Closing the Loop

On our 2003-2005 circumnavigation of the Pacific Ocean, we ended up in Port Angeles, Washington in late October.  We had left Kushiro, Japan on June 15, 2005 and had traveled hard, but weather rules all in those seas, and waiting for weather windows for safe travel tends to eat up time.  By the time we reached Port Angeles, the fall weather pattern was well established and good sailing windows for the last leg down the coast to the Astoria, Oregon seemed to be non-existent. It is only a little over 200 miles, but the tricky parts are getting out the Strait of Juan de Fuca without getting spanked, then getting in over the Colombia River bar when the tide is right and bar conditions allow a safe entry.  We waited a week and a half, closely watching the weather.  A window seemed to open so headed down the Strait, but the next weather fax indicated things had changed so we turned around and went back to Port Angeles.  Jobs were awaiting our return, and our youngest who had accompanied us on the cruise was couch surfing as he had flown home from Anchorage in September to start college.  So we decided to truck the boat home – it was quick and convenient, but seemed a shame to have traveled over 20,000 miles then not get to sail in under the Astoria bridge and “close the loop”.

So now at last, poised at the southern end of Vancouver Island was our opportunity to close the loop.  The window to get down the coast was short, just two days of light north winds before a blow came in from the south.  We left Bamfield, BC in the early morning in calm seas and light fog to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  In the summer the prevailing winds blow form the west down the Strait, and build in strength throughout the day until by late afternoon, gale force westerly winds are common.  When the strong westerlies meet the outgoing ebb, steep choppy seas develop and it is no fun (if by chance you are traveling on the Black Ball ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC, be sure to take the morning ferry – your stomach will thank you).

Kitt enjoys the afternoon sun in Neah Bay

We arrived in Neah Bay, Washington by early afternoon, dropped the hook to get a few hours rest before heading down the coast, and were under way again by 9:00 pm.  While we prefer to travel by day, sometimes it is just not possible, and on this leg the most important piece was to arrive at the Columbia River Bar at the proper time.  The bar must be crossed at slack water or on the flood.  We have made a night entrance before and swore we would never do that again, so that meant two nights at sea to make an 8:30 am arrival at the entrance buoy just past low water slack at the beginning of the flood.

Buoy No. 1 at entrance to the channel

Smoky skies and 25 knots

We had idyllic conditions, 10-15 knots of wind from the north and calm seas.  The first night the full moon lit our way, and on the midnight to 3 am watch, accompanied by my Ipod, I contemplated all the other coastlines I have watch slip by as our little ship makes her way.  So many memories, so many wonderful experiences and people we have met.  By day 2, smoke filled the skies, and in the early morning hours the forecast southerlies arrived (about 12 hours early).  By dawn we had 25 knots from the south and boat speed was down to less than 2 knots – thank goodness we had built in extra time (this has happened before), and we arrived at the entrance buoy right on time.  It was a relief to turn and put the wind on the beam and start up the channel.  The flood kicked in and we scooted along at about 6.5 knots with a triple reefed mainsail and staysail.

Anjuli closes the loop

 

By mid morning we had passed under the bridge and closed the loop on this adventure.  We spent two nights in Astoria, then caught the flood up the river in the morning.  It is 86 miles from Astoria to Portland, which is usually a two day trip by sailboat, but if you catch the flood you can ride it all the way up and make it in one long day.  We had planned on going all the way, and were making great time, but as we passed under the Longview bridge the engine began to knock.  Dan immediately switched fuel tanks (we have three) and the knocking stopped, but we took it as a sign that we should stop, so we tied up at the Rainier, Oregon public dock.  Dan suspected water in the fuel had caused the knocking, and that fuel was the oldest, but since the other two tanks were nearly empty, that meant we needed fuel.  There is no fuel dock in Rainier but there is a Chevron within sight of the dock so we loaded up a couple of fuel jugs on a cart and headed out.  Too bad that Chevron doesn’t sell diesel.

Scary looking retiree with fuel jugs

The laid back, tattooed attendant with numerous missing teeth (so this is what 4% unemployment looks like) noted that the Shell station near the bridge sold diesel.  It was about a 2 mile walk, and although we hitchhiked, apparently no one wants to pick up scary looking retirees with fuel jugs.  When you walk you really see the scenery – was there always so much roadside trash?  I felt like I was in El Salvador.  At last we reached the Shell station and got our diesel while chatting with the obviously stoned attendant.  On the walk back (no one picked us up in that direction either) we lamented about how differently that would have played out in Mexico.  We would have arrived at the first station, and if they didn’t have what we wanted they would have went and got it for us, or certainly drove us to the next station and then back to the boat.  I know this because it happened to us more than once.

