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Cruising by sail in the Pacific NW


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Hanging out in the Discovery Islands

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Anchorage in a nook in the Cordero Islands

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the different strategies for navigating the tidal rapids north of Desolation Sound.  In that post, I mentioned that we always time our journey to coincide with the ebb while going north, and the flood going south, even if it means leaving in the dark.  As entertaining as that sounds, leaving at 2am to catch the tide isn’t super high on my fun list.  Thankfully, there are alternatives.

Over the last 3 or 4 years, we’ve managed to approach our passage through the rapids on dates with no great morning departure times – they’ve either been crazy early, or a little too late.  This, along with our increasing desire to limit the early morning heroics, forced us to re-examine our passage planning for this stretch of water.  These ideas all work best on the inside route through the Yucultas, and are as follows…

Idea #1 – Arrive late.  Who said that you need to be in Forward Harbour by 2 in the afternoon?  We’re talking about summer travel here; the sun is out til after 9pm!  As ridiculously simple as this sounds, it took a few years for us to really look at this as an viable alternative to leaving early.  The key is that it’s only 30 miles from Yuculta rapids to Forward Harbour.  Even at only 6 knots, that’s only 5 hours; with the tide behind you it’s more like 4.  If you transit Yuculta Rapids at 3pm, that puts you in Forward Harbour at the still civilized hour of 7pm.

Idea #2 – Hang out between the rapids.  You don’t need to spend the night between rapids to make this one work, just patience.  The plan is to catch the last of the ebb through Yuculta, Gillard and Dent, and then relax as you poke your way north.  Go for a walk at Shoal Bay, fish at Hall Point or just bob along slowly and enjoy the scenery.   There really isn’t that much current to fight for the first 12 or so miles after Dent Rapids, and you will have about 6 hours to kill before running Greenpoint Rapids.  Besides, there is something really powerful about surrendering your schedule to the turn of the tide.  Be sure to time your transits so that you are at Dent at slack and are pushing through the last of the flood at Greenpoint.

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Heading north

Idea #3 – The obvious one – spend a night at one of the many cool places in the Discovery Islands.  Some options that we have used (there are many that we haven’t):  Big Bay.  It’s always abuzz with activity, has a dock, reasonable anchoring, and a great walk to Eagle Lake.  Big bay is a little like a toilet bowl with a rock in it – watch both the shoal area and the currents.  Shoal Bay.  Also a busy place, but with a more laid back atmosphere than the bustle of Big Bay.  Thurston Bay Marine Park.  Quiet and a little off all of the the main tracks north.  Cordero Islands (Greenpoint Rapids).  A very pretty anchorage right on the main channel.  There is room for eight or nine boats in the two nooks between the islands.  Blind Bay.  An upscale marina (but not too upscale) with a great walk and a good restaurant.  The current at the dock can be tricky, but the staff are eager to help.  If you want to continue north via the inside route, you’ll have to time your departure for the end of the flood as the currents in Mayne Channel and Greenepoint Rapids run opposite to each other.

Despite the cold water, the channels north of Desolation Sound offer a laid back experience that is significantly different from the crowded waters in northern Georgia Strait.  If you’re in a rush to get north but the tides don’t allow you to blast through, take the opportunity to slow down and explore.

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Willywaws

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“Holy crap that was a big gust!” (My dad was there – I had to keep it PG)

After a long but eventually fruitful day of fishing in the drizzle, we pulled into Matheson Inlet in Haida Gwaii for a quiet night.  Our weather pattern had changed a couple of weeks before as the abnormally strong Pacific High of spring 2015 regressed into something that we think resembled normality for BC’s north coast- regular dousings interspersed with frequent but short lived sunny stretches.  In Haida Gwaii, these low pressure systems were textbook: sunshine slowly disappearing into the gradually thickening cloud bank of the warm front, drizzle followed by a short stretch of unsettled weather, and then the thick, wet cumulus of the following cold front.  The passage of these systems never lasted long, and were always followed by a day or two of warm sunny weather before the next system arrived.  In addition, none of the lows to this point had been were particularly deep or violent.

This changed in Matheson Inlet as the next low moved though the next day.  Nothing too extreme, just enough to remind us of the value of good ground tackle and conservative procedures.  We were also fortunate to be sitting alone in completely enclosed bay with lots of swinging room.  We had 7:1 out, 100′ of which is chain: it pays to be prepared to sit out a blow.

The thing I found most interesting about the day is that I’m convinced that the wind was far less strong outside the bay.  The topography of Moresby Island – relatively tall peaks on a very thin stretch of land – lends itself to places where the wind is accelerated as it moves through the passes between peaks and down the valleys.  Environment Canada’s excellent resource on coastal weather explains it like this:

The narrowness of Moresby Island allows southeast winds along the east side of the island to flow over top and hit hard onto the waters of the inlets on the west side. In strong wind conditions, this makes it difficult to anchor or find shelter. The southernmost part of Haida Gwaii is particularly difficult in this regard, with Gowgaia Bay and Tasu Sound two examples of places where gusty winds come down off the mountains.

I can attest that the above is also true, but in the reverse, when strong SW’ers blow.  For us, these gusty winds meant sustained winds of 25 kts, with gusts to 46, or almost double the sustained speed.  The worst winds were during daylight and our situation was very secure, so we relaxed and enjoyed the spectacle.  Thank goodness for good anchors!

