Paddleboarding in the Broughtons

We reached the Broughtons on May 5 this year, and the weather has been amazingly good. We honestly can’t believe our luck, and sometimes wonder whether this is for real – are we really getting summer-like cruising in early May? It’s actually hotter than it was on our previous trip here two years ago, in mid-July! 

In case you’re skeptical, allow me to describe the conditions – we’ve been sailing barefoot, hanging out in the evenings in shorts and t-shirts, sunbathing and paddleboarding. Sure, it’s chilly and foggy in the mornings and we’ve had occasional rain – but usually brief and sun soon returned. Overall we can’t believe our luck – we had been expecting chilly, rainy, overcast days.

[This post covers May 5-10, 2018]

Two years ago we had expected the Broughtons to be the pinnacle of our 3 month cruise, and were a bit disappointed – finding it chilly, rainy and crowded with many motor-yachts in mid-July, but no sailing sailboats. We’re enjoying the Broughtons much more this time around – partly due to the weather of course, but also for a couple other reasons.

For one, we beat all the crowds – most of the powerboats aren’t up here in early May, and anchorages that would normally have 10 motor yachts now have none. Another thing is we know our style of cruising in the Broughtons now – preferring outside anchorages near sailable corridors (Queen Charlotte Strait) and avoiding the marina hopping scene which is much promoted in certain guidebooks. The phenomenal weather is certainly the biggest factor though.

38% humidity and 76.5 degrees – the hottest and least humid conditions we’ve experienced all year!

Hanson Island, East of Sprout Islet

After our Johnstone passage, it was a rainy day with no wind so we just motored about 5 miles through Blackney pass (spotting a humpback in the distance) and anchored at Hanson Island, a place our guidebooks recommended for awesome gunkholing (exploring little islets and shallows).

I took the paddleboard out, and didn’t see as much sea life as I had at Growler Cove, but did spot a massive sea star with 16 legs (arms?). I had never seen a sea star (aka sunflower sea star) before so at first I thought it looked like an octopus – but it didn’t move. It was circular the size of a basketball and had a bulbous center head streaked with orange. It looked like an alien creature from another planet. So cool!

These sea urchins are actually at Quathiski Cove by Campbell River, but are a good example of the sea life we see while paddleboarding.

The paddleboard has ended up being the best boat toy we’ve purchased. We try to keep boat gadgets and non-essential gear to a minimum, but our inflatable paddleboard was totally worth it. It allows us to explore anchorages in a new way, seeing lots of sea life from a higher vantage point. Plus it provides good exercise, and quietly paddling around a peaceful anchorage is surprisingly meditative.

If a cruiser’s dinghy is their car, then a paddleboard is like the cruiser’s bicycle – a good way to explore the neighborhood. It’s easier to deploy, quieter, and faster in some cases (Natalie and I had a race back to the boat, me rowing the dinghy and her on the paddleboard, and she won). Rowing a dinghy you’re always facing backwards, not able to easily look at what you want to. I think a paddleboard may even be better than a kayak because it’s easier to stow on deck (thinner) and provides more of a full body workout.

Crossing Queen Charlotte Strait on a light day (2-6 kts), headed to Booker Lagoon.

Booker Lagoon

Booker Lagoon is a large anchorage (2 miles wide!) accessible only through a tiny pass about 50 feet wide. This means the pass experiences currents and turbulence as thousands of gallons of water exchange through it every day with the tidal cycle.

Our own private acre of Booker Lagoon, in the eastern arm.

So entering is a little tricky. We read several cruising guides and blogs, which all recommended entering around slack although one entered about an hour before. We got there 3-4 hours before slack and poked into the cove east of it to check out the rapids, and they looked a bit turbulent for our tastes so we anchored around the corner in Cullen Harbor to wait a couple hours.

Half an hour after that though a fishing trawler arrived and went through the pass 2 1/2 – 3 hours before slack, so I guess it’s doable. We went through 1 1/2 hours before high water slack, and it was no problem (on an 8 foot tidal change, neap tide). On the way out 2 days later we exited 30-45 minutes after slack and had zero turbulence with only 1/2 knot push.

Anchoring Notes:

We checked out the nook that provides a “window” view of Booker Passage, because another sailor’s blog had mentioned anchoring there. But we found in the outer area the depths were 50-60 feet at high tide, without a lot of swing room, and in the inner cove the depths were only 15-23 on an 11 foot tide and the water was pretty stagnant (no wind and likely a lot of bugs). So we gave that up and went to the east arm of Booker Lagoon. Much better.

Booker Lagoon is a good place for paddleboarding too. I saw a healthy assortment of underwater sea life – purple and orange star fish, a few red crabs, and anemones.

MacKenzie Sound, Turner Island Anchorage

We normally don’t go into long inlets, because of the likelihood of being forced to motor a lot, but for MacKenzie we make an exception because it’s a special place for us. It’s where Nimmo Bay is, we’ve always been impressed by the towering mountains and cliffs abutting the water, and often are able to sail most of the way in. This time we managed to sail 100% of the way, helped by a strong northwesterly (that nevertheless drops to zero in some of the narrow passes, but we were able to drift with current).


The 1-boat nook behind Turner Island made a great anchorage – protected and very peaceful. I did some more paddling but only saw orange starfish.

East Dickson Island Anchorage

On the way out we stayed on the east side of Dickson Island off Wells Passage. It’s a convenient stop prior to crossing the Strait, and was very well protected and secluded. We snuck into the inner cove, anchoring in 15 feet on a 7 foot low tide, with enough room to swing on 2.5:1 scope.

Yummy Indian food Natalie made.

Coming Up

We’re heading back across Queen Charlotte Strait to reprovision and fill the water tanks at Port Hardy. From there we’ll be heading north up the central coast, towards Shearwater, and preparing to cross Hecate Strait to Haida Gwaii.

We’ve had some mentally tough days lately because after leaving Campbell River 12 days ago and crossing from civilization to wilderness, we’ve seen very few people or cruising boats. The very remoteness that makes these waters so appealing also makes them socially isolating. In 12 days we’ve seen only 2 sailboats! We hope some more join us soon.

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