West Coast of Vancouver Island
August 1, 2016 Bligh Cove, Bligh Island, British Columbia
Note: this post is a out of chronological order, it was written at the beginning of August.
Douglas and I have spent a bit over a month working our way down the west coast of Vancouver Island since rounding Cape Scott on the Fourth of July. It's been an atypical summer for weather and we've spent a good deal of the time dodging gale force winds on the Pacific. The west coast of the island is pocked with numerous coves and long inlets that often cut deeply into the interior. Many of the inlets are carved between large hills or dormant volcanoes and along the occasional full mountain, giving us plenty of beautiful well protected places to anchor and wait out whatever nasty weather boiled away along the coast. The west side of the island has been an excellent and highly recommendable adventure. We've had a full range of sailing conditions, much of it off the coast in a variety of sea states. The area feels remote, and the few places we put into to have a couple of moments of "civilization" to refuel or pick up meager provisions, have felt like outposts more than anything to complicated or overly organized. There has been a decent amount of wildlife - daily visits by eagles mostly, but also strong numbers of sea otters in most coves and often bobbing a couple miles offshore, many whales and porpoises, but as yet no bears and only one night when we heard the call of the wolves. If there is one mark to make against the coast it is that the hand of man has been heavy with clear cutting and it is rare to find a place away from either the scars of clear cutting or the current activity of logging. The clear cutting even in what seem to be remote areas can appear brutal from the water - whole mountainsides shorn like the heads of collaborators in the days after WWll.
Below are excerpts from journal entries and observations on each of our stops around the island. Unlike last summer we have not been on the move nearly as much. We have found places we like and settled in for a few days. Often this was weather driven, but the entire distance from Cape Scott to Tofino is only 150 miles. Each day we move south also brings us closer to civilization, road access, float planes and sport fishing boats. We have been enjoying the solitude of the northern coast and not wanting to break the spell.
Our plans for the next leg of our trip are to sail to Barkeley Sound, do a little exploring and keep an eye on the weather. When we see a good window we'll move down along the coast to Newport, Oregon and meet up with my parents for a visit. From there we plan to sail to Berkeley, California and put in there for a few boat projects during September and the early part of October. By late October we plan to be in San Diego and getting ready to sail to Mexico for the winter.
From my last posting in Port Hardy we were trying to sort out problems with the windlass. The ill cast gypsy never really worked, it gave a place for the chain to land and be guided by hand into the chain locker and also could be used to guide the chain during deployment when run freely. But any type of controlled operation with the windlass was out of the question. We've spent the summer anchoring by deploying and retrieving the chain mostly by hand, and using the rope wildcat and a sort of leap frog system using two snubbers and chain hooks to pull up the last bit of chain and the anchor. It's tedious, but Douglas has adopted an approach of looking at it as his daily lifting exercise and turned it into something positive. It will be nice to resolve the problem in California but we've figured out a few tricks and are making it work.
From Port Hardy we anchored in Bull Harbor, a classic anchorage for those wanting to sail around Cape Scott. It is pretty shallow and snug, though well protected from the weather out on the Nahwitti Bar and the north end of the island. The weather piped up while where there and we spent several days there watching as wave after wave of other boats would stay a night then head out into what sounded like chaos from radio reports and updates from the area weather stations. There was another sailboat in the harbor with us and we kept sharing information on the weather and wondering at the bravery or craziness of those that kept heading out into what sounded like nasty conditions. The Nahwitti bar is one of the more fearsome bodies of water in the entire pacific northwest. To cross the bar there when prevailing winds are running against an ebbing tide is to take on high stacked and confused seas, a couple miles of real terror in my mind. We left on a calm morning with light winds, crossing the bar on a slack ebb with light winds against us and the seas were still pretty steep and made for an energetic passage than kept us on our toes. We kept the main up and motor sailed through the waves, we didn't have enough wind to sail but the main helped to balance the boat and we had a controlled trip over the bar.