Almost home

With clean fuel procured and in the tank, we left the next morning.  It was a good reminder of why we don’t usually stop at Rainier.  Derelict boats tied to the dock, sketchy folks urinating off the dock (guess it is a long way up the ramp to the bathroom), people pawing through the trash cans for returnable cans and bottles – gosh it’s good to be home. You just don’t see that stuff outside the USA.

Good friends catch our lines

Just a few hours later our home marina came into view, and friends on the dock we were waiting to take our lines.  We will pick up our old life where we left off, with the same jobs and routines we had when we left.  In a few short weeks it will all seem like a dream and we will be fully ensnared in the trappings of life here.  But there will be more adventures to come, I will think of this only as a short pause.  Thanks to all who followed the blog, and I hope I have inspired you to begin your own adventures, whatever they may be.

The sun sets over the channel and on this adventure

Advertisements

A Voyage Around Vancouver Island – Part IV

Nootka Sound to Barkley Sound

 The west coast of Vancouver Island is indented with five large sounds – from north to south Quatsino, Kyuquot, Nootka, Clayoquot and Barkey Sound.  Many Pacific Northwest sailors are familiar with Barkley Sound, home of the Broken Group of islands and British Columbia’s Pacific Rim National Park.  Just two days north of Seattle and the mouth of the Columbia River, Barkley Sound is easily reached for those with limited time to cruise.

 

After leaving Tahsis we spent a night at Bligh Island Provincial Marine Park, yet another lovely anchorage which we had all to ourselves, in Nootka Sound.  If at all possible, we like to time our arrival at a new anchorage for just past low tide.  That way most of the rocks are visible, and if you do happen to stray off course or find an uncharted rock, at least the rising tide should lift you off in short order.  We have been aground several times over the years, but always in soft mud or sand.  Rock is not so forgiving.

Low tide entry into Rae Basin

From Bligh Island, we headed around Estevan Point and into Hesquiat Harbor and the snug anchorage of Rae Basin for a long-anticipated visit to Cougar Annie’s Garden.  In 1915 pioneer Ada Annie Rae-Arthur and her husband arrived, and created a homestead in the wilderness at the head of the harbor.  She ultimately raised 11 children there and outlived 4 husbands. “Cougar” (so named because she supplemented her income with a trap line selling

Cougar Annie’s House

cougar pelts) Annie created a beautiful five acre garden in the rainforest.  She also operated a Post Office and a thriving mail-order nursery  business, importing all manner of seeds and ornamental plants.  The 120-acre homestead has since been purchased by Peter Buckland, who formed the Boat Basin Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the upkeep of the gardens and the homestead property.  For a donation, Peter will give you a tour of the garden and homestead property (visit www.boatbasin.org for info).

The bear family patrols the beach

The 10-yr-old cruising guide we have indicated a trail from the anchorage to the logging road which  passing by the homestead, however, we couldn’t find it.  We headed off in the direction it appeared to be, armed with a hatchet, a compass, some colored tape for marking the trail and some bear spray.  We were a bit concerned as we had been seeing a family of bears on the beach every low tide, but we made plenty of noise hacking through the brush and didn’t encounter any wildlife.  After an hour and a half we gave up and returned to the boat.  Not wanting to give up completely after coming so far, we got back in the dinghy and rowed around the point out of the anchorage and to the beach in the main bay, where we beached the dink and walked to a cabin we had seen on the way in.  It turned out to be

Table is a single piece of cedar

The woodshed

Peter’s cabin and we were in luck – we spent the afternoon having a personal tour of the property, learning lots of history, and being constantly amazed by the place.  The garden is lovely, but the real magic is what Peter has built in his 50 years on the property.  There are seven cabins and a main hall photo  that have been built to provide a learning center.  These are not just cabins, but handcrafted works of art, with beautiful old-growth custom tables and furniture throughout.  A small lake provides drinking water and power – pretty amazing what one person can do with a vision.  We were presented with veggies from the garden, fresh flowers, and a book.  We feel so fortunate to have gotten to visit this special place.

