Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW

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Cape Caution


Beach at Dsulish Bay, Smith Sound


Cape Caution keeps a lot of people south. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not, but in 2014, it certainly helped to provide Lori and I with one of the most amazing weeks of cruising that we’ve ever had. Five nights in empty anchorages, a beautiful beach all to ourselves, fresh salmon, excellent swimming, and an amazing 70nm mile sail back into Port McNeill to finish it off.

supper sailing s down queen Charlotte strait

Ceviche appies under way – 60 miles into a 70 mile sail.


Cape Caution is a low promontory about 35nm NNW of Port Hardy. The main reason it tends to somewhat intimidating is the fact that it is the first passage of open ocean when going north from Vancouver or Seattle.  To compound any anxiety, the shoal waters that extend well offshore tend to amplify a swell that is likely to be on your beam.

cape caution

Queen Charlotte Strait to Fitzhugh Sound.


In 2009, friends of ours learned about Cape Caution’s beam seas the hard way as they motored around in their 40′ powerboat on a beautiful sunny summer afternoon only to be badly bounced when the shore breeze kicked in. The first time we went around, in 2005, I couldn’t sleep the night before our departure. Visions of huge swells and raging winds kept me up until I gave up trying to sleep and weighed anchor. We left at 4am and motored for 5 or 6 hours waiting for the breeze to fill in over the glassy seas. It was a pretty uneventful trip, but still felt like a huge achievement.

Since then, we have been north of the cape 6 more times, the most recent being in July 2017. Each time has been amazing. Why?


The amazing West Beach on Calvert Island

There are a few reasons. The area north of Cape Caution is largely undeveloped – this is a place to really get away from it all. The only real towns on the northern half of the outer central coast of BC – Bella Bella and Shearwater – are situated about half way between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert. If you are willing to make your way far up some of the inlets, there are a handful more.  Aside from the boats heading north or south in the Inside Passage, the coast north of Cape Caution is empty.  It is wilderness cruising in its truest sense.


An exposed anchorage in the Serpent Group, Kildidt Sound

The other things that draw people north are a plethora of fine anchorages, excellent fishing, and wonderful sandy beaches. We’ve even found warm water for swimming without looking too hard. Coupled with the seclusion, these attributes make for a cruising paradise.


Smith Sound

There is are a couple of kickers though. One must round Cape Caution – twice – and it can rain…lots. Not much one can do about the rain – we’ve been very lucky in all of our northern adventures, but we know plenty who’ve endured days of rain and drizzle. On the other hand, the passage around Cape Caution is totally manageable. For powerboats, leaving early with a favourable weather forecast, even if its foggy, can allow you to get around before the afternoon breeze kicks in. For sailors, my rule is don’t leave too early – in a period of settled summer weather, the shore breeze is pretty reliable, and tends to be westerly to southwesterly as you approach Fitzhugh Sound going north and northwesterly as you approach Queen Charlotte Strait going south (inflow winds in both cases).  The winds tend to create the conditions for a beautiful reach to end your passage in both directions.  Sailors and powerboaters alike will want to watch the tides; at either end of a passage around the cape, a strong ebb can make for lumpy conditions as the outgoing current meets the prevailing eastbound swells.  Transiting on a neap tide will minimize this unpleasantness. IMG_0682

Sailing North around Cape Caution