2023 / #11 Desolation Sound to the Strait of Georgia

by | Aug 6, 2023 | 2023 Posts

Monday, July 31. We were glad to leave Bickley Bay. The smoke from the wildfire across the channel was spreading and we had to drive through it to escape – our destination, Small Inlet.

In addition to being a Provincial Marine Park, Small Inlet is not heavily used and, most importantly, offers Karen an opportunity to check off a must-do for the trip, a chance to go swimming. That requires a hike of about a mile to Newton Lake and lovely rock ledges that slope into the water. It was a bit cold for me, so I chickened out, but Karen thoroughly enjoyed her swim. When we got back to the boat we took hot showers, the part I really enjoyed. The trail to Newton Lake can be accessed from Waiatt Bay and the Octopus Islands as well. While we were the only boat anchored in Small Inlet, folks we met at the lake told us there were 70 boats in Waiatt Bay. Traveling just a bit off the main track can definitely make a difference.

We’ve now had two hikes in as many days and are just a bit tired. We are looking forward to a day off and tomorrow promises to be one. To continue our journey south we need to go through Seymour Narrows and it so happens that it will be on a day with large tides. The ebb before slack is 11.8 knots and the flood after slack is 14.7 knots. For us, this means the period of slack water in the narrows will be short, so timing is critical. We will strive to be on time by leaving our anchorage early and adjusting as we go by changing our boat speed. There are also a couple of bays along the way that are out of the current so we can go in and wait. Once we are through we have many options but we won’t decide until then.

Tuesday, August 1. The narrow entrance channel to Small Inlet has a spot marked 7.9 feet deep on the chart, and since the morning low tide would be almost zero, we would expect to see that depth as we left. Thinking that was pretty shallow, our depth alarm sounds at 8 feet, we decided to get up early so we could leave before low tide and give ourselves an extra foot of depth. It was warm overnight so neither of us slept well and getting up early wasn’t a problem, we were already awake. After a quick breakfast we weighed anchor an hour earlier than usual and headed out.

As we approached the narrow, shallow part we actually had a stroke of good luck. The falling tide formed a current in the entrance and we could see very clearly from the pattern of the water where the current was going, and by implication, where the deepest channel was. That’s where we went and we didn’t actually go over the shallow spot – we had more than 10 feet of water at all times. But now we had a different problem, we were much too early for Seymour Narrows. So we headed that direction as slowly as we could, lowering our engine rpms and ducking into bays along the way. Finally we just had to stop in one of them, Plumper Bay and hover for a half hour (it wasn’t worth the trouble of anchoring for only 30 minutes) before turning the corner and heading for the narrows. For all that we still ended up getting there 15 minutes before slack but it turned out not to be a problem, the narrows aren’t really narrow and the current was less than 2 knots and not turbulent – piece of cake.

After slack, the current was now going with us and we sped along at speeds up to 11 knots (4 knots above normal). We went right by the town of Campbell River, we weren’t ready for civilization just yet, and headed to Drew Harbour and Rebecca Spit Marine Park, with its sandy beach and great walking. It’s a popular place but there is anchoring room for many boats, and a good thing, too. After we found a place to drop the hook we counted 70 boats and more kept arriving all through the afternoon. This was more boats in one harbour than we had seen in total over our last 6 weeks on the north coast. We were a bit overwhelmed by it all. Tomorrow we’ll explore the beach.

Wednesday, August 2. It wasn’t in the forecast but it was definitely in the air – rain. With beach walking off the table we decided to head out and take care of some needed additions, water and groceries. So we motored over to Gorge Harbour. Because it’s on an island with ferry service, the marina there has a very well-stocked store; we’ve shopped there many times before. As long as there is space at the marina they will let you dock for an hour or so at no charge to shop at their store, put water in the tank and offload garbage. It was an excellent use of a rainy day.

After Gorge Harbour we went around the south end of Cortes Island and got to view the huge reef field there at low tide. It extends three fourths of a mile out from the island itself, a long way when looking at it from a boat, and is full of large boulders as well was reefs. At high tide none of that is visible and it appears a tempting shortcut, a very dangerous shortcut indeed.

Our destination was just a few miles further, Cortes Bay. We are going because there are nice hikes, some that we haven’t already done. But a lot of boaters go there for the Seattle Yacht Club and Royal Vancouver Yacht Club outstations in two corners of the bay with their large docks for visiting yacht club members. There is still room for others to anchor which we did. Just a little while later the showers stopped and the sun came out so we opened the hatches to dry out the boat and put the sun covers on the windows to keep it from getting hot. If it stays like this we should have a wonderful hike tomorrow.

Thursday, August 3. It was a perfect day for walking, mostly sunny but not too hot. Cortes Bay is close to a number of trails but most of them require walking on roads. First off was Easter Bluff, which has an open summit that overlooks Cortes Bay, though not the part where Mischief was anchored. It also has fantastic views of the surrounding islands and the mountains of both Vancouver Island and the BC Coast Range. It was quite worth the walk, even though half of it is on a road. Luckily, there isn’t much traffic here.

Right across the road from the Easter Bluff trailhead is the start of another trail that leads southwest past two large lakes. It was quite nice but for an “incident” about half way along. At a steep section of trail I stood on a rock that gave way down the slope and fell on my butt. I was trying to avoid a wasp nest that some previous hike had kindly pointed out with a small sign. I somehow managed to avoid it but Karen wasn’t so lucky and was stung three times. Ouch. The rest of the trail was uneventful, thank goodness. The downside to that trail, other than the wasps, was that the second trailhead was quite far from the bay.