Momentos

Sailor’s eclipse viewer

We were also able to view the eclipse from the anchorage.  We just happen have a marine sextant onboard which is made to look directly at the sun.  Although we only saw about a 75% eclipse from our latitude, it was amazing, and we felt fortunate that there was no fog that morning.

Sunset in Rae Basin

We hated to say goodbye to this magical place that we had all to ourselves, but hopefully one day we can return.

Our next stop, Hot Springs Cove, couldn’t have been more different.  There is a provincial marine park with a small dock there, but the dock is constantly full of tour boats and float planes disgorging tourists headed for the hot springs.  The float planes and tour boats roar in and out of the cove about every 15 minutes from about 9 to 5.  The hot springs are located 2 km from the dock and are accessed via a boardwalk which winds through a lovely forest.  We waited until after 6pm when all the crowds had departed before heading down for a soak.  The hot springs aren’t very big, and only comfortably hold 5 to 10 people.  I can’t imagine how crowded it is during the day.  Next time we will give this stop a pass.

Lovely Bacchante Bay

We spent one night at Bacchante Bay, perhaps one of the most dramatic anchorages on the west coast of the island.  Towering mountains enclose the bay which is nearly landlocked, with millpond smooth waters.  We could have stayed longer, but we are feeling the need to keep pressing on to get home before the weather turns.

Ucluelet Small Craft Harbor

We gave Tofino a miss as dredging had the small craft harbor closed and there is not really any good anchorage there.  We had heard that Ucluelet at the north end of Barkley Sound was a better stop – more laid back and funky so that is where we headed.  We spent six very enjoyable days in the small craft harbor  taking in the town.  We saw deer sauntering through town and signs warning of wolves in the area.

Hiking the Wild Pacific Trail

We hiked a portion of the Wild Pacific Trail, we shopped, we had dinner out, and we socialized with the locals on the docks.

Keep your dogs on a leash

We departed Ucluelet in the fog for the 20-mile trip across Barkley Sound to Robbers Passage in the Deer Group for a rendezvous with an old friend at the Port Alberni Yacht Club outstation.  The yacht club welcomes all, and although we were the only sailboat there, we were given a warm welcome.

Port Alberni Yacht Club outstation docks

Our old friend Gary Rosa who we met on our 2003-2005 cruise is a member, and we spent 2 days catching up and enjoying the lovely hiking trails and beaches around the yacht club.

With Gary at PAYC

With a good weather window approaching for our offshore passage down the coast, we moved down to Bamfield, a small town which straddles both sides of a narrow inlet at the southeast end of Barkley Sound.   The public docks were filled with sport fishers vying for the top prize in the big Labor Day Salmon Derby so we anchored at the head of the inlet.  Tomorrow we will head south on the final leg of this journey.  We have had a wonderful trip around Vancouver Island, and if you have been thinking about it, you should definitely do it.  This is northwest cruising at its finest.

A Voyage Around Vancouver Island – Part III

Port Hardy to Tahsis, Vancouver Island, B.C.

Part III

In the last blog I mentioned that Port Hardy did not have a coffee shop, but we did find one, and a nice one at that, with a small book store attached.  Didn’t want folks to think it was completely uncivilized… I even found a hair salon and got a haircut, and got to hear a fascinating story from one of the hair dressers about being attached by three juvenile cougars while walking her dog on the beach – she ran and the dog made it home in one piece and after a few stitches was good as new.  It gives you a bit of an odd feeling to think about animals that would like to eat you (or your pets).  Here bears and cougars are plentiful and demand respect.  In the southern latitudes the things that want to eat you are in the water, like sharks and salt water crocodiles.  I guess there are sharks here too, but since the water is so cold there are not many people actually in it. I had thought all the colorful flags and streamers we have seen on boats were just decorative, but apparently they are to discourage eagles from plucking off and eating small dogs.

Our good friends Peter and Joyce

Port Hardy is the last town of any size to provision before rounding Cape Scott, and it is also a convenient stop for boats headed south from Alaska and northern BC so boats tend to stack up there waiting for a weather window.  Things can get crowded at the public wharf where rafting is required especially when the fishing fleet is in.  Boats were three deep in some places, but given the price of the nearby privately owned marina, and the friendly help at the public dock, it’s no wonder most people prefer it.  We were delighted to run into Canadian friends Joyce and Peter Shackleton, on Minx, who we last saw in Bora Bora in French Polynesia in 2004.  We rafted to them and shared two nights of drinks, dinner and conversation. Photo We also ran into single-hander Steve Lewis from Olympia, WA on the Westsail 32 Manatee, who we had met in Newport, OR in September 2005.

