We’d been warned that there wasn’t much in the way of wind at the upper end of Vancouver Island in the summer, so as we left the Desolation Sound Yacht Charters base in Comox, headed across the Strait of Georgia toward the mainland, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves close-reaching into a brisk westerly breeze.
With my brother, Ian, and friend Mike as crew, I was fulfilling a long-held ambition to sail the waters of British Columbia. This was frontierland to me, a remote cruising ground where the names of the islands, channels and harbors were redolent of the Spanish and British explorers who explored them centuries ago: False Bay, Texada Island, Hernando Island, Cortes Island, Mink Island, Prideaux Haven, all loosely encompassed in the region known as Desolation Sound.
Royal Navy captain George Vancouver was by all accounts a moody character, which explains the name he gave the area when he explored it in 1792. “There was not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye,” he wrote in his journal; I guess his grumpiness could be excused because he was surveying the area in an open boat during a lengthy stretch of frigid West Coast rain. Luckily, we scarcely saw a cloud during our own week of exploration, which is why, unlike poor Captain Vancouver, we were fully able to appreciate the stunning natural beauty of what is now Desolation Sound Provincial Marine Park.
It was the beginning of a week that more than lived up to my hopes. We became used to the big tides that rose and fell like water in a bathtub and frothed and raged at double-digit speeds in some of the narrower channels; swam off the transom in some of the warmest salt water on the West Coast; hiked through an eerily quiet old-growth forest to hidden lakes ringed by pines. We pulled huge oysters off rocks at low tide and feasted on fresh-caught shrimp. We nosed into coves that hadn’t changed since Vancouver’s survey boats had pulled in there more than 200 years before.
In early June, before the summer rush, there were never more than one or two other boats in sight in most of our anchorages, and we sat in the cockpit each night looking up at the sweep of the Milky Way, a rare sight for city dwellers and a magical experience for anyone.
If we could have wished for anything, it would have been more wind; we motored about 70 percent of the time since the surrounding hills and mountains soaked up most of the breeze. Oddly enough, with so much to look at, it didn’t matter all that much.
AT A GLANCE
Getting there: Vancouver is the region’s main airport; from there, you can connect to short flights to charter bases in Comox and Powell River. Sunsail has a base in Vancouver itself. If you have more time, you could also fly into Seattle, charter a boat in the San Juan Islands and sail that up to Desolation Sound.
When to go: June through September are the best months; water temperature exceeds 75 degrees and the weather is warm and dry.
Where to go: Don’t miss Prideaux Haven, Cassell Lake Falls, or the Homfray Channel. Heck, don’t miss any of it.
Anacortes Yacht Charters anacortesyachtcharters.com
Cooper Boating Cooperboating.com
Desolation Sound Yacht Charters desolationsoundyachtcharters.com
Nanaimo Yacht Charters nanaimoyachtcharters.com