The trip over the bar and around the island, through the Scott channel stands out as one of the best days on the water of the trip. After crossing the bar the winds picked up and we were able to sail around the tip of the island and toward Scott channel. We wanted to time our crossing of the channel with an afternoon slack tide around Cape Scott and so sailed NW of the island for a couple of hours under full sun and a light breeze. A beautiful and rewarding day after spending so many days in the rain of Bull Harbor and helped us shake off the frustration we'd built up from dealing with the windlass. Rounding Cape Scott in the afternoon under all sails, through confused seas and winds that changed directions was great fun and made us feel like we were jumping fully into the adventure of summer. We rounded Cape Scott on the Fourth of July and dropped anchor late in the day at San Josef Bay.
San Josef Bay was a good place to spend a quiet night. The bay is completely open to the ocean and though there is a bar to cross that does cut down on the swell, I would not recommend it for nights with bad weather. The swell was light but with no wind Tumbleweed tends to present his beam to the waves and so we had some excitement throughout the night whenever a larger set of swells made their way to us. The anchorage is beautiful, we were tucked behind a small spur of land and had a view of a wide sandy beach. If the swell was not an issue it would be a fine place to explore by kayak. But we were up early and moving on to calmer waters the next day.
July 6, 2016 Klaskish Basin, BC
We pulled out of beautiful though open and very rolly San Josef Bay late in the morning yesterday. The waters and wind were flat calm and we hoped for the winds to build later in the morning and afternoon. It was not to be, we had sails up for a few minutes, then tried just motor sailing, but not enough wind for that. The main kept flogging and slatting around. But even under motor with the Westerbeke chugging away, it was a gorgeous ride which would have been perfection under sail. The coastline is rugged, and there were no signs of people on the island and only a few fishing boats, mostly distant, at sea. Chatter on the VHF was low, small groups of birds here and there skimmed the water, occasionally we watched as a large salmon would surface to slap its belly against the water. It was a day over a constant, gentle swell that nudged us south.
The revelation of the day was realizing that from this point forward over the next few years, if all continues to plan, our mantra will be "keep the Pacific on your right", from here we intend to go south along the coast of Vancouver Island, to Washington, past Oregon, hold up in California, winter in Mexico and then move along to the islands of the south pacific and on around, always at the edge or sliding across the the Pacific. Kind of an epic and humbling moment to chew on. We have been so focused over the past year to get up and around to the west side of the island that to be here, wandering down the coast is taking a bit to sink in.
A small bit of water up from the sea, we wound our way through a handful of islets yesterday afternoon with full sun and the most gentle of swells. Each swell lifted us up and gave us a gentle nudge forward and it felt as though we were drifting in from the pacific, into Brooks Bay and up through Klaskish inlet. Once we passed the small islets standing guard to the upper waters, all became calm, what little wind and swell we'd felt dropped away and we chugged away under motor winding our way past areas that were unspoiled. A bit further in we heard a tremendous blast of dynamite and looked up to the hillside to see a massive cloud of dust, a logging company blasting a road into the mountain. As we continued in we could see where recent clearcutting had scalped giant swaths from the mountains and felt disheartened for a bit.
Soon we turned into a narrow channel of stone where old growth evergreens twisted and clung to the rocks, reaching to the waters where they were uniformly and neatly clipped by the saltwater. It was closed in and for a couple of moments our view was a narrow band of sky above and a small glimpse of the basin forward. A magic spot that felt ancient and wonderful.
The basin proper revealed a winding logging road and more clearcutting in the distance but in all other directions was quiet and removed from the rest of the world. No other vessels or sounds, the waters perfectly still and protected but small hills all around. After spending the night on the swells in Bull Harbor this felt like just the place.
We went about setting anchor with our new methods that reduce or bypass the gypsy. On our first two attempts we weren't ab le to get a good set, we would drag pretty easily when I put moderate RPMs to it. On our third try we moved up closer to the head of the basin where it was a little shallower and probably has a more muddy bottom. We set really well there, and had Tumbleweed tidied up and all put away by 19:00.
July 13, 2016
Columbia Cove, Vancouver Island, BC
Klaskish Basin to Columbia Cove
We've been at Columbia Cove for a few days now. We've arrived on a sunny, summer-perfect afternoon after a great sail from Klaskish Basin and have been through rain storms, mist, dead calms and another day of sun. Today we are in another overcast haze that can't decide weather to start raining on us or to clear up and behave like a proper summer day.
Our trip from Klaskish Basin was uneventful. We set out in the late morning with only a knot or two of wind back in the excellent protection of the basin. We motored through the quiet waters past the small logging operation that was in the process of loading a massive barge of logs to be hauled out to sea, maybe up to Coal Harbor? We picked up a few knots of wind as we motored out into the swell of Klaskish Bay and raised all sails for a half hour, then the wind left us and we dropped to the main to try to motor sail but the rolling of the sea and the light winds combined to cause the main to just slat and jog back and forth. We dropped the main and motored on for another hour before we picked up enough wind to give sailing a try again. By then the winds were on our aft quarter and we were able to sail under full genoa alone. We had a great afternoon moving along at 6 knots with little effort, the big gentle swells of the pacific giving us a nice push with each set of waves. We came into Checleset Bay in mid afternoon and lost the wind again not too far from the entry to Columbia Cove. We motored the last bit into the cove and dropped anchor in just 11 feet of water at mid tide. I checked the depths and tides a few times to confirm all was going to be ok. After last summer dropping anchor in such great depths it is taking a while to get comfortable with something less that 20 feet at low tide. At low tide here we had 6 feet under the keel. Giving us plenty of scope with a great angle.
Columbia Cove is a great anchorage, part of a Provincial Park, surrounded by beautiful, unlogged forests and little islets. The cove is actually in a small channel that goes around a little islet. It rapidly shallows out to the north and there is a long mudflat at low tide. Our first day here we quickly pumped up our dinghy and went ashore. We saw fresh bear prints in the mud causing some excitement with the crew. We had the first really sunny day we've had in a long time and that afternoon had towels and clothing hanging out on our lifelines and all the lockers open to circulate dry air. The next day we had heavy rains and stayed aboard, hiding below deck, reading and taking care of small tasks.
Yesterday we again had a beautiful day and walked across the small peninsula, through the forest, where we saw bear prints in the mud on the trail and made as much noise as we could. After 20 minutes our so we came to the beach "Shed 4" - a long, soft, sandy beach that sweeps along the eastern edge of Brooks peninsula out to a set of other beaches that work their way up the south eastern edge of the peninsula. It is a raw and rugged beach, open to the pacific it has a lot of floats from nets and some fishing gear but otherwise is very clean. We walked barefoot in the sand, had a picnic on a massive log washed ashore, wandered the tidal pools taking pictures. While we walked the beach I heard the sound of a engine, thinking it was a small plane coming over the island I was surprised when a high end helicopter lifted up slowly from behind the rocks on the beach I was heading toward and made a slow buzz down the beach, its nose tilted forward at 45 degrees and the passengers staring out, not returning my half hearted wave. A weird sight.
Crouching and moving through the tide pools tweaked out my left knee and after a couple weeks of healing and finally feeling so much better, my knee is in pain again, the walk back I kept getting jolts of pain and had a rough night's sleep, no matter the angle my knee seems to drift back into pain after a few minutes.
There are a couple of boats in the bay with us today and there were a couple of boats yesterday. All sailboats and much more of an intrepid type of character than we are used to seeing except for up in Alaska. This is really a wilder place to travel and people tend to fall more into the "cruiser" category with boats set up with solar panels, wind generators, cans of diesel and water lashed to their shrouds.
We are pretty happy being here for a few more days. A weather system with gale strength winds is coming through and this is a great spot to sit tight through that. Then we'll head for the Bunsby Islands to a little nook there and maybe some kayaking if my knee is feeling better. Then Walter's cove to resupply and maybe explore some of Kyuquot Sound. We want to sail offshore over night before we get to Tofino, and we want to be in Tofino August 10th so we can resupply and be ready for a weather system opening to head to California. Time is moving too fast, I want to spend so much more time here and I'm already having to keep an eye on moving on. I can see how people come up here year after year for decades to explore, it is really amazing up here. So remote and unspoiled with so few boaters and of those they are interesting hardy folks.
