We left Seattle in late January for our trip around Vancouver Island. We wintered in Sidney for two months, and left there during the last week of March. Since there, we have traveled almost 1600 miles around the island. This includes a wee 400 mile roundtrip detour back to Seattle in early May for some repairs and mechanical breakdowns that have been well documented. For those planning such a trip, here are a few observations…..
I have been to far too many places in this trip where the local have said - “the weather is never like this - last year was great at this time!” To this I can only say “ Baloney!” the weather here is always bad, except when it is good. There are separate weather regions, each with its own character. As you proceed north, the weather patterns change. There is reason to it. We spent the month of June Broughtons - it rained or was overcast five days out of seven. Mostly just cloudy and grey, with a hint of rain in the air. About every fourth day it would rain a bit. As we proceeded further north, the weather got both better and worse. When rounding the major capes, we waited for the right weather - sometime for two or three days, and then we had winds behind us, soe sunny days, but still it was mostly cloudy and grey. It did not really start to get better until July 15 or so - then we had four or five days of sun in a row, but now - on July 28, cloudy and grey for the next two days. Most Canadians around here say summer is late -
So the weather is what it is - the big factor in weather is - Crowd Avoidance
The biggest issue, next to weather, is crowd avoidance. We don’t like crowds, and that is what you get when you go to the more popular anchorages during the nice weather, say after July 15 (se above). Therefore, by accepting sailing in lousy weather, you avoid most of the crowds. Lousy weather is relative, however, since it is not stormy, we have not seen winds above 30 knots, and then only in approaching anchorages when winds and currents get all piled up on the entrances. In Desolation Sound, which we toured in April, the big crowds arrive in July and August, when it is warm and hot there. Johnstone Straight separates the Broughtons from the Desolation area. This long and winding 75 mile long straight, notorious for it high winds, current, and chop, deter most of the big family powerboat crowd until it settles down sometime in mid July. The different weather regions conform to the geography, which act to deter crowds. The crowds up here seem to come about mid July to Mid September. So, by doing the Broughtons in June, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Many time we were the only boat in the place, for two or three days. We rounded Cape Scott on July 6 - my 52nd birthday, with only three boats in sight - all of which left from the same anchorage we had to round in the generally good forecast (some high pressure system to the north - low approaching - 20 knots from the north). The west side was empty of cruising boats. There are no three story Bayliners - mostly sailing vessels and the well founded cruising powerboat.
So, by leaving early, accepting the gloom and overcast of early summer, you can have the place to yourself. Which leads me to another issue - guidebooks
There are a lot of guidebooks about this area. We used three - a 2006 Waggoner’s, a 2006 DreamSeeker, and a 1994 Douglas cruising guide.
I like the Waggoner’s - it is a good guide, and gave us lots of information about where to go and what to see. There is no anchoring guidance or decent sailing directions in this guide, but it does give you an overview of all the best tourist attractions, marinas, fuel stops, provisions, etc. It over exaggerates on the amenities available at almost all of the marinas - think writing on the positive side. Hot showers can be sort of loosely interpreted - we found them to often be a bit cold,. Still - a good guide - don’t leave home without it.
DreamSeeker - these coffee table guides are very expensive - wee picked one up in Sidney at a bookstore that was going out of business for half price, and that was all it was worth. The text is completely over the top, everything is pink Champaign - the nights glorious, the sky and water blue, the fish jumping, the sea life frolicking - you get the picture. Also - it trys to be a guide to anchorages - HA - I say Ha again - I cannot believe anybody would anchor more than a skiff in some of the places they mention - untenable is the word that comes to mind. We dubbed them the “DreamFarkers“ because the guide was so farked up. Use at your own risk. The only thing nice about it was the cute picture they drew did give you a better idea about where some amenities were located in the more populous areas. Bah.
Douglass’ guide to “Exploring Vancouver Island’s West Coast”, and their companion guide “Exploring the South Coast of BC” are incomparable guides, well researched. Without them the trip would have been much more difficult. We saw the Douglas’s at a seminar once, and they are knowledgeable people who give an accurate picture of what’s going on. Which leads me to ….
We found the Canadians to be great people. Helpful and courteous. We have made a few friends here on our trip, and have nothing but nice things to say about them. They make great sausage - what can I say. Anybody with pork products that good is at the top of my list. And speaking of pork…..
