Northbound from the Sunshine Coast to Desolation Sound in May

The end of April and start of May found us transitioning into much easier cruising conditions. Partly it was the weather (less rainy and more moderate winds) and partly the location – we found a lot of great anchorages on the Sunshine Coast and in Desolation Sound.

Our week of waiting for a gale to pass paid off and we had a great crossing of the Strait of Georgia on Sunday April 28. We started out with NW 18 at Entrance Island and still very sloppy seas (3-4’ close spaced chop) – the boat got covered in salt back to the dodger windows. It’s impressive how rough this area (around Entrance Island and Nanaimo) can be in relatively moderate winds. But things calmed down quickly and we sailed right up to Smuggler’s Cove.

Smuggler’s Cove

We had never been to Smuggler’s Cove and found it had all the things we like in an anchorage – gunky, well protected, scenic and some good hiking. Oh and shallow is always good too, with our manual windlass – our biceps have gotten enough of a workout lately.

We stayed two nights in Smuggler’s and then sailed up to Pender Harbor for reprovisioning, and then to Sturt Bay. We lucked out on our sail to Sturt Bay and had light southeast winds the whole time – flying the spinnaker! This was unexpected because the forecast was for light NW, and the wind stations on the western side of Texada were showing NW winds. Somehow though it was flowing from the southeast in Malaspina – we suspect it was outflow wind from the snowy mountains of the Jervis Inlet area.

Sailing to Desolation Sound

Departing Sturt Bay we only planned to sail to the Copeland Islands, a pretty long day upwind in the light northwesterly (4-10). But our boat loves upwind in light winds, and we were enjoying it too, so we kept going into Desolation Sound. The wind almost always flows into Desolation, and every time we’ve been there we’ve been able to sail in.

This time we hoisted the spinnaker in W 8-10 and had a pretty awesome sail towards the snow-capped mountains. I’ll never get tired of seeing those mountains appear under our sails. It was a strange feeling to be entering Desolation Sound and only see one other boat. For the first time we could actually see how Captain Vancouver could’ve perceived it as desolate.

Tenedos Bay

On this trip to Desolation Sound we decided to try some new spots other than the three we usually stick to. Since there’s no one here, it’s a good time to explore. Tenedos is a deep anchorage and you can hike to Unwin Lake in 5-10 minutes. We anchored in the east arm in about 35’ very close to shore.

We expected to like Tenedos but honestly can’t say it’s our favorite. The east arm doesn’t have much of a view (maybe we would’ve liked the west arm nook better), and the lake was underwhelming. The 5 minute hike was too short to be much of a hike.

Roscoe Bay

Next we sailed to Roscoe Bay about 5 miles a way. We’ve always wanted to check out Roscoe but have always passed by it thinking it looks like a parking lot (typically 20 or more boats lined up in a row). And it has a shallow bar at the entrance so that restricts the timing of when you can enter.

But once in we found it’s bigger than we expected – I don’t think 20 boats in here would feel too cramped – and quite beautiful. There’s a view of snow capped mountains to the east, a couple streams, eagles and baby seals, and Black Lake is a 5 minute hike away. If you want to do more hiking than that there are other options to extend it considerably.

We attempted to hike to the summit of Mount Llanover, but only made it a bit over an hour up (for a 2-hour round-trip). We hadn’t brought lunch, and it was slow going on the overgrown trail. On the lower portion there were massive log falls where we had to climb over trees completely blocking the trail.

Later that day I jumped in the very chilly water because it turned out our prop shaft had something caught around it. We had noticed the engine vibrating a lot (sounding off) on entering Tenedos Bay, and later I GoPro’d it and found it had some tenacious sea growth wrapped around the line cutter (ironically). The line cutter is there to cut fishing line that could wrap our prop, but the sea bush kind of thing wasn’t bothered by that, it just spun at the same rate as our prop (the line cutter probably helped it hold on to the shaft actually).

We were the only boat at Roscoe Bay for the two nights we were there. A motorboat came in for a couple hours one evening, but oddly left right before dark. In the morning I paddled around the bay and discovered dozens upon dozens of spiny cucumbers – some of the biggest I’ve ever seen – and a few dozen purple sea stars. There are many species of birds, and later we saw deer grazing on the grass. There’s certainly a lot of animal life at Roscoe Bay.

Our dinghy got wedged up on some rocks as the tide went out in Roscoe Bay.

Squirrel Cove

Next we went to Squirrel Cove, which we’ve been to previously in late July and found it very crowded and chaotic. This time there were only 5 sailboats, and it turned out to be a great anchorage. We put the outboard on the dinghy to do a run to the store for a few things (ice, lettuce and eggs) and went for a hike to Von Donop Inlet. It was a great hike, about 45 minutes each way, and the trail in pretty good shape.

Impressions of Early Season Desolation Sound

Desolation Sound in May is a bit more cloudy than the summer, and not as warm (the water temp is only at 60F instead of the summer-time 70-75F). But it’s just as beautiful, and the anchorages are empty. We expected to see more boats here, because we’ve seen a good number of boats in the San Juans, Gulfs, and Sunshine Coast, and many boats on the AIS heading towards Desolation. But so far we’ve seen only one or two boats per day.

It’s also pretty great sailing. On days where BC has a high wind warning out for 15-25 kts in the Strait of Georgia, Desolation Sound gets only about 10-15, which is perfect for sailing the short distances between anchorages here.

Coming Up

Next we’ll be heading to Campbell River for a few days for reprovisioning and some repair work I need to do. From there we’ll wait for a good weather window to do Johnstone (easterly wind if we’re patient enough).

Sunset at Sturt Bay, Texada Island.

2 thoughts on “Northbound from the Sunshine Coast to Desolation Sound in May

  1. Michael McFadyen

    Really loving your posts. So different to our sailing here in Australia, even in the southern states and Tasmania. I wish it was not so far away so I could take my yacht there to enjoy it. Keep up the great posts!


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