Notes for British Columbia, Canada 2014
From Tom and Vicky Jackson, Sunstone
Cruising guides and many local sailors view the Dixon Entrance crossing with trepidation. It is certainly open to the full force of any bad weather from the Gulf of Alaska and westerlies are funnelled between the land masses to the north and south, while easterlies come down Portland Inlet. Tides are fairly strong and irregular in direction. Having said all that, the English Channel and Brittany coasts can pose greater challenges for cruisers. Unless time presses, it is usually possible to plan for a pleasant crossing with fair winds and, in fact, the Dixon Entrance may give one of the few opportunities for Inside Passage cruisers to have a nice day sail to relieve the constant motoring. Daylight crossing of the Dixon Entrance is virtually essential as the area is littered with drifting logs, for which a very sharp look-out must be kept.
To check into Canada foreign vessels must go to Prince Rupert. The distance from Alaskan anchorages to Prince Rupert is great enough that it is a very long day sail. Most cruisers coming down the Inside passage from Ketchikan stop at Foggy Bay before continuing to Prince Rupert. Vessels crossing from the west, either Tlevak Sound or Clarence Strait can usually make the crossing in daylight, but may if necessary stop at Judd Harbor, Duke Island. The most direct route into Prince Rupert is via Venn Passage. This is very well marked and charted, however, it is very narrow and shallow in places, requiring careful pilotage of some tight turns. Some larger yachts might prefer to take the longer route to the south of Digby Island.
Though there is a boat harbour further north, it gives preference to commercial craft during the summer. The usual berthing for visitors is at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club at Cow Bay. Customs clearance is usually by public phone near the Club, though officers may opt to visit the boat. Canada is quite strict about the limits for importation of alcohol. The Clubs docks are convenient to the town. There are showers in the office. The fuel dock is immediately north of the Club docks. Propane bottles can be filled about .5 km. down the road. There are a variety or marine services available close to the Club docks. However, we can find no indication of haul-out facilities locally.
A large supermarket and a liquor store are about 1 km toward the centre of town. The laundromat is some distance further. Close to the supermarket is the Museum of Northern BC, which is orientated mostly to the culture, history and artefacts of the First Nations peoples of the area. The North Pacific Cannery Village Museum is located about 20 km south of Prince Rupert and has interesting tours around the preserved and reconstructed cannery. Cruise ships visit Prince Rupert in the summer and when they do the town can be quite busy.
Inside Passage South from Prince Rupert
This is an attractive, well-protected anchorage behind a couple of islets. It might be possible to anchor even further west in the pool, but when we were there a tree had anchored itself to the bottom further into the cove and presented a danger to any anchored boat. There was good holding in mud, 12m.
The Inlet and anchorage are somewhat off the main Channel and approached through a rocky entrance. The Inlet itself has a very narrow but quite deep entrance. There are some shoals to avoid inside, but the main part of the inlet is wider and deeper. The Douglass guide suggests that it is possible to anchor west of the little islet at the far end, but we found this optimistic. The position above is east of the islet, but still very well protected. Holding is good in mud and shingle, 13m.
The inlet is set amongst a large number of small islets and sub-inlets. With careful pilotage it would be possible to find any number of anchorages among the islands. However, the bottom may be rocky in many of the pools between the islets. Even in the anchorage above it took some time to set the anchor in a fairly rocky bottom, 11m. However, the anchorage is very attractive and well-protected.
This cove at the western end of the narrowest part of Meyers Narrows is well-placed to allow one to get the tide right for the passage of this very narrow, kelp-strewn and shallow waterway. The cove itself is very well-protected and attractive. Though the bottom is somewhat kelpy, holding was good in mud, 14m.
The narrowest and shallowest part of the narrows is very short. There is one red buoy marking a rock to the south. When we passed through, the best water was fairly well indicated by a clearer passage through the kelp, which shrouded either side of the channel.
Like Meyers Narrows Cove, Oliver Cove is a convenient place from which to get the tide right through the narrowest parts of Reid Passage, though the latter is not so narrow or shallow as Meyers. The cove is undistinguished, but gives good shelter, except perhaps from strong westerlies. Holding was good in mud and shingle, 12m.
We had originally hoped to stop at Bella Bella, a large First Nations village, however there was no space at the rather ramshackle docks, so we moved on to this delightful and well-sheltered cove. The anchorage is fairly tight and the position above is between our anchor to the south of the islet, with a line to a tree on the islet. There were lots of kingfishers and eagles. Holding was good in mud, 6m.
This cove and Fury Island Cove, 10 miles to the north are the most convenient stopping places between the shelter of Fitz Hugh Sound and that of Queen Charlotte Strait after rounding Cape Caution. The entrance to the anchorage itself requires careful pilotage between the rocks and then rounding two islets to reach the very protected inner anchorage. With a fair tide in Queen Charlotte Strait, this anchorage is an easy day sail from Port Hardy for those heading down the east side of Vancouver Island. Holding is very good in mud, 9m.
In Queen Charlotte Sound one must make a decision for heading south either inside or outside Vancouver Island. We have used both routes more than once. The advantage, but also the challenge, of the outside route is that there is much more sailing, often in moderate to strong winds, particularly in the afternoons when day breezes pick up. Many of the anchorages on the west coast are some way up inlets away from the outer coast. Morning fog can be a problem. There are relatively few places for pit stops, for fuel or stores until some way south down the coast. This lack of development does mean, however, that there are far fewer boats than inside.
