Around Vancouver Island part 1: Departing Victoria to Desolation Sound

Harry on the Bowsprit of the Claire de Lune

Well, We’ve finally set off on our cruise around Vancouver Island. It was an interesting challenge figuring out how to stow all the food and supplies, as well as people’s personal things, but we seem to have figured it out. We even have a guitar, a hand drum and a mandolin on board and what was a large box of chips and treats (now eaten). We decided not to include any meat in our provisions. We turned our freezer down so it’s more like a fridge and now we have double the fridge space, but no ability to keep things frozen. Our protein will be beans, lentils, eggs and whatever fish we catch. We did acquire a lot more fishing gear before we set off in hopes of eating some fresh lingcod and salmon.

I think we’re all gradually getting used to sharing the small space of the boat. Our crew for the first leg of the journey consists of Harry and I, Bas, Bridget and Jonty from New Zealand and Jelske from Holland. I was the only Canadian among us on Canada Day. We had a few days on the dock while getting ready for the trip to get used to sharing the space. We plan on doing a lot of camping on shore. Although, it really hasn’t been too bad sleeping six people on the boat so far.

The Top of Mount Norman on Pender Island, our first stop.

Back in Victoria we had been in contact with some folks from the Surf Rider Foundation about doing beach clean-ups in some priority locations on the west coast of the island. Before we left Jaime came to meet us on the dock and drop off big bags called ‘super sacks’ for collecting the trash. Once we collect the trash we will stash it high above the tideline and lash it to a tree. We then record the GPS coordinates and someone will be able to come pick it up with a barge or helicopter.

The sailing in the first few days was incredible. We had about three full days of spinnaker running in exactly the right direction. We really lucked out because south easterly wind direction is rare in the summer here. Crossing the Strait of Georgia a wave swamped the dinghy towing behind us. Harry had to jump in there and pull out the bung to drain it. We also tangled our spinnaker into an hourglass a few times while gybing. But other than that it was fair winds and following seas across the strait. We aimed for Savary Island, in hopes of crossing paths with my dad and uncle. Uncle Don’s boat the Claire de Lune has been moored in Powell River. They were taking it out sailing in Desolation Sound, so we planned on meeting up. The Claire is a beautiful wooden flush deck cutter built by my great-grandad and sailed around the world by uncle Don.


Upon arriving at Savary Island, we anchored on the sandy northwest side. While it is fairly exposed from that direction, the wind had been from the south east for the last three days and was at the time very light, so we thought it was a fine idea. We saw a long sandy beach calling our names after 14 hours on the boat, sailing from Ruxton Island across the straight. The wind seemed to have completely died as we were anchoring, so it seemed fine. As we gathered tents and sleeping bags for some of our crew to camp on the

Humpbacks feeding off Cortes Island

beach for the night the wind built gently from the Northwest, but was still very light. By the time we had dropped off everyone on the beach and they had set up their tents, we listened to the forecast and heard that up to 25 knots was expected from the Northwest that evening and on into the morning. At this point we were exhausted, and since everyone had just set up their tents, we thought we would just sit it out and not bother trying to find another anchorage for the night. As we crawled into bed the boat was bouncing up and down in the swell and the wind was howling through the rigging. As we tried to sleep, every bounce of the boat created a loud grinding bang of the anchor chain. We several hours watching carefully, trying to discern if our anchor was dragging or not and wondering whether it would. Finally, we were able to sleep for about an hour at a time – waking up to check again if we had dragged, and groan about the loud noises and the rocking, shaking boat. It was like trying to sleep on a bouncing trampoline. Needless to say the next day we were still exhausted and very content to be entering the sheltered waters of Desolation Sound.


After a fishing stop to jig for lingcod off some rocks near the Copeland islands, we motored over glassy still, jade green water into desolation sound, aiming for Teakern

Teakerne Arm waterfall, Desolation Sound

arm on West Redonda Island. When I had phone reception I got a message to my dad saying where we would be, in hopes that they would meet us there. Teakern arm has a thundering waterfall plunging in between cliffs and straight into the sea. The water is exceptionally deep there. The rocky shore drops steeply off into the green depths, where small gleaming fish and jellyfish swim lazily around the boat. We anchored right beside the water fall and stern-tied to a tree on the rocks to keep us from swinging.

The source of the waterfall is Cassel Lake, which sits nestled between rocky hills, warm and black, just behind the cliffs. The water of Cassel Lake is incredibly clear, but looks black simply because it is so deep. Old logs many meters below plunged visibly into the depths below us as we swam. The evidence of long past logging operations is still visible. A huge rusted winch and cable sit at the top of the cliffs and in the corners of the lake are collections of still floating, long ago cut logs, many covered in carnivorous sundew plants and mossy growth – miniature floating ecosystems.

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Chris and Geoff on the Claire de Lune

The following morning after breakfast a wooden mast appeared in the bay. It was my dad Chris, Uncle Don and their friend Geoff on the Claire de Lune. They rafted up to us beside the waterfall and we climbed aboard. The Claire is a solid boat and smells of wood. I could feel her many years of adventures and many thousands of miles travelled. We all enjoyed a good plunge in the lake and playing around on the floating logs. We shared a big meal together of barbecued pork loin and roast vegetables in the evening. The only other boats in the arm were the Pacific Swift and the Pacific Grace, the two beautiful wooden tall ships of SALTS that take young people on summer adventures.

Mamaku and the Claire stern tied off Cortes Island

In the morning, after having a good wash in the pounding fresh water of the falls, we pulled up anchor and headed for a bay on the west side of Cortes Island. The little bay on Cortes also involved stern tying quite close to the rocks. As the tide dropped the sterns of the two boats were almost close enough for someone to jump from the boats to the rocks, but we still had enough water underneath us. We found a mossy green and salal over-grown trail through the forest to Robertson Lake. This lake also had a criss-cross of old logs floating in the corners, which we stepped over and walked along like floating bridges to get to the deep water where we could jump in. We borrowed a canoe on the shore and went for a paddle up the lake. It was so quiet there we could hear the feathers of the eagles beating through the air as the flew above us in long effortless strokes. Our voices echoed off the hills around the lake in bouncing reverberations answering our calls. The only other sound the lapping of the water against the rocks. It was equally as quiet back in the bay. As we arrived at the boats we heard the unmistakable sound of a whale exhaling it’s wet breath into the air. A few of us hopped into the dingy and went off for a closer look. From a safe distance we were able to watch the enormous animals taking several breaths at the surface, the small dorsal fins and long bodies of several humpbacks visible. They then dove to feed, their flukes breaking the surface as they plunged into the 500 meter deep strait. After about 15 minutes they would resurface to breath again for several breaths before diving back to the bottom. They continued this for hours and as we went to bed that night the only sound in the bay was the sound of the whales breathing at the surface, the moon shining bright over the smooth water.

2 thoughts on “Around Vancouver Island part 1: Departing Victoria to Desolation Sound

  1. Wonderful descriptions of ocean, crew and lovely whales..glad you met up with family. All the ocean beneath Mamaku, the whales breathing and the eagles overhead…I can hear the wings and feel the misty air in the morning….smooth sailing….


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