British Columbia


The Broughtons



Sunstone smelt strongly of fresh varnish as we departed Desolation Sound to negotiate the Rapids just a little further north. We took a different route from that of our southwards transit in 2014. The Hole in the Wall was a narrow cut and we were early. In terms of the rapids here, think French Pass and double it. Keeping close to the southern shore we found a back eddy and were delighted to be swishing along at 6.2 knots over the ground. Of course it did not last long; we hit the tide and it was pretty much like hitting a 'brick wall'; our speed dropped to 0.6 knots! And that was only thirty minutes before slack. It was slow work. Gradually our speed increased as we passed through this the first, and the strongest, of the three sets of rapids.





Johnstone Strait was in normal mode - gale force NW winds as we holed up for two days hoping for a break. This was not wind from a low pressure system. It is wind from the NE Pacific high, as it pushes up against the mainland mountains and a stationary inland trough. The strong winds are then accelerated further with an afternoon sea breeze, as the sunny day warms up the air blowing over the cold waters in the Strait; a summer water temperature of only 11'C. We got a reasonable break; the wind was only 15-25 knots as we motor sailed to windward up the Strait. With the tide under us this time, we made excellent progress, reaching a maximum speed over the ground of 11.7 knots. That is a record for us!





North of the rapids and after this short section of Johnstone Strait that cannot be by-passed, the sailing becomes gentle and easy again. The Broughtons resemble a complex jig-saw puzzle, the bits between the pieces are the navigable water. They lie where the northern part of Vancouver Island pushes close to mainland British Columbia. There are intricate channels between thousands of islands and islets with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and long inlets intersecting the high land. This area is just south of 51'N. We were cruising here in the second half of June so the days were long and we had plenty of warm sun.










The view is one of trees conifers are everywhere; along the shore, up the hills, high on the mountain slopes and somehow precariously holding on to near vertical rock faces. This is temperate rain forest country with Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and western red cedar. Logging has been and still is part of the life here. Over the past two centuries those who have struggled to survive in this area have fished, trapped and logged. But way before the white man was here, native villages thrived with the North American Indians living from the sea and off the land. There are remains of old wooden houses, rotting wharves, white midden beaches, totem poles returning to the forest and a history that spans thousands of years.







Without a GPS it would very easy to get lost in these waterways. The channels, passages and small passes have few distinctive marks; it is trees, rocks, kelp and water. Vicky started to call each new day's route a 'TTT' 'Tom's Tortuous Track' as Tom came up daily with yet another interesting but intricate, winding route to the next anchorage. Our mileages did not tax us. We have cruised these waters twice before. Some coves were new or favourites we re-visited. Sometimes we were alone, some bays we shared with one, two, three or four others. Later in the holiday months, the coves would be much fuller.





It was summer time and the cruising was easy!



There are guide books for this area so each evening we could plan our next stopping place. Our preference for a cruising anchorage is always protection, solitude and intimacy. This area is different from many in that there are also choices of small resorts. Trawler yachts abound and they need to re-fuel and re-stock. There are very good reasons why so many motor boats cruise here the winds are calm and the channels so narrow that sailing is nearly impossible. We have motored just about all the time. To cater for these motor boats (and sailing yachts) the Broughtons have about ten small family run marinas or resorts. There are docks, fuel, showers, laundry and provisions. Each marina runs a 'happy hour' to get boaters together; there are potluck suppers and pig roasts. We did not frequent these places but showers, fuel and some fresh bread called every now and then. We always made new friends too; a dock is a great place to start a story and then share a drink.









We came back to Waddington Bay, the site of a varnishing binge last September. Potts Lagoon, Joe Cove, Lady Boot Cove and Laura Bay were just right protected, cosy and very sheltered. Turnbull Cove was a bit bigger but allowed us to stretch our legs for what the guide book said was, "a good work out." By our standards the twenty-minute hike up and down was hardly that. The row back in a fresh wind was more of a work out, at least for Tom.






Echo Marina was our resort stop. Here we could take another short hike to visit Billy and his Museum. Seventy-eight year-old Billy Proctor is one of the legends of this coast, living from the land and the waters. Throughout his life he has collected from the shores and forests. This is his Museum filled with old bottles, cans, cutting machinery and shells along with newspaper cuttings. His personal stories were even more interesting.







One big issue on this coast is the conflict between the C$60 million business of fish farming and the sustainability of the wild salmon runs. The latter are important for the ecosystem, especially the bears that feed on the salmon, and the tourism that this and sport fishing attracts. Fish farms have expanded but some say the government controls are not strong enough and licenses are cheap. The farmed salmon carry more disease, which can be transmitted to wild salmon; fish farms are highly liable to sea lice infestations; there are high concentrations of fish manure around the farms which is not 'washed' away.


Billy Proctor was quite an advocate for preventing expansion of fish farms. For cruisers the fish farms are unsightly and take up space in many coves and along the edges of smaller channels. Some say fish farms should be taken onto the land. From a point of view of sustainability, the biomass of farmed fish produced is also significantly less than the fish-meal necessary to feed the farmed salmon.



After a couple of weeks in these near inland waterways, we headed across the more open waters of Queen Charlotte Strait (these Queen Charlotte's get everywhere), on a quiet day, to the town of Port Hardy; population 4,000. A change of plan had been brewing in our minds and here we made a decision. Ours would not be a complete circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. We decided that we would make our departure from Canada two-thirds of the way down the west coast, from the small town of Tofino. This change gave us more activity in Port Hardy. With a large supermarket in town, we carried loads over a couple of days, to stow on board; stocking up for the three months of passage-making to come in August, September and October.









We did manage to fit in a bike ride too. Port Hardy is on the east side of Vancouver Island, pretty much at the northern end. We biked to the west coast! Well not quite, but to an inlet that comes from the west coast, deeply incising eastwards, to give us a pleasant 16km ride one-way to the wharf and waters at Coal Harbour. The return 16km seemed just a bit hillier than on the way out.


Leaving Port Hardy we were heading for the northern tip of Vancouver Island, to round the infamous Nahwitti Bar and Cape Scott. From here the cruising was likely to be more taxing, on the wild, remote, windier and swell-riven west coast.