Better bring a lot or pork along, because you will find very few fish, Forget that crab trap too, no crap left either - we have not caught any, and everybody we speak too has not caught any either. I am no fisherman - but I do work at it. I have caught rockcod when allowed - but there are now 164 Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCA). These prohibit you from having a line in the water - they are everywhere you want to anchor. I caught a few fish fishing from the boat in front of the areas or behind, but that is difficult - since you have to get on the rocks to catch a fish, and that is not a good place for a boat. The RCA are long overdue - they had 34 last year. The rockfish are very easy to catch, but you cannot release the small on because they die - very easy to over fish. I caught a few salmon, trolling with a diver and houchee, and flasher. Yesterday I had a great haul in Barkley sound - caught two dogfish - sharks - one 2 feet and one 4 feet - which I released. Two big lingcod - 27 inches and 6 pounds each - lots of meat on those - a sole and a small rockfish. No more fishing for these critters today, since we have about 5 pounds of fresh fish now. Still - the sport fishing industry is HUGE - hope springs eternal among these fisherman - all who are after big salmon - they would scorn my pitiful lingcod….
The folks catching these big salmon are the ones specialized to do it - small craft able to travel many miles a day, visit many fishing areas - get in very close to the rocks, use a fish finder, and have a downrigger - all things we cannot do. When we were in Port Hardy there were huge fish coming in. We were only there for a couple of nights though, working on the boat, and getting ready to round Cape Scott. If you want to catch fish you really have to work at it. On the west side we were in a place called Tahsis - great marina there for sport fishing, They were bringing in huge fish here - but again, in 25 foot fast boats, ranging 20 miles down an inlet to fish at the mouth under a bunch of rocks, in competition with 25 other profiting boats all trying to be in the same place. I looked into a charter - it was $450 per day - that is a lot of money to go catch a fish.
We fished the mouth of Nootka Sound for a couple of hours - 100 yards off of about 25 little fishing boats right under the point. Caught a fish in the mouth of Quatsino Sound. Worked the mouth of Barkely yesterday among 20 boats or so for three hours - no bites and nobody else was pulling in anything….
Its ironic that 10 years ago there were 800 fishing boats (a local told me this) based out of of Winter Harbor in Quatsino Sound, all fishing for salmon - now that fishery is closed. Coming down the coast for 20 miles we have seen less than 10 commercial salmon boats - but hundreds of sportfishers. We have visit’s a few native fishing weirs, rock traps at the month of inlets for trapping fish, left over by native people from several hundred years ago. There use to be so many salmon they could catch them in these traps, up an inlet, at the base of an anchorage. Now, there is only a few salmon left comparatively….
There are no Orcas or sea lions that prey upon salmon - yet, the sport fisherman throng this place - we think it is all a hoax perpetrated by the only industry left in BC - sport fishing to gullible fisherman willing to fork over thousands of dollars for the off chance of catching a 20 pound salmon - which brings we to another thing we noticed….
If I ever come back here again, I will go fishing in the one place where I know there are a lot of fish - the aqua farms!
They are everywhere! Pick a nook, cranny in the land, a good place to anchor, and there will be an aqua farm. They are predominately on the inside - probably because of easy access to markets, but we have seen a few on the west coast. Funny - they seem to be located at the base of old clearcuts - which leads us to believe that the timber barons, upon cutting all of the trees down, now use the lease rights at the old loggerheads to fish farm. It is a huge industry.
Clearcuts seem to be everywhere. It is good the Canadians are still cutting down all of their trees - that keeps lumber relatively cheap for US homebuilders - got to get those 2x4’s to Home Depo. Anyway - we don’t regrett the trees being cut down, that is they way these folks use to make a living. The sorry part of it is that there use to be a lifestyle associated with timber harvesting - little towns, mill towns like Tahsis - small communities were loggers would go and live with their families for months cutting down the trees. Now, the corporations have learned how to harvest the lumber using minimal manpower, locate milling operations for maximum profitability and access to markets and transportation - leaving the folks who live out here with no real work - other than aqua farming, tourism, or support of the sport fishing industry. If you slow down enough to talk to folks and look around, you really can see the changing face of Vancouver island. Which brings me to ….
Summing Up Our Trip
“It was the best of times - It was the worst of times…” opps, wrong century. A trip around Vancouver Island is great. Gave us the chance to work some bugs out of the boat. We greatly improved our navigation and route finding skills. Sailed the boat on the ocean a bit, and motored more. Found we could survive together basically cooped on the boat for three months together. Remember, there is no place to go ashore most of the time. You are in steep sided anchorages, with no beaches, rare hiking trails, and few urban amenities. Many of the places you will want to go you might be prevented by the weather - (see trip planning above)…
What I had expected was a few more sunny days, better sailing conditions (we have motored almost the whole way), better access to amenities such as resorts, dining out, and marinas with the amenities described in the guides ( I am such an urbanite), and more fish and wildlife to view.
As we proceeded south (or north, last month) we have seen lots more new construction of vacation homes, especially around population centers or where there is access to road transportation that can support tourism, more filled-in anchorages with resource extraction, and more clear-cuts. Outside of the marine parks (which are great - the best part of the trip was getting to these parks), the pressure for urbanization of the wilderness to support tourism and vacation homes is quite great. After all, these local folks don’t have any money, and rely on all of us outsiders to bring it in on our two week vacations.