Clayoquot to Nootka Sound: Farther and Farther from Civilization We Go

As we sailed towards Hot Springs Cove, the wind steadily backed to the west, giving us a lift (sailor lingo for a favorable shift in wind). We were pointed right at Hesquit Harbor now, so we said why not go to Hesquit? We could always do the Hot Springs on the way back. We make changes in plans like this often when wind or weather gives us a favorable shift to take advantage of.

In this case Hesquit made sense also because it gets us a little further towards Estevan Point and Nootka Sound. We knew Estevan can be treacherous, with its outlying rocks and confused swell convergence. So being a bit closer allows us to monitor conditions and choose the right time to go, plus shorten the passage to Nootka (to ~21 nm).

As we sailed, we saw a gray whale feeding close to shore off Flores Island. Earlier, while motoring out we had seen 6-8 sea otters just hanging out floating on their backs with their toes in the air – so cute! It was a sea life rodeo today. As we entered Hesquit Harbor and passed over the bar (a 20-30 ft section) we were stunned to see a humpback feeding past the bar only a few hundred feet from our boat. We were sailing downwind by now (the wind backs into Hesquit Harbor) at 6 kts, and I altered course to give him a wider berth.

The Nootka Sound lighthouse

Hesquit Harbor

Hesquit ended up being a very nice anchorage. It doesn’t look like it would be, but nestled behind Anton’s Spit (a shallow spit on the west side that’s submerged at high tide), we had complete protection from waves, and a great view of the mountains of Clayoquot Sound. It’s true it’s about 2 nm in, but in the afternoon you can generally sail in downwind, and in the morning it gives you quick access to rounding Estevan, shaving ~6 nm off the alternative option of Hot Springs Cove.

We were the only boat there, and would consider Hesquit again.

Estevan Point lighthouse

Sailing into Nootka Sound

Friendly Cove, Nootka Sound

We left Hesquit about 10:30 (low tide) and had a nice 0.5-1 kt current push almost all the way to Nootka. I’m not sure how, but we’ve been lucking out with timing the currents better now. We motored around Estevan Point (only 4-6 kts N wind), giving it a 1 nm berth – the swells were very manageable, and not confused – but they did become larger in the section west and northwest of the point.

After we cleared Estevan, we were able to set sail as the wind picked up to 8-10 and gradually backed to the NW and then W as we entered the sound. At the end we had a fun downwind gallop into Friendly Cove with 13-15 behind us. Friendly Cove is a Yuquot territory with the Nootka lighthouse stationed there. In the morning we went ashore (paying the 10/person fee to the Yuquot) and explored the beach, the church, cemetery, and the lighthouse.

We also had made an accomplishment of sorts – this was the farthest north we’ve ever been on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Friendly Cove was a good stop, and conveniently close to the ocean but it did have two downsides – it’s pretty rolly, and mosquitoes invaded in the evening (we had 10 in the boat and it wasn’t until 18 hours later that we had found/killed all of them).

Solitude – West Coast Vancouver Island’s Trademark

The best thing about going to the west coast is the complete solitude and tranquility in many places. We like to say that the west coast is the real Desolation Sound. That’s why we came here, yet there’s always a caveat – too much solitude can get lonely. Outside of populated ports (Ucluelet, Bamfield, Tofino) we’ve often seen only one sailboat per day. In two weeks, since leaving Victoria, we haven’t seen a single sailboat sailing upwind, and only have seen 2 sailing downwind. We’ve also never shared an anchorage with a sailboat, other than in those three major ports.

This isn’t really a problem, but sailboats are like our comrades – we learn from what they’re doing, and we don’t necessarily fit in with all the fishing skiffs. Ironically, the solitude that attracts us to cruising the west coast is also one of its challenges. But then, sailing is really all about juxtapositions – the contrasts and paradoxes are what make it unrelentingly interesting.

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