British Columbia


Victoria to Desolation Sound



Perhaps, at long last, we have learnt to cruise slowly. Looking back we realize that in 2014 we rather over did it sailing some 9,300 miles in six months. With the Pacific crossing to come later this year (2015), we have been taking it easy so far. What seems to have fallen into place is a slow circuit of Vancouver Island through until early August. It is a large Island some 220 nautical miles south to north and about 40 miles wide. Our circuit is taking us anticlockwise, north up the east coast - islands dotting the strait across to the mainland, with more sheltered waters but some strong tidal rips and south down the west coast remoter anchorages, more challenging sailing with the potential for some volatile weather heading in from the Pacific.



We were re-united with Sunstone in mid-April. It was a strange experience for us to be returning after so long away. The five summer months in Nelson were the longest time we had ever been away from our boat. Within a couple of days Sunstone felt alive and lived-in again as we washed away the green growth of the British Columbia (BC) winter on deck and down below. Just to remind us of our garden, a small 'weeding' job was needed to remove one persistent shoot growing up in the steering well!


So we entered our fourth summer in a row; although last year's Alaskan summer does not quite count as a warm season. So far the BC spring and early summer has been sunny and very dry. They had a mild winter too with less snow than usual. Now, in the middle of June, there is already talk of water shortages.










We worked hard for the first two weeks, cleaning, anti-fouling the bottom, fitting a replacement radar, installing new AGM batteries and re-stocking with fresh food. Then it was time to start gently cruising. First off, we wanted to explore the two islands groups spanning the southern end of the Strait of Georgia. Here one can visit the USA and Canada in the same day, the border dividing Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands to the west, in Canada, from the eastern San Juan Islands, part of the state of Washington, in the USA.



This border was disputed back in the 1860's and this nearly led to a war between Britain and the USA, in what became known as 'The Pig War'. The Treaty of Oregon had set the Canadian/US border on the 49th parallel with Vancouver Island to remain in Canada. But what was to happen with the San Juan Islands? When an American shot a pig from the British Hudson Bay Company, on San Juan Island, both sides sought troop reinforcements and set up camps with fortifications. From 1860 to 1872 San Juan Island remained 'at war' but under peaceful joint military occupation. The border was finally decided in arbitration by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany ruling that the San Juan Islands belonged to the United States. Peace was affirmed and San Juan Island remembers the 'war' in which the only casualty was a pig!







We visited a number of the San Juan Island group in May, along with the one named San Juan Island, where we checked out both the English and the American camps and fortifications from the 1860's. Tom's sister Inge and her husband Rob joined us from New York over this time. We gently sailed or motored between five different islands, taking in walks with bright spring flowers, reading up on the history, watching Canada geese tend to their large broods, keeping out of the way of the numerous ferries and enjoying the views.






After buying more fresh food at Sidney, on Vancouver Island, the main yachting centre in this area (20km north of Victoria), and getting the engine injectors serviced, the two of us continued north now in the Canadian Gulf Islands. A pattern emerged; motor-sailing for three to four hours in the morning, anchoring in a protected cove, taking a hike ashore, later reading or doing a few boat jobs, then enjoying a drink before supper and watching the evening sun dip behind the conifer trees. At the more popular stops we shared the bay with six or seven boats, more often there were only two or three. The months of May and June are considered early for cruisers in these waters. Come July and August some bays will see fifty boats and more.






After the small islands we headed for the big city Vancouver on the mainland. It is possible to anchor in False Creek, on the south side of the CBD, for up to two weeks. A permit is required but there is no charge. We walked to the superb Granville Island Market a daily, under cover, food market. It was a feast for the eyes and a treat for the taste buds; a riot of colour with seasonal fruits and veggies piled high on the stalls with cakes, cheeses, cold cuts, fish and chocolates artfully arranged to tempt the crowds. Vancouver has managed its waterfront to accommodate everyone. The high-rise apartments crowd the south side of the CBD but along the shores is a shared pathway where tourists and locals amble, Mum's push their strollers, the fitness buffs run, roller-blade and cycle. It seemed to us that it worked for all.



