Oh Canada… the Gulf Islands and Beyond

A month after departing Olympia we sailed into Canadian waters! First priority was going through customs which we did in Sydney Harbor. This is a sizable harbor with several marinas and yacht clubs. After “checking in” by phone (just that easy) we made our way to Capital City Yacht Club where we scored a reciprocal slip. Not much of a view from the dock, but otherwise a very nice club with generous shower and laundry facilities, and within walking/biking distance to downtown Sydney.

Once docked we asked a local member for directions to the nearest marine supply store (toilet troubles), and rather than tell us how to get there he drove us! The next day, while John disassembled the toilet, I took my bike out in search of some “fresh catch”, which turned out to be shrimp. A couple great meals came from that excursion.

Youth sailing, Sydney BC

After the toilet repair we moved to Todd Inlet where we were able to anchor very near Butchart Gardens. This is a long, narrow inlet… very popular because of its proximity to the gardens, and particularly the fireworks display which can be partially observed from the boats. Since John had never been there we rowed to their dock and spent the afternoon and evening there… first walking the gardens, then dancing to the band, and finally watching the fireworks.

We intended to take Sadie with us since they allow dogs, but as we were getting ready to go we heard voices just off our port side and looked over to find the same gentleman who’d given us a ride into town, with his wife. (Earl and Doreen) We’d only just met Doreen when she chimed in that she absolutely loves dogs and would be more than happy to “dog sit” Sadie while we enjoyed our evening at the gardens. Since I was already a little concerned about how Sadie would handle the fireworks, and Doreen was looking at her so longingly, we loaded her into their dinghy knowing she’d be in good hands.

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens....

Butchart Gardens....

Butchart Gardens....

Butchart Gardens, Victoria BC, Canada

After the fireworks we made our way back to Zephyr and John proceeded to row us… way down Todd Inlet… in the dark of night. We were amazed to see a very strong glow of bioluminescence with every stroke of the oars (which were sadly impossible to photograph with my iPhone). We also found it incredibly difficult to find one specific boat amongst so many in the dark of night, but find them we did. We were invited aboard to find Sadie feeling quite at home… and all too familiar with where the treats were kept! 🙂

In the morning we pulled anchor and cruised down the inlet just to see what we couldn’t see the night before.

Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

My kind of bird houses!

The one incredibly disappointing factor we’d been dealing with for a few weeks at this point was a smoky haze that filled the air throughout the San Juan’s and, as we soon discovered… the Gulf Islands as well. Most of the smoke was actually coming from numerous fires burning throughout western British Columbia. As a photographer, it was incredibly frustrating with visibility of only a mile or two and the light completely flattened.

Gulf Islands, Canada, wildfires of 2018

Smokey skies amongst the islands of British Columbia (cell phone image)

At this point in our journey the smoke was thick enough to bring on a chest cough in me, and we seriously considered the possibility of having to turn back for the sake of our health! But we ventured on a ways further to Mill Bay… home of my Brooks Institute classmate/fellow photographer and friend, Catharine O’Brien-Bell. Catharine shared a meal with us on Summer Breeze that evening, and then graciously invited us over for “real showers” and breakfast the next morning! (Thanks again for the hospitality my friend!)

With Catharine and our canines!

As we left Saanich Inlet heading for North Pender Island the wind picked up, which not only blew some of the smoke away but put a smile on John’s face. That’s my signal to dive below and batten down anything that might go-a-tumbling when the sail go up!

John… happy to be sailing

Sadie… happy that Pops is happy sailing! 🙂

We had a lovely sail most of the way to our destination… Otter Bay. Once anchored we rowed ashore to check the place out. The private little marina was quite charming and seemed like a fun vacation destination by ferry. We bought ice cream cones and strolled around, then rowed across the bay and hiked the peninsula at Roseland, part of the Gulf Islands National Parks Reserve.

John and Sadie content to take in the view

Next stop was Winter Cove at Saturna Island, where we stayed only a few hours before moving on to Ganges on Salt Spring Island. We did enjoy a nice hike on the island before setting out again.

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Black Oystercatchers, ripping current in background, Winter Cove, Saturna Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Unique rock texture, Winter Cove, Saturna Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Sadie enjoying an outing at Winter Cove, Saturna Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Winter Cove hiking trail, Saturna Island

Ganges Harbor was PACKED with boats… and filled with smoke. Visibility was less than half a mile!  I “de-hazed” the image below in post-processing to bring out some clarity. In actuality it was no where near that clear, but it was that orange.

Salt Spring Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Thick smoke in Ganges Harbor

From there we sailed up Captain Passage, with enough wind the clear some of the smoke away. Shortly after putting the sail up we heard a call over the radio… one boater scolding another for being too close to a pod of Orcas! No!!! We missed a pod of Orcas by minutes!!!

