It has been awhile since we wrote a cruising post, because, well, it has been awhile since we’ve been truly cruising. Our daughter Kirsten was home from college this summer, which was lovely. As Kirsten was working (and so were we) we did weekend trips to local favorite anchorages plus two trips to the San Juan Islands – one for an extended Memorial Day weekend and one for the week of the 4th of July. It’s always fantastic to be in the San Juans, but we know the routes and harbors like the backs of our hands and we’ve been itching for a bit of adventure.
Fast forward to late-August. Alison drove across the country with Kirsten in 3 days, got her back settled at the University of Tennessee for her senior year, flew to Dallas for work and then back to Seattle. In the meantime, Kevin ran around doing prep work for our fall trip. With everyone back in Seattle and a few work projects completed, we were ready to head out!
Wednesday, August 29 – Seattle to Roche Harbor: 65 nautical miles
Critters: 2 pods of Humpback whales, assorted curious seals
We left Seattle bright and early at 7 am, catching a big outgoing tide to make our day speed up a bit. The water was flat and it was an easy ride until we hit the Strait of Juan de Fuca where of course, things stirred up a bit. No matter, we found that the messy water was fairly limited to one area and continued on north, up through Cattle Pass and onto Roche Harbor. We happily wandered the familiar grounds with Zoe, Alison bought another throw blanket at Dominique’s (because of course…), ate a good dinner on the deck at the Madrona Bar & Grill, watched the colors ceremony and went to bed early.
Thursday, August 30 – Roche Harbor, WA to Genoa Bay, BC with a pit stop in Sidney, BC: 20 nautical miles
Critters: Seals, birds, nothing out of the ordinary
On Thursday morning after visiting with some of Alison’s former clients on the dock, we waited for a very special package to arrive via Kenmore Air. Apparently however, the beautiful sunshine at Roche wasn’t anywhere else in the San Juans and all of the seaplanes bound for other destinations were landing at Roche. Except the one with our package. We waited probably an hour or so and finally a box emerged from a plane along with happy travelers. Kevin’s underwater drone had arrived! More on that later.
With the new and highly coveted drone on board we pushed off the dock and headed to Sidney to clear customs and restore our refrigerator’s stock of vegetables which had been eliminated (aka forcibly eaten) prior to crossing the border. Sitting at the customs dock in Sydney, a familiar face called out, “Hey, they’ll let anyone into this country!” Oh hey Leo! Leo Bannon and Mamie Donaldson, from Denver, Colorado own Paradise Found, a Nordhavn 60 and we’ve gotten to know each other over the past couple of years. Every time we get together there is a ton of fun and laughter. Leo kindly offered us his car for provisioning (how nice is that??) and off we went to buy out the local grocery and liquor stores. After chatting with Leo and yet another Nordhavn owner, Ian of Lelani, a Nordhavn 56 Motorsailer, and providing gifts of bourbon, we were off again! As a side note, it is amazing how many Nordhavns are at Van Isle Marina in Sidney. And we were on the smaller side of the resident Nordies as well. Like a family gathering for sure.
We motored along North toward Genoa Bay. Now the savvy person might ask, why were we headed up the inside of Vancouver Island when this is supposed to be a story about, and a trip to the West Coast of Vancouver Island? A birthday detour was required. Our friend Digby was celebrating his birthday at one of his favorite spots, the Genoa Bay Café, and his wife Pam suggested we might stop by. Why not! We’re on vacation with no particular plan or schedule.
We met Digby and Pam and their family on their Kadey Krogen 48, Rubenesque at anchor in Genoa Bay. I love that name for that boat. It is just perfect. An evening of good fun, good friends and good cheer progressed with cocktails, dinner with a hilarious server and Pam’s fresh and hot rhubarb pie (and more wine) back on Red Rover.
Friday, August 31 – Genoa Bay, BC to Victoria, BC: 36 nautical miles
Critters: More seals…and more birds that seem to swim more than they fly
On Friday morning we walked Zoe around the charming Genoa Bay Marina (next time we go we are definitely having breakfast at what seems to be a super social “cabana” on the dock), drank some coffee in the sun with Digby and Pam and headed back south.
As we passed Sidney we saw Leo and Mamie and friends and had to stop for a quick chat on the water. Ian also let us know via VHF radio that he didn’t get to have any of the gifted bourbon. Seems Leo was thirsty.
