13 Feb

A Boater’s Guide to Victoria

When we first arrived in Victoria, I was mildly surprised to find it doesn’t especially cater to the cruising crowd; I mean it’s definitely not like Nanaimo, where the big three (food, booze and boat parts) are all within a short walking distance. But in retrospect it makes more sense to think of Victoria more as the tourist destination it is rather than a cruising mecca despite the numerous marinas. Still, there are a ton of liveaboards here, both permanent and temporary, and I bet the traffic is pretty high in the summer, so it must be a bit difficult for newcomers to find all the necessities.

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A view of the Causeway docks from the museum

So here’s my contribution to the the cruising scene: my Boater’s Guide to Visiting Victoria. These are the places we frequent and all of the services we have found so far.  Pretty much everything is accessible within walking distance, although it is good to have a cart of some sort if you are loading up on heavier items. In terms of traditional shopping, there is too much to mention, so if you are flush with cash and have an urge to spend, Victoria is the place for you. I have tried to  locate as many as possible of the essentials and the complete, interactive version of the map can be found here: Custom Google Map.

Marinas, Groceries & Liquor

There are three main marinas you are likely to stay at:

A: Wharf Street • GVHA (Greater Victoria Harbour Association); very central; close to showers and laundry; right beside busy parking lot and floatplane docks.
B: Causeway (Ship’s Point) • GVHA; right across from the Empress; lots of tourist passersby; these docks are often closed to the public (during the Swiftsure Race, the Boat Show, etc.), so you might have to raft up at Wharf Street.
(w) Showers & Laundry •  4 showers (1 loonie for 3 minutes) with a wheelchair accessible unit, and two large washers and dryers.
(o) GVHA Office • The building on the corner of Wharf and Fort—6th floor. Great people!
C: Coast Victoria Harbourside Hotel & Marina • Use of pool and gym facilities; a bit more isolated; no locked gates – their link.

And there are three grocery locations, all reasonably equidistant from the Wharf Street docks:

1: Save-On Foods • Typical grocery store, a bit more of a hike than the others.
2: Market on Yates • Smaller store, great meat, produce and baked goods, smaller selection.
3: Thrifty’s • Full-service grocery, nice selection.

And of course there are three liquor stores (actually there are a lot more, but these are the three we mainly use):

4: The Strath Liquor Store • A bit touristy with slightly higher prices, great selection of BC wines.
5: Spinnakers Beer Store • An unbelievable selection of local and import craft beers with a small selection of wine and liquor.
6: BC Liquor • Good general selection and good prices.



1: Trotac MarineFull-service chandler for recreational and commercial boaters; too far to walk so take a cab or hop the number 11 bus on Douglas Street between View and Yates.
2: Capital Iron • There’s No Store Like It! Seriously, there just isn’t. A little bit of everything from housewares to marine stuff. A good selection of line, spares like light bulbs, fenders, etc.
3: Quadra Mohawk •  A gas station with full propane services. A bit of a hike, but we use our grocery cart to haul the tanks and it’s manageable.
4: Marine Fuel • Diesel and gasoline as well as used oil disposal.
5: GVHA Pumpout • Uses tokens that can be purchased from the Marina Office, marina dock staff, the fuel dock or Grilligan’s at Fisherman’s Wharf.
6: Customs Dock • Manned during peak season, phone in at other times.

Other Services

1: Jeune Bros Tent & Awning • Not a boating canvas specialist, but they do have a good selection of material and can whip up a BBQ cover if you need one.
2: Post Office/Shoppers Drug Mart • An all-in-one stop for mail, sundries and basic food items.
3: Broad Street Dental • I had to visit an dentist and I highly recommend these guys. Friendly, quality service and they fit me in that day.
4: Monks Office Supply • All the regular stationery supplies as well as copying, colour printing and fax services.
5: GVPL (Public Library) • Lots of room to lounge around, free wireless and computer terminals if you have a membership.
Banks • All the major banks have branches on Douglas Street including (top to bottom) BMO, CIBC, RBC and TD Canada Trust.

A: MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop) • For all things outdoors.
B: The Bay Centre • A standard mall with lots of clothing stores, cell phone retailers and a Sport Chek.
C: 7-Eleven • Lottery tickets, junk food, cigarettes and really cheap hotdogs that aren’t half bad.


There is so much in reach of the docks, but a lot of it is really tourist oriented. Here are just a small few of our favourite haunts. But remember there are tons more things to do and places to eat and it’s well worth exploring.

A: The Joint Pizza • Eat-in or take-out or even by the slice. Great pizza any way you get it.
B: Darcy’s Pub • Not too touristy and live music most nights.
C: Garrick’s Head Pub • Fun brew pub with a rotating section of local craft beers. Real wood-burning fireplace in the back.
D: Ali Baba Pizza • Pizza by the slice. Our go-to lunch eatery.
E: John’s Place • Apparently a must-do for the breakfast crowd, we haven’t made it there yet. A dock mate of ours works there.
Coffee Joints • They are everywhere. Just head east and you will run into 100s of them. Give Murchie’s Tea and Coffee a try (right beside Munro’s) if you want the real old Victoria experience.

