Best of the West

Celebrate summer cruising with our choice of our favourite boating spots and experiences on the West Coast.

This month, to celebrate summer and the best of the boating season, we’ve assembled a roster of prime cruising spots, activities and diversions. They’re not intended to be “bests” by any means – that would really be stepping out on a log boom! – but favourites selected by ourselves and some of our regular contributors.

We’d love to hear what you think of our choices – and we’d love to hear about your favourites. We’re interested in the categories you see below, as well as any other destinations or activities that inspire you to get out boating: marinas, bistros, beaches, hiking trails, fishing or kayaking spots, viewpoints, boating events or celebrations, lazy day hangouts…whatever spins your prop! Email comments and suggestions to duartsnow@kerrwil.com, tell us what, where and why, and we’ll assemble your stories and photos into a future article. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

For now, we invite you to settle in on your boat, reach for something cool and enjoy our favourites.

Marine Park: Newcastle Island
By Duart Snow

When the BC coast offers an abundance of marine parks in wild and far-flung places, a park that lies less than a mile off one of Vancouver Island’s largest cities might seem an unlikely “favourite.” But Newcastle Island has been exceptionally good to us over the years: we land here year after year and we never leave disappointed. We’ve begun and ended many cruises here, made new friends and met old ones, tramped its trails and its beaches, swum in its waters, and lazed on deck while the sun set over Vancouver Island and the lights of Nanaimo winked on. Our dachshund Rosie literally grew up and grew old here; she no longer does the eight-kilometre trek around the island with us but she’s still up for hunting beach crabs on the shoreline close to the park docks. We were even inspired to buy our present trawler by folks we met here, so returning in Thea feels like coming home.

These days, Newcastle is our base for exploring Nanaimo as it morphs from a gritty industrial port to a cosmopolitan city with a rich food and cultural scene. And if you don’t feel like cooking or crossing the harbour for provisions, the coast’s most unique marine pub, The Dinghy Dock, beckons about 150 oar pulls away. How much better can the cruising life get?

Honourable Mentions: Montague Harbour, Rebecca Spit

Duart Snow is editor of Canadian Yachting West.
Ready to ramble: Newcastle beckons when it’s time for a walk. Credit: Jan Snow
The docks at Newcastle Island draw cruisers and locals alike. Credit: Duart Snow

Anchorage: Murray Labyrinth
By William Kelly

The challenge in selecting a favourite anchorage, at least for me, is that there are so many beautiful coves and bays along our coast it seems a shame to leave any unmentioned. But when I really need to put my tired brain to rest, I think of the remote anchorages beyond Johnstone Strait. There are many quiet and protected anchorages from the Broughton Archipelago to Bella Bella and these are the places that really keep me interested in owning a boat. One that sticks in my mind is Murray Labyrinth, a very difficult anchorage to get into – but even more difficult to leave because of its absolute serenity and beauty.

Located 12 miles south of Cape Caution, Murray Labyrinth is a pristine and rewarding destination for cruisers who like to navigate intricate shorelines. It is encircled by islets, rocks and reefs but there are safe ingresses from two directions. The preferred entrance is from the southwest, as shown clearly on Chart 3921 with detail of the dog-leg channel that cuts between the islets. This entrance follows a 12’ trench clear of kelp in a northeasterly direction to two islands where the first 45-degree turn to port is made. The more daunting entrance from the north has ample depth in a narrow channel but is best reconnoitered first by dinghy.

Once inside, the best spot to anchor is on the southeast side, away from a rock that lies in the middle of the anchorage. The entire cove is quite sheltered with only the odd weak gust disturbing the serenity. We have been secure here when Egg Island was reporting a gale, but within Murray Labyrinth only the treetops moved. There is little current running through the anchorage and holding is very good in sticky mud and sand.

This has been a favourite anchorage of ours for many years and we linger here as long as possible. The area immediately south of Cape Caution is often very quiet as most cruisers focus on getting around the cape and overlook these beautiful islands at the entrance to Seymour Inlet. This is utopia for those who enjoy puttering about in the dinghy, with miles of shoreline, numerous little passages and dozens of islets to explore. Local wildlife we've seen has included killer whales (a little further north around the corner from Skull Cove), humpback whales (south of McEwan Rock), seals, kingfishers, red-throated loons and various sea ducks.

