Anchor Inn’s radio reels in the boaters

By Elaine Anselmi

LITTLE CURRENT, ON—July marks the start of the tourism season across Manitoulin Island, and the Anchor Inn Hotel is firing up its radio to call-out to boaters and perhaps welcome them in for a drink or two. The Anchor, sitting just above the harbour in Little Current, on the northeastern tip of Manitoulin Island, caters to its boat-heavy clientele through an informational radio program and as a standing meeting point for the marine community.

Anchor Inn, across from the harbour in Little Current, ON.

Anchor Inn, across from the harbour in Little Current, ON.

“What it’s allowed us to do is position ourselves as the epicenter for boating on the North Channel,” Anchor Inn owner Bruce O’Hare told CLN. O’Hare provides the space and the VHF radio that local boating veteran, Roy Eaton, broadcasts Cruisers’ Net from every morning at 9 a.m. during July and August.

Hearing his broadcast everyday, O’Hare said people want to meet Eaton. This interest led to a weekly happy hour bringing in boaters from all over Lake Huron for drinks and complimentary appetizers.

“It’s a wonderful way to not only attract traffic to our hotel, but also to the port,” said O’Hare. “They spend money at The Beer Store, the laundromat and more.” He said throughout the season, boating traffic is probably 50 per cent of their business at the Anchor restaurant.

Hurricane cocktails are a deal during bad weather

Another option O’Hare provides the boating community is a place to wait out bad weather, and a stiff drink to go along with it. Inspired by Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, O’Hare makes a rum-based Hurricane cocktail, that he sells with two shots for the price of one on days when Environment Canada releases high-wind warnings—something Eaton mentions on the Cruiser’s Net while he advises of the weather warning. 

Staff at the Anchor Inn.

Staff at the Anchor Inn.

“What [Cruisers’ Net has] allowed us to do is talk to boaters every morning, where they live: in the cockpit of their boat,” said O’Hare. “The hotel bought all of the equipment, but it makes the port more friendly and draws attention to the hotel.” That equipment has seen heavy upgrades since the first airing of Cruiser’s Net in 2004.

“Now we have a military grade radio they make for the Canadian coast guard, which means it’s four times or five times more powerful,” said O’Hare. “It covers many hundreds of square miles.” As well as offering news bits and weather updates, the service allows boaters to call in and put word out to others on the water.

In an emergency, such as a missing or non-responsive boat, O’Hare said the first person the coastguard will call is Eaton. “He’ll put out the name of the boat and half an hour later two [guards] will float up saying ‘you need to call Roy’,” he said.

Having a largely international clientele, O’Hare adopted another marketing strategy that he attributes to “the restaurant doctor” Bill Marvin. When the Anchor’s restaurant gets busy and wait-times increase, O’Hare and his servers “postcard” tables. He has a stack of Anchor Inn postcards and postage read to go, and as the server brings water or drink orders, they offer a postcard. “They say, ‘while you’re waiting, I’m going to give you this postcard, write a letter to your family back home and tell them you’re having a great time’,” explained O’Hare. They’ll even offer to mail it. “For us, it buys time, increases the gratuity for the server—you’ve done something nice for them they didn’t expect—but also, when it arrives back at home, it’s a little piece of marketing.”