05 Jun

Early-Season Cruising In Desolation Sound

Our cruising career, as short as it’s been, is notable for one somewhat atypical feature. Our first cruise and learn was at the end of April, we’ve spent June in the Broughtons, circumnavigated Vancouver Island in late May and are once again enjoying May — and now June — cruising Desolation Sound. Sure, we have done some chartering in July and last year spent August in the Broughtons, but all in all it seems we have spent an unusual amount of time avoiding the high season and crowded anchorages.

And you know what? I am beginning to think I like it that way.

Leaving Sturt, we decided to head up to Rebecca Spit on Quadra Island. It seemed we might still need to stay in cellphone/internet range and I also wanted to check in on Peter and his boat Kismet. Peter is a young fellow we shared the dock with in Victoria. He spends his summer guiding kayaks with an outfit out of Heriot Bay, so he had bought a small sailboat to live on while he was there. He’d left Victoria a week before us, and I wanted to check in, catch up and maybe buy him a beer. The day after we dropped anchor off Rebecca Spit, I motored over to Heriot Bay to find Kismet tied up to the government dock but no sign of Peter. I left a note saying we’d be around for a few days, but he never got back to us — likely out on a multi-day trip. Or maybe he didn’t like free beer.


A very quiet afternoon at Rebecca Spit

We were one of only three boats at Rebecca Spit. And all three of us stayed at least three days. This, I think, is one of the things I like so much about early-season cruising. Last year on our way up to the Broughtons in late July we stopped for the night in Squirrel Cove. It was packed. We actually cruised around for almost half an hour trying to find a spot to anchor that suited our sensibilities and my poor ability to judge distances. And then, once we hit the Broughtons a week later, we were sharing anchorages with one or two other boats at the most. Much better. I may not be getting much practice making decisions on where to anchor in busy anchorages, but I think the benefits of having anchorages to ourselves outweigh the losses to my skill set.

On the way back from my visit to Kismet, I saw a parade going up the spit toward the picnic grounds. Turns out it was the local May Day celebration and the town was out in full force despite the slight rain. I collected Leslie and we wandered around and enjoyed the festivities that seemed to have a steampunk theme. We briefly considered (and then thought the better of) challenging the locals at the greased pole climbing contest. After a bit we climbed back into Laughing Baby and headed back over to Heriot Bay and had a coffee at the local shop in order to use their wifi to move some files around.

I love and miss small towns. While I waited in line, the barista ran out of whole milk, so the customer in front of me volunteered to walk over to the store and get some. “Sure,” said the barista, “tell them to put on my account.” That just doesn’t happen in the city.

After three quiet nights on the hook we wandered over to Taku Resort — again we were the only boat on the dock — and enjoyed another benefit of early-season cruising: their low-season rate of $1.15/foot with power included. Considering their regular rate was around $1.75, it was unlikely we would stay there without the discount. Actually, I also checked at the Heriot Bay Inn and Marina and their low-season rate was an amazing $0.50/foot. After we tied up we hauled our accumulated laundry up the hill, charged up the batteries and topped up the water tank. One last trip to Heriot Bay to get a few fresh provisions and the next morning we were ready to go.


All alone at Taku Resort.

Next we made the short trip through Uganda Passage on our way to Gorge Harbour. Either our chart plotter is wrong or the green buoys have drifted south, but our track through the passage off Shark Spit had us on the wrong side of the buoys as we negotiated the s-turn. When we came back the next day I kept an eye on the depth sounder, and if I had to guess, I would say the chart plotter was correct and the buoys had moved — but I wouldn’t put any money on it.

At Gorge we motored into the far west end to drop our hook. The docks at the Gorge Harbour Resort were empty except for one boat, and it looked like we were the only transients at anchor (one sailboat did join us at anchor later that evening). Leslie had had the helm from castoff to arrival so we (I) decided to switch our usual roles for anchoring as well. Normally she “mans” the windlass and I look after the helm, but we both need practice at the other’s jobs. What made this anchoring more difficult than usual is that the bay was crowded with moored boats — some swinging and some moored fore and aft — and even more empty mooring buoys. We needed to judge the distances so that our greater swing wouldn’t send us into these static targets if the wind came up. And of course the anchor decided to drag for one of the first times ever. Eventually we got a good hold, but then wind or current or something decided to move us over our chain and we ended up on the opposite side of the anchor. But it was all good and we had a quiet night — albeit a bit closer to one moored boat than we had anticipated.


The harbour was populated by a family of geese with goslings in that awkward teenage phase. I can’t say I have ever seen Canada geese in such a disreputable state before, with half grown-in feathers and a seemingly sun-faded colouration. We were also entertained by both a kingfisher and the local otter fishing for dinner — the otter seemed to have much better success. Speaking of dinner, the highlight of ours was when I dropped the ceramic bowl of tomato salad, laden with onions, garlic and olive oil, on the companionway steps. It, predictably, shattered and the bowl shards, salad and oil exploded, managing to land in three separate cabins, just as I need to get the chops off the BBQ and the orzo out of the water. I treated myself to an extra glass of wine for dinner. Desert was still-warm brownies that Leslie had whipped up, so with that, and the wine, in the end all turned out good.


Before dinner we did row up to the resort, but the restaurant was closed and the store held nothing appealing except Leslie finally found a copy of The Curve of Time. Everywhere we went last year people asked if we had read it and we had seen copies for sale at every stop. But after we had decided to buy it this spring, it was out of stock every place we checked from Sidney to Desolation. The bookseller in Madeira Park had copies backordered and figured it was because Whitecap had put out an anniversary edition hardcover and it must have sold out. But we finally have our own copy.

The next morning we figured Gorge just wasn’t where the cool kids were, so we decided to move on. I had wanted to visit Von Donop Inlet, and it has a reputation as a must-do that was often crowded. It seemed perfect for an early-season visit. It was only a short two and half hour motor, so we raised anchor at around 11 am and, after fuelling up at the resort, headed back toward Uganda Passage and then turned north to follow the coast of Cortes Island. There was one sailboat boat anchored at the lagoon, two in the next small bay and we joined three others and two powerboats in the bigger bay at the far south end. Plenty of room for everyone.

I did notice that all of the sailboats here were outfitted as serious cruisers. Actually since we left Nanaimo we haven’t really seen very many Hunters or Beneteaus or other boats of that ilk other than ones from charter companies. Still, Never for Ever, Hunter that she is, is serving us just fine, even if she’s not as fancy or well outfitted. We are grateful for the “full” enclosure to keep the wind and rain out of the cockpit, and I find myself wishing we had invested in a generator or some solar to extend our visits at anchorages. Even a larger alternator would help, because after 3 or 4 nights on the hook, motoring is not enough to put charge back into the batteries for another extended stay.


Jellyfish photography is hard!

It’s beautiful here in Von Donop and we are getting a bit of rain that transforms the hilly scenery into a misty and mystical place. The other bays are worth exploring by dinghy and there are trails here as well so we plan to do some hiking. And oddly enough, we have a better cell signal here than we did at Gorge.

The plan as it stands now is to stay here a couple of days, then head off to Grace Harbour. But who really knows what we’ll do? We don’t.


Exploring the entrance to the lagoon in Van Donop


Our version of a quiet evening stroll


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