet many local residents are unaware of the sailing opportunities he provides.
“When (visitors) look up Thunder Bay for any kind of sailing or waterfront experiences, they will know about us,” he said.
“Thunder Bay Tourism knows about us and promotes us, Destination Ontario knows about us and Destination Canada knows about us,” said Heroux, who has operated Sail Superior since 2014.
“It’s very interesting that people who live in Thunder Bay don’t know the waterfront because they haven’t been down there yet. People coming to Thunder Bay know what’s here, yet people living here don’t know what they have in their own backyard.”
From corporate events, weddings and bachelorette parties to birthdays, anniversaries and school reunions, people can partake in a completely new experience by hosting their event on the water.
Harbour tours, or adventures as Heroux likes to call them, are provided on board one of four vessels. His catamaran sailboat is the largest and newest addition to his fleet and will accommodate up to 24 people. The Frodo is a monohull sailboat that can have up to eight people, and his Zodiac rigid inflatable boat (RHIB) called Superior Rocket, will propel up to 12 people quickly across the water to reach and explore other parts of the shoreline.
A fourth vessel remains in storage. The different experiences range from a complete harbour tour, a sail around the Welcome Islands where they can drop anchor and have lunch on board, a quick ride to the Sleeping Giant for a morning of rock climbing or a calm sail around the harbour.
There is even an overnight sail to the Sleeping Giant. Heroux will supply caterers for events and will supply wine, cheese and other food items that are requested.
“We can provide everything for you. We have a wide by-the-bottle purchase and there’s local craft beers because we support all the local craft brewers,” he said.
“We support the Cheese Encounter, we have some fantastic charcuterie trays as well as the cheese trays with all kinds of fantastic cheese from the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm and local chocolate from Chocolate Cow. We do as much local business as we possibly can and we’re hoping that all the locals come back and say, ‘hey, this is where we need to support our business.”
The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on Sail Superior and caused a delay in Heroux receiving his new catamaran from the Caribbean for over a year.
“That was very expensive because we couldn’t go there to get it,” he said. “We couldn’t bring it back and finally delivering it was quite expensive. So we’re a little bit behind where we want it to be. We started this expansion in 2019 and it’s 2022 and we’re still not where we wanted to be.”
Heroux says it was very expensive to run his operation during that period of time, just from implementing safety protocols alone, among other things.
“We doubled down with our monohull (sailboat) and the difficulty was that people weren’t mixing and we couldn’t mix the group up. So we had to wait for people to form their own private tour,” he said.
People had to develop their own private group for safety protocols to make the experience affordable.
Safety is always priority number one for Heroux and his crew, whether it is COVID-related or basic water safety and comfort.
He installed higher railings around the catamaran, and provides life jackets for everyone, including crew members, on board.
We have life rafts, fire extinguishers, sensors, bilge pumps and everything you need to prepare for a safe ride,” he said.
“We have safety briefings and we’ve got some really great crew to drive the boat property and others supervise people. That is our primary focus . . . safety, pleasure, and then everything else that comes after but safety is first because Lake Superior is cold and you don’t want to be in the water.”
Passengers are instructed to dress accordingly because lake temperatures can change quickly. There are heaters and air conditioning on board the catamaran as well as hot water for tea or coffee.
Heroux says most people have looked out onto the lake and are familiar with the view, but not as many have been able to look at the city and see the hills and the buildings.
“It’s really interesting. When the green (foliage) comes out, all summer long it’s amazing. When there are forest fires and the haze comes through here, the sunsets are incredible,” he said. “Seeing the sunset of your city is pretty spectacular. And then things start changing. The fall is crisp and it’s sort of like the energy from the lake that has been heating all summer long, releases that energy back off.”
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal