British Columbia






It was a wet day, 1 September, leaving Prince Rupert, motor-sailing SE now in British Columbian (BC) waters.  Of course neither the water nor the scenery looked much different from Alaska and we still had to be vigilant watching for floating logs and trees.  After that first day summer really arrived for us.  Day after day we awoke to a bright blue sky, with the sun even warming us to just one layer by mid-afternoon out of any breeze.  Some mornings there was fog; then the mitts went on again and it was four layers on top, still way less than the ten layers that began our Alaskan cruise.





Again we took the more outside route, taking small winding passages to cross from one wider strait to another.  The chart shows the maze of waterways, inlets and channels in this highly indented part of the coast.  Some of the inlets in BC really push inland, penetrating the mountains for up to twenty or thirty miles.




Narrows is one of those winding guts joining Laredo Sound and Finlayson Channel.  The guide book was right; the Narrows were full of floating kelp.  The anchorage was just 200 metres from the narrowest section where the tide rips through at up to 3 knots with two awash rocks to watch out for.  Early morning was good for the tide so we spent a quiet night anchored in the cove, with just the sounds of chattering kingfishers and the wing beats of a giant blue heron.  Vicky surveyed the narrow channel by dinghy keeping in close to the islet so as not to be swept through on the tide.  The kelp was not a hindrance, in fact an aide to the photographer and the subject, trapping the dinghy from moving in the tide and providing a platform for the blue heron catching his supper.





The next morning we sped through avoiding the rocks and finding a ‘lead' through the kelp with Tom giving directions from the bow.  Later we traversed a second set of narrows, appropriately named Jackson Narrows.  The sun shone down on the calm waters of Mathieson Channel before we anchored in Oliver Cove.  The trees and rocks around the cove melted into a patterned tapestry as the sun dipped low over the still waters.







In BC, as in SE, tarmac and gravel are superseded by water as the main routeway, connecting the many island communities.  On any day it is quite normal to see barge traffic loaded with containers, cranes, lorries, cars, girders and sheds.  Tugs also tow fish farms and even whole 'village communities'  - for fishing or logging – to new locations where there is work.  We saw one very large house being 'relocated' to a new site, near Bella Bella.  In some instances the tow is very long; if you see a tug make sure you can see the barge too and know the light characteristics if you are making an overnight trip: three vertical white lights on the tug.






Taking a stern line ashore is something we are very used to as it was a daily form of mooring in Chile.  So far in this cruise we had not used it, until Fancy Cove.  In narrow or rock-strewn bays, it is a very useful form of tie up.  Tom often has to hone his rock climbing skills, here finding a convenient branch, not too high up, on a small islet, after we had set the bow anchor.  Nicely tucked in we enjoyed a sparkling afternoon in the sun; Vicky took a row around the cove, watching kingfishers and bald eagles.








Helping other seafarers in need has been a part of ocean life for centuries and is still a law of the sea.  We heard a Pan Pan call on VHF channel 16.  A small 27ft tug, towing a 1,000ft fish farm, was in trouble with an overheating engine caused by a leaking heat exchanger.  They needed water.  We were five miles away and one of the closest boats to them.  We diverted course and motored out beyond Cape Calvert into Queen Charlotte Sound.  Another motor boat had given us 5 litres of coolant and we filled two of our 20 litre flexible water containers.  All the liquid was put into the dinghy and tied together.  Tom manoeuvred Sunstone near the tug motoring in the same direction and then pulled forward.  Vicky paid out the dinghy on an extended painter to fall alongside the tug.  The two guys on board hooked onto the dinghy and pulled out the water.  Luckily there was only a half metre of swell in the15 knot southwesterly.  They were very grateful for our assistance.  We heard later that this water had contained the problem until an engineer from a Coastguard Ship went on board and repaired the engine.  It is always good to help others in need.



The next day we had our first decent sail in weeks, a beam reach across Queen Charlotte Sound and into Queen Charlotte Strait at the northern end of Vancouver Island.  After Dixon Entrance this is the second piece of more open water on the Inside Passage and its reputation is bad.  But one can choose to wait in a secure anchorage if the weather does not cooperate. We had a fine sail with 15-20 knots northwesterly.  We missed out the little harbour named by the fishermen God's Pocket and sped for Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island.


We had decided to take the route inside Vancouver Island, to the east of the Island, rather than the more challenging and more exposed route down the west coast.  We knew we needed to do some varnishing and the mass of islands in the sheltered waters to the east of Vancouver Island would, we hoped, provide us with that opportunity.  Only 270 miles to go; after 9,007 miles from Nelson, in six months we were beginning to feel a little 'cruised out'!


This was the final stretch; the length of Vancouver Island from Port Hardy to Sidney, near Victoria.  This area is the cruising ground for many of the local boats out of Seattle in the USA, Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia (BC), Canada.  In the summer it would be full, with yachts and many motor boats motoring along the myriad of channels, anchoring in coves and harbours or tying up to docks at small resorts.  As autumn was approaching the crowds were somewhat thinner.







The middle of September brought more fine weather, even warmer in the sheltered waters to the east of Vancouver Island.  We decided this was our opportunity for work – varnishing!  Normally we do small sections every week or so.  Having been in such cool conditions for so long and preparing to leave 'Sunstone' over the winter, we had one big three-day onslaught.  The covering boards were done at the dock in Port Hardy among jumping salmon.  At Blunden Harbour we anchored between the islets; Tom varnished the starboard hull, Vicky the outside of the cockpit coamings and the instrument box.