A fitness day was in order for us. We extracted our full-frame bikes from the forecabin, took them ashore disassembled, fitted the wheels, pedals and seats and set off on the shared pathway. To the north of the city is Stanley Park, 400 hectares around a promontory, with paths criss-crossing the forested hilly land and a 9km sea wall path following the perimeter. We biked across and around and did a couple of tasks in the city centre. Our last night, with the twinkling lights from all the apartments, saw us having dinner in a shore-side pub with friends who live in Vancouver.






Our next goal was a long inlet. All the way up the BC mainland coast there are six or so longer inlets that penetrate the mainland mountain chain for fifty miles or more. We chose Princess Louisa Inlet, which starts out as Jervis Inlet, with each reach given a royal name Prince of Wales, Princess Royal and Queens Reaches. The one name we felt more at home with was Marlborough Heights, although we suspect it was named for the Duke of that name, not for the South Island connections. We came through Malibu Rapids just before slack shooting in with the last of the flood. Princess Louisa Inlet is a fiord forged from the ice age with near vertical cliffs, rising 2,100m above the water and 300m below, with a width of less than one kilometre. At the head of the inlet Chatterbox Falls tumble 600m down tiers of granite with a final fling of 40m over the lower cliffs, providing background music to the peace and tranquillity of a stunning location. As one of the Guide Books stated; "It is more than beautiful. It is sacred!"











What is even more pleasing is that you do not have to anchor precariously on the narrow, silt shelf in front of the waterfall, hanging back into depths of over eighty feet. Here BC Parks have constructed a floating dock with access to the shore, providing some 250m of tie-up space for boaters to use. A three-night limit is set on the dock, with donations welcome; you can always go and anchor out if you want to stay longer. There was plenty of space when we arrived, but in high summer you might have to wait for a tie-up. We had a contrasting two-day stay. The first day, until later afternoon, was sunny, warm, clear and dry. We took the opportunity to do the longer hike; 550m up a steep track using the myriad of roots and branches for scrambling, and handholds walking gingerly across large slabs of granite. After 90 minutes we arrived at the dilapidated trappers cabin and another graceful, lacy waterfall plunging over a sheer granite cliff in glistening strands. We also marvelled at the view a bald eagle's eye - straight down Princess Louisa Inlet to Malibu Rapids and the mountains beyond. The view was beautiful but so was the forest walk; a tangle of wood, lichen and ferns with fungi, tiny green shoots and black caterpillars.





We returned to the dock well exercised and used the non-potable water on the dock for a wash down. By early evening the rain had set in and the cloud base was low. The next day was the same. There were no big views but the hanging clouds and the mist on the granite walls provided a serene beauty of a different kind. During a lighter period of rain, the nearby forest sparkled with the rain, the bright orange and red salmon berries shining through the greens, holding just one rain drop on the end of the berry. The smell was fresh and pungent, of trees, leaves and earth.


We spent three days with our friends on Cortes Island, on our northern route. They look out over the mountains of Desolation Sound our next destination. With campsites and two well-appointed lodges, Steve and Carol attract repeat clients to T'ai Li accommodation, for great views, a peaceful bay and a forest hide-away.










Laura Cove was our next anchorage. This was a place we remembered from our cruise south in 2002. Then we had varnished the hull and we planned that again. For five days we lay with anchor and stern-tie in order to sand and varnish both sides of the hull, the covering boards and in the cockpit. Two full diesel cans hung from the boom to give a few degrees of heel and keep the boot top clear of the water. With a big high pressure system we knew the sun would shine. The cove is sheltered and we hoped not full. First we lay tied to the north shore to varnish the port hull; then we swung around, tying to the south shore to varnish the starboard side. There were two or three other boats in the cove but no-one close-by. It was a perfect place with perfect weather to take up the varnish brushes and make Sunstone gleam again.



Next we have to negotiate a series of rapids in the Johnstone Strait area, studying the tide tables carefully to find slack water. The Broughton Islands beckon.