A two-week cruise of British Columbia's Gulf Islands aboard our MacGregor 26 by
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July 19, 1997
We finally finished packing Cindy Lou at about 11:00 AM, ready to begin the the drive from our home in Sherwood Park (just outside Edmonton, Alberta) to the British Columbia coast. We had more than 800 miles to drive through the Rocky Mountains, pulling the MacGregor behind our newly-acquired Ford Explorer.
We had arranged to pick-up some rudder cables at the Marina at Lake Wabamun. We had ordered the cables from Spinnaker Yachts, and one of Spinnaker's customers was to have dropped them off there for us. Lake Wabamun (which is Cindy Lou 's regular home during the summer) was on our way, and we arrived there at noon. The cables had not yet arrived, but were expected soon, so we had lunch at the coffee shop at the local hotel, then picked up the cables, and were on our way at 1:00 PM.
A couple of hours later we were climbing the eastern slopes of the Rockies towards Jasper . After another hour or two we treated ourselves to a brief stretch-break at Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Here we gained an hour by turning back our watches after passing from the Mountain to the Pacific time zone. We were very pleased with the way the Explorer (with the 4-litre V6 engine) pulled the boat through the mountains.We finally stopped for the night at a comfortable motel at Clearwater B.C., where we had supper, installed one of the new rudder cables, and got some sleep ready for a long day tomorrow.
After breakfast, we started down the highway, only to spot another MacGregor 26 parked outside a different motel. Looking at the other boat, I recognized the name; it was Callisto , which is usually moored at our home marina at the Sunshine Bay Yacht Club. We drove over to the motel, and put in a call to Callisto 's owners, Wayne & Pat Jobb. They were on their way home to Sherwood Park after their two-week cruise of the Gulf Islands. Pat & Wayne had launched at Crescent Beach and crossed the Straight of Georgia in their MacGregor. Wayne supplied me with fuel for Cindy Lou 's alcohol stove, and we wished each other bon voyage.
We decided to use the Coquihalla toll highway to the coast, in order to save a lot of miles and time. This proved to be an excellent test of the Explorer's ability to tow the boat, with its eleven-percent grades. We cruised over the highway with no problems, although we were in second gear at times. The trailer's surge brakes also got some use on the downhill section.
We finally arrived at the Tsawassen ferry terminal shortly before 5 PM, in time for the five o'clock ferry to Sidney on Vancouver Island. We had an enjoyable crossing, with previews of our cruising grounds as we made our way through Active Pass. After disembarking from the ferry at Sidney, we made our way to Tsehum Harbour, where we were to launch at Van Isle Marina.
We pulled into the marina soon after 7 PM, and by nine o'clock we were comfortably relaxing on board Cindy Lou , tied to the marina's dock.
We awoke in the morning to rain and mist, so we drove to the nearest shopping center to purchase groceries and liquid refreshments, and to eat breakfast. Returning to the boat, we decided that there was no point in waiting for better weather, so we immediately got started on our adventure.
Our first plan was to take a look at the marine park at Sidney Spit, and possibly to use the mooring bouys there for a lunch break. Approaching Sidney spit, we could see a few boats moored there, but the visibility was poor and it didn't look very pleasant in the grey, miserable weather. We turned towards Princess Margaret Marine Park on Portland Island, but the weather still had not improved when we approached it, so we continued on towards Otter Bay Marina on North Pender Island, checking our position from time to time with our new GPS.
We called Otter Bay Marina on VHF channel 68 as we entered the bay. Our call was promptly answered, and we were met by someone on the dock as we passed the breakwater. We were directed to a slip, where we tied up. As we were docking, I noticed that we were starting to feel rather warm in our raingear. Looking up, we could see that the clouds had cleared, and it had quickly become a warm, pleasant, sunny day. It was to stay that way for the rest of our trip.
