The Broughton islands on Canada’s Pacific coast are hard to reach, but a delight once you’re there, says Liza Copeland. And there may be bears …
Good place for bears
North of Echo Bay the Burdwood Group is delightful, with Viner Sound on Gilford Island opposite a favourite stop with its trees covered in dangling Spanish moss. Its shallow inner shore is a good place for bears.
We had our closest black bear viewing here, watching for two hours as our bear nonchalantly searched for seafood. Black bears are not known to be aggressive, and two people talking or shaking a can of stones generally frightens them away.
We sailed west. Protected by North Broughton and Broughton Islands, named by George Vancouver after William Robert Broughton, the captain of the expedition’s second ship, HMS Chatham, lie a number of small islands and inlets that offer opportunities to get away from it all.
There is also snow-covered Mt Stephens which gave such a beautiful backcloth for photos against a sapphire sky that I had to jump into the dinghy with my camera.
There are additional facilities close by if desired. Jennis Bay in Drury Inlet (watch for the current at Stuart Narrows) is a small rustic marina with cabins. At the high end of the scale is Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort at the head of MacKenzie Sound which organises wilderness and heli-tours, even glacier weddings and high end dining.
Legendary among cruisers, historic Sullivan Bay Resort on North Broughton is a unique village full of colourful float-homes that gathered here in the 1940s. A centre for fishing, it has huge dock space and offers a boat-sitting service for those flying on the floatplanes to Seattle.
Shawl Bay at the southern end of Kincome Inlet has long been a meeting place and home to fishermen and loggers. On entering we were suddenly surrounded by white-sided dolphins, the most playful of the local dolphins and porpoises. They leapt for joy around the bow as we sailed slowly, having furled the genoa for visibility, with more arriving by the minute to feed on herring.
There had been many herring balls (dense schools) en route, easily located by the birds swooping into the sea. Shawl Bay Marina goes back several generations and has changed little over the years. Many yacht clubs have guest moorage here so cruisers stay for a while to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, happy-hour gatherings, potlucks, morning free pancake breakfasts and freshly baked bread.
As we continued around Gilford Island Duncan, an avid fisherman, cast a line, hoping to catch a salmon. We were drifting along at two knots, the perfect speed. Blackfish Sound is a popular place for fishing as well as sightings of humpback and orca whales.
British Columbia has strict fishing rules: licences are required for all seafood gathering, whether fish, prawns, crabs, clams or oysters. Using barbed hooks is illegal for catching salmon and keeping tension on the line is tricky. There were no salmon bites today, but Duncan was rewarded with a rock cod, perfect along with the large spot prawns we had caught in our traps the night before.
The long fjord of Knight Inlet meanders to the east, displaying dramatic scenery for 50 miles. Anchorages are few, however, most just small ledges, and a good weather forecast is a must. Here katabatic winds can be fierce. The main lure is Glendale Cove, known for an abundance of bears. Continuing around Gilford Island, Tribune Channel gave a scenic sail with its sheer slopes that teem with waterfalls in the early season (May-June), to Kwatsi and Watson Bays, where it is fun to hike up to a 1,000 year-old cedar tree and watch the spectacular Lacy Falls.
Seventeen years ago Anka and Max decided to come to Kwatsi Bay with their young son and daughter to run a marina in the summer months. It is a popular stop – book in advance in July and August – and a peaceful place to linger. We anchored, with Duncan taking a line to loop around a rock to hold us stern-to the shore.
The boat secure, Riss and I launched the kayak. Duncan laid the crab traps and took a swim; Andy relaxed in the sunny cockpit reading. Much later, when it was still warm, we had happy hour on board followed by a seafood feast.
The growing awareness of the Broughton region, along with informative cruising guides, improved weather forecasting and modern electronics is encouraging more sailors to head north. In the past visitors often came for three months and tended to be in large powerboats lured by the abundant fish. More recently smaller vessels and yachts have been on the rise. The increased availability of marinas up the coast, improved highways and flights have encouraged others to bring their boats north in stages.
Although weather can be variable, all agree this is an outstanding destination for cruising that is best between May and September and absolutely worth the effort.
Cruising necessities in Broughton
- Canadian charts are important for planning and back-up, along with a knowledge of the Canadian buoyage system and metric measurement. Remember also Canadian Tide and Current Tables, Vol 6.
- Bulk provisioning, and topping up with fuel and water when available, is prudent.
• July and August can be foggy, particularly in the mornings, when radar is indispensable.
- Temperatures can be cool, especially when windy, and most boats have cockpit enclosures.
- Carry two main anchors in case of snagging on logs and chains.
- Be prepared for limited wi-fi coverage with narrow bandwidth and extremely limited cellphone and regular radio coverage.
- The Waggoner is the most useful cruising guide updated annually. It covers Puget Sound to Ketchikan, Alaska. Peter Vassilopoulos’s Broughton Islands Cruising Guide is also informative. The Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide on the Broughtons is quite useful, but only worth buying when updated.
- For charter see www.desolationsoundyachtcharters.com
Circumnavigator Liza Copeland has written four cruising books, contributes to a variety of magazines and is a seminar speaker at major boat shows in the UK, US and Canada. Bagheera has now logged 123,000 miles to 114 countries, sailing recently in north-west Canada and US Pacific coasts and Alaska. See her website at www.aboutcruising.com and her son’s interactive, online cruising discovery site www.yachtingsbest.com