Our goal was to make it to Sooke for the night, getting past Victoria and making progress out the Strait of Juan de Fuca so the next day would be slightly shorter. Of course, we turned toward Victoria, the wind came up and the waves grew steep and blocky. Fine for our boat, but not really fun. Zoe was definitely not a fan. And, without a schedule to adhere to (the worst enemy of a boater), we decided to head into Victoria and not slog through the waves for the next few hours. We were delighted to be given moorage right in the inner harbor on the Friday night of Labor (or Labour in Canada) Day weekend, and spent the evening wandering this beautiful city with a much happier black dog. Somehow however we didn’t notice that our US flag was lost at sea in the wind on Friday, or someone took it off of our boat. Sad. And hard to replace in Canada.
Saturday, September 1 – Victoria to Bamfield (Barkley Sound): 95 nautical miles
Critters: Now we’re getting somewhere – a momma and a juvenile orca whale, 20+ humpback whales, 1 bear, a whole mess of sea lions.
We woke up before the sun and at sunrise, began our trek out the length of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, into the Pacific Ocean and north up the coast of Vancouver Island to Barkley Sound. The Strait, which can be a thrashing mess of waves and wind, was calm and flat – absolutely beautiful. Fog rolled in and out, whales arched in graceful dives and we cruised along toward the mighty Pacific. Rolling swells announced we were getting closer and suddenly we were at the end of the Strait, cruising into the swells. The timing of the swells was decent so it was not uncomfortable, but we do realize why many people circumnavigate the island and come down the west side to take advantage of the following seas. No matter, we went all the way up the island and back last year on the way to Alaska. We just didn’t stop. Not so this time.
We rolled into Barkley Sound in the evening. I say roll as we surfed some big rollers on in, past the many outlying rocks of Cape Beale. After hours in the open ocean it always freaks me out a bit to be around 1) other boats and 2) rocks. Lots of rocks. Add ocean swells for bonus points. All was fine however and we pulled into the narrow and linear harbor of Bamfield, where absolutely everyone it seemed, stopped what they were doing and stared at us. And took photos. We had arrived in the midst of a huge salmon derby and small fishing boats were buzzing about like bees in a hive. And this big white and gray boat just wandered into the middle of it.
Bamfield is tiny and it was busy. Really busy. We motored through town to the end of the bay and anchored just past Rance Island after passing through a narrow (with a rock in the middle of course) passage that made me hold my breath. Kevin, of course didn’t even bat an eyelash.
Some friendly folks at a fishing lodge on the shore stared (again) but then waved and were friendly and welcoming. We took Zoe, who had been on the boat now for over 12 hours, to shore and walked around a bit on the dirt roads behind the government dock.
It had been a long day so we decided to leave exploring for the morning, went back to the boat, whooped up some supper and went to bed.
Sunday, September 2 – Bamfield to Tzartus Island (Barkley Sound): 8 nautical miles
Critters: 2 humpback whales and sea lions dining on salmon (and shaking them violently prior to eating them)
On Sunday morning we set off on the dinghy to explore. Bamfield is a cool little town that is only accessible via boat, seaplane or a 60+ mile dirt logging road from Port Alberni. And it is a town with two sides – East and West Bamfield. No roads connect the two portions of town. If you don’t have a boat, and you don’t want to pay the water taxi driver, you just don’t go. But it seems that absolutely everyone has a boat.
West Bamfield is not connected to the dirt logging road either. It can only be accessed via boat. And it is charming. The waterfront is connected with a wood boardwalk. We felt like we were back in the small towns in Alaska that we loved so much. The boardwalk has homes and docks along it, and it seems that the local residents have a good sense of humor. Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. There is a tiny general store where we bought a few drinks to enjoy in the sun, and a café that was open (but isn’t open that often) serving tacos, burgers and hot dogs. Oh, the tacos and burgers – salmon. All salmon all the time. We’re not salmon eaters….so we had lunch on the boat. We also visited a neat little gallery on the hill above the boardwalk and left with a handcrafted fish platter.
East Bamfield is connected to the outside world and is less charming but still friendly. We checked out the marine store, the grocery store and chatted with people as we went.
In the afternoon when the tide came up a bit we inched through that skinny passage once more and headed out to nearby Tzartus Island for the night. The ever-so-helpful guide books told us that a popular shortcut between the island was Robbers Passage. If I had read a little closer in the Douglass’ guide, I would have seen that they recommend that only smaller craft use this pass. Ah well. A few quick and deft turns by Kevin and we were through. Whew.
We anchored for the night in Tzartus Cove, just beyond Marble Cove on Tzartus Island. As the evening wore on the cove did experience swells and we did rock a bit, but it was gentle and not bothersome. The sound of waves crashing on the rocks on either side of the cove was a bit alarming (only to me as usual) but we were safe and comfortable. At night the sky was clear and I have never seen quite so many stars. Gorgeous.
