Cruising Report No. 3
Campbell River to the Gulf Islands
Weather-wise it has been a spectacular summer for our main cruising areas. I am now working my way down through the Gulf Islands.
Leaving the Boat in Campbell River
Mid last month, I left my boat in Campbell River Harbour Authority Fisherman’s Wharf and rented a car to get back to Anacortes and the Seattle area to attend to business and family matters. Moorage was very inexpensive since I asked for and got the monthly rate. It turns out that it almost always makes sense to ask for a monthly rate when you are mooring the boat for ten days or more.
Budget Car Rental has three locations in Campbell River, and while the rental car for 16 days was not inexpensive, it made sense because there were two of us and more luggage and gear than would be practical on a float or wheel plane. For me, it also works out well as I use the car to see marinas and customers along the way on Vancouver Island. When I arrived back at the boat, the car was pretty full with gear (including provisions purchased in Canada) and set for another month and a half of cruising and working.
Tip: When I hear people say, “I just can’t be away for that long to cruise up north…” I remind them that they can leave the boat and rent a car, or take a float plane to go home for a few days or even two weeks to break up a trip and attend to family and business needs back home. There are a lot of transportation options between wheel plane flights, float planes, ferries and rental cars and even a shuttle bus or Greyhound that runs the length of Vancouver Island. It sometimes takes a little creative thinking to connect the transportation dots to get back to the Seattle or Washington areas.
New Coast Discovery Marina Dockside Fish & Chips in Campbell River.
Before we departed, we stopped by the Coast Discovery Marina. It ‘s nice to see new life here. The new owner expanded the seafood restaurant with a large deck for dining right on the water. The local favorite Dick’s Fish & Chips has moved to a new location, across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf Marina. It is still very good and with a short line out the door almost every evening. Crabby Bob’s Seafood is also there. If you like to eat seafood, Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to be.
Gibsons, Bowen Island and Union Steamship Co. Marina
My departure from Campbell River coincided with a weather window. My goal was to take the boat down to the Howe Sound area to stop in at the town of Gibsons and then on to Bowen Island. An early morning departure from Campbell River had me cruising against the ebb current in Discovery Passage. Even a knot and a half of current against you feels painful. I pushed through it past Cape Mudge and Middlenatch Island, and now the ebb was my friend, still an ebb but pulling the other way around Vancouver Island giving me a knot and a half bonus on my boat speed for the next 4 hours under brilliant sunshine and calm seas. A pleasant reminder of how the seas meet around Middlenatch Island. Time your passage right and you can get a boost as a result of the currents.
Crossing the Strait of Georgia with Vancouver in the distance. Flat calm.
I was pushing my schedule that day with a plan to cover 80 miles, a long cruising day. The weather charts for later that day and the next showed gale force winds building in the Strait of Georgia. As the day progressed and we made our way south, the wind did pick up to about 25 knots from the Northwest under sunny skies, tolerable with the following sea. I often had to hand-steer when the autopilot became overwhelmed when racing down a wave.
My plan was to get to Gibsons and meet with customers and check out the marinas at the tail end of Friday, and then Saturday cruise around Keats Island and the east side of Bowen Island protected from the winds in the Strait of Georgia. It turned out to be the right plan when the winds kicked up as predicted and made for some ugly conditions on the Strait of Georgia. Making a long day’s cruise on one day allowed me to take the protected route the next.
Gibsons is always a treat. Nothing has changed in the marinas, though significant changes are imminent as things get closer to the start of a planned community on the harbor waterfront above the Gibsons Marina called “The George.” The marina was purchased several years ago by the same owner/developer of “The George.”
In the 2016 Waggoner Cruising Guide, we jumped the gun a little bit. We were told the Hyak Fuel Dock had been purchased by Gibsons Marina. Even though the signs were changed last year, we found out this was not true at this point. The Hyak Fuel Dock is still a separate business. Upgrades were being made to the fuel systems, and Hyak Marine had their same great service.
The town was hopping with summer tourists. Signs were up showing what “The George” might look like, and the sales center had been moved up into the main business area. It looks impressive with multi-story condos with retail stores and restaurants down below, but you can’t help but wonder whether it will take some of the small town charms away from Gibsons.