WTF?

Steve was also headed south, so we headed out together for Bull Harbor on Hope Island, the last anchorage before rounding Cape Scott.  It was a motorboat ride in dense fog.  We were running with radar on, and nearly to Bull Harbor when a field of giant yellow buoys loomed up out of the fog.  They were not visible on radar – would have hated to hit one.  I believe they are anchoring fish pens for aquaculture which is quite prevalent here.  Bull Harbor is an all-weather anchorage with lots of room and also a native dock where you can tie up for a small fee.  We tied to the dock so we could hike to the other side of the island to the beach.

Wolf prints on the beach

Charlie, the native caretaker, warned us that a bear and wolf had and been recently seen in the area, but noted that they usually only foraged on the beach at low tide.  It was near high tide, and we saw neither bear nor wolf, but did see wolf footprints on the beach, lots of sea otters, and little green frogs and toads under pieces of driftwood.

On the beach at Roller Bay, Hope Island

Found this guy hiding under driftwood

 

After leaving Bull Harbor, you must cross the Nahwitti Bar, a shallow area where the incoming Pacific swell meets the outflow of the Goletas Channel and ugly seas can build.  The bar should be crossed at or near slack water.  There is an alternate route which crosses Tatnall Reefs, an even shallower area with lots of kelp, and then hugs the Vancouver Island shoreline.

Foggy, but oh so calm as Manatee ghosts along beside us.

We opted for the second route, and it was quite amazing as the kelp completely damped the ocean swell.  It was dense fog and we didn’t even see Cape Scott, but the sea was about as flat as we have ever seen it.   We made the 50-mile run into Winter Harbor ahead of an approaching front, and were darn glad to be in as boats anchored in Sea Otter Cove just 30 miles north reported 40 knots in the anchorage, and one boat out in it saw 50 knots, but why anybody would go out into a forecast gale is beyond me.

Anjuli and Manatee on the dock in Winter harbor

Winter Harbor is a tiny settlement deep in Quatsino Sound and very protected.  Sport fishing is big here, with salmon, halibut and rock fish being the main catch.  We spent three days there tied to the government dock and enjoyed hot showers, a dinner out, and a walk along the shore-side boardwalk.    We saw bears on the beach and a giant raft of at least 30 sea otters.   Sea otters, after being hunted to near extinction, were re-introduced here in the early 1970s and they have been very successful.  It was thought they would eat the sea urchins which have decimated the kelp beds in the otter’s absence, and maybe they have, but they have also taken a liking to Dungeness crab, so sadly crabbing here is not very good anymore.

A group of otters stops to watch us go by

Once you have rounded Cape Scott, there are endless possibilities for snug anchorages, which are typically no more than about 20 to 25 miles apart, making travel easy.  Weather forecasting is superb and available 24-7 on the VHF radio.  We had heard how rough it was on the “outside” but if you have plenty of time to wait for the weather you want, there is now reason to ever see rough water.  When the next forecast calm came, we took the opportunity to scoot around the Brooks Peninsula, another notoriously rough spot, in calm seas with no drama.

Rounding the Brooks Peninsula

Northern Vancouver Island is raw and beautiful, and it reminds us a lot of Alaska.  If you have ever wanted to visit Alaska but found it too far to travel to, this is every bit as lovely.

South of the Brooks Peninsula, weather seemed to be a bit more benign, allowing us to relax a bit a take our time exploring.  One of the first things we do when we get under way is move Kitt’s bed outside onto the cabintop where she likes to ride when we travel.

Kitt enjoying the ride

We got into the rhythm of traveling 4 or 5 hours, then finding a nice anchorage.   After the boat is anchored it is time to explore with the dinghy or maybe just sit in the sunshine and read a book.  I love to read and usually get through at least one book a week.  It is fun to rummage through the book shelves at out-of-the-way marinas and see what you can find.  I just re-read Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible”, one of the best books I have ever read.  Cocktail hour starts at 5 pm, and then we usually enjoy dinner in the cockpit if the weather allows.  Evenings are spent playing a game, planning the next days’ travel, or socializing with other boats.  There aren’t many other boats out here though, and we have yet to share an anchorage with another boat.

