West Coast of Vancouver Island – Part 2
As I write this we are cruising east in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and it is totally flat, glassy water without any wind, waves, or anything. Unbelievable. With many hours of cruising left to go, it seems like a great time to draft the next chapter of this story. (EDIT – I wrote the first portion in the Strait…and finished up at home but regardless here’s the story!)
When we last left off, we were in Ucluelet at the northern entrance to Barkley Sound.
Thursday, September 6 – Ucluelet to Tofino, Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia: 26.5 nautical miles
We left Ucluelet early in the morning and headed out to the Pacific. The seas were pretty calm but as we were headed into the waves it was slightly bumpy, but not a big deal. Zoe just isn’t as much of a fan of head seas! As we were nearing Tofino we could see a large stack coming up out of the waves ahead…checking on AIS we saw that it was indeed Abby and Scott on Epoch, their Nordhavn 47 and around them, the Slowboat flotilla, heading south on their circumnavigation of Vancouver Island! Fun! We took some photos of Laura and Kevin on Airship, Sam on Safe Harbor and Vincent and Linda on Doll Face and of course had a good chat on the VHF. The flotilla boats were some of the first cruising boats we had seen in days.
We cruised around the point into Clayoquot Sound in the sunshine scanning the shores for the Middle Beach Lodge where we had stayed 17 years prior. Gorgeous all around. We had heard from others (including the Slowboat crew) that it is hard to find moorage in Tofino, especially as a larger vessel. We had tried calling the marinas over the prior days to be told that no, there wasn’t any space for a 60 foot power boat because there was a big fishing tournament about to start, and/or generally that if we were 28 feet they could welcome us. Anchoring in Tofino is a challenge because of the currents that run past the town at up to 4 knots. Plus there are water taxis and tour boats zipping around at all times. These small fast moving boats don’t seem to have any sense of speed other than full throttle. They run their boats like precision race car drivers. Quite the talent really.
So we weren’t hopeful for a slip in Tofino and had been looking at where we could anchor farther away and perhaps hop back with the dinghy. Or maybe where else we might go and come back to Tofino on the way home. Add to this that the weather forecast predicted that a storm was coming with 30+ knot winds. Good times. One more call to the Tofino Harbour Authority and we struck gold! Yes, they could take us at the 4th Street Dock if we wanted to raft to a 54 foot powercat. No problem. We can do that.
After tying off to the powercat, and then tying lines to the dock around him, oh and adding our fenders to his boat against the dock to ensure he was not potentially going to be squished, we headed out to explore Tofino. Seventeen years ago we ate the best halibut and chips I have ever had in Tofino. We searched but I think the little spot is gone. Lots of other cool places and spaces however!
Zoe accompanied us for some of the exploring but she was a little sleepy after the morning ocean jaunt and had a nap for a portion of the afternoon. After a lovely dinner out we returned to the boat to a happy doggo.
Friday, September 7 – Tofino
Friday morning brought the first wave of the storm with an all-day serious downpour and some wind. We decided to stay put for the day. One of the reasons that we wanted to stop in Tofino (other than the great town) was that we had ordered a few things from Fisheries Supply in Seattle to be delivered to Tofino. A new American flag (as the other was lost somewhere around Victoria) and a new pump for the blackwater system. Alas, the package was stuck in Customs. So we spent the super rainy day doing a few boat projects including changing the duck bill valves on the blackwater tank pump. Good times.
We also wandered out of the boat into the rain in our rain gear to see what was happening around town. A new totem pole was being raised and the community was getting ready for a community-wide dinner where all could come together to celebrate the new totem pole. Very cool.
The bad weather didn’t seem to stop the tourism however. Boatload after boatload of tourists dressed in Mustang survival suits and now, long yellow rain jackets kept descending upon the marina, loading into fast open RIB boats and going out to search for whales and bears. I’m not sure how they could see them exactly. One gentleman we met said that it was likely that they were “whale listening” as there was little chance they could see a whale unless it was right on top of them! I decided these people looked like “ketchup and mustard people” and for some reason found their gear and collective march to be pretty hilarious. As we saw them all day, my hilarity just never ended!