1: Crag X Climbing Gym • A great workout in a brand-new facility. Bouldering, top roping and lead climbing—awesome fun.
2: Cineplex Odeon • First-run movie theatre.
3: Munro’s Books • A traditional must for any bibliophile. And Russell Books is just a block and a bit down Fort Street.
4: Royal British Columbia Museum and IMAX • If you are here for a while, get a season’s pass and make it your rainy-day destination.



A: Swartz Bay (BC Ferries) • Ferries leaving to Vancouver as well as the Gulf Islands. About an hour bus ride ($2.50) from downtown Victoria.  The #70 is more direct than the #72.
B: Victoria International Airport • Around $55 to $60 for a cab, or two buses from downtown.
C: Inner Harbour Ferries • The Victoria Clipper makes daily high-speed runs (walk-on only) to Seattle and the M.V. Coho (vehicles and passengers) crosses to Port Angeles several times a day.
Float Plane Dock • Right beside the Wharf Street docks, you can catch Harbour Air‘s flights to Vancouver or Gulf Island destinations or Kenmore Air to Seattle.

Some Easy Sailing Destinations

1: Royal Cove, Portland Island • A great anchorage that is an easy one-day trip from Victoria.
2: Sidney Marina • A nice marina in the lovely little town of Sidney. Home of a couple of charter companies and a great place to shop … especially for old books. Around the corner is Tsehum Harbour with fuel, haulouts and more.
3: Roche Harbor, USA • A short sail away and a wonderful place to overnight, either on the docks or anchored (we like Garrison Bay just a bit south from there). It makes a better stopover place in shoulder season when it’s not so busy.
4: Butchart Gardens • You can visit Butchart by bus, but a better way to do it is to sail there. Free private mooring balls and your own back door into this magical garden. Great for any season.

The Wharf Street docks

Wrap Up

Disclaimer: Victoria is still new to us. We’d visited as tourists but never really bothered to learn the city. I know that I’ve missed a lot in this brief list and I might just keep adding to it—minus the maps, they’re just too much work :-). I will keep updating the online version, though, to match any text I add.

Hopefully this will help someone else’s visit to this beautiful city go a bit smoother.


09 Feb

A Holiday Monday Sail

Monday was a holiday in BC. It was warm, sunny and blowing 5 to 15 in the San Juan East Entrance so we decided to go for a sail. Actually it turns out it wasn’t much of an original idea as several other boats cast off as well and we all went out to enjoy the day. It took an hour or so to get the boat ready, but eventually we cast off. Once we cleared the Victoria harbour entrance we rolled out the sails and decided to head dead downwind and try and make it out to Race Rocks.

Route-SailRed line for our trip out downwind; Blue line for the close hauled trip back (rough approximations)

I’d recently gotten my preventer situation all sorted out, so I was eager to give the new system a try. The winds were blowing about 12 knots just off the dock, but by the time we were clear of the harbour they had settled down to about 8…perfect for some wing on wing action. Once we got it rigged correctly (I managed to forget about going under the jib sheets and tried a few variations on which winch I was going to use), Leslie sailed for a couple of hours with little or no effort required. It’s amazing how much easier it is to sail downwind when you only have to worry about luffing the jib.


Now Hunters aren’t known for their downwind performance due to the B&R rig (our spreaders are swept back so you can’t put the mainsail out as far and our small jib doesn’t help much—see the image above) but I have to say, in light winds we do pretty good. We were doing 2.5 knots in about 6 knots of breeze and 4-ish in the 8 to 9 knots.

The HMCS Whitehorse (a Kingston class coastal defence ship) popped out of Esquimalt as we headed south and eventually got on our track before veering to port and then coming up along side. Since Leslie had gone below and it looked like I would have to jibe anyway, I also went to port to see if I could scare them. After all I was a sailboat and had the right of way. I let go the preventer from the cockpit, centered the main and jibed all by myself much to L’s consternation. Still, it proved the system worked. Unfortunately for me, I had misjudged the Whitehorse’s speed and she passed by without really noticing us. Eventually she crossed back in front of us and went to stooge around in Pedder Bay.

Victoria from about half way to Race Rocks. If you squint really hard you can see Mount Baker centre-right)

As we approached the lighthouse on Race Rocks we decided not to run the passage and simple came in close. The water was starting to churn up so we decided to tack around and start heading back upwind. The winds had start to slowly build so by the time we hit Race Rocks the apparent wind was around 11 knots. As we swung around and headed up wind it banged up to around 15 knots and of course the current had changed so we hit really choppy water where minutes before it had been calm and peaceful. So we decided to try a reef.