After a week or so of solitude, it is nice to check in with civilization and get rid of the trash and see if any fresh fruit and veggies can be obtained. Don’t expect to find phone service, but you might get lucky and be able to purchase a bit of satellite internet. After several lovely anchorages, we made our way to Westview Marina n the tiny town of Tahsis.  The marina is about the only lively spot in town since the mill closed in the 1990s.  But they have figured out what boaters want – restaurant, coffee, ice cream, gift shop, boat parts and fishing supplies.  They even have a buffet and live music on Friday night!    We came for the buffet, chatted with the fisherman and locals, enjoyed some tasty Vancouver Island Brewing ale and the sounds of Luke Blu Guthrie.

Enjoying Friday night “Rock the Dock at Westview Marina, Tahsis, BC

Headed south again, leaving Westview Marina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We definitely recommend Tahsis and Westview Marina – it was a pleasant stop for us.  If you are into sport fishing, this would be a great spot.   All the boats seemed to come back every day loaded with salmon – we haven’t caught any though.  Salmon fishing seems terribly complicated – our kind of fishing involves tying a line with a colorful squid–looking thing on it to the boat and dragging it behind and seeing what happens…  It was amazingly successful in the southern latitudes.

We will keep fishing as we head south.  Even fishless, we are loving the cruising here in these beautiful waters.

A Voyage Around Vancouver Island – Part II

Desolation Sound, B.C. to Port Hardy, Vancouver Island, B.C.

Desolation Sound to Port Hardy

This portion of the trip took us from the protected fiords north of Desolation Sound to Port Hardy, the last town on the north side of Vancouver Island before rounding Cape Scott and starting south.

Anchorages like we like em’ – flat!

Where possible, we kept out of Johnstone Strait, the narrow waterway between the east side of Vancouver Island and the mainland, where the afternoon westerly wind creates uncomfortable conditions especially when opposing a strong ebb tide.  On the stretches where you must transit the strait, hiding places are conveniently located however.  We ducked into a tiny one boat cove on Helmcken Island and found water like glass.   We spent two nights there and ventured out again the next day.

Anjuli on Port Neville government dock

When the forecast winds began to pick up, we headed into Port Neville where Anjuli took up most of the tiny government dock The wind continued to build and two other boats came in, filling the dock.

The old Port Neville Store

When more than one boat is tied up it becomes a gathering, and we were all soon on one boat sharing cocktails and stories.  Port Neville used to have a store, fuel dock and Post Office, all operated by the Hansen family that settled the area over 100 years ago.  When we stopped here in 2005 the Post Office was still functioning, but it is closed now.

Evening in Beaver Inlet

You could spend your life up here checking out new anchorages and tiny hamlets.  Summer is extra special because of the long days.  We are north of 50 degrees, and the sky begins to lighten somewhere around 5 am with daylight lingering until almost 10 pm. The scenery is spectacular – forested mountains climb from the waters’ edge to snow capped peaks.  Wildlife is abundant – we have seen whales, porpoises, elk, deer, and a myriad of birds.  We just missed seeing a grizzly bear as

Humpback in Queen Charlotte Strait

we passed through Chatham Channel and we heard chatter on the VHF warning dog walkers in Forward Harbor of a cougar patrolling the beach.  We have yet to see either of these animals, but maybe on the outside.  Cruising here is just about perfect – except for the temperature.  It has been quite a shock coming from Costa Rica where water and air temps never got below 80 degrees.  The water is here 48 degrees – I don’t want to get it on me much less get in it!  Falling overboard is never a good thing, but here it is downright dangerous.  Makes you think about how nice it would be to drive the boat from

Glad I’m not driving – it looks cold out there!

the inside… We even briefly discussed getting a trawler or tug, but just briefly.  They don’t go a whole lot faster under power than we do, and they cost a whole lot more.  But it might be time to consider a fancy new cockpit enclosure with heat piped to it…

One of our favorite stops was the Pearse Islands, a small island group near Port McNeill.  The anchorage is well protected from all directions. The water clarity is very good, with the bottom clearly visible 25 ft down, and giant kelp fronds swaying in the current.

Bull kelp sways in the current in Pearse Island Anchorage

There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore by dinghy or kayak and we spent 3 days there before heading into Port McNeill for re-provisioning.