As we hiked up the road, heading back to Cortes Bay and our boat, we passed another trail leading to Hank’s Beach, so we took it. Now this was an easy trail, mostly wide enough to walk side-by-side and less than half a mile long that ended at a beach on the southeast side of the island. At high tide it would just be another small rocky beach, but at low tide, which we had, it was miles of fine white sand below steep cliffs. Karen took her boots off and walked along in the shallow water, definitely the highlight of her day. Other people were there enjoying the sun, sand and water but the beach was so long you could hardly see them. This was definitely a place to return to, in the right conditions, of course.

We made it back to the Government dock, where we had left out dinghy, and looked at our tracker: 8.7 miles. We rowed back to the boat and had iced tea and hot showers, in that order. It was good to be home (even though a 60 foot boat had anchored far too close to us so we had to move.) Cortes Bay was well worth the visit.

Friday, August 4. This was an unplanned extra day in Cortes Bay brought on by boat problems, one electrical and one plumbing, and by Karen’s wasp stings which were now swollen and bright red. We felt we had to stay put where we knew we had good anchorage so I could work on problems and Karen could keep keep cold compresses on her ankle and wrist.

The electrical problem arose a few days ago when Karen heard crackling sounds and saw smoke coming from the GFCI electrical outlet in the galley when it wasn’t being used. Fire on a boat is always a stop-everything-and-take-action kind of problem. I immediately shut off the circuit breaker to the outlet and stopped the generator. The bad stuff stopped so we were safe. Thankfully, I didn’t need to use the fire extinguisher; cleanup is so difficult. The outlets on the boat are in two banks, each with their own breaker. We taped off the breaker for Bank B with the problem outlet and continued to use the outlets in Bank A. Today I investigated the problem outlet and found that it was badly corroded – it must have gotten water inside it at some time or other. I don’t have a proper spare so I disconnected it, capped off the wires and tested it. Everything worked as it should so now both banks are on line, minus the one outlet in the galley; danger averted with only minor inconvenience.

Last night, as we settled down to watch a movie we heard the water pump come on, and stay on. But we weren’t using any water. A search of the boat finally found the problem, the water heater tank had sprung a leak. It was immediately clear I couldn’t do anything about it at night so we turned off the electric pump and used the manual foot pump in the galley to fill a jug to use for flushing the toilet. Today I spent several hours investigating the problem and made two discoveries, one, that nothing could be done with the water heater to stop the leak and two, that I didn’t have the parts necessary to be able to put the single lever faucets back in use. But the good news was I could get the pressure cold water working everywhere except the faucets, so we could flush the toilet without having to keep a jug of water in the bathroom. And, of course, the foot pump in the galley would allow us to get water out of the tank. Other than the loss of convenience from having no sink faucets, we have no shower, except for a cold shower in the cockpit. Now this is definitely a problem that will affect our cruise.

The rest of the day was spent staying out of the hot sun and covering the boat up to keep the sun out, while opening up the windows, doors and hatches to let the breeze in, at least the ones on the shady side of the boat. And those change as the sun moves and wind direction changes. Keeping on top of it requires constant vigilance but there’s still time to write, and take cold showers.

Saturday, August 5. The breeze in Cortes Bay continued all night and we were glad of it, it helped cool the boat off and made sleeping comfortable. Our experience with Cortes Bay is when the wind is out of the northwest it is actually stronger in the bay than it is outside in the Strait of Georgia, contrary to what one would expect. And that is exactly what we experienced when we left to continue our journey south, breezy inside and calm outside.

It was easy going. We saw plenty of boats and had to avoid a few. We saw three humpback whales near Powell River; through binoculars they looked really good. The water was calm until we entered the north end of Malaspina Strait where it became quite choppy for awhile. Then it became flat until we got near Pender Harbour where it became a bit rough with whitecaps. We were approaching the south end of Malaspina Strait. The whole time we had a small bit of current going with us. Malaspina Strait always seems to have unpredictable conditions.

As we approached Pender Harbour we could see large numbers of AIS signals from all over the harbour and suspected we might find anchoring space very limited. So we decided to head for Bargain Bay instead. Bargain Bay is considered part of Pender Harbour since it’s connected to it by a high tide, dinghy only channel, but the entrance for cruising boats is on the Malaspina Strait side. It’s not very scenic, being surrounded by houses, docks and mooring buoys, but it is large, has a good, flat bottom and we didn’t think it would be busy. And it wasn’t. At 3:30 we were the first boat to arrive and only one other came in to anchor after us. There were lots of small, local boats and plenty of kayaks and paddleboards. In the evening we were treated to a woodwind concert. Everyone was enjoying the mild summer weather.

Sunday, August 6. We crossed the Strait of Georgia and anchored in Kendrick Island anchorage, called Dogfish Bay in the Douglasses’ book. We are officially on the edge of the Gulf Islands, close to home.

The crossing was mostly uneventful. There were steeper waves than expected; the forecast called for southeast winds in early evening, turns out that meant 10:00 in the morning. And we had crossing encounters with a couple of ferries, one of which I had to call on the radio to confirm how we were going to pass. We passed by the entrance to Silva Bay and saw that it was packed with boats. When we pulled into Kendrick Island there were only two boats so we had plenty of room to find a good spot. More came in later but we were good.

Kendrick Island anchorage is interesting. Long and narrow, it is separated from the Strait of Georgia only by the island, which is very low, and a drying reef. On low tides the end of the anchorage is actually open to the strait and current flows through. The island itself is owned by the West Vancouver Yacht Club which has a dock and some buoys. The opposite side is mostly Wakes Cove Provincial Park. There is no marked trailhead in the bay but when we rowed around we saw some steel cables at one point on the shore. Cables often indicate past logging activity and when we went ashore we found an old road leading inland. That road led to other roads and before long we had done a three mile walk through the woods. It was very satisfying, more so now that Karen’s wasp stings were finally getting better.


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