 


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Anchorages on the West Coast of Vancouver Island – Part 2

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.

Clayoquot Sound

Bacchante Bay

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.

 

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Kayaking up the creek in Bacchante Bay

Matilda Inlet

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.

“Tranquilito Cove”

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.

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Leaving “Tranquilito Cove”

Tofino

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.

Barkley Sound

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.

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Pocket Beach on the North west side of Dodd Island

Lucky Creek

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.

Useless Inlet

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!

Bamfield

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!


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Anchorages on the West Coast of Vancouver Island – Part 1

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The West Coast of Vancouver Island is a wild, remote cruising paradise.  Safe harbours, solitude, abundant wildlife, and excellent fishing opportunities are plentiful.  The northern portion – north of Estevan Point – is particularly magical.  We were recently asked for a list of some of our favorite stops along this amazing coast.  Here, in part 1 of 2, are a few, starting in Quatsino Sound and ending near Hot Springs Cove in Clayoquot Sound.

“Rubby Dub Cove”

Located in Koprino Harbour on the north side of Quatsino Sound, this is a wonderful place to spend a few days waiting for a favourable forecast at Brooks Peninsula.  The day we sailed in, a squall blew through pushing the winds high into the thirties as we made our way east from Winter Harbour.  By the time we neared the anchorage, the sun had come out and the wind had settled down to a constant 20kts, but we were still a little on edge after being surprised by the high winds.  A safe spot was high on everyone’s priority list, and we were a little unsure as we sailed into the cove with whitecaps all around.  Thankfully, we settled into the nook behind Linthlop Islands in a perfect calm. It was a little strange to watch the whitecaps gallop across Koprino Harbour from our little oasis of calm.  Lori and I made the run from here all the way around Brooks Peninsula a couple of days later; our buddy boats made the run to Klaskino Anchorage and joined us a day later.

Columbia Cove.

Not a great anchorage, but the magnificence of the beach at Shed Four more than makes up for the marginal holding.  There used to be mooring buoys in the most protected area (shown on the chart), but they’ve been gone for a while now.  The area they were in is shallow with a kelp covered bottom – the kelp is the reason the holding is poor.

We anchor farther out – it’s less protected, but the holding is better.  After dragging across the bay on our first visit, we think this is a good trade. Be careful of the shoaling depths at the head of the bay if you anchor in the inner basin.

 

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There is a trail from the inner basin to the beach, but it is only easily accessible at high tide.  If you don’t time it right, it will be a long carry to get your dingy back in the water.  We take our dingy around the outside instead and pull in behind a rocky outcropping that breaks up the surf on a pocket beach immediately east of the main beach.  This beach, and the main beach, are both amazing.

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Scow Bay, The Bunsbys

This bay is a must stop for everyone going around the island – expect to see other boats here.  It is protected, wild, and very pretty.

Unlike the anchorages closer to Brooks Peninsula, The Bunsbys are outside of the sizable rockfish conservation area in Checleset Bay – fishing was allowed here on our last visit, but check the current regulations before dropping a line over the side.  Be sure to tour the intricate waterways in your dingy.

 

Dixie Cove and “Petroglyph Cove”, Kyuquot Sound

Both of these anchorages are landlocked hurricane holes with easy anchoring.  We’ve been swimming in both, and on a warm day, the water was excellent.  I don’t know which I prefer, so recommend you see both and decide for yourself!

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A word of caution – the VHF weather channels might not come in clearly, especially in Petroglyph Cove – you won’t always know what is happening outside the coves until you take a peek yourself.

Nuchatlitz

Nuchatlitz is the first good anchorage you will encounter as you enter Esperanza Inlet from the north.  Other commentators suggest nearby Queen Cove as the preferred first stop in this vicinity, but after being awoken by the sounds of industry there on our first circumnavigation, I have to disagree.

Protected by low islands, reefs and a tricky entrance; Nuchatlitz offers a wild, pristine setting that Queen Cove does not.  To add to the drama, the open Pacific is a stone’s throw away, and easily visible.  That said, while it is protected enough to sit out typical summer weather, Nuchatlitz is probably not the place to sit out extreme weather, especially from the west.

 

Yuquot (Friendly Cove)

Even though you’ll see the odd boat overnight here, Friendly Cove isn’t really much an anchorage but rather a must see day stop.  The First Nations village here is the historic summer home of Chief Maquinna and the Nuu-chah-nulth people.  The chief, and this location, hold an important place in the early history Europeans on this coast.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time in this historic spot, and also made time to tour the neighbouring lighthouse.  If the idea of rolling yourself to sleep after your visit isn’t appealing, there are a number of nearby options that will provide the flat water peace needed for a comfortable night.

 

Hootla Kootla

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Sidney Inlet has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to good anchorages, starting with the crowded but still worthwhile Hotsprings Cove.  You don’t have to venture far to escape the crowds; there are a number of inviting coves along the west coast of Flores Island that will fit the bill.  Hootla Kootla is our favorite in the vicinity because of its beautiful white sand beach.  There is also excellent fishing right outside the anchorage.

The anchorages farther up the inlet to the north are also worth visiting for their all weather protection and warm water.

Stay tuned for part 2 – Clayoquot Sound and Barkley Sound!