I had been doing a lot of reading about reefing Hunter’s big roller furling main and decided to try out a few of the theories. All in all they worked like a charm:

  • first, rather than trying to judge how much sail we had reefed by trying to look a the boom which is mostly obscured by our enclosure, I used the mast. We rolled in the main until the top of the sail hit the top spreader which, as it turns out, is about 6 feet in.
  • second, rather than turning up into the wind, we just loosened the mail sheet and vang and let the boom swing out. This allowed us to maintain some way with just the jib.
  • third, rather than screwing with going on deck and engaging the furling ratchet, we controlled the sail with the furling lines. I tailed the outhaul, while Leslie, leaving the furl-out line uncleated, pulled on the furl-in line until we were a bit past the top spreader. Then we locked off the furling lines and tightened the sail with the outhaul.
  • Then we pulled in the main sheet and powered up the main, going from about 2 knots to almost 6.

It all went pretty smoothly. At least smoother than a lot of our previous reefing scenarios. I think there is something to be said for the “simplicity” of a traditional main when it comes to reefing. At least in the process. But I imagine with a bit more practice this too will start to seem simple. And it turns out the top spreader is a perfect reef point for about 14 to 18 knots of wind. We were heeled about 10–20° most of the time the winds were in that range and the weather helm was pretty negligible.


Of course the winds weren’t going to be that cooperative. After our first tack, they started to climb and now ranged from 19 to 21 knots. Another reef was looking necessary. But since we weren’t really going anywhere and we had cleared Albert Head, we just tacked again and settled into steady 17 to 19 knots which was pretty comfortable with the reef we had in.

By this time we and all the fishing boats had been joined by the HMCS Ottawa, one of our Halifax class frigates. She came out of Esquimault and also started stooging around, mostly off our starboard. When I turned towards her she scurried off so I guess we’re just plain scary. Or my sailing is… On one of our tacks she did get close enough to our stern that we got a good impression of her size. I am not sure what the two RCN ships were doing but they were tracking back and forth in a definite pattern so it was some sort of training exercise.

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

As we came back towards Victoria we crossed paths with a Nauticat 33 with all three sails up and (I) immediately started racing. I certainly have a career in racing slower boats because we caught up and passed them in no time at all. It must be weird sailing one of those from high up on the stern. We tacked back and forth a couple of times still experiencing winds anywhere from 16 to 21 knots but the Nauticat tacked a lot less and plodded along quite steadily. For us, it was a lot of fun and a 25–30° heel doesn’t seem so bad if it’s not happening because of gusts.

(image courtesy of nauticat.com)

They eventually dropped their sails outside the breakwater while we tacked once more and sailed right up to the coast guard station. On the way in we spotted SpringTide which is the big whale watching cruiser that is normally tied up off our bow, so I knew we had an easy docking ahead of us with lots of extra room. We fired up the engine and pulled down the sails in the outer harbour and slowly motored back to our berth.

As we pulled into our spot the wind was pushing us off the dock which was a first for us in Victoria. I muffed it a bit so was glad for the extra room courtesy of the missing SpringTide. One of our dock mates was also on hand to grab a line but Leslie wisely demurred from handing him her midship line and tossed him the bow line instead. It never pays for us to vary our docking routine and while I am pretty sure this guy was way more salty than I will ever be, we’ve had a few bad experiences with dockside “help”.

It was a great day on the water followed by a couple of cold ones to close it off.

A Word on Dock Gravity

It seems we haven’t done as much sailing as I had intended when we got to Victoria. One of the reasons why is that a liveaboard boat in the marina quickly becomes unsailable without a lot of work. We have an electronic checklist that goes through all the major tasks to get her ready for the water, including untying all the things we have tied down and tying down a bunch of things we don’t. We put everything away and clear off all the tables etc. but inevitably, as soon as you start to heel, all hell breaks loose and all the drawers and cupboards you haven’t latched come flying open and things that you thought were stable suddenly gain momentum and bang and crash down below.

On our trip today this was pretty incremental. A few bounces in the 10 knots, a few bangs and crashes in the 18 knots and a couple of monumental clangs in the 21 (that was mostly the tea kettle breaking loose and, I think, a couple of cans from the forward locker). I suppose we will learn, but it never fails that something goes for a ride no matter how much we prepare.

Coming back in you have another good hour or so of battening and organizing to do to get back to liveaboard mode. Running rigging need to be secured against banging, extra dock lines and fenders put out for those stormy nights, enclosure needs to be all snugged down again, sailing gear stored out of the way, cushions piled and tucked out of the way and of course all the books need to come out from the nooks and crannies we had stuffed them in. After a great sail like that it does all seems worth while, but after a few days or weeks have passed you get more and more reluctant to go through it all just for a few hours of fun. I’ll have to be sure to come back and read this post again the next time I get wingey about wanting to go sailing…