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