Heading over the waters

Gregory Heroux, owner of Sail Superior and captain of the catamaran named Welcome, is at the helm of the vessel in the Thunder Bay port.

Sail Superior, which is designated as an Ontario Signature Experience, was recognized with a Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award for small business earlier this month.

And Sail Superior’s owner, Gregory Heroux, is thrilled for his company’s future.

“It’s an exciting year and we have so many new things,” he said. “We’re opening up our tours now for drop-ins so that people don’t have to be in a group anymore.”

Heroux says they are also expanding their service to Porphyry Island, Silver Islet, Battle Island and the north shore with the use of their Zodiac rigid inflatable boat, called Superior Rocket, that will accommodate up to 12 people.

“And of course we have the regular tours with the Zodiac and with Frodo, our monohull sailboat that can accommodate up to eight people, and the Welcome, our catamaran, that will accommodate up to 24 people.”

A year out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Heroux says they are still feeling the impact.

“We went down a little bit and we had to shift gears when the pandemic was here,” he said. “When the travel stopped, we had to look in different places and we found new people. They’re not going away now so it’s an added bonus to have them.”

Heroux says it was tough to struggle through the pandemic, but new avenues opened up and are still there.

“The regulars that are coming back to the business will grow because we now have a little bit more reach,” he said, adding that most of his clientele were travellers passing through the city instead of local people.

The impact of the cruise lines is also “slowly” being felt, he said, which opens up more tours for them to take passengers to the lighthouses, islands or north shore destinations.

Thunder Bay Tourism manager Paul Pepe is monitoring the trend with water travel.

“The north channel of Lake Superior and the archipelago are really emerging as an area of interest for the discovery cruise lines and it really represents one of the newest destinations and undiscovered cruising destinations in the world for small ships,” he said.

“Because it’s untapped, the natural beauty is spectacular. Not many people get to get up close and personal to it and there’s a lot of Indigenous culture and heritage in the areas that all lend themselves to becoming a new area of interest.”

Pepe called Sail Superior one of the best-in-class visitor experiences in Ontario and says they’ve been innovative with their expansion and new programming.

Meanwhile, things appear to be smooth sailing for Heroux as he prepares to launch his watercraft this month.

“I’m going to find more captains because I don’t have enough crew for it,” Heroux said. “We grew fast and we have to scramble for staff.”