After rounding Cape Caution and enduring a mix of challenging conditions, we’ve found our reward in the peaceful tranquility and easy sailing of the Central BC Coast, from Fitz Hugh Sound to the tiny towns of Bella Bella and Shearwater.
The Central Coast usually refers roughly to the BC coast between Cape Caution and McInnes Island lighthouse. It’s quite a large area, with hundreds of good anchorages. Many boats only stop at the 3 or 4 most popular ones though. A couple of those popular ones are justifiably spectacular (Pruth Bay), but it’s also easy to get off the beaten track and find amazing anchorages that no other boats visit regularly.
It’s a remote, magical place that is hard to describe if you haven’t been here. I struggle to find anything to compare it to – it’s not quite like Barkley Sound, Clayoquot Sound, Desolation Sound, or any number of other great BC destinations.
[This post covers May 15-19, 2018]
The Central Coast is probably also the most navigationally challenging place we’ve sailed. Entry to the numerous sounds is often littered with rocks and reefs. We’ve sailed through rock gardens not much differently from being in a sailboat race – except the rocks are always the stand-on vessel and we must always give-way.
Pruth Bay on Calvert Island of the Central Coast of BC has a tall reputation to live up to – every guide book and blog we’ve read raves about it. It ended up exceeding our expectations, helped by some glorious sun on the second day. We stayed two nights and were sad to leave – we easily could’ve spent 3 or 4 days there. We both agree it’s probably our favorite place in all of our cruising of the Pacific Northwest.
The well known attraction of Pruth Bay is its sandy beaches – large, pristine sand beaches with gentle slopes – extremely rare in the Pacific Northwest. They’re also nearly deserted, and there are 10 distinct beaches, which would be enough for each person here currently to have their own beach.
Another big plus is the Hakai research institute here shares their satellite wifi with boaters (use sparingly). Since the Central Coast has pretty much no cellular service, it’s nice to be able to check in with family and check weather. The Central Coast is a lonely coast, and some social time helps.
So it was exciting to see 9 boats in the bay our first night, including 5 sailboats. That’s the most boats we’ve shared an anchorage with since leaving Shilshole March 29, and the most cruising sailboats we’ve seen since then. It was fun to see S/V De Novo there (another boat from Shilshole), and we went hiking with them the next morning.
In the last three days we’ve had the first genuinely tough days in the 45 days we’ve been cruising. Day one we were beating upwind in 20-25 knot winds with awful steep waves generated by wind against current. The next day we were sailing slowly in dense fog, not able to see more than 1/10th of a mile.
Finally the 3rd day we rounded Cape Caution in 6 foot swell without enough wind to sail – motoring for about 3 hours in waves that tossed our boat around and made me feel seasick.
It’s days like this that make us question what we’re doing. I’ve long believed that successful sailors must have really bad memories, or just are good at erasing the bad parts from their memory. Because conditions like this make us question why anyone would want to do this.
Part of our trepidation is due to knowing we have two potentially much worse passages ahead – crossing 70-90 miles of Hecate Strait to south Haida Gwaii, and later sailing 110+ miles from the southern tip of Haida Gwaii to Cape Scott at the north end of Vancouver Island. At average 5 knots those passages will be over 24 hours, and there’s no quick refuge if conditions get miserable.
Picking our weather window and crossing strategy will be really important – if we do it right, and with a bit of luck, it could be a wonderful sail.
[This post covers May 11-14, 2018]
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.
Heading up Johnstone Strait is one of the hardest sailing challenges we anticipated for our cruise, and this year we planned for it to take as long as 5 days. Many boats motor it in 1-2 days, but we wanted to sail, and had a detailed strategy for different wind and current conditions.
We ended up doing it in just two days – thanks to good timing of a super ebb (very strong ebb tide giving us a 1 to 5 knot push) and a ripping southeasterly on the second day which propelled us on a crazy downwind ride that got a bit too windy towards the end.
