A day in Desolation Sound
A major attraction for local cruisers beyond Puget Sound are the areas north from the Straits of Juan de Fuca which is the beginning of the inside passage to Alaska. In Seattle you can always tell when the cruising season has started by the appearance of three large cruise ships in downtown Seattle. Each of these cruise ships are engaged in taking you and two thousand of your closest friends up the inside passage. For those of us that are more insular, I would be in this group, we choose a more intimate means of transport. A 40’ sailboat will do nicely for me. Then there is the more adventuress who choose the Race to Alaska which started in Port Townsend and ended in Ketchikan, Alaska. There is excellent coverage in 48º North.
Crossing Straits of Georgia toward Desolation Sound
The seductiveness of this area is rich with possibilities. There is the big open deep water of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Straits of Georgia to the deep fjords of Desolation Sound and the San Juan and Gulf islands. Orcas, dolphins, and sea lions are frequently encountered. There are many small coves for a quiet evening anchorage.
From my reading prior to the trip several issues became apparent. I had never used a stern tie anchor along with a bow anchor, nor had I any experience with 16′ tidal changes. The other issues that surfaced during the trip were places for food, fuel, fresh water, garbage disposal, pump outs and showers. Finally, it is a small area and “in season” it can be very busy and “out of season” its empty! The last factor might be whether to go in a sailboat or a motor vessel.
Anchoring in many of the small coves requires good skills & technique. My first choice is to survey the area for suitable depths/sea floors and noting both the tidal range with current depth and charted depth. In many anchorages the sea floor only shallows up very close to shore and the seabed angle may be acute (20-40°). Typical depths away from shore may be 50 feet or greater. The other problem with 16 foot tide ranges, is an area with a current depth of 20 feet based on your depth sounder may be exposed rocks & wetlands at low tide.
Rocks at low tide.
We passed over these rocks, in the above picture, with 20 feet of depth at high tide. The chart showed wetlands but no rocks. We also evaluated the scope of our bow anchor rode. We used a 5:1 ratio at high tide on the bow. Once the anchor was dropped and set , by backing on it, two persons took a line off the stern to shore and tied it to a tree, rock of ring in the rock. At low tide allowed a small amount of slack for the rising tide and also tied a floating fender at the mid point.
In planning a trip to Desolation Sound fuel, water, groceries, and pump out should be done at Lund on east side of the Straits of Georgia or one of the areas close to the Campbell River on the island side. The Waggoner’s Cruising Guide is invaluable for this sort of information. Frequently, you can download the pdf version from there website at no charge! My advice is minimize your garbage. The barge in Refuge Cove is the only place that will accept garbage for money. All the small marinas will not take garbage and frequently do not have extra water to fill your tanks. Planning ahead and conservation are the best options.
Garbage Barge in Refuge Cove
The busiest season is July thru early September. Make you marina reservations in advance. Although June is frequently cold and raining, it is an opportunity to meet many of the locals and have fewer concerns about finding anchorages and marinas.
Navigational & Weather Challenges
I began to understand the challenges of traveling to Desolation Sound and the Broughtons early in my reading about Johnstone Straits. Anecdotal statements of “I would never do this again” to “No worries it was beautiful” capture the wind and tidal dynamics of this area. When you are pushing 16 feet of water though channels with considerable topographic/bathymetric changes and add 35 knots of wind you have the makings of a bad time for sailboats that can only move at 5 knots. Timing is everything. Seymour Narrows at 13.9 knots is the extreme example.
Desolation Sound & Broughtons
This chart provides an overview of the entire area. Since tidal current and timing is a primary factor, understanding whether the flood & ebb are from the Georgia Straits of the Queen Charlotte Sound is a good beginning.
The channels on the “A” side of the dashed red line flood & ebb with the Georgia Straits. Channels on the “B” side of the dashed red line are linked to the Queen Charlotte Sound. This helps for channels that are oriented in a north-south direction. Those channels oriented in an east-west are more problematic. The NOAA tidal current predictions for Canada were also helpful. They state the direction of ebb and flood in degrees. The Canadian Tide and Current Tables volumes 5,6,& 7 are available both in print and on the internet.
With significant tidal currents, rapids, and whirlpools the wind can make the sea state conditions easier or ugly. Forty knot winds out of the northwest are fairly common on Johnstone Straits especially in the afternoon. Checking the weather on either the VHF or internet and then the tides can lead to really nice transits. Remaining in port during forty knot winds opposing the tide is a sound decision. Enjoy the place where you are instead of creating a epic that is driven by schedule. I’ve made that mistake and have been blessed by good luck. A careful retrospective analysis has said to me “if one thing went wrong” you would be calling the Coast Guard. That is a poor decision! If you check the canadian weather online be aware that under the “current conditions” tab you can access buoys & land stations the provide weather in the last hour. There are two buoys in the straits of Georgia.
0600 hours 6/16/2015 @ Everett, Washington.
Judy & I are up for showers, coffee & breakfast before heading to the Kenmore air base on the north end of Lake Washington.
Sea base for Kenmore Air
After an 0800 checkin we boarded the plane at 0900 for an hour and a half flight to Nanaimo, BC. I got the copilots seat as you can see from the video below.
There were low clouds until we were north of Port Townsend and then it was blue skies & sunshine.
Sea Plane Dock in North Nanaimo
Despite planning before the trip, we landed three miles north of the city marina. So I taxied to the city marina by the ferry landing to meet Ken and the crew at the fuel dock. The crew was a mixture of both experience and talent. Jon had sailed with Ken on the previous trip north and is an experienced sailor/navigator frequently spotted with a big camera. Some of these pictures are his shots. Wendy was a source of prior experience in these waters and had used maps before GPS. She came with maps, guide books and local information. Geoff was the boats “MacGyver”. He had good knowledge about the boats mechanical & electrical systems and would frequently improvise. Irene brought several talents. Most notably joy was frequently shared with all crew. Not only is she a capable seawoman but also prepared some lovely meals. Everyone was busy. Taking on fuel, water while others went for groceries.
Gallows Point leaving Nanaimo
At 1330 hours we were out of the harbor and passing Gallows Point on an NE heading to skirt Wiskey Gulf and then turn NW for Secret Cove marina. Before crossing the strait check with the coast guard if you plan on transiting thru Wiskey Gulf since it is a live fire area.
Route to Secret Cove marina
We motored across the straits, no wind, and skirted the south end of South Thormanby Island before turning NW thru the Welcome Passage and then NE into Secret Cove marina around 1900 hours to tie up for the night. The marina, part of Sunshine Coast, has lovely showers, got grocery store, fuel and a lovely resturant. This would be our last chance for snack food favorites, beer, showers before heading north to Desolation Sound in the morning.
0800 hours 6/17/2015 @ Secret Cove BC
With showers done we glided out of the docks and headed NW up the Malaspina Strait between Texada Island and the mainland. Our destination for the day is Mansons Landing (N50°04.494′ W124°58.898′) on the west side of Cortes Island. It is about 55nm NW of Secret Cove.
Secret Cove to Manson Landing
At about 1700 hours we reached Mansons Landing. We settled down for an evening of dinner in the cockpit and admiring the late evening light of the north.
Evening light at Masons Landing BC
We were now at the north end of the Georgia Straits and in the morning we will pull the hook and head east for Refuge Cove,