Gulf Island Cruising, August 2007

Our intentions were to head out from Victoria at the instant our holidays started – Friday evening perhaps even. Of course as the departure date neared, a boatload of chores beckoned. Between hauling supplies to Freya, dinner with friends, varnishing and installing our new hatchcover, closing up our house, and finishing a few work details, we didn't get underway until Sunday afternoon. Chores don't seem so bad though when accompanied by plenty o' drinks and ice-cream at the nearby Fin & Gill Cafe.

The west coast of Vancouver Island was to have been our cruising grounds – we'd even borrowed charts of the area in anticipation of seeing something new - but all weekend the marine forecasts reported extensive fog and westerly winds between 20 and 30 knots. We didn't relish beating up the Strait of Juan de Fuca's 70-odd miles against the wind and in poor visibility, so we turned left leaving Victoria. Following our wake we had our dinghy (Argosnot) and kayak (no name, yet).

Cordova Bay

Cordova Bay is a great anchorage just around the corner. It's still city, but high bluffs with houses perched upon give good privacy to boats below. Our first night at sea in a long time, and we were treated to seals slapping their tails while the sky faded through blue to purple to black. Monday morning was sunny (with low fog banks to the south and west, confirming our decision to go the other way) so we decided to stay put a few hours to see if a sailing wind might fill in. Meantime we each enjoyed a paddle around the shoreline, spying on the seals.

Bedwell Harbour

Just before noon we hoisted sail and enjoyed a sweet downwind run to Bedwell Harbour at South Pender Island. This anchorage has a brisk uphill hike to the top of Mt Norman; today we took the direct route back down, unlike last time, when we ended up walking three hours along a road only to end up across the bay from our boat and had to borrow a canoe to get back.

An hour after leaving Bedwell, a couple of Dall's Porpoises joined us. Despite our laggard speed of 3 knots they seemed glad to play, and four more abandoned a power boat to come frolic with the first two. The group stayed a quarter of an hour, zooming across our bow and occasionally leaping partway clear of the water.

Selby Cove

A dying wind forced us to motor the rest of the way to Selby Cove at Prevost Island (named after British Captain James Prevost, who negotiated the San Juan boundary dispute between BC and USA (not in our favour, either)). On entering this quiet cove we spotted seals sunning on a raft in the bay, slipping back into the water on our approach. Kayaking here was fun, as was the hike across to neighboring James Bay, along the shore and through mosquito-peppered forest. All it was lacking was a grove of palms and coconuts layering the forest floor and it could have been Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva. Deer grazed in the ancient apple orchard, left over from Digby de Burgh's ownership before the area became a marine park. We returned to Freya just as the sun set, before too many of the mosquitoes found us tasty.

Pirate's Cove

Pirate's Cove was a short day northward - mostly sailing in light airs. Not as crowded as when last we were here five years ago, with Tara and Summer Fling. The Treasure Chest on shore was still loaded with loot, including a toy sword and flash necklace of skulls and bones. We tossed in some fishhooks (in a bag, so's not to catch any young pirates), a puzzle, and some stamps. This cove is small enough that many boats prefer to stern-tie to shore. Freya ended up rafting together with a neighboring trimaran when we both drifted in the light airs toward each other in the evening. We had good walks again on this small hilly island. Mosquitoes seemed to have followed us here too. A good hard rain overnight caused several bright orange 'shrooms to pop up. They could have been worth $100/kilo, or 5 nights in the emergency room...


Southwest winds being light, we decided next to sail to Nanaimo's Newcastle Is. There's several routes, but the shortest runs through Dodd Narrows. This 50 meter wide pass can develop up to 9 knots of current, limiting us to a short window around the tide change. We joined several dozen boats passing through starting an hour before slack tide. This parade seems to be a popular spectator sport; many cottages lining the shore have deck chairs facing the action. One house strung out on a clothesline naval signal flags spelling “IFYOUxxxxxx” We didn't decode it in time, but it probably asked us to honk if we could read it.

In the busy Nanaimo port we briefly tied up to the Ecobarge for a free pumpout of our holding tank. Like Victoria Harbour, there's float planes zipping around, big barges and tugs muscling along, and small fizz-boats (see NZ vocabulary) criss-crossing everywhere.

Newcastle Island

Newcastle Island is a great spot. It was sunny! The big bay anchorage can hold more than 100 yachts, and the shore is criss-crossed by at least 15 km of trails. This early-ish morning we met joggers and red pileated woodpeckers in equal numbers, while checking out an old sandstone quarry and finding coal chunks on the beach. The long column Barb is leaning on was cut from the sandstone and intended for construction of the San Francisco Mint. Loaded onto a ship, together with 80 tons of other sandstone blocks, it made it only partway down the coast before sinking in a February snowstorm. The Mint eventually received replacements, and a few years ago a diver discovered the wreck. Following a salvage effort, the column and other artifacts are now on display.

We also did our good deed for the day, rescuing two baby Purple Martins fallen out of their nests. These Martins migrate between North and South America and are welcome insect-catchers. The west coast population numbered only 6 breeding pairs in the 80's. Now there are many hundreds – helped by nest boxes placed on harbour pilings all along southern BC coast.