Pearse Is. anchorage

 

 

Lovely Anjuli awaits our return…Pearse Islands

Port McNeill is one of our favorite stops in this area.  It is a vibrant little town centered on the harbor.  Everything you need is within easy walking distance – grocery and liquor store, chandlery, and laundry are all handy.  The facilities are in good repair, and the staff is probably the friendliest we have encountered.  When you hail them on the VHF you get “Welcome to Port McNeill!  Yes, we have space for you – would you prefer a port or starboard tie?  Can we help you with your lines?”  All marinas should take lessons from these people!  The docks are full of friendly boaters and new friends are made and stories are shared.  It was so pleasant we ended up

Port McNeill Municipal Marina

staying an extra day to do boat maintenance projects.  We knew it was a special place when we stopped here in 2005.  It was late in the year and all the transient boaters were gone.  A local on an nearby boat popped his head up and said  “BC’s finest – ya want to?”  These Canadians – they are so nice!

Boat projects in Port McNeill – painting the name on the new inflatable.  Spike II is born!

But time is marching on, and we are anxious to get around Cape Scott and head south, so it was off to Port Hardy.  We made it to within 5 miles of the harbor mouth before wind and tide turned against us and we were bashing into waves that sent spray over the dodger and dropped the boat speed to under 1 knot.  Lucky for us, all we had to do was hang a left and duck into Beaver Harbor where several small islands form a protected oasis, sheltered from wind and tide.

Looks like crab for dinner – the red rock variety.

We tucked into another small one-boat cove known as Patrician Cove which was blissfully flat.  We played Mexican Train, threw out the crab pot and settled in for a few days.  We’ve been fishing too – just not catching, unless you count the lure we lost jigging for bottom fish which we found hooked in the crab trap.  We woke to fog one morning, and you could not tell where the sky ended and the water began.  August is the foggiest month on this coast, and locals call it ‘Fogust”.  I’m kind of okay with that as fog generally means calm seas…

Foggy morning in Patrician Cove

So at last here we are tied up at Quartedeck Marina in Port Hardy.  Port Hardy is not a vibrant town – quite the opposite.  Lots of boarded up businesses and an air of hopelessness seemed to have settled over the town.  No cheery greeting from the marina, which is sadly in need of repair, no trendy coffee or ice cream shops.  Nevertheless we are glad to be here and tied up in a snug spot.  The mighty North Pacific lies just 20 miles to the west, but it is angry right now, so we wait…

A Voyage Around Vancouver Island

Part 1 – Anacortes, WA to Desolation Sound, B.C.

Circumnavigating Vancouver Island has been on our sailing bucket list for a long time.  The typical route for circumnavigating the island follows a counterclockwise direction.  That allows passage up the east side of the island in protected waters before rounding Cape Scott at the north end of the island and catching the prevailing northwesterlies for a downwind sail along the outside.  We talked about doing it before we headed to Mexico in 2015, but by the time we were ready to leave in August there was no time for a trip north.  But now the boat is here and it seems like the perfect time.  It is also time to reconnect with old friends and savor the delights of cruising the protected waters of Washington’s San Juan Islands and British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.

Spencer Spit Park, Lopez Island, San Juans

After unloading the boat in Nanaimo, we made our way down to Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island in the San Juans for a rendezvous with friends from our old marina in Portland.  We anchored next to Iemanga and enjoyed two nights of dinner, drinks and conversation with our good friends Brent and LA.  We spent 4th of July anchored off Spencer Spit on Lopez Island and saw a pod of orcas came right past the boat in the anchorage (along with a pack of whale watching boats). 

A private dock for Anjuli

After that it was off to Anacortes for provisioning.  Anacortes is a very boat friendly town – you can find grocery stores, chandleries, hardware stores and a multitude of small restaurants, boutiques, and even used book stores, all accessible via bus or walking.  We made one last stop to visit long-time friends, Shawn and Heather of Mexico cruising guide fame, and spent a delightful afternoon and evening catching up with them on the island they provide caretaking for before starting north.  

Sunken Garden, Butchart Gardens

 

Friends on the path to Butchart Gardens

We started our Vancouver Island trip in Brentwood Bay.  Brentwood Bay is at the south end of the Saanich Peninsula, just north of Victoria, and it is the home of Butchart Gardens.  Since we are talking bucket list, might as well get em’ all.  Butchart Gardens is a spectacular place – anybody who appreciates gardening or flowers should visit!  The restaurant is great too… Although we loved the food in Mexico, it is kind

Tasty salmon turnover at Butchart Gardens!

of nice to be spoiled again.  There is a dinghy dock and several balls available at the garden’s back entry, but we took a slip at a small, charming, nearby marina where we could walk to stores and do laundry.  There was

Angler’s Anchorage Marina, Brentwood Bay, Vancouver Island

a path from the marina to the gardens, which takes you through the forest and past well-tended homes.  No wonder Canadians are about the friendliest people on the planet – they live in paradise!