July 14, 2016 Clanninick Cove, BC
From our anchorage at Columbia Basin we had an excellent day of sailing to Clanninick Cove. Big seas, winds in the low 20 knots gusting to 30 knots, big waves to surf down. A good, thrilling run down the coast. Happy to drop anchor in Clanninick Cove which was well protected and calm after the day's excitement. Coming into the cove we ran past a gauntlet of sport fishermen in small boats riding the big waves in Brown Channel. We had a boisterous entry - tossed up and down on the waves, flying along under sail, I imagine the roller coaster effect in the small boats must have been a thrill.
We had a calm night in Clanninick and went in to Walter's cove to check out the town. We had hoped to buy a few vegetables and top off our fuel tanks but it was crowded and the public dock was lined with sport boats. We idled around the inner harbor for a while trying to sort out a good landing spot but the boats along the dock were small and I don't think would have appreciated a 30,000 pound sailboat tying up alongside. The cove is scenic, the entry winds through many rock outcroppings, islets, tiny nooks and coves into the larger cove with the community. I'd have liked to spent a day exploring but it wasn't going to work out so we motored out and made for Dixie Cove.
July 15, 2016 Dixie Cove, Hohoae island, British Columbia
Dixie cove is two small coves in the south side of Hohoae Island, a marine park. Straighforward entry and anchorage, really well protected. The inner, more intimate anchorage was full, there were five boats in there the night we arrived. We anchored in the larger outer cove, with a large motor yacht. The first night the cove was filled with many of the sailboats we had met along the way, a couple from one anchorage, a couple from another. It was nice to see them and wave as the left the next day or toured in their dinghy. The crew of d'Aguila had us over for dinner the second night we were there. We had a great time staying up late, talking and enjoying their company. After dinner we rowed from their boat in the inner cove to where Tumbleweed was anchored in the outer cove, the water was still as a pond and the starts reflecting against the calm water was awe inspiring. It was a form of magic to row across the perfect black mirror of the water with the stars reflected and gently shimmering away in our wake.
Being a marine park the two coves are pretty raw and there are no facilities that we could see, and though we rowed around both coves we could not find a place to put ashore, the undergrowth was dense and the shore mostly steep to or if there was a small break in the granite, it was small and rocky.
July 18, 2016 Rugged Point, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
A favorite anchorage of the west coast. We anchored a few hundred feet off a wide sandy beach and made many trips ashore. It was a short walk through dense forest to the other side of the peninsula, putting us on the Pacific ocean. The beach on the Pacific side was also fine sand and had numerous islets and interesting rock formations. The path took us through a dense underbrush of huckleberry, salal, cedar, spruce, on a path the forest service had built through the bog and over the small creeks. It was wonderfully primal and closed us off from the outside world completely for the short walk from the protected side of the beach that faced Kyuquot Sound to the wilder side that opened onto the Pacific.
The beaches are perfect for landing kayaks and there is a small shelter tucked into the forest for camping, I think this would be a primo destination for kayaking and camping out. The anchorage is just fine for settled weather but I would not feel comfortable here in rough weather, particularly from the north.
July 20, 2016 Rosa Harbor, Rosa Island, British Columbia
Excellent anchorage tucked up into protected waters on the west side of small Rosa Island and protected to the west by Nootka Island. Front row for the sport fishing crowd in Esperanza inlet, from sun up the inlet was busy with small sport fishing boats working their way out to the mouth of the inlet and then trolling back up into the inlet for salmon. Few strayed near where we were anchored but we could see them crossing back and forth all day. There is a wide beach giving access to a sheltered camping spot in the trees on the shore from the anchorage, a spot favored by kayakers. Each night they would build up a good fire and the scent would drift out to where we were anchored adding a rich layer to the experience. It was a sort of quintessential, perfect spot. Roaring fire ashore, big views to the surrounding hills, seals and sea lions prowling for salmon, sport fishermen prowling for salmon, several bald eagles prowling for anything they could sink their talons into. A good spot to hang out.