Saturday, September 8 – Tofino to West Whitepine Cove, Clayoquot Sound: 17 nautical miles
On Saturday morning we decided to head out in a dry spell. We knew that the winds were coming next so we scoured our guidebooks for safe, yet pretty harbors. We landed on West Whitepine Cove, a gorgeous bay with a rushing creek running into it and lovely scenery. On the way we cruised through an area of Clayoquot Sound with a tremendous number of sea otter colonies. They are so funny and adorable. They float around on their backs looking up at us like, hey, what are you guys doing? Wanna swim?
We anchored in the cove, all alone once more. A dinghy excursion was in order to check out our new anchorage! And of course, that’s when it began to pour once more. It rained and rained and rained and rained some more. And then it rained again.
While enjoying a little red wine with the rain we noticed a pair of porpoises that were hanging out in our cove, diving and playing near the boat. After watching them for a bit two more showed up! It was like we had our own porpoise playland.
Oh and not to be forgotten, it was Zoe’s 9th birthday! Happy Birthday Zoe! We cooked up some chicken thighs for our birthday girl and gave her lots of loves.
Sunday, September 9 – West Whitepine Cove to Bacchante Bay, Clayoquot Sound: 31 nautical miles with a detour
The wind came up on Saturday afternoon but didn’t really begin to blow until the early hours of the morning on Sunday. Of course. Even in our very protected anchorage the wind speeds reached 30 knots. We swung around, drank coffee and watched the storm feeling great about our purchase of a Rocna anchor last year.
Just as abruptly as the storm began, it stopped. The rain stopped, the wind stopped and some blue sky opened up. Wahoo! We quickly packed up, pulled the anchor and headed back out, thinking we would transit Hayden Passage at slack tide and move north to position ourselves for a visit to Hot Springs Cove the following day, ocean conditions permitting.
Hayden Passage was simple and easy. We transited toward the ocean a bit, and found lumpy conditions. After exploring a few coves we decided to visit Bacchante Bay, a gorgeous destination with steep mountains, a grassy meadow and beautiful scenery. We were once again all alone in this pristine, wild anchorage.
Monday, September 10 – Bacchante Bay to Quait Bay (with a detour to, but not reaching Hot Springs Cove), Clayoquot Sound: 44 nautical miles
In the morning we continued to explore the bay a bit more and enjoyed coffee and breakfast with a stunning view. We then decided to head out of the bay, gain a bit of cell service and check Environment Canada for ocean conditions with an intent to go to Hot Springs Cove. The website said 1-3 meters with lessening winds and calming seas in the afternoon. Well… not really. We approached the ocean and noted that the swells were not as large in the more protected waters. As we headed into the swells to go out and make the turn into Hot Springs Cove the wave heights grew. Waves were crashing and water was spurting into the sky on either side of the channel, and the waves were up to 15 feet, and although well spaced, we were down in the wave troughs looking up at walls of water. Not so good. The entrance to Hot Springs Cove it just didn’t seem safe, sane or perhaps possible to move our slow boat in there. So back we went. And once again, I have not made it to the hot springs in Alaska or BC. Hmm.
We decided to move back toward Tofino and ventured back through Hayden Passage. We checked out Matilda Inlet and the small First Nation village of Ahousat and then cruised onto Quait Bay.
Our guidebook noted that the floating lodge in the bay was closed but that a caretaker was stationed there. Of course, the guidebook was published after last summer so some things do change. We anchored not far off of the floating lodge and a rushing creek behind it. After taking Zoe for a well-earned “shore leave” and a floating afternoon cocktail we decided to go see what the lodge was all about. There were numerous fishing boats tied to the docks and it appeared to have a variety of people walking around on the upper deck.
A man (who we later learned was Chris) in a chef jacket shouted down at us to come on in and join the party. Well why not? After taking Zoe for a quick walk Kevin took the doggo back to the boat and I wandered up the stairs, dressed in full rain gear, headed to a party with a bunch of people I had never met. And it was a blast.
The party ended up being a mix of people having a tuna tournament in Tofino, out for an evening of fun and the staff of the Tofino Resort & Marina. There were deck jumpers – enjoying a nighttime plunge into the icy waters below, beer, wine, food and a lot of fun and laughter.
We learned that the floating lodge had a variety of land-based buildings as well, including a long house a spa, and more. We were encouraged to come back in the morning and explore the surrounding grounds and of course have breakfast!
Tuesday, September 11 – Quait Bay
With an invite to explore we got up in the morning and headed to shore. Chris reappeared and asked us to come up for breakfast. Well ok!
