Saturday, August 13
Saturday in August in the Gulf Islands means – lots of boats. We left Sidney and headed North, deciding to anchor in James Bay on Prevost Island. James is open to the North and has a ferry that crosses its entrance but in spite of that it is almost always a pretty calm place to stay, except for all the boats. We lucked out to arrive just as the previous night’s group was leaving so we captured a place at the head of the bay.
The main attraction of James is the hike out to Peille Point which has a light and a commanding view of the comings and goings at the intersection of two major channels. In addition to the usual power boats and sail boats one boat came by that dwarfed the rest. It was a sailboat named M5 that’s 256 feet long. In addition to two stories of living space above the deck level it had a small float plane sitting on its stern – the ultimate dinghy, I suppose.
While it’s only 3 miles round trip the trail is primitive with lots of up and down so we ended up exhausted. Of course neither of us were thrilled that I forgot to make hot water so the choice was cold showers or nothing. It seems nothing is perfect, even in paradise.
Sunday, August 14
Today started out as a lazy day. We had a hard time getting out of bed then had a leisurely breakfast before finally getting underway. We wanted to get to Nanaimo to meet up with our friends Jim and Kim on their boat Lillian T. Almost immediately we realized the strength of the current would prevent us from getting to Dodd Narrows in time for the slack. And because the currents were so strong, we didn’t want to be late. Dodd Narrows is a short but tricky pass located at the North end of the Gulf Islands. It has a curve in the middle which prevents you from seeing oncoming boats and it is so narrow that two boats can barely pass. If one of them is a tug with a log boom you can’t pass. An inspection of the tide tables provided an alternative – Porlier Pass.
Porlier Pass is a straight, wide passage between the middle of the Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. It is commonly used by deep draft vessels. In fact, container ships looking for a docking assignment in Vancouver frequently anchor inside Porlier Pass while they wait. It’s easy to get through and, most importantly for our needs, the tide was right for us to make an exit. So we took it and continued up the Strait.
Sometimes the Strait of Georgia can be rough but this day it was smooth all the way. We arrived in mid afternoon, in time to grab a mooring buoy near Lillian T and go for a hike on Newcastle Island. This large island is located in front of Nanaimo and actually forms the protected harbor. It used to be a major sandstone quarry, particularly for the large round stones used for milling grains, but is now a park. There is one corner that is developed and has camping but the rest is a wilderness park with many miles of trails through woods, along the shore, to a lake in the center and to the old quarry.
We kept our hike short so we could get back to the boat in time for showers – Jim and Kim were coming for dinner and we wanted to be presentable. We all had a great evening and they rowed back to their boat just before dark, but not before we all agreed to meet the following morning on their boat for breakfast so we could continue the fun. We did stay up a bit longer to watch the city lights come out and listen to the sound of the live concert taking place on shore (blues I think) and slept soundly despite the buoy tapping the hull next to our berth from time to time.
Monday, August 15
After another fun meal on Lillian T we all went our separate ways, Kim and Jim to Vancouver and Mischief further North to Tribune Bay on Hornsby Island. This major anchoring spot owes its popularity to its broad white sand beach about a half mile long. The beach shallows so gradually that at low tide it is hundreds of feet from the water to the line of driftwood but only a narrow strip of sand at high water. And most remarkably for the Northwest it is composed of soft, white sand – almost all our beaches are gravel of various sizes. Nothing is perfect, however. Tribune Bay is completely open to the Southeast. And as we arrived a 10 knot breeze from that quarter was raising waves in the Bay. But we anchored securely, hoping for the best.
First order of business was pumping up our inflatable kayak. We couldn’t use the dinghy because we had arrived at low time and would have had to drag it up the beach – an impossible task. So having suitable transport we now went ashore for our obligatory hike.
For us, the second attraction on Hornsby Island is Helliwell Provincial Park. This occupies the tip of a long peninsula that forms one of the arms enclosing Tribune Bay and is a favorite hike of ours. You walk along the top of high bluffs on open grassy land that is clearly swept by winter storms so few trees can grow near the edge. Some portions of the trail are close to the cliff edge and others go through a small patch of forest in the center of the peninsula. The views encompass a 270 degree swatch of the water, islands and mountains around Hornsby Island that is spectacular. We always to the hike when we come here.
After showers and dinner we just totally relaxed in the salon waiting for the wind and waves to die down. In vain, as it turned out since the water finally became calm sometime around 3 am. But we were tired and fell sound asleep immediately despite the motion of the boat.
Tuesday, August 16
Today was whale day, plus other interesting events. About an hour and a half after leaving Tribune Bay a lone humpback suddenly breached right in front of the boat. About 150 feet or less. We stopped immediately and watched as it breached twice more, each time with more than half its body out of the water. Amazing. Then he vanished.
A short time later a military transport type aircraft with 4 turboprop engines made a low pass over the boat – like really, really low – like maybe 200 feet low. He later called us on the radio to tell us humpback whales were ahead. Of course, just ahead for him was two hours for us but there were lots of whales. They were in groups of 2 or 3 feeding in the areas around Sentry Shoal, a major shallow area in the northern Strait. Unfortunately they were all far away and you had to watch them with binoculars. All together there were probably 10 or 12.
We took a slow pass by Mitlenatch Island. This is a Canadian nature sanctuary and, while not actually closed to boaters, has no good anchorage where we would feel comfortable leaving the boat. It is a cormorant nesting site and there were plenty around. The rocky cliffs on the south side are coated with their droppings which enables you to identify the island from a really long way away. And those south side cliffs fall directly into the water so you can get the boat quite close.
We had decided earlier that we needed a rest day: no hiking. So we headed for Evans Bay in the East side of Read Island and dropped anchor at the head of Bird Cove. Though there was plenty of room for a number of boats, this cove is off the beaten track so we had the place to ourselves. Plus two loons (this is Canada after all). But the whale day wasn’t over. Settling down to relax after dinner and enjoy the evening breeze and loon calls we heard the unmistakable sounds of humpback whale fin slapping. We never saw the whale but it was a fitting end to a “whale of a day”.