“West coast Vancouver Island south: wind northwest 25-35 knots; seas 3-4 meters.” At 4:30 am, this isn’t the forecast I want to hear.
My goal is to make it around Estevan Point, from Friendly Cove in Nootka Sound to Hot Springs Cove in Clayoquot Sound. But the weather doesn’t seem to be cooperating.
The news wasn’t all-bad, though. The Nootka light station was reporting gusty winds, but they were coming from the north—right behind me. Conditions at Estevan Point were breezy—about 20 knots from the northwest—with a three foot chop.
After warming up my main engine and kicker and stowing everything aboard, I was off, though ready to turn around if necessary. I expected the weather to deteriorate, so I didn’t tarry. Throttle at 4800 RPM, speed at 17 knots. Let’s go!
Conditions at first were benign, but the seas built as I headed towards Estevan Point. A three-foot swell, then four foot, then five foot. Some bigger swells mixed in, of course, and a few whitecaps. A two foot chop, then three foot, frothed on top of the swells.
The seas kept building. By the time Estevan Point was off my port beam, I was surfing down eight-foot waves. Throttle up, climb the backside, surf the face at 26-knots, and pull the throttle back before hitting the next wave. The autopilot did the steering; I had my hands full with the throttle and trim. Sorry, no pictures.
My C-Dory powerboat has an essentially flat bottom. Driving fast into a head sea is no fun. But surfing down sea is a blast; the boat tracks well and rarely exhibits even the slightest tendency towards broaching. Still, sailing in these conditions would be even more fun.
Several gray whales were just outside Hot Spring Cove.
Finally Estevan Point was behind me. I turned east and the seas subside. Hot Springs Cove arrives quickly. By 7:30 am I’m tied to the dock, and by 8:00 I’m relaxing in a fabulous 110-degree pool.
A perfect natural shower at Hot Springs Cove.
Hot Springs Cove is a must-see destination. A 1.2-mile long boardwalk (well maintained) leads through beautiful, dense forest. The pools themselves are small and all natural. A 10-foot high steaming waterfall is perfect for a shower.
Three gray whales have been hanging out just outside of Hot Springs Cove throughout the summer. I had the good fortune of seeing them both from the boat and from the hot springs. One morning one of them breached as I watched from my own private pool. Watching a whale breach while sitting in a hot spring is truly remarkable.
The trouble with Hot Springs Cove is the crowds. An endless stream of tourist boats and seaplanes bring throngs of people in from Tofino each day. For boaters, though, the crowds are easy to avoid by visiting early in the morning (before about 9:30) or late in the evening (after about 7:00). During the day, the sea planes, tour boats, and tourists provide excellent people watching. Somehow the ear-splitting noise of a Beaver taking off 200 feet way and the smell of exploding 100LL is intoxicating.
Somewhat regretfully, I moved on from Hot Springs Cove the next day, destination Bacchante Bay. Bacchante Bay is an awesome anchorage, with towering rock walls and a beautiful grassy meadow. Like almost every other anchorage on this trip, I had it all to myself.
Retriever anchored in beautiful Bacchante Bay.
Just outside of Bacchante Bay is Sulphur Passage, a narrow, winding, and rock strewn shortcut towards Tofino. With modern electronics, it’s easily negotiated, but it’s still nerve-wracking the first time through.
I stopped at Ahousat, which has a surprisingly well-stocked store, gas and diesel, and a small restaurant. The owner, Hugh Clarke, is friendly and knows Clayoquot Sound incredibly well. His father owned much of the land around Hot Springs Cove, including the hot springs, until he donated it to B.C. Parks. If you have a chance, have a chat with Hugh.
West Whitepine Cove is just a few miles from Ahousat and is an excellent anchorage. Douglass noted that it has warm water, good for swimming. Warm may be a stretch, but the water certainly is warmer than most anchorages in the Pacific Northwest, Desolation Sound notwithstanding. I visited on a hot day, and enjoyed jumping off the boat and cooling off in the water.
Jumping into the “warm” water of West Whitepine Cove.
Also near Ahousat is Whitesand Beach. A trail leads through the woods from the head of Matilda Inlet, depositing hikers right on the beach. Shallow draft boats can also anchor off the beach (in settled conditions) and dinghy ashore. I did just that, and enjoyed a relaxing, barefoot stroll on a beautiful sunny day.
I explored several other anchorages in Clayoquot Sound, and without exception I was the only boat. This is a huge cruising area, ripe for exploration. If you want to get away from the crowds, come here.
After coming south on the outside of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a bit of a culture shock. It’s a tourist town, filled with galleries, restaurants, and trendy coffee shops. Surfing is a major pastime here, and surf shops abound. People abound, too. I probably saw more people in Tofino than I’d seen cumulatively since I left Port Hardy.
Tofino is busy and has great mountain views.
Unfortunately, Tofino’s marina options are limited. The 4th Street Wharf is the best option, but it only has space for a few visiting pleasure boats. Rafting is the norm. Many liveaboard boats crowd the meager pleasure boat moorage, making for limited space for transient vessels. Thankfully, the nearby “Crab Docks” (also public) are being retrofitted with electricity (hydro, in Canadian) and water. They’re awfully busy as well, but may be an option for some visiting cruisers.
The Big Tree Trail winds through old growth forest.
This bear scavenged for food on the beach near Heelboom Bay.
On Meares Island, just outside of Tofino, is the Old Tree Trail. A rickety old boardwalk and sometimes-muddy trail lead through old growth forest. Massive, prehistoric looking cedar trees are a feast for the eyes. Some are said to be 1500 years old. If you kayak here, be mindful of the currents. I anchored the boat 1000 yards from the trailhead. The paddle in was easy, but the paddle back against a 1.5 knot current was much more difficult.
Next update: Barkley Sound