We sailed across Trincomali Channel to Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park. There must have been a hundred boats moored or anchored when we arrived. We ended up anchoring near enough to other boats and the shoreline that John put a stern anchor out as well. When the wind kicked up during the night he was up checking on things. We were fine but a few other boats had to reset their anchors. Anchoring is definitely not a task to take lightly in waters like these! We did make our way ashore and enjoyed their pleasant hiking trails.

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Summer Breeze at anchor amongst many in Montague Harbor (upper right)

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Rock texture on the shoreline of Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park

Next up… Conover Cove at Wallace Island. In three separate outings we covered all the hiking trails, from one end of the island to the other. An interesting bit of history here. Famed author, David Conover bought Wallace Island in the 1940s and built a summer vacation resort there. His book Once Upon an Island is about their island, and their time there. I’m going to have to buy the book now!

And a funny story from our time there… when we went ashore and looked at the trail map I noted there was a store on the island. Before we set out I hopped back on the boat and grabbed my wallet. The only “store” we found was the one in the image below! 🙂 Apparently is was a store… back in the 1940’s maybe.

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

“The Store” Conover Cove, Wallace Island

Wallace Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Old truck, Conover Cove

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Shoreline at Wallace Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Wallace Island

Wallace Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Conover Cove and dock through boat wreckage

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Sunset from Conover Cove, Wallace Island

Pirates Cove, DeCourcey Island… what more can I add. It’s another lovely island with good hiking trails! John was happy to find just enough breeze for a little sailing in Zephyr!

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Shoreline on DeCourcey Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

DeCourcey Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Incredible sandstone shoreline of DeCourcey Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

John sailing Zephyr in Pirates Cove, DeCourcey Island

Our next destination was Nanaimo, where we were to meet friends/fellow sailors from Olympia for a “floatilla” to Princess Louisa Inlet. When we discovered they were delayed by a day we took a side trip to Newcastle Island… a Marine Provincial Park right across the channel from Nanaimo. We’d just tied off to a mooring buoy, and as John was letting the dinghy down I hear this wild skirmish toward shore. I grabbed the binoculars and spotted a small group of otters wrestling with what looked like an octopus! I looked at John and hollered “Get me over there!” (Side note- it’s never smart to hastily jump into a tippy dinghy with 3k worth of camera gear in your hand, but that’s exactly what I did!)

As he rowed me ashore I was shooting what I could barely see without the binoculars, but confident in the resolution of my new camera to be able to crop substantially (which I did). It was not an octopus, but some sort of eel. From what I witnessed that eel put up a fight, but much of the skirmish was the two youngins’ fighting over their meal! They ripped that eel to shreds! Mom finally got fed up with their squabbling, snatched the eel from them and hastily swam away… with her offspring right on her tail. It was one of those rare treats of nature that you have to be in the right time and place to observe, and aware enough to even notice.

New Castle Island,Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Otter family devouring eel-1

New Castle Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Otter family devouring eel-2

New Castle Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Otter family devouring eel-3

Note… these potential moments of observation was what inspired me to pursue a career in photography… National Geographic, National Audubon… that’s where I saw myself. As it turned out most of my career was spent capturing a completely different kind of wildlife!

We went ashore the next morning to do some hiking and came upon this old sandstone quarry where they cut milling stones- to shape- right out of the ground.  Good hiking trails too!

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Milling stones cut from the sandstone quarry… left behind on New Castle Island

New Castle Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Piles of mill stones left behind

New Castle Island, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Cuts in the sandstone from harvesting mill stones

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Hiking trail, New Castle Island

New Castle Island Marine Park, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Totem Pole on New Castle Island

Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Moonscape at New Castle Island

From New Castle we cruised across the channel to Nanaimo Yacht Club and waited for our friends to arrive. Our trip to Princess Louisa Inlet was the high of our summer, and that’s what my next post is all about! Stay tuned! It was our favorite place!

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6 thoughts on “Oh Canada… the Gulf Islands and Beyond

  1. Thanks for the great pics and narrative. We have friends that lived on Salt Spring Isl at one time, great place to visit and the fresh prawns were to die for. We met you a few years ago on the Columbia River, near Maryhill Park.

  2. Wonderful journal of your sailing journey. We made that trip several times many years ago and it was so great to see your photos. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Joanne! I know you spent time in the islands. Glad you’re enjoying the posts. Let me know if there are any “must see” places to add to our list for next year!

  3. I always get excited when I open my Feedly reader and see I have an update from you! What an interesting trip — you, John and Sadie are definitely enjoying your life together!! ? Thanks for such a well written recap of your travels, and looking forward to many more.

    • Thanks Susan! I’m glad to know you’re still out there and enjoying the journey with me! Sure hope to see you next time through Texas!

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