Clayoquot Sound and Barkley Sound are the two southern-most sounds on the west coast of Vancouver Island. In addition to being a welcome re-introduction to the benefits of civilization for those doing a counter-clockwise circumnavigation, their relative accessibility from Juan de Fuca Strait make them attractive destinations for those who don’t have the time or inclination to do the 360 degree tour. While they are both beautiful, they are also very different from each other; Barkley is wide open to the Pacific, and dotted with small islands and anchorages that often lie amongst islands instead of in them. Clayoquot is much more like cruising the Broughton Archipeligo, with narrow channels separating large islands indented by well protected inlets and bays.
Bacchante Bay is a logical first stop after leaving Sidney Inlet for boats traveling the flat water route behind Flores Island. Protected by a narrow entrance, this large bay provides excellent shelter for many more boats than one is likely to see in all of Clayquot Sound. That said, the real reason to visit is the creek at the head of the bay. It is stunning, with mountains that rise almost straight up out of the crystal clear water, and was easily navigable by kayak when we visited.
Matilda Inlet is another classic Clayoquot anchorage – a large, well protected bay nestled at the end of an inlet. The main attraction here is the bay itself; it is quiet, and fun to explore as long as your are mindful of the depths. In addition, there are a few trails to get out and stretch your legs on (one of which leads to a beautiful beach), a warm springs, and two small villages to explore – Marktosis (pretty much abandoned when we stopped in 2010) and Ahousat First Nation.
One of my all time favourites, Tranquilito Cove is a must stop on a sunny day. Located near the head of Tranquil Inlet, this small picturesque bay is far enough away from both the main route through Clayoquot and the hustle of Tofino to be quiet and very remote feeling. It is also protected enough that the water gets plenty warm enough for swimming.
Tofino is a tourist Mecca, and deserving of the hype. It is also the first sizable community during a counter-clockwise circumnavigation; after spending a few week on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, arrival will definitely induce some culture shock. It has everything a visiting boater will want except good moorage – restaurants, shops, a real grocery store, and a liquor store. It is also close enough to some of the spectacular beaches along the Pacific Coast (Cox Bay, Long Beach and Chesterman Beach) to make a visit to one of these this a viable day trip via bus. Despite all these positives, there is no good anchorage, and as already mentioned, the moorage is pretty dodgy. The most likely spot to tie up is the 4th Street Public Dock, which is located along the very busy water front a short walk from “downtown.” It is clean and well run, but will be crowded; expect to raft. You can also expect to be bounced around by the wake from passing boats if you are close to the outer end of the dock – no one really seems to pay any heed to their wake here, not even the RCMP. The fuel dock is the worst we’ve ever visited, for the same reasons.
The Broken Islands
The Broken Islands form a small archipelago in the middle of Barkley Sound. There are a number of excellent anchorages here, all a short distances from each other. Our favorite is “Turtle Bay” – between Turtle Island and Dodd Island – but any of the anchorages listed in the guide books are worth a visit. Keep an eye out for the small pocket beaches that dot the shoreline of these islands.
Lucky Creek in Pipestem Inlet is really is more of a destination than an anchorage. In fact, the anchorage is pretty ho hum, with an intriguing creek to explore but marginal protection. The destination, which is a fairly long dinghy ride from the closest anchorage, is amazing, and in settled weather is worth any risk the partial protection at the anchorage might imply.
Lucky Creek flows down a rocky bed that has eroded into a series of pools separated by short rocky bluffs. The water itself is warm, and many of the pools are deep and ideal for swimming. To access the creek, anchor either behind Bazett Island, or in the islands at the mouth of Cataract Creek, and dinghy across Pipestem Inlet and up the lower portion of Lucky creek on the last of a rising tide. The end of the navigable section is marked by an impassable bluff – tie up here, scramble up the cliff (easy), and enjoy a series of wonderful pools and fun scrambling on the rock. We had the creek to ourselves on the day we visited, but apparently it is a well known destination with tour operators in the area and can be crowded on a hot day.
Despite appearances on the chart, the entrance to this short inlet is fairly easy to run: follow the piloting advice in Douglass’ Guide. The waters inside are very well protected and picturesque. However, its outstanding feature was the crabbing. Given that the return of the sea otters on the west coast has decimated the crab population further north, this discovery was quite a treat!
We love Bamfield – while it doesn’t have the facilities of Ucluelet, it makes up in charm. There are a number of places to tie up in the inlet, but we like to anchor out in the obvious basin just north of Rance Island. The holding here is very good, as is the access to the dock. The best grocery shopping is on the east side of Bamfield Inlet, but the real charm is the boardwalk on the west side. If you’re up for a walk, be sure to make the well marked trek to beautiful Brady Beach.
There are many hidden gems along this amazing coast that make a visit to the West Coast of Vancouver Island very worthwhile – please share in the comments section if I’ve left your favourite out. For those who haven’t made it out to Vancouver Island’s wild side, I hope that this small sampling of highlights from our journeys here will inspire you to set out and explore!