On the inside passage, there are many more harbours and anchorages to explore and there are numerous places to pick up fuel or stores. However, there are relatively few opportunities for sailing once one leaves Port Hardy. Tides also run very strongly in many of the narrows, which must be negotiated, and there is often morning fog. During the summer months areas such as the Broughtons and Desolation Sound can be very busy.
Our route in 2014 was inside.
Port Hardy lies in the southwestern corner of Hardy Bay. Approach is strait-forward and well marked. There are public floats immediately inside the harbour entrance, but these are entirely taken up by commercial craft. The usual transient moorage for yachts is on B Dock at the Quarterdeck Marina to the south of the public floats. The marina has showers and laundry as well as a liquor store and fuel dock. There are some marine services and quite a good range of chandlery available at Strykers Marine Electronics, a short walk from the marina. There is a supermarket, hardware and other stores about 1 km from the marina. Though there was a boatlift at the marina, it had a flat tyre and may well have been unused for some time.
There are several possible anchorage sites within the Harbour. The one above is near the islet in the inner basin, which is accessed through a narrow channel between rocks leading from the outer bay. There is excellent shelter in an attractive setting. Holding was good in mud, 6 m. This anchorage would almost certainly be crowded during the summer and even during Autumn and Spring weekends. It is only 15 miles north of Port Hardy.
This is a very attractive and sheltered anchorage, with a number of anchorage options. Though the Douglass guide indicates the possibility of anchoring west of the inner islet, we found this optimistic both in terms of depth and swinging room. The anchorage above is between the islet and northern shore using bow and stern anchors (to aid varnishing the hull!). Other anchorages in the outer basin would also have been well-sheltered. Holding was good in mud, 7 m.
This is a large cove and generally well-sheltered, though it is possible that stronger easterly and westerly winds would funnel down the length of the cove. The head of the cove is shoal and littered with crab pots. However, there is plenty of space for anchoring on a flat bottom. Holding is good in mud and sand, 6 m. The cove is a convenient spot to get the tide right through the Chatham Channel narrows and thence into Havannah Channel and Johnstone Strait. Yachts which can maintain 6 knots can make the tide through the Race Passage narrows of Johnstone Strait if they depart from Cutter Cove early in the flood tide through Chatham Channel.
Parts of Johnstone Strait have very strong and turbulent tides. Passage of the narrower parts of the Strait requires careful timing, which is complicated by the lack of well placed and sheltered stopping places. It is not possible to avoid the Race Passage narrows section of the Strait. However, by going north into Cordero Channel, it is possible to avoid the Ripple Rock narrows where the tide runs most strongly with very heavy overfalls, whirlpools and turbulence. Many smaller craft take Cordero Channel route, as we did.
The resort has a small marina with about 16 berths, which are out of the strong tidal flow in Mayne Channel. The resort is attractive and well-run. There is a fuel dock and a small store, as well as showers and laundry. During the summer season there is a restaurant. There are a number of hiking trails through the neighbouring forest land. The resort is quite well-placed for boats hoping to get through Yuculta Narrows at or near slack water. In summer reservations would be required.
The narrow passages in the Cordero Channel at Dent Islands and Gillard Passage require careful timing to pass at or near slack water. Not only are tides very strong in these passages but there is very considerable turbulence, whirlpools and eddies. However, Devils Hole and Gillard Passages are short. At neap tides they can be transited within an hour or so of slack water with a fair tide, but rates are still around 4 knots and full power may be need to avoid or escape whirlpools.
Contrary to the much higher tidal predictions, we found that in the wider areas before and beyond the narrows, tide rates were between .75 and 1.5 knots at neaps.
This cove is within the wider protection of Prideaux Haven. The latter is accessed through a very narrow and shallow channel between a rock and a ledge. It is well charted. The cove itself also has a narrow but easy entrance between rocks. Inside there is complete shelter. This is a very popular anchorage and crowded in summer, as is its neighbour to the northeast, Laura Cove. During the summer season and whenever there are larger numbers it is common to drop anchor in mid-cove and take a stern line to a tree, thus allowing far larger numbers of boats to anchor safely. In this anchorage we used a stern-tie in this way. Holding is very good in mud, 10 m.
The Lodge is actually a collection of smaller and larger houses and cabins owned by Steve and Carol London. It is a commercially run business and the dock is private. However, as sailors themselves, Steve and Carol would welcome reservations from interested cruisers. The various houses are rented out either individually or collectively on a self-catering basis. There is a dock, which is suitable for boats up to 45; it well-sheltered except for strong east to southeasterly winds, when a boat can be moored in Cortes Bay, 0.5nm away to the north. Cortes Island has a variety of hiking trails. The roads are quiet and suitable for cycling. The Island is at the western end of Desolation Sound. The Lodge would be an excellent spot for any cruiser who wishes to get together with mostly non-sailing family or friends in a place where day cruises could be made to Desolation Sound, but non-sailors could sleep ashore. The dock is not available for separate rental.
Berthing for transients is in the southern section of the marina. Call on VHF 66A. There are modern services ashore and helpful staff. There is a fuel dock in the marina. The town is pleasant, but there are only smaller shops 1km from the marina. The marina is one of the few potential stops between Desolation Sound and other anchorages and harbours further south on the eastern side of the Strait of Georgia.