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