One day later we found a beautiful sheltered spot, Waddington Bay.  To ensure the port hull stayed in the sun, we set a stern anchor, along with the bower, orientating the boat west-east.  The port hull gleamed the next day along with the tops of the coamings and the coachroof.  A couple from a nearby yacht came past in their dinghy – smelling the fresh varnish from across the bay!



















Not only is there the difficulty of finding the correct route, this area also has the most extreme rapids through the narrow guts, with currents running at over 8 knots, even up to 15 knots in Johnstone Strait on spring tides!  In these swirling waters there are very strong eddies, even whirlpools that have been known to overwhelm small boats.  Care is needed in these inside waters!


We decided against the most direct route, which would have meant negotiating the horrendous tidal currents at Seymour Narrows in Johnstone Strait.  In the middle of these Narrows, Ripple Rock used to destroy a ship a year, capsize small boats and move passenger liners into the rocky shore.  In 1958, after various earlier attempts, Ripple Rock was blasted away.  Tunnels were bored under the waters and 3 million pounds of dynamite were loaded into the Rock.  At the time this was the largest non-nuclear blast in history, turning Ripple Rock into Ripple Shoal.


Before our anxious day through Yaculta and Dent Narrows we spent a pleasant night at Blind Channel Resort.  This family run small marina was a gem, the owners knowing exactly what cruisers want and need.  There is diesel, propane, showers, laundry, a small store, walks in the nearby forest and a restaurant in the high season.  All this set in nice surroundings with cabins for those who want to stay a few nights ashore.


The next day we reached a maximum speed over the ground of 10 knots!  We just avoided Devils Hole a swirling mass of water where you can see the sucking effect of the fast moving water.  Tom had to wrestle with the wheel on a couple of occasions to steer through the rapids and whirlpools, while Vicky was holding on, with the sudden boat movements, camera in hand.





We emerged into the area of Desolation Sound, a popular local cruising ground.  It felt like we had been spat into 'civilisation' again, there were boats all around of all shapes and sizes.  We entered Squirrel Cove just before 1600, our intended overnight anchorage.  There were already eight motor boats at anchor and two more sailing yachts heading in.  We looked at each other, nodded our heads, turned around and headed out!  This was way too crowded.  We clearly needed some re-socialising.


Melanie Cove in Desolation Sound was a nicer spot anyway.  There were five other boats in the cove but we had to accept that.  As it turned out one couple were New Zealanders from years back and we had a very pleasant evening with them and a local couple who live in Victoria.  That helped our re-socialisation skills.




George Vancouver was the explorer who did most of the charting for this coast, spending three years sailing up and down the waters north from Vancouver city.  It was tiresome work, often working up an inlet in their small boats only to find it was yet another dead-end.  He wrote of this area; "Our residence here was truly forlorn; an aweful silence pervaded the gloomy forests, whilst animated nature seemed to have deserted the neighbouring country."  Most would say he got it wrong; he just suffered a lot of rain with grey, low clouds.  With the sun out, Desolation Sound is a fine spot and a very popular, sheltered, summer cruising ground.






Our next tie-up was at a private dock just across the Sound on Cortes Island.  Here we caught up with our friends Steve and Carol London.   We had last seen them when we had both been cruising in Mexico in 2004.  Our clearest memory was eating fried grasshoppers with them in Oxaca, when we took a bus trip inland for a few days.  They own and run Tai-Li Lodge set on the point near Cortes Bay.  With three lodges, three smaller cabins and two docks, set on the wooded peninsula, with views across to the mountains in Desolation Sound, it is a very attractive place.  There is something special about meeting up with cruising friends after a longer time apart.  Somehow one just slots in as if the intervening ten years were a mere ten months.  It was a great stay, with lots of sunshine still.  We even managed some aerobic exercise taking the bikes up and down the hills on the smaller roads of Cortes Island.



The weather was changing and the next few days brought blustery conditions in the Strait of Georgia.  We hunkered down in Westview Harbour Marina on the mainland side and then took a long day sail across the Strait back to Vancouver Island, anchoring for a wet night at Nanaimo.


The next day, 26 September, we made our way through the Gulf Islands to complete the main part of the cruise at Sidney, some 20 km north of Victoria and a big yachting centre.  Maybe it was fatigue, possibly some complacency but we nearly got it wrong.  It was at Dodd Narrows, another narrow gut, swishing us through at 8.5 knots.  The GPS track looked somewhat wrong as we approached the Narrows.  Tom took a quick look at the chart, Vicky turned the wheel heavily to port and we shot through in the middle of the channel.  We had however come very close to the rocky shore on the right hand side.  The instruments were wrong; as we say, "The eyes always have it."


Nine thousand, three hundred miles had passed under 'Sunstone's' keel during the previous six months.  We were ready for a stop – as we kept saying, we were ‘cruised out'.  It was pay-back time for 'Sunstone', some maintenance work was planned, out of the water, for the next ten days.  Beside the work, we had many local friends to catch up with, a talk to deliver at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, harbour notes to complete for various other Clubs and a couple of articles to finish.


Then we had to put 'Sunstone' to bed for the northern winter.  For the first time in our sailing lives, after 34 years living afloat, we would be flying 'home'.  'Home' this time to our house in Nelson.