Planning The Summer Cruise

After owning Yohelah for over 20 years, we finally have the time to take her out sailing in the Salish Sea for an extended cruise, and we’re very excited about this. For eight years we lived aboard at Shilshole as we prepared for our offshore adventures. Our summer vacations were short and sweet, long before the opportunity to work from home even existed. We listened to our friends Steve & Elsie Hulsizer, and took the path less chosen to the outside of Vancouver Island, and spent glorious but short vacations exploring the beauty of Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds in southwest Vancouver Island. Then we went cruising for 4.5 years. After that we came home and didn’t take any long sailing vacations. Now, finally, the house remodel is nearly done, we are no longer caregivers, the pandemic is not stopping anyone at the border, and we’re free to go.

If you know me at all, you know I thrive on travel planning. Life is short, the world is big, and I believe seeing it right means being organized about it. Last year I planned a 9 week / 63 day trip that included 23 airplane flights and 23 hotels/resorts/boats. We moved on average every 3 days for weeks. And nothing went wrong. Nothing. At all. So now that’s over and I need something to plan! Here comes summer of 2023. The trick about this one, however, is that we want friends and family to join us. There are serious logistical challenges to our route this summer, so it’s time to lay it out and start making plans.

Here is the big picture – a counterclockwise circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, followed by a trip up to Desolation Sound in the late summer. We’ll start mid May and head fairly quickly up the inside. The hard requirement is that we get to the top of Vancouver Island by July 1st at the latest so we have a full month or more to travel down the outside and get back into the Strait before August/Fogust happens.

On the way north I’d like to explore the Broughton Islands, since we’ve never done that before. That’s at Circle #7 on this pic above. Then we go up and around the top, and transit down the outside. But since West Coast Vancouver Island becomes the land of fog early August, we’ll head back east then.

That still leaves us three more weeks of cruising in the Salish Sea. We have friends who will be in Desolation Sound in August, so that seems like a good destination. Yup, we’ll burn up a few gallons of diesel to get there, but the rewards will be amazing.

The big trick, though, is how to get friends and family in to join us. Barkley Sound (Circle #18) is one destination with relatively easy car access – you can ferry to Vancouver Island and literally drive on nice paved roads right out to Ucluelet. The rest of the destinations require a bit more of a challenge. I’ve been asked for timing and options, so here is what I know right now:

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Broughton Islands#7June 10-20Drive or fly to Pt McNeill, we pick up there

The Broughton Archipelago is a group of islands located at the eastern end of Queen Charlotte Strait, near the far north east end of Vancouver Island. There are 20 major islands and 10 major waterways. Yachting World calls them “hard to reach but a delight once you’re there”.

A trip to join us on a cruise this area would mean a ferry to Vancouver Island, then a drive north. The easiest route likely would be ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo (or Black Ball from Port Angeles to Victoria), then a 4 hour drive to Port McNeill.

It’s a 20 mile crossing across Johnstone Strait, and we can pick up and deliver you back to your car. For the adventurous that want to see what is way off the beaten path in the Pacific NW, this will be an amazing trip.

After we leave the Broughtons we’ll head north around the top of Vancouver Island. The next opportunity to meet up will require a bit of planning. We’ll travel south along the west coast with limited roads. There are flights from Vancouver via Pacific Coastal to Campbell River and Port Hardy, and possibly taxi service across the island.

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Quatsino Sound#10June 20-25Drive or fly to Pt Hardy, taxi to Coal Harbour

Quatsino Sound (Circle #7 on the chart) is the first major body of water on the northwest side of the island. It cuts 27 of the 35 miles across the top of the island. There likely are enough cruising grounds here to spend a week exploring, and three different ways to access from Port Hardy.

The town of Port Alice is on the south end of the lower arm and accessible by car on a mostly paved road. Winter Harbor is at the north side of the entrance to the sound, accessible by a 2 hour drive on gravel logging roads. And Coal Harbor is on the upper arm, and a quick 20 minute drive or taxi from Port Hardy.