We also checked out Queen Cove on the other side of Esperanza but it is fairly populated with a couple of resorts or busy summer homes. It would be more protected in a blow but the trade off would be a closed in cove surrounded by houses and float planes coming and going.
July 21, 2016 Tahsis, Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Civilization at last! Well, at least a minor outpost of civilization. We were down to our last few withered carrots, sprouting onions and potatoes. It had been six weeks since we topped off our propane tank and that is about our usual limit. The marina caters to the large sportfishing crowd and feels like a bustling summer camp for grown ups who want to spend as many hours as possible in a small boat, bobbing offshore in search of salmon. Then come back to camp, clean their fish, have a few beers and tell stories of the day's adventures. Repeat all summer if possible. The marina gets high marks for being run well, it's an organized place with a few supplies, a well run fuel dock, small restaurant and bait shop. I got the feeling that the marina and fishing crowd float the town along for the rest of the year. Tahsis used to be the sight of a lumber mill but it was removed some years ago, picked up and scraped off the earth, dragged somewhere else. The mill's parting gift to the town is a fenced in patch of broken concrete, a parking lot, and the odd bit of rusting metal, all sitting on prime waterfront property in some of the most majestic land on the island. A resort is bound to follow. With the mill gone most houses were sold off and businesses closed or downsized. There is a small grocery/liquor store that gets produce delivered every few days. We arrived the day before new produce so we had slim pickings to resupply with - a bag of carrots, some cherries, several cucumbers and a box of blueberries. One part of me struggled to not think about the wild bounty at the farmer's market in Ballard, the other part of me wallowed in self pity. But we had a bag of produce which was far better than the beginning of the day. There is a small hardware store and they run a dialed in propane service so that was easy to organize. The marina has a couple of trucks they let visitors to the marina borrow to run to the store. They just handed over the keys and gave directions to the store. A nice side to small community living for sure. The owners of the marina and the staff were all friendly and eager to lend a hand. High marks.
July 24, 2016, Mary Basin, Nootka Island, British Columbia
We spent a week in Mary Basin as a high pressure system settled off the coast and created a period of high winds. Each day we checked in to find winds in the 30 to mid-40 knot range blowing off the coast. In Mary Basin we seldom saw wind worth reporting, only on our last day did the winds pick up and push us around the anchorage. For the majority of the week we were completed protected in relatively shallow water with almost no fetch from the prevailing winds. The basin is large and well protected from the ocean by a bar that runs well inside the mouth and a line of islets. The islets were great to explore by kayak. Protected from all but a small sea swell it was like roaming around little rock grottoes - hanging ferns, gnarled small pine trees, roots, berries, shrubs, the occasional small spot to land a kayak, mostly granite walls steep to. The north end of the basin is one long sweep of beach, sandy near the mouth of the bay and changing to rocks deeper in the basin. Near our anchorage, tucked far into the basin, a small stream ran down from a waterfall, through a narrow deep channel and over a drying flat, where the water was only a few feet deep at high tide and revealed a large muddy shore at low tide. It was an excellent place to explore by kayak and we saw only one other boat anchor there that week. Far to the north, hidden behind a small islet, a sailboat. A couple of kayak groups made camp on the sandy beach near the mouth of the basin and some paddled into the inner basin to explore, but for the most part it was us and the wildlife, mostly sea otters, which were countless. The weather really cleared up in Mary Basin and we were able to open up Tumbleweed and get our first long good wave of sun to dry us out.
August 1, 2016 Bligh Cove, Bligh Island Marine Park, British Columbia
We had a good sail up Esperanza Inlet to Tahsis where we took on more diesel and made a trip to the grocery - this time they had produce and we were able to stock up on a few more things. Then we sailed down Tahsis inlet until losing the wind at the end of the day and motoring to Hisnit Inlet. Coming out of Tahsis Inlet we counted 110 small fishing boats all trolling slowly along the banks of the channel or in the small coves. It was 8pm and we expected light for another hour, I think they planned to fish until it was black out. We anchored late and left the next morning. Hisnit Inlet was well protected and easy to enter, a good spot to hide out from bad weather, but there is road access and there were several campers on the shore and several sport fishermen coming and going - a taste of civilization after being so spoiled by the areas to the north. We had light winds in the morning and made our way slowly under sail to Bligh Island.