The floating lodge was once called Pinkerton Lodge and then became Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. It will have a soft opening this fall and a grand opening next spring as The Tofino Wilderness Resort. We would love to go back next year and see how this really, really cool place comes back to life.
The resort was originally built by the Sunkist company. And it appears that no expense was spared. The floating lodge was a floating restaurant in Victoria for the World’s Fair. It was then moved to Quait Bay (with an exciting high tide float through the very narrow entrance to the bay) and remodeled into a hotel. The long house and adjacent spa building were developed along with a spectacular boardwalk that winds through the forest, along a raging creek up to a series of beautiful lakes. Several cottages sit along the lake shore. The creek is also the source of power for the resort as an extensive hydro power system was created. It is a self-sufficient place with no roads leading to the resort. Future guests will access the resort via a quick 20 minute boat ride from Tofino.
Apparently the resort was really only ever open for a few years. It has been sitting dormant for years and Chris and team are working hard to put the place back together.
Chris made us an awesome breakfast of French toast and sausages and we enjoyed the resort’s WiFi for awhile. We explored the boardwalk and the lakes and enjoyed it all!
After wandering around the shore we decided to go check out Freedom Cove in the dinghy. This famous cove is home to Catherine and Wayne who have built a completely sustainable floating island that they live on. Their gardens and outbuildings have been extensively covered in the media. One of the many videos about the cove – watch here! We chatted with Wayne from the dinghy but as we had Zoe with us, we created a bit of havoc with their three chihuahuas who were taking their job of homeland security quite seriously. Visitors are welcome at Freedom Cove and the owners take the time to tour people through their unusual property – no dogs though! We were told that it would be polite to provide a $20 bill as a gracious thank you for the tour – something to keep in mind if you head to Freedom Cove.
After an afternoon of dinghy wandering we headed back to the boat to lounge about and then take another hike up to the lakes. A beautiful afternoon, even though it rained a bit!
Wednesday, September 12 – Quait Bay, Clayoquot Sound to Effingham Bay, Barkley Sound: 43 nautical miles
On Wednesday morning we got up bright and early and took Zoe to shore for a quick doggie break prior to departing back to Barkley Sound. As we motored toward the Pacific, fog rolled in and out around us, and we noted some remarkedly shallow areas under the keel! The ocean swells began and wala! We were back in the Pacific.
Our cruise south was truly uneventful with very little wind and long rollers that simply gave us a bit of speed as we cruised down them. Easy ocean. When we arrived at Barkley Sound we cruised past Ucluelet and headed down to Coaster Channel, a mid-point entrance into the Broken Island Group. I was less delighted about the idea of coming into a channel with waves breaking on rocks on either side of it, but Kevin assured me that it would have far more elbow room than it looked. After a few swift turns by some rocks, with the swells propelling us forward, we were back into the calm waters of the Broken Island Group.
We headed to Effingham Bay and surprisingly, there were other cruising boats there! WHAT!?! Other people were actually on the West Coast of Vancouver Island? We anchored mid-bay and took the dinghy down for some exploring.
As the fog rolled in, we decided to hang out in the boat and entertain Zoe, who had been a most patient doggo during the ocean portion of the trip. Kevin held an evening show for Zoe with her toys as the primary players. She enjoyed it immensely and decided to chase said toys all over the boat. Good times!
Thursday, September 13 – Effingham Bay, Barkley Sound
On Thursday morning, we anticipated the arrival of the Slowboat crew who were joining us for the evening in Effingham Bay. I did a conference call (a little work had to happen) and Kevin messed around with boat projects.
When the Slowboat crew arrived we all said hello and some of us set out for more dinghy exploration, visiting these outer islands and the gorgeous landscapes that challenging weather creates. We even ran the dinghy through a sea cave as the swells entered and exited the cave. So very cool!
In the evening, we had the Slowboat crew over to Red Rover for dinner. And they brought dinner! The very best kind of guests! Kevin and the gentlemen played with his new underwater drone, learning that it was going to take some practice. They were getting the hang of it by the time dinner came around. We all celebrated Sam’s birthday and gave him lots of peer pressure to buy a Nordhavn. 😊 Always fun!