Monday, September 3 – Tzartus Island to Joe’s Bay (Barkley Sound): 9 nautical miles
Critters: 6 humpback whales including a breaching whale, seals and a 2 point buck
On Monday morning we had just come back from a Zoe swimming expedition at the beach and were standing on the swim deck looking out when a humpback whale breached (yes breached!) right by us. So cool! Zoe didn’t care for the giant crashing noise and scampered into the boat to her perceived safe place. We watched the whales feeding just beyond the boat and enjoyed a peaceful morning at anchor.
It is important to note here that we had not seen a single other cruising boat since we passed two sailboats in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Not one. Lots of small fishing boats but no one else cruising. We know that the west coast of Vancouver Island isn’t heavily trafficked due to the open ocean component, but honestly we expected to see someone!
In the early afternoon we headed over to the Broken Group, the islands at the center of Barkley Sound. These islands are a part of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and they are stunning. Just beautiful. It was a gorgeous sunny day as we cruised into the still waters of these islands. Groups of camping kayakers abounded (at least someone else was out here!). We anchored in Joe’s Bay and took the dinghy exploring around the islands. So very pretty and protected – quiet water, silence other than birds chirping and seals snorting. Again, we had quite the show of stars when night fell. And an anchorage all to ourselves with which to enjoy the show.
Kevin sent the drone up for a birds-eye view. Check out the video here.
Oh! And this was our daughter Kirsten’s 21st birthday so we were excited to have enough bars of cell service to give her a call and sing her happy birthday. She loves that. Right. 😊
Tuesday, September 4 – Joe’s Bay to Bazett Island and Lucky Creek (Barkley Sound): 8 nautical miles
Critters: an eagle (oddly they are not around), two bears, more seals
In the morning we took a little kayak ride around the islands closest to us, and Zoe of course had to come! She’s getting used to the kayak but seems to like the changing view.
Around lunch we left Joe’s Bay and cruised back deeper into Barkley Sound to the mouth of Pipestem Inlet, which is surrounded by the mainland of Vancouver Island. We had been told that we must see Lucky Creek, which we could access from our new anchorage. There are basically three anchorages at the mouth of the inlet and after examining each one for features and benefits we chose the southeast cove behind Bazett Island.
Upon anchoring we discovered that we were in bear country! Well we knew that in general, but bears were now present. A large RIB tour boat from Ucluelet came through the anchorage and after wondering what they were doing we saw the bear wandering the shore. Cool!
We took a spin in the dinghy up Pipestem Inlet and enjoyed its steep mountains and rock faces. At the head of the inlet Zoe started growling for no reason and staring at the shore. We couldn’t see the bear but we’re guessing that was what she was sensing/smelling.
About 1.5 hours prior to high tide we took the dinghy, some rose in YETI mugs and wandered on up Lucky Creek. The creek zig zags through the rainforest and ends at a basin with a waterfall. At first the waterfall seemed well, underwhelming. But after we tied the dinghy to the rock face and climbed up above the falls we saw a series of beautiful pools cascading from one to the other. And as per usual for this trip, we were the only ones there. Zoe and I did a little swimming. Kevin watched with a funny grin on his face.
We decided it would be fun to strap the GoPro camera to the dinghy rail and film the experience. Oh plus some Zoe swimming footage. She’s a pro at the doggy paddle. The result (with some sped-up video included) is this quick piece.
Another night of stunning stars sent us to bed in a silent, still anchorage.
Wednesday, September 5 – Bazett Island to Ucluelet, BC: 14 nautical miles
Critters: six bears including one swimming across the bay, seals
Wednesday morning brought yet another gorgeous sunny day. Kevin woke up early and began shouting from the pilothouse. BEARS! We took Zoe to a different little island for her morning walk, only to see a bear swimming toward that island 30 minutes later. After another kayak ride with Zoe, we packed up to head to Ucluelet where we would spend the night in the marina before heading back out to sea the next day for the trip north to Tofino.
Kevin (a different Kevin), the Harbormaster at Ucluelet’s Small Craft Harbour was super friendly as he greeted us and helped us get settled on a long dock. He was the first of many friendly people we met. We had not been to Ucluelet since we camped there with our pickup truck 17 years prior on a lumpy shore in our tent. It seemed that both Ucluelet and the Jeffries had upgraded a bit since our last visit. The scenery was still gorgeous, but the town had grown and changed. There is a cool hippy vibe, a lot of interesting artwork, a bunch of expat 20-somethings, kayaks and fishing boats. It’s a laid back easy going town on the edge of the world. We ate a super lunch at Ravenlady an oyster and seafood food truck sitting amongst sculptures just up the hill from the marina YUM. We wandered around town, did some more grocery shopping (more vegetables you know) and chatted up our fishing neighbors on the dock. In the evening we left Zoe securely in her home/boat and went to the Floathouse Patio & Grill, a floating restaurant in the marina. A lovely evening all around!