Bligh Island has been a favorite spot. Oddly there has been very little boat traffic here, we keep expecting a few boats to arrive but for some reason it is very quiet and not on the main route. Further north we seemed to see the same group of boats at each anchorage and shared places with at least a boat or two most nights. Princess 2, a Nauticat owned by Franz and Merial who we met in Tahsis, anchored near us a couple nights ago and had us over for dessert. They are Canadians and done a fair amount of sailing, it was nice to stay up late talking about sailing and our various adventures.
Bligh Cove has a hidden camp spot on the shore, just off the water under a canopy of old growth. Once past the low hanging branches the forest is open, this area has not been logged and the old growth trees stake out large areas of territory with few smaller trees making their way. Massive trees that have fallen here and there are slowly returning to earth and supporting small trees and plants. We hiked up through the forest following a creek bed and scrambling over rocks and fallen trees to the top of the island where there is a small lake. We walked the part of the perimeter of the lake but could not find access to the shore. We settled for a view spot up the side of a hill and had a small picnic chasing away a few mosquitos. A really cool feature of this anchorage. So many of the anchorages in the north are beautiful but difficult to explore, the forests are usually incredibly dense and the few times we have tried to make our way through forest we have found bear sign and quickly made our way back to Tumbleweed.
August 7, 2016 Hoot la Kootla, Flores Island
About 25 miles north of Tofino, Hoot la Kootla is a small cove across Sydney Inlet from the heavily visited Hot Springs Park. Float planes and high speed tour boats roared in and out of the heavy fog to the hot springs but Hoot la Kootla was calm and serene with a beautiful beach and small islets of shear rock capped with small pine trees. We stayed there on a calm night, it is open to the swell of the Pacific and I don’ think would be comfortable or safe in a blow. But it was a quick place to dodge into after a day on the sea and would be a nice spot to base from to visit the hot springs.
August 9, 2016 Ucluelet, BC
Our last dose of civilization had been Fort Hardy at the end of June, Ucluelet was a welcome stop with an excellent grocery store, top notch bakery and other assorted cool things a good sized town has to offer. We went back and forth on whether to go to Ucluelet or Tofino for resupply. We were glad to have opted for Ucluelet, it’s a laid back town with all the amenities we needed. The marina was full so we anchored out and were glad to have done so. The marina is small and full with commercial fishing boats, we would have had to have rafted up. The commute from the harbor was short and it was quiet and well sheltered. It is an easy place to get into, the harbor is well marked and the entry in from the sea is well marked as well. I could see where it could be a wild ride coming into town in rough weather, however. The islets at the mouth of the inlet are raw and wild looking and don’t seem nearly far enough away. But in settled weather such as we had it was well marked and easy to track.
August 11, 2016 Effingham Bay, Barkley Sound, BC
Our last stop on Vancouver Island. I had been wanting to visit Barkley Sound since our friends Leslee and Chris toured there by sea kayak. They described a place that sounded mythical, calm waters, islands easy to paddle to, lovely beaches. It is also probably the moved beloved spot on the island and I figured it would be packed with other boaters and sightseers. It was as beautiful and perfect as Leslee and Chris described, I can see how one could get lost for weeks wandering the various islands and beaches. Once past the outer breakers the waters settled down to near pond like conditions and though we anchored at one of the more popular spots we saw few other boats, the occasional sailboat drifted off in the distance and a couple of boats dropped anchor near us, but mostly it felt spacious and lightly visited. We kayaked around the bay and out into the sound, and lucked out with sunny weather. Effingham Bay is pretty large and can accommodate quite a few boats. In settled weather there are quite a few other anchorages that are hidden among the islands and I look forward to getting back to the area to explore them.