In 2015, after shipment of His Idea to British Columbia from Florida, we made a few short trips to the Gulf and San Juan Islands to reintroduce ourselves to cruising on the west coast. The rocky coastline, large tides and swift currents, and relative frequency of fog create different cruising conditions from the waters of eastern North America and the Caribbean. Following further short excursions earlier this year we felt ready to tackle an extended cruise up the coast, beyond where we had been before, to the Discovery Islands, Blackfish Sound, and the Broughton Archipelago.
Essentially this area covers the islands and channels between Vancouver Island and the mainland from Campbell River to Port McNeill/Port Hardy. It has a history of long First Nations habitation, early twentieth century settlement to take advantage of its forestry and fishing resources (although often on a small and/or remote scale), and abundant fish and wildlife. The latter resource now fosters the sport-fishing and eco-tourism industries, which in turn are helping to sustain the remaining small communities and outposts that are spread around the region. With a labyrinth of calm channels, numerous protected anchorages, both rustic and high-end marinas and resorts, great opportunities for viewing wildlife, and spectacular scenery, this region is an outstanding cruiser’s destination.
To get there from Georgia Strait, potential challenges for the mariner include the swiftest currents and most dangerous tidal rapids anywhere, fog any time of year, and the chance for rough seas, particularly when transiting 65 mile long Johnstone Strait. Although we encountered some fog in Johnstone Strait, both northbound and southbound we were blessed with very little wind and calm seas throughout this area, and generally excellent cruising conditions.
Ironically it was in Georgia Strait that we encountered our roughest weather, as well as our first serious mechanical breakdown with His Idea. While heading south for Point Roberts from our overnight stop at Jedediah Island (located west of the south end of Texada Island), we were being bounced around in 3-4’ moderate seas. To shorten the duration of the rough passage we decided to head towards Nanaimo to duck in at Gabriola Passage and continue south in the protected waters behind the northern Gulf Islands. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, because about 5 miles off Nanaimo we lost power to the port engine. Upon shut down and inspection it became apparent that a high-pressure fuel line had ruptured and was spewing diesel fuel around the engine compartment – not a good thing. Except at very slow speeds His Idea handles well with only one engine and we were able to plow through the swells and limp into Nanaimo harbour. To make a long story short, after waiting for repairs and the now gale force winds to abate, we returned to Point Roberts in good form, albeit four days late.
Despite our challenges near the end of the journey, this trip lived up to all our cruising expectations, and we will definitely return to the area again. This was also an excellent learning experience for us, as we will be retracing much of this route during the excursion to Southwest Alaska (Glacier Bay) we are planning for 2017.
We hope you enjoy the following pictures and commentary…..
A Coast Guard hovercraft visits Merry Island Lighthouse, about 50 miles up Georgia Strait from our home port in Point Roberts.
Our first stop, cozy Smuggler Cove …..
…..where Ria enjoyed her exploration by paddle board.
While at Smuggler Cove we made a dinghy trip to nearby Thormanby Island, to enjoy the great beach there; the view is across Georgia Strait towards the Ballenas Islands and Parksville.
Amidst the dominant evergreen forests of B.C., as far north as Desolation Sound, distinctive rusty-coloured Arbutus trees can be seen along Georgia Strait’s rocky shores.
At Squirrel Cove, Cortez Island, the impressive remains of a large wreck are fully exposed at low tide.
Our chartplotter shows His Idea entering the Yuculta Rapids, the first of five (including Gilliard, Dent, Greene Point and Whirlpool) that we would transit on our way through the narrow passes north of Desolation Sound.
The area around Big Bay is renowned for salmon sport fishing, which attracts visitors to impressive resorts; we were working against a 4 knot current as we approached Gilliard Passage, however the boils and whirlpools were manageable.
This view is typical of the winding passages through the mountain-bound channels of the Discovery Islands, which define the area north of Georgia Strait.
Our anchorage at Forward Harbour, east of Hardwicke Island, was well protected from the westerlies of Johnstone Strait, with great views of the coast mountains to the east.
Heading west down Sunderland Channel towards Johnstone Strait, which often can be very rough; fortunately for us, not today!
A carved native canoe in front of Alert Bay, a large First Nations community on Cormorant Island near Port McNeill.
After a rainy night, a misty and moody morning at Waddington Bay, Bonwick Island, Broughton Archipelago.
Oops! A fellow boater’s misadventure in Hopetown Passage, Watson Island; we picked up their call to the Coast Guard on our VHF radio and took the dinghy from our nearby anchorage to take a look; with assistance from their companion cruising boat they were able to get off the rocks at high tide and eventually make it to Port McNeill for shaft, prop and rudder repairs (expensive, no doubt).
Abandoned logging equipment near our anchorage at Turnbull Cove; although there is evidence of widespread logging throughout this area, reforestation efforts mostly cover the unsightly scars that remain, and we did not find them particularly intrusive to the beauty of the area.
This is the ‘main street’ of Sullivan Bay, a delightful marina and floating community on the north side of Broughton Island; up until the mid-fifties Sullivan Bay was the busiest floatplane base serving the coast…..
…..while now it sports beautiful ‘suburban’ floathomes, with sophisticated personal transportation methods to get there…..
…..and its own one hole golf course; this is the Captain practicing for the evening competition, where ‘closest to the pin’ wins a freshly baked turnover for next day’s breakfast (showing great determination, the Captain was finally rewarded on his third and last day of competition!).
Wildlife viewing was excellent – we saw grey whales, orcas, otters, etc., plus our favourite, Pacific white sided dolphins; they are incredibly fast swimmers, love to jump high in the air, and enjoy playing in the bow waves of slow-moving boats…..
Exploring for bears up the Ahta River, at the head of Bond Sound, off Tribune Channel (His Idea is a speck in the distance); we were unsuccessful…..
…..but no matter, as this fellow and his cousin showed up to entertain us when we anchored in nearby Wahkana Bay, Gilford Island; at low tide the bears use their powerful forearms to move large and small rocks to get the goodies exposed beneath.
Mamalilaculla, once a thriving but now abandoned Kwakiutl village on Village Island, Knight Inlet, is slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding forest; native gatherings or ‘potlatches’ were banned by the Canadian government in 1884, and Mamalilaculla means ‘village of the last potlatch’ after a large gathering in 1921 led to mass arrests and confiscation of native regalia.
Here we are approaching calm but foggy Johnstone Strait via Havannah Channel, east of West Cracroft Island, on our return home; visibility in the Strait was sometimes less than a mile, so a sharp lookout and close watch of the chartplotter, radar and AIS was required for much of the southbound passage; despite the restricted visibility, the extreme calm and misty vistas lent an eerie beauty to the scene.
In addition to this lone Orca that frolicked near us for awhile near Kelsey Bay, we also caught sight through the mist of the nearby tail flukes of a grey whale – better a quick glimpse than bumping into one!
After an overnight stop at Small Inlet on Quadra Island, we tackled infamous Seymour Narrows, just north of Campbell River; by the time of our noon passage the ebb was reduced to ‘only’ 6 knots (maximum 15 for the day) and the seas were calm; still, there were lots of large boils and whirlpools and at the worst we were reduced to just 7 knots of headway.
Our final stop in the Discovery Islands was Rebecca Spit, on the east side of Quadra Island; great views, and it’s a wonderful location for beach combing and swimming during the summertime.