If you are reading this asking, “what’s the Slowboat crew?” we can fill in the blanks. Slowboat is a flotilla run by Sam Landsman, Laura Domela and Kevin Morris. These awesome people lead small groups of slow boats (and now and then a faster one) on several trips each summer including an epic Alaska trip and a few circumnavigations of Vancouver Island. This was their second trip around the island this summer. We met the Slowboat crew for the first time last summer in Petersburg, Alaska and have enjoyed get-togethers with them ever since. If you’d like some expert knowledge, the Slowboat flotilla could be a great fit for a first trip north. www.slowboat.com
Fellow Nordhavn owners Scott and Abby were along on Epoch, their N47, and Vincent and Linda Cummings who have a N60 on order were also on the trip. Always fun to see the Nordie family.
Friday, September 14 – Effingham Bay to Port Renfrew, British Columbia: 46 nautical miles
On Friday morning before the crack of dawn we headed out to sea once more, cruising with the Slowboat flotilla back into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Conditions truly could not have been more easy – it was a smooth ride and fun to have friends to chat on VHF / messenger with as we went.
The Slowboat crew was heading to Port Renfrew. Originally we had thought we’d bypass this stop and head to either Sooke or Victoria. In the end, we decided it would be fun to stop – and why not? So we headed to Port Renfrew, a really cool little marina.
Apparently the marina had been rebuilt after a monster winter storm came through and took down the breakwater, damaging the docks. We were told by the marina staff that within a few hours of the storm passing, work began. The cost? Several million dollars. Impressive. The small marina is lovely. It has a restaurant that is currently serviced by a food truck on the upland area. The marina is being reworked by the same people who own the Mill Bay marina and restaurant where I have spent many years being Crew Mom watching Kirsten row at the Brentwood College Marina. So it was a welcome sight!
Kevin and Zoe and I had lunch at the restaurant and enjoyed some beers with Abby and Scott before heading out for a good long walk. We promised Zoe afterall. We wandered into the Beach Camp area and then turned around and walked to the “town” or Port Renfrew which is centered on a very cool pub. The pub sits alongside a wharf that includes a small hotel, fishing excursions, commercial fishing infrastructure and more. Super cool. I’d stay there in a minute.
After our walk we went back to the restaurant (sans Zoe who went to nap on Red Rover) and met up with the Slow Boat flotilla for dinner. We then retired to Epoch (N47) for tasty beverages. A good time was had by all!
Saturday, September 15- Port Renfrew to Port Angeles to Home (Shilshole Bay Marina, Seattle): 127 nautical miles
Saturday dawned bright and early once again. We headed out of the marina slightly later than the Slowboat crew as we had a dog to walk! But we caught up. The Slowboat crew was headed to Victoria for what else? A victory celebration! Their circumnavigation was complete.
The Red Rover crew was headed back to the US. We enjoyed completely and totally flat conditions on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which is almost unheard of. And of course, some fog with a bajillion small fishing boats darting about without any visibility. Eventually the fog broke and Port Angeles was ahead. We checked in at customs, surrendered our limes and lemons (where do they put all of this stuff? I’m betting they have an awesome bar at Customs & Border Patrol) and headed back out, thinking we’d spend the night in Port Townsend.
Well, as we neared Port Townsend we read that the following day was expected to bring 3-4 foot seas in Admiralty Inlet and the Puget Sound. Not a big deal really, but likely a good bash all of the way home. So… instead, we decided to just go for it. We made some dinner, drank some Redbull and waved at Port Townsend out of the port side windows.
We don’t normally cruise in the Sound in the dark due to crab traps and logs. But crabbing season was over, there was a nice bright moon and after we passed the south end of Whidbey Island, nice conditions. Windy but easy seas.
Seattle Traffic, who controls commercial shipping traffic in the VTS (Vessel Traffic Service) seemed a bit concerned about our nighttime presence as they kept calling us. We were cruising just on the outside of the shipping lanes, attracted their attention. “Red Rover! What are your intentions?” We chatted multiple times and listened as they informed the Alaska bound cruise ships and tug boats of our presence (I think they can see us on AIS). The other captains were told to watch out for a southbound yacht, Red Rover, and that the RR captain had been told to be monitoring closely. Kinda fun.
We pulled back into Shilshole at 10:30 pm, 16 hours after we left Port Renfrew. A long day, but it afforded us a nice Sunday at home.
What a fantastic trip!