We explored the marina, and were impressed with the facilities there. The last time I had been there was in about 1989, and there was a considerable difference between then and now. A new breakwater had been constructed (home to a resident harbour seal), with additional docks. The docks were all in excellent repair, and the rest of the facilites (heated swimming pool, showers, laundromat, store etc.) were all just as good. We were pleased with our first night's accomodation.
If you are ever at Otter Bay, you may want to try the hamburgers at the stand at the ferry terminal. It is a hilly five-minute walk from the marina, and worth the effort. The hamburgers are outstanding, and absolutely enormous! Don't leave them unattended for a second, though, as the crows will make off with some meat from them in no time.
Before continuing, we would like to recommend a couple of books which made our cruise more pleasant. The first is 'The Cruising Guide to the Gulf Islands' by Bill Wolferstan, which provides wonderful snippets of history about the various anchorages and marine parks, as well as useful cruising information and beautiful colour photographs. The second book we used was 'Docks and Destinations' by Peter Vassilopoulos, which also provides historical snippets as well as mini-charts showing the layout of the various marinas, along with their telephone numbers. Both of these books are available at marinas where charts are sold. You must, of course, have a good set of charts and tide tables as well.
To continue with the tale, we left in the morning for Montague Harbour Marine Park at Galiano Island. We had not enjoyed much wind yet, so we decided to refuel at the Montague Harbour Marina. While there I inflated the dinghy, as we would be mooring for the night at one of the numerous mooring bouys in the marine park. Just as I finished inflating the dinghy, the pump broke and it was rendered useless for the rest of the cruise. Still, we had the dinghy for the night.
After mooring, I rowed ashore and spent a pleasant couple of hours exploring. After I returned, Linda went for a row. Montague Harbour is a lovely park, although it is rather popular. A neat feature is the pub bus, which arrives every hour to pick up patrons for the local pub. You just have to dinghy ashore, and the bus will look after you from there.
For boats proceeding to the northwest, there is an exit from Montague Harbour between Parker Island and Gray point. We used that exit, and were soon attempting to sail up Trincomali Channel. It was slow going, as the wind was light and behind us, so we had to attempt to run wing-on-wing. We had not brought a whisker-pole with us, and the wakes of passing power-boats rocked Cindy Lou enough to collapse the genoa quite frequently. At this time we consulted the 'Dock to Dock' guide for the telephone number of the Thetis Island Marina, and called for a reservation with our cell-phone.
After we had turned to a more southwesterly direction in Houstoun Passage, we enjoyed some beautiful sailing on a beam reach. Once we had rounded Tent Island into Stuart Channel, however, we were once more headed northwesterly, the wind had slackened and we were again on a run.
We motored into Telegraph Harbour, and found our spot at the Thetis Island Marina. Thetis Island Marina has a pub which sells good food and beer, and which overlooks the harbour.
We went for an enjoyable stroll to the Telegraph Harbour Marina, where we tried their famous milkshakes, which were very good.
It is a good distance around to the Telegraph Harbour Marina, and the walk has its share of hills. There are some beautiful views across to Vancouver Island on the way. Once there, we took a look at Boat Passage, which separates Thetis Island from Kuper Island. It is claimed to be navigable at high tides, but I'm not sure I'd like to try it.
It was to be a farly short run today, as we were going to retrace our route back down Stuart Channel and Houstoun Passage to Conover Cove on Wallace Island. Wallace Island is a marine park with two anchorages. We decided to use Conover Cove, which is named for a previous resident who was well-known in Hollywood, and was reputed to have discovered Marilyn Monroe. (For details about Wallace Island, David Conover, etc. visit David Conover Jr's site at http://www.dconover.com ) . There are still a few old disused buildings there from the Conover days, but the island is home just to cruising boaters these days.
We entered the cove just as another MacGregor 26 was leaving (the first we had seen on the trip), so we anchored in their vacated spot. Most boats used a bow anchor and a line ashore. There are rings marked with yellow paint for the lines ashore, but there was not one available where we anchored. We dropped our bow anchor and set it, and we decided to use a stern anchor to stop us from swinging. A passing boater in a dinghy was kind enough to drop the stern anchor for us.