One surprise was the Gibsons Public Market building was under massive construction. They decided to squeeze in another floor to the building. Near as we can tell, they built a new foundation with a lower and upper level and then placed the old cupola to the building right on top. It will be impressive when finished, and just a stone’s throw from “The George” project. It will be open six days a week with a restaurant, food vendors, etc. It will be spectacular. In the meantime, many of the same vendors are part of the Friday Farmers Market, now held in Dougall Park, until September 30th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Union Steamship – a classic marina resort.
Saturday was blustery and windy but protected in Howe Sound as we cruised to Snug Cove and the Union Steamship Co. Marina. When we arrived, it was the weekend for Dock Dance, an annual event to raise money for the Bowen Island Fire Department. They take the dock and turn it into a giant party with bands and drinks – and yes – a lot of dancing. The party goes on until about 2 a.m., and the marina is kind enough to call their guests ahead of time and warn them that quiet Snug Cove would be rocking that night. This annual event has become very popular, and you can no longer depend on tickets being available at the door on the day of the event. Tickets are now allocated and getting harder to attain. If you would like to join in the fun next year, check with Union Steamship Co. Marina dock staff to see how tickets are being distributed.
Look for the new work building at Union Steamship Co. Marina. While a new work building is not a big deal, this one shows the creativity of owner (and architect) Rondy Dike. He carries the nautical theme of the resort through exterior decorative touches such as the stern of a boat on one end of the building, or an old boat hull sawed in half and upside down, forming the cover over one of the entrances. Beautiful landscaping on the road side of the building and a new coffee and mini-donut shop at the end of the building are touches that people would not expect. What you won’t see, but will experience next season, is the rebuilt docks that will go through their transformation in the building. No more rocking docks after this winter season at this well-managed and popular marina.
Now it was time to get over to the Gulf Islands starting in Silva Bay. The weather report from Environment Canada called for winds from 15-20 on Monday morning. An early departure from Snug Cove resulted in no wind and glassy seas almost all the way to Silva Bay.
Nasty Shipyard Rock at low tide in Silva Bay.
It was the end of the long holiday weekend, and there was a stream of boats exiting Silva Bay as we arrived. Like ducklings, they streamed their way around Shipyard Rock. At low tide, you can see the ugly rocks on the south side that sometimes catch and hold an unsuspecting boat when they take that route instead of the north.
The Silva Bay Marina is much the same as it has been. The coffee stand was unfortunately closed for the season. The gallery and the boatyard are still open along with the liquor store and the pub.
Page’s Marina Resort looks as good as ever, even after a busy holiday weekend. The office and store continue to carry an excellent selection of books. What many do not know is they also sell milk, eggs, and other essential groceries.
Beautiful Pirates Cove.
Next, it was time to head through Gabriola Pass and check out Degnen Bay. There was some room at the provincial dock, but nothing remarkable on shore. On to Pirates Cove, where each year I check to make sure the markings at the entrance are clear. Even though we clearly describe the entrance, I watched a sailboat approach and slowly hit the reef by putting the red mark to his port side. Red-Right-Return… it works. Pirates Cove was full of boats all enjoying this beautiful marine park with its hiking trails and pretty views.
The beach at Herring Bay in Ruxton Passage.
Nearby we stopped in Herring Bay on the northwest corner of Ruxton Island where several families were swimming and enjoying the white shell beach on this sunny day.
The LMS Marina docks are always a delight. Each year there are new improvements. The Oyster Bay Cafe is now open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m for breakfast and lunch. A new cook is turning out some very tasty food items. Instead of a series of tents, LMS invested in a large tent that has room for 100 people and is used for special events including open mic night and informal happy hours around the provided grills. Their Dine on the Dock events have been a huge success this summer and have been selling out. There is still one more on August 26th. The cost is $20 and bring your own beverage. Call LMS at (250) 245-1146 for availability. Or, put this on your cruise schedule for next year.
Telegraph and Thetis Island Marinas
Telegraph Harbor Marina Resort has changed their store and now offers specialty food items. They still have their delicious pies and the ice cream counter, but they no longer have food service or pizzas.
Thetis Island Marina is still the local place to go for liquor and essential groceries. You can buy them right there in the marina store. If you need to do more extensive provisioning, either walk to the ferry or take the boat to Chemainus where there are several choices of grocery stores and fresh bakeries. Cruising the Gulf Island is a lot about food – either what you can purchase and cook on board or the great restaurants, many of which offer farm to table driven menus.