Back at Freya we spy S/V Lutra, another Hunter-Vogel, but built 10 years earlier than ours! Bob and Lindsey have owned theirs for 26 years. With only eleven built (and one sunk), it's a rare occurrence to spot another one.

While in the area, we meet Barb's Dad & Darlene, and head to Mrs. Richie's for lunch. None of us wanted to tackle her Monster Burger – it includes a full pound of ground beef, plus bacon, cheese, a whole tomato, and loads of other stuff. Eat it all, and it's free. Since we didn't go for the big burger, we later enjoyed picking blackberries – yummm! ...and followed it with icecream – yummmm! At Ron's and my suggestion, we enjoyed the icecream while seated on a bench in front of three sunbathing bikini-clad babes :-) Watching Nanaimo's walk-about Tourist Info staff (they also take cell phone calls) rounded out the entertainment.

Next morning's sail out past Nanaimo was pleasant, and we amused ourselves wondering whose large motor-yacht had pulled into town (M/V Odyssey, about 120 feet long). Rumour had it that Oprah was in town, but no indication if it was hers. We motored through Dodd Narrows, once again parading with dozens of others at the start of the 2-hour window. The radio waves were punctuated by a few angry radio calls as some pushed their way through out of turn, or created large wakes that bounced smaller boats around.

Sibell Bay

More sailing took us past Coffin Is, to Sibell Bay, near Ladysmith. This lovely little anchorage in the channel between Dunsmuir Island (owned by Seattle Yacht Club) and Hunter Point Native Reservation. Warmest water yet, at 18 C! We hopped in for swim over to SYC's island and back. While waiting for the charcoal to catch, we heard lots of splashing and kids having fun on the nearby beach. Our BBQ pork chops were just finishing when the crew of Lutra dinghied past. They were taking their grandkid around – who found treasure at Pirate's Cove, including some fish hooks. They left a deck of cards and a shackle in exchange. Tonight was a great night for stargazing. Barb outscored bj on meteors, but we both saw three good long-trailed ones. Lying on deck, we tried to recall the names of the many stars we made friends with on our last trip.

Next day dawned sunny and hot. The radio said “up to 27 C”. Summer's here! Not for long though – by the weekend it is supposed to get cooler (19C) and showery. Figures. A light breeze tempted us to depart under sail alone, but a shift caused us to head for the SYC dock shortly after weighing anchor. On came the engine.

We kept motoring all through the rest of the trip to the bay northwest of Montague Harbour. HMCS Brandon entertained us by turning doughnuts and maneuvering behind, alongside, and in front of us as we went down Stuart Channel and Houston Passage. Along the way we amused ourselves by leaving bread-crumb trails for the seagulls from a package of moldy pita bread. When one bird spies the morsel, within minutes there are half a dozen seagull friends swiftly winging their way over. We also spotted a glider pulled aloft in the clear morning air.

Montague Harbour, just north of...

After anchoring we rowed ashore with the water toys, and spent an hour wading the shallows looking for interesting sealife. The visibility was short due to much floating algae, and the water was cooler than the day before but tolerable. Saw a chiton, starfish, a drowned dragonfly, and a centipede-like creature that insisted on following us and latching onto my swim trunks.

Pizza night! Woohoo! Our quiet evening anchorage was punctuated by slaps of seals' tails, and slaps of sun-warmed humans jumping in from other boats. One could tell the difference between the two because the seals' slaps weren't followed by screeches of 'Wooooeeeee! This water is $%@#$ COLD!” We slung the hammock from the rigging, made a couple rumandcokes, and read till the pizza was ready. Ahhhh....

Morning dawned much cooler than the day before. We sailed upwind in a light sou'easter with over 20 other boats also enjoying the rare winds. Occasional gusts had us heeled over with the gun'ls awash. Fun on a three-hour sail in flat water; not so fun for 22 days with no breaks and with open-ocean swells in the mix :-)

Winter Cove

On approaching Winter Cove, we spotted the wreck of the tall ship Roberton II, formerly used for training youngsters, and bought less than a year ago by a private individual. It ran aground late night about a month ago and so far efforts to refloat it have been fruitless. We passed by the same reef, now oh-so-well-marked, and anchored in the gusty cove. While settling in, we reviewed the chart and noticed that we were anchored close to an undersea power cable. So close, in fact, that a local passing by in a runabout stopped to remark that we ought to move to avoid the fate of another sailboat just this morning who had snagged the cable. Just for the record, we weren't on top of it, but we moved anyway.

The next day was again better than forecast, and we sailed past a well-attended sailboat race, drifted past the lighthouse on S. Pender Island, detoured past Zero Rock to view some Orcas in the binoculars, and motored into Cordova Bay. Foregoing our running yatzee tournament, we instead reminded ourselves how to play Crib. Barb won, comfortably.

Back to Victoria

The rest of the sail to Victoria was slow, though assisted by a nice following current. We took the long way, around Discovery Island, and arrived happily back in West Bay Marina early afternoon. It started raining heavily that night, but by then we had retired back into our spacious water-tight home.

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