We were unable to go ashore without our dinghy, which we couldn't inflate with the broken pump. The owner of a neighbouring C&C 27 loaned us his pump, however, and we were soon ashore. We walked across and down the island to the bluff at Panther Point, where we had a fine view down Trincomali Channel and Houstoun Passage. This is an extremely beautiful place, and is popular with sea kayakers. The importance of having a good dinghy was brought home to us here. Wallace Island is a place that really needs to be explored using a dinghy.
It was now Thursday, and we wanted to spend Friday night and Saturday at Ganges on Saltspring Island, so as to enjoy the famous Saturday morning market there.
Ganges Marina on Saltspring Island is popular with the owners of very large cruisers. Our 26-foot boat looked like a dinghy for most of the other boats in the marina. Still, it is a convenient (if expensive) place to stay. Linda was also anxious to find another laundromat, as we had been a whole night without the benefit of laundromat and showers.
We strolled into town Saturday morning to find the well-known craft fair and market. Ganges is a very busy town, and is the home to most of the population of the Gulf Islands. We were in for a surprise while walking through the outdoor market, as we unexpectedly met Jack and Pat Armitage, who are neighbours of ours on the dock at Sunshine Bay Yacht Club. They had been in Victoria during the week, and were spending a weekend camping on Saltspring while they were at the coast. They had a car and we had a boat, so a deal was struck.
The four of us enjoyed a wonderful sail to Prevost Island, where we dropped anchor in about 60 feet of water in Glenthorne Passage. There we identified the numerous guillemots (birds), and enjoyed a fine picnic lunch. There were only two other boats anchored there, both at a fair distance from us.
When we returned to Ganges, we checked in for another night at the marina, and arranged to meet Pat and Jack for supper and drinks at the pub near the Saltspring Marina. After a fine meal and drinks, we took a drive up to Mount Maxwell, the highest point on the island. There is a park with a lookout at the peak, which provides a great view down the 2,000-foot drop to the Fulford Valley, Burgoyne Bay, Sansom Narrows and Maple Bay.
The next day was Sunday, and we decided to leave Saltspring Island. We had really enjoyed our stay at Otter Bay, so we headed in that direction in company with a neighbour on the Ganges dock, a C&C 35. We beat into the wind all the way out through Captain Passage and across Swanson Channel back to Otter Bay.
We arrived at Otter Bay and were pleased that we had made a reservation, as it was busy. We relaxed in the wonderful surroundings, and made use of the swimming pool. Between the hours of four and six, the pool is reserved for adults only. A piano player is located on the nearby patio, and a very pleasant couple of hours can be enjoyed.
Once again, Linda remarked on the cleanliness of the showers and laundromat. Everywhere we had been was quite acceptable, but this place was exceptional.
We went for a walk on the island road, but not in the direction of the giant hamburgers as we had on the last visit. We strolled as far as an information sign which has a road map of the island, along with a listing of island businesses. It appears that most of the business on the island is located at Port Browning, which we did not manage to visit on this trip.
We returned to the marina in darkness, found Cindy Lou on the dock, and went to bed. So far, the cruise had been great, with plenty of sea-lions, seals, eagles, deer, kingfishers and other wildlife. The scenery in the Gulf Islands is gorgeous, and the weather had been terrific.
It was an uneventful trip from Otter Bay to Bedwell Harbour on Monday morning. Bedwell Harbour Marina is a pretty place, with a pub and restaurant overlooking the marina. As in many of the other places we had visited, float planes took off and landed frequently, and the nearby customs dock was busy with cruisers arriving from the United States.
We soon met our neighbour at the dock. Ernie, from the Victoria area, was cruising with his two teenage daughters in his power boat. He had played for many years in a rock & roll band, and had named his boat Reelin' and Rockin' , after an old Chuck Berry song.