From Quatsino Sound we sail south (down current and hopefully down wind) around the Brooks Peninsula. The peninsula extends 9 miles offshore, and is 6 miles across. There are anchorages on the north side and south side of the peninsula where you can wait for the right weather window. Now that we’re retired and on our own calendar, Rob & I have no reason to hurry around anything in bad conditions. But looking closer at these anchorages, I see some places we might want to stop and explore even if the weather is good for a passage south. The guide book shows us stops at Klaskino Inlet and Klaskish Inlet on the north side of the peninsula, and the sandy beaches in Battle Bay and anchorages of Nasparti Inlet on the south side.

The Bunsby Islands are south of the peninsula and north of the next big Sound (Kyuquot Sound). These are low lying islands with excellent protection for a quiet anchorage, and great exploration via dinghy or kayak. I can’t imagine why we won’t spend a few days there. But I don’t see any easy way to pick up passengers in this area. There are some sketchy looking roads, but likely anyone wanting to join us here would have to start north of the Brooks Peninsula.

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Kyuoquot Sound#12June 30-July 4Drive or fly to Campbell River, drive to Fair Harbour

Kyuquot Sound (Circle #12) is the second of five great sounds on the west coast. The guide book shows seven beautiful and interesting looking anchorages, including a stop in the outlying Mission Group of islands.

The only access to Kyoquot Sound is via float plane or logging roads. This path from Campbell River is 1.5 hours on the highway, then turn off past the town of Woss onto forest service roads for 2+ hours.

Here’s a snip from Google street view of a random place along that trip. Looks like a very typical Pacific NW mountain road.

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Esperanza Inlet#13July 5-8Drive or fly to Campbell River, drive to Tahsis or Zeballos

By now in this planning I’m starting to realize there is no way we’re going to see all that we want to in only 4 weeks on the outside of the Island, so we’ll likely head around the top sooner than originally planned. Here’s a pic of the Marine Park at the head of Nuchatlitz Inlet. No way we’re going to pass this by without some exploration.

There are two towns on this Inlet that can be accessed by mountain road, each about 2.5 hours from Campbell River. The next sound south is Nootka Sound.

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Nootka Sound#14July 9-12Paved mill road

The cruising guide shows “Featured Destinations” in each of these inlets and sounds. For Nootka there are eight featured destinations, including a Marine Park and two towns. Every one of those stops looks inviting, but we’ll have to pick and choose obviously.

There is a paved highway that reaches the northeast end of Muchalat Inlet where it looks like there is a mill. The road goes through Strathcona Provincial Park, and most likely is a very beautiful 90 minute drive out.

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Clayoquot Sound#15, 16 & 17July 13-20Pacific Rim Hwy from Nanaimo or Victoria

South of Nootka Sound we round Hesquiat Peninsula and are nearing cruising grounds familiar to Rob & I. Hesquiat Harbour is new for us, and just south of there is Clayoquot Sound. We have made two visits to Clayoquot Sound in years past, and are excited to revisit some absolutely stunning anchorages.

Turns out there are so many featured anchorages in Clayoquot Sound that the guide book breaks it into two sections, east and west. Some of these are familiar, most are actually new for us and will be fun to explore.

The drive to Tofino is the same road to Barkley Sound, a reportedly beautiful drive along the Pacific Rim highway. It’s 2.5 hours from Nanaimo or 4 hours from Victoria.

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Barkley Sound#18July 21-Aug 5Pacific Rim Hwy from Nanaimo or Victoria

Barkley Sound is home to some absolutely world class kayaking in the Broken Group and Pinkerton Islands. It also has two lovely towns, Ucluelet on the north side and Bamfield on the south side. The winds blow in the afternoon, making for some fun sailing from one beautiful anchorage to another. There are beautiful beach walks in both towns and so many little islands to explore.

While there is a 3.5 hour drive from Victoria, this is a dirt road and probably not nearly as nice of a drive as the highway to Ucluelet on the north side.

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Desolation Sound#3Aug 10-23Lund or float plane

Once we leave Barkley we’ll head back in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and up the Strait of Georgia into Desolation Sound. We’ll be there until August 23rd, then head home. There are too many anchorages to even start thinking about, and it will be significantly more crowded than the West Coast, but still worth a visit.

The drive up includes two BC Ferry trips and likely take the entire day from Vancouver. There also are float planes from Vancouver Island that go into several anchorages in Desolation Sound. We’ll head south from Desolation back to our slip in Poulsbo.