Honourable Mentions: Fury Island, Booker Lagoon

Read more about Murray Labyrinth and hundreds of other anchorages in the new Second Edition of ‘Best Anchorages of the Inside Passage’ by William Kelly and Anne Vipond, available this fall. This new edition covers anchorages and ports from Victoria to beyond Cape Caution. Bill and Anne have been writing about cruising and anchorages along the BC coast for more than 30 years.

Peaceful and pristine, Murray Labyrinth is worth the challenge of navigating your way inside. CREDIT: Ocean Cruise Guides

Waterfront Pub: The Lighthouse, Saturna Island
By Cherie Thiessen

Like a port in a storm, a pub at the end of the day’s cruise is a good thing indeed.  To rate highly with this skipper and crew, a pub has to meet exacting standards: great views and ambiance, friendly service, tasty grub at popular prices, and a bevy of brews and house wine selections. After an evening spent sampling local grains and grapes, we are not into hauling up anchor and going in search of a lee shore, so proximity to the anchorage is also way up there.

There’s usually space for our C&C 25 to snug up at the 200’ CRD Small Craft Harbours dock at Lyall Harbour, where the Lighthouse beams out its welcome. Failing that, we can always find anchorage in the harbour, tucked around Saturna Point where we are sheltered from all but northwest winds.  

A new deck added last year has doubled the pub’s views of sunsets and the ferries coming and going in Plumper Sound.  If we were any closer to the action we’d be walking on water.

The friendly staff love to share their island’s charms with visitors, resulting in good pub vibes. Lighthouse nachos are legendary as is the sockeye salmon on sourdough. Named after the Victoria brewery, the pub pumps out lots of popular suds like Tasman Pale Ale and Keepers Stout. It’s also where the locals hang out and that always adds to the fun.

Honorable Mentions: Springwater Lodge, Mayne Island; Dinghy Dock Pub, Protection Island; Port Browning Pub, North Pender Island

Cherie Thiessen is a longtime Pender Island resident who has enjoyed boating on the West Coast and in the Gulf Islands for almost a half-century. She and her partner cruise in a C&C 25 that they find perfectly adequate, never having been infected with “two-foot-it is.”

Location, location: Saturna’s Lighthouse Pub boasts a stunning sunset view of southern Gulf Island waters. Credit: Cherie Thiessen

Sunset: Henry Bay, Denman Island
By Duart Snow

Last August’s hot spell was at its peak when we slipped into this expansive bay at the north end of Baynes Sound, on our way north of Desolation Sound. And if winter hadn’t intervened we might still be there! The sun beat down on the bay and the beach, the heat lay trapped in the bowl between Denman and Vancouver islands, and our only recourse was to pop frosty ones and tumble into the cool water…time after time. Henry Bay felt almost tropical and unlike almost anywhere else on the coast. No wonder it’s a favourite with folks from nearby Comox and Courtenay.

At the end of each day, evening brought relief from the heat and a starry show in the cloudless sky – but not before a pink sunset over the Comox Valley promised yet another delicious day of clear skies, hot sun and beach time. So Henry Bay earns Thea’s nod for her favourite sunset…and possibly her new favourite summer hangout as well!

Honourable Mentions: Sidney Spit, anywhere in Haida Gwaii  

Summer sunset at Henry Bay. Credit: Duart Snow

Swimming Hole: Tent Island
By Cherie Thiessen

For me, one of the glories of a West Coast summer is that sea dip on a hot day, ideally while at anchor. Anyone who has ever cruised in the Gulf Islands knows how brutally cold their waters can be, so the trick is to know where to find the warmest waters. Teenie Tent Island, in Stuart Channel off the southeast tip of Penelakut Island, is such a place. We anchor at its southern end in about nine feet of water. One reason for the water’s warmth is its shallowness, so stay well out and don’t be caught by a falling tide. The anchorage is usually sheltered in summer, with only occasional westerlies or wakes from passing craft.

In addition to its warm water, convenient location, ease of anchoring and the sandy beach, the nearby lagoon boasts bathtub-like temperatures.

Tent Island was managed as a provincial park until the mid-‘70s when management was transferred to the Penelakut First Nation, so those going ashore or wishing to pitch tents should contact the band office at 250-246-2321.

Honorable Mentions: Saturna Beach, Breezy Bay; Bennett Bay, Mayne Island

Cherie Thiessen tests the waters at Tent Island. Credit: David Dossor

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