We would have liked to visit Port Browing while we were at Bedwell, but we weren't sure we could make it under the bridge which crosses the canal separating North Pender from South Pender Island. This is another good reason for having a dinghy equipped with an outboard. I checked the MacGregor manual, but I could find no mention of the mast height. As it turns out, the mast is only about 28 feet high, and it is stepped on the cabin roof, which is about four feet above the water line. If you add a VHF antenna (about 2 feet), that comes to about 34 feet, which is the clearance of the bridge at high tide. Plenty of room...
Our visit to Bedwell was very enjoyable, and we enjoyed our neighbours. We recommended to Ernie that he should visit Otter Bay next, where he had never been before. He decided to do that, and mentioned that next he would tie up at the docks in downtown Victoria, in front of the Empress Hotel; he said that he would become a tourist in his own city.
The next morning, though, provided a real highlight of the cruise...
Soon after we left Bedwell on Tuesday, we heard a loud slap on the water off our port side and a little astern. Looking around, I saw a large fluke slap the water, and a full-sized orca playfully crossed behind us, swimming on its back. It soon became obvious that there were a lot of killer whales around us, young ones and adults. We watched them for about 45 minutes, as they continued to play--and to hunt if the occasional salmon leaping in the air was any indication. Soon the whales started to attract a lot of other boats, and it became more difficult to watch them closely, so we continued on our course to Fulford Harbour, on Saltspring Island.
Fulford Harbour is a delightful place, and it's surprising that it's not a more popular stop for cruising boats. The marina is currently for sale, but it is very well run and reasonably priced. The telephone number listed in the guide books doesn't work, so we couldn't make a reservation, but one wasn't necessary. A call to the marina on channel 68 was unanswered, so we were pleasantly surprised at the very well-maintained state of the marina. There are a number of liveaboards in the marina, as well as plenty of older, classic-looking wooden sailboats. We saw schooners, ketches, yawls, cutter-rigged sloops, a cat-boat and a junk rig. One schooner was undergoing a refit prior to a circumnavigation--first stop Peru.
Fulford Harbour is a very pretty village. The old church there should not be missed; it dates back to the 1870s, and the materials for it were brought to the island by Indian war canoe. It sits in a picturesque setting among old gravestones. Likewise, a visit to the pub should not be missed either. We enjoyed a good lunch there, seated outside. We then went back for a most enjoyable drink in the evening.
We sadly decided to return to Van Isle Marina on Vancouver Island. Two weeks aboard a boat where you have to sit down to cook and wash dishes was deemed enough for our first cruise aboard Cindy Lou . Leaving Fulford Harbour, we headed to Sidney Spit, where we used one of the numerous mooring bouys for our lunch stop. We were to stay two nights aboard at Van Isle Marina, so we could drive around Victoria and Southern Vancouver Island , using Cindy Lou as our motel.
Wednesday evening we took a drive to downtown Victoria. We parked close to the waterfront, and strolled along the inner harbour in front of the Empress Hotel. Looking down at the boats moored there, I recognized one as Reelin' and Rockin' . A call to one of the daughters on deck soon brought Ernie out to invite us aboard. We enjoyed a drink there, while we watched the crowds gathered for the nightly show from the street entertainers. It was a most enjoyable end to the cruise.
One more day as a tourist on Vancouver Island, and we were ready to head home. This meant an early wake-up on Friday morning, so we could use the launch ramp before the ebbing tide rendered it useless until later in the afternoon. We eventually arose about 6 AM, unloaded the gear from the boat and headed for the ramp. Cindy Lou was on the trailer by 7 AM, and by nine we were ready to roll. We had a quick breakfast at the ferry terminal, and made a convenient ferry connection for the mainland. We again stayed at Clearwater on the way home, and we arrived back at Sherwood Park at about 8:30 PM.
Sunday was our annual Club Day at Sunshine Bay Yacht Club , so we drove out to join in the festivities, and to discuss the cruise with those club members whom we'd met along the way--Wayne & Pat Jobb and Jack & Pat Armitage. It was a fine ending to a great cruise.