As we pulled into the Octopus Islands, I could tell right away that the several hours detour and two tidal passes we had to go through had been worth it. We entered a narrow waterway through the trees, and rounded small islands vibrant with greenery. We anchored in 20 feet, the only boat here, and once the engine was off I listened, straining to hear any sounds. It was so quiet I suddenly knew the meaning of the phrase “so quiet your ears hurt.”
The absence of city sounds, distant boats / machinery, or even wind noise is unusual in modern life – even in a quiet house, a fridge or computer is usually running and our ears rarely experience true silence.
The Octopus Islands reminded us a lot of the Broughtons (but without going nearly that far) – peaceful and enclosed by green trees and mountains. They’re located northeast of Campbell River, and are accessible only by boat and after passing through one or two tidal passes (fast flowing current which can be dangerous), which I hear keeps this place pretty quiet even in the summer peak season.
We had read a great description of the Octopus Islands from S/V Yahtzee’s trip here in 2016 and were pretty sure we’d like it here. We decided to stay 2 full days / 3 nights. The first night we were the only boat, the 2nd night a motorboat anchored in the cove east of us, and the 3rd night two sailboats joined the motorboat in that cove.
The weather was great (sunny and in the 70’s) and there’s lots to do here – we hiked the trail to Newton Lake twice, paddleboarded, visited the art house in the woods, did boat yoga, and caught up on boat chores.
Mitlenatch is a small island in the middle of the northern Strait of Georgia. Most boats don’t stop at it, and we couldn’t find reports of anyone anchoring overnight there, but the forecast was for zero wind – perfect conditions for a relatively unprotected anchorage. Waggoners did mention it as a temporary stop, and Riveted had done a good write-up from a lunch stopover.
[This post covers April 26-27, 2018]
We had to motor about 3 hours from Blubber Bay. It was another summer day in April – 75-80 F and sunny. The typical summer conditions though also typically bring windless days. We’re not complaining though – the sunny hot weather is worth it, at least for a bit.
Adding excitement to our motor, we saw a pod of orcas feeding in the Strait, and a tug towing two big hotels (or fishing lodges?). Pretty weird to see houses on the Strait of Georgia. He hailed us on VHF 16 because we were on intersecting paths, with us sailing at only 1.6 knots and he was going only 3.8 knots. We let him pass us with plenty of room, and it was nice to get the call to be sure.
In the first month of our six months allotted for cruising, we sailed from Seattle to the Octopus Islands north of Campbell River, BC. About 80% of this mileage was actual sailing – we lucked out with getting pretty consistent wind this month.
Starting from Seattle, we headed north riding a southerly to the San Juans and spent some time there before a stop in Bellingham. Next we spent a few days in the northern San Juans, having a rolly night at Matia but a great night at Sucia.
We checked into Canada at Cabbage Island and then headed through the Gulf Islands a bit. As we went further north in the Strait of Georgia, the weather turned summer-like and we had great upwind sailing coupled with sunny days exploring Lasqueti, Tribune Bay and Blubber Bay.
Sucia Island, looking south over the entrance to Shallow Bay.
We did a one-night stop at Mitlenatch Island, a bird sanctuary and busy seal / sea lion area. (blog post coming soon)
To finish up the month, we reprovisioned at Campbell River (preparing for a week or two with no grocery access as we transit to the Broughtons) and spent our last day of April in the Octopus Islands (blog post coming soon).
It’s hard to believe the good weather we’ve been having given it’s only April. This week it hit 74 F north of Nanaimo, and we’ve had a steady run of sunny days for a while now. It’s shorts, t-shirts, and no shoes kind of weather, and I’ve been paddleboarding every day. Yet there’s also been good wind most days, so we’ve been able to sail 100% of the way to most of our destinations.
[This post covers 4/22-4/26. We’re now westbound in Johnstone Strait.]
It doesn’t get much better than this, but we know not to take it for granted – we certainly have some more rainy and cold weather ahead on our travel route to Haida Gwaii. For now we’re taking advantage of the sunshine and heat to the fullest, and can’t believe how lucky we are to have this weather. The decision to start cruising early – at the end of March – is proving to be a very good one.