Summer sailing in BC

Leaving Brentwood Bay we made our way up to Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands for a visit to the famous Hummingbird Pub.  The weather was fine and sunny, and much warmer than windy Anacortes, where the afternoon westerlies roaring down the Strait of Juan de Fuca keep things cool.  The Hummingbird Pub is mostly famous for its bus.  In the summer months, a re-purposed school bus makes hourly round trips from the dock to the pub.  Upon boarding the bus, you are provided with a noise making musical instrument.  The driver provides the music and drums, and you provide the vocals and additional “music”.  By the time you reach the pub, everybody is in high spirits, and the party continues!

And we’re all singing along…

From Galiano Island it’s an easy day trip up to Nanaimo where we anchored at Newcastle Island Marine Park.  The provincial marine parks are just one of the many great things about British Columbia – some of the parks have docks and mooring balls and other amenities.  The one on Newcastle Island has nice showers, garbage and recycling facilities and miles of hiking trails.  A small ferry makes regular trips from the island to the waterfront of Nanaimo, making

View of Nanaimo from Newcastle Island

provisioning or just a visit to the city easy. It is a very popular spot.

Leaving Nanaimo heading north, you must decide whether to travel up the island side and transit Seymour Narrows, or cross the Strait of Georgia, and continue up the mainland side to Desolation Sound and then north through the triple rapids of Yuculta, Gillard and Dent.  Regardless you must pass through a set of “rapids” to progress farther north.  Relatively straight forward if transited at slack tide, they are completely off limits when the tide is running as whirlpools and standing waves develop.  Max tides through Seymour Narrows run at 13 knots – our max speed under power is 6 knots so it is imperative that the rapids be passed at or near slack water.    In addition to the rapids, on the island side there is the formidable Johnstone Strait which is known for strong northwesterlies – and if you are traveling northwest, who wants to punch into 30 knots?  Not us. We opted for the more scenic “smooth water” route along the mainland side which winds through miles of glacially carved fiords, chock full of intriguing anchorages.

From Nanaimo we crossed halfway across the Strait of Georgia and anchored at Lasqueti Island.  Up at dawn the next day and headed north, we were REALLY glad we had left early as an intense thunder and lightning storm developed behind us, complete with waterspout.

Is that a waterspout behind us???

Frantic voices called out on the VHF as boaters scrambled for cover.  We would have been really bummed to have escaped a lightning strike in Central America only to get zapped here! It chased us all the way up Texada Island, but we only got a few drops and by late that afternoon we dropped the hook in beautiful, landlocked (but crowded) Squirrel Cove with about 50 other boats.   We were pleasantly surprised to see Traveler with Scott and Connie aboard, who we had last seen in Barra de Navidad in Mexico pull in and anchor.  Shared dinner and drinks and caught up – just one of the great things of this cruising – meeting up with long lost friends when you least expect it.

Squirrel Cove lies on east side of Cortes Island in the heart of very popular Desolation Sound Marine Park.  While the scenery is stunning, don’t expect to have an anchorage to yourself here or anywhere else in Desolation Sound.  But north of the rapids, the crowds thin.  I don’t know if it is because the rapids are a little daunting or because it’s just farther from population centers.  We arrived at the start point for transiting the rapids about an hour before the turn of the tide and joined several other boats circling around waiting, and noticed a layer of fog lay on the water at the start of the rapids.  The first set of rapids, Yuculta, is straight, and the preferred method is to enter about an hour before slack so you arrive at the next set of rapids, Gillard, about 20 minutes before slack.  We entered Yuculta at the recommended time and had 2-3 knots of current against us.  A large tree passed us headed downstream at a good clip.  Gillard Passage requires a hard left turn, then once through Gillard it is about 1.5 miles to Dent rapids.

Really? Fog and rapids too?

As we entered Gillard the fog thickened and it was radar and electronic charts only.  The sailboat in front of us chickened out and did a 180 degree turn, making us wonder if he knew something we didn’t, but as he  wasn’t answering the VHF we pressed on.  The tide turns and starts flowing the opposite direction by the time you get to Dent, and we zoomed through at 8 knots, very glad to have the this set of rapids behind us.

Stay tuned for Part II in which the journey north continues…