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