Mitlenatch Island: Wildlife Oasis in the Middle of the Strait of Georgia

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.

Mitlenatch Island

Mitlenatch is known for being teeming with wildlife. It’s a bird sanctuary, and also resting grounds for many seals and sea lions. From our anchoring spot we had seals swimming around us, a giant sea lion basking on the rocks a short way away, a juvenile eagle on the cliff above, oystercatchers on the rocks, lots of gulls and other birds. There’s a panoramic view of mountains to the east.

We were impressed beyond our expectations of Mitlenatch, and glad we decided to stay overnight. There are many fast motorboats that zip over to Mitlenatch and look at the seals for a few minutes, but staying a day immersed us in the island’s wildlife routine and we saw much more that way.

Patrick’s Anchoring Notes:

The southeast anchorage was a bit tricky. We entered the inner cove but it seemed too small for our comfort level – we were getting low depth readings in a pretty small circle, and it seemed suitable only to a small boat or shallow draft vessel. In retrospect it might be doable (the charts seem overly conservative) but would take careful anchoring.

We returned to the area outside the inner cove, to 25-30 ft depths (high tide) but had great difficulty getting the anchor set on a very rocky bottom. Eventually we raised anchor and were able to set it slightly east of there.

There’s also an anchorage on the north side of the island but I wouldn’t consider it for overnight – it’s an open shore, exposed even more to the northern Strait.

At night, N winds rose to 8 kts, more than forecast, and it got a bit bumpy – not too bad, but with a forecast of more than 10 kts I think the SE cove wouldn’t be good overnight.

Visiting the Volunteer Cabin and Bird Blind

The next day we rowed ashore and chatted with Ken, the volunteer caretaker on site this week – he was instructing several students from a university in Nanaimo. He told us about the history of the island, how the volunteer’s cabin had been built, and about the birds and other wildlife on the island.

We headed up the trail, getting views of copious wildflowers and eventually coming to the bird blind – a wooden shelter which allowed us to view the nesting seagulls without scaring them away. It was much more impressive than we expected – seeing the gulls up close and in their natural environment gave us a new appreciation for them. And it didn’t hurt that the bird blind location provides a panoramic view of a beautiful, sunny Strait of Georgia with snow capped mountains in the distance.

Gulls locking beaks. This is a competitive ritual they do while choosing nesting sites.

Lots of wildflowers on the Mitlenatch hike to the bird blind.

A Curious Sea Lion

The next morning we had a sea lion come up quite close to our boat. He came within 10 feet multiple times, checking us out. Each time he surfaced we’d hear his breath exhale and see him making eye contact. Apparently we were near his preferred sleeping spot. After a few approaches he decided we were no threat, and napped for an hour or two just 50 feet from our boat.

Photos don’t really do it justice. This sea lion was much larger and closer than it appears.

It made me think twice about going out on the paddleboard; but I did, paddling stealthily and away from him, and he didn’t even notice me when I returned to the boat.

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2 thoughts on “Mitlenatch Island: Wildlife Oasis in the Middle of the Strait of Georgia

  1. Jeremy Ralph

    Thanks for sharing – I’m enjoying following your adventures. Mitlenatch is only 6knots from our new marina and I’m excited to take the kids over there and check it out. Next time you pass near Lasqueti you should check out Jedediah island. It’s one of our favorites and Deep Bay at the north is wonderfully sheltered. There are wild goats and sheep and a nice trail.

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    1. Patrick Post author

      We’ve heard lots of recommendations for Jedediah Island, but unfortunately it didn’t work into our plans this time – maybe next year!

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