Maple Bay, Genoa Bay, and Cowichan Bay
Throughout the Inside Passage, we have seen the good news that accompanies an improving economy. Maple Bay Marina continues to make improvements to their docks and their marina store. Their espresso bar with hand-dipped ice cream is a special treat. They also have specialty items and many locally crafted items. Check with them for their shuttle schedule to explore the town of Duncan or rent a car to explore Cowichan Valley.
The remodeled Store at Genoa Bay.
Genoa Bay Marina just has that warm and tranquil feel ‒ very relaxing. The store has been remodeled and offers more items. The Genoa Bay Cafe has been given good reviews by many of our readers and was very busy when we were there.
Cowichan Bay at sunset.
Cowichan Bay is another destination where the underlying theme is good food. From gourmet ice cream cones to specialty bread and bakery items, to cheese and fresh seafood, you can nosh your way down the waterfront. You can explore the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre or enjoy a meal overlooking the harbor at the Oceanview Restaurant & Lounge in the Ocean Front Suites at Cowichan Bay. Dine at The Masthead Restaurant or Cow Cafe – West Coast Grill – inside or out. There are many tempting options in the food category in Cowichan Bay.
New news: This fall watch for the Cowichan Bay Shipyard to become Classic Marine Ltd. with an expanded chandlery, gifts, books, and a full range of marine services built around the marine ways and repair shop, which is something that is sorely needed in Cowichan Bay and the local area. We will be reporting further on this development when the new store opens in November.
Conover Cove and Wallace Island Marine Provincial Park
While checking out Conover Cove we noticed there was room at the dock, just about the size of our boat! This does not happen often, and we grabbed it. The hiking trails are beautiful with views from either side of Wallace Island. The group of people on the dock and in the anchorage gathered for an evening happy hour. Everyone is pretty happy in a setting like this – good beverages or not.
The local park ranger was kind enough to share a soundings map of the shallow cove since depths are not shown on the charts. Assume depths of 4’-6’ at low tide. If you draw more, you might want to consider another anchorage, especially when on or near a full or new moon.
Also, secure garbage or food items. Each morning we found the footprints of the local raccoons across our rear cockpit. Thankfully, we had secured our cockpit freezer with a shock cord. You will know if you have had visitors; the raccoons do not wipe their feet before boarding and leave tracks wherever they go on your deck.
Montague Harbour Marina and The Crane & Robin restaurant.
Over the last three years, Dan and Mike Byzyna have transformed Montague Harbour Marina into their vision. It looks great!! This year, look for The Crane & Robin restaurant as an updated edition with new chefs and an interesting food and beverage menu. Water is limited or not available due to water constrictions on the island.
Three years ago the French Restaurant closed after some 30 years in business. It was replaced by a new restaurant that has people talking across Canada. Last year Enroute magazine named “pilgrimme” one of the top 10 restaurants in Canada. The menu is unusual and highly creative. Watching the young chefs prepare their unique dishes was interesting when I peeked into the kitchen. We were told the ingredients are locally sourced, and the menu is prepared around what is available. Dishes are shared and you might order three entrees between two people. Reservations are required. If you would like an unusual dining experience, we recommend pilgrimme.
Ganges is the hub of the Gulf Islands and worth an extended visit. You may want to time your visit for the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market, the best farmers market in the Gulf Islands and along the entire Inside Passage. Fresh, fresh and colorful! You may be inspired to cook some of the many ingredients on your boat, or you can purchase many specialty items and crafts.
At twilight, Moby’s is the place to be.
The food theme extends to the restaurants and now food trucks. El Loco Taco is above the Ganges Marina and is very popular. There is a small crepe vendor a few feet away. If you look carefully, you will find the specialty poutine truck in the parking lot for the Harbour House Hotel & Organic Farm. Sadly, the restaurant and farm at the hotel are no longer in operation. Salt Spring Inn and Moby’s Pub take pub food to a new height, and we recommend both. At the top of the list is Hastings House with one of the most elegant and consistently good meals anywhere. The grounds alone, overlooking the harbor are worth the visit. Dinner may be viewed as pricey – but it is excellent with great service to match. Their new Bistro Menu service is a hit for dining earlier in the evening. Reservations are required for both (250-537-2362).
While the calendar is winding down for August, the cruising season is not. Beautiful locations, marine parks, attractions, and excellent food are all part of the Gulf Islands experience.