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Robin & Jim


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Posted By Robin & Jim

This summer we're cruising in British Columbia between Vancouver Island and the mainland.  Here's a map of Vancouver Island to give you a better idea of where things are.  Vancouver Island is 290 miles long by 50 miles wide at its widest, and it's biggest city - Victoria - is the capital of British Columbia.  Victoria is about 90 miles as the crow flies from Seattle.

vancouver island map

Right now we're in the area circled in blue - the Gulf Islands, and in about a week we'll head across the Strait of Georgia to Desolation Sound (circled in yellow), and then we'll head north to the Broughtons (circled in orange) in later July and August.
It is very beautiful out here, with temperate weather, mountains, and tons of islands to explore.  The tidal range is about 10 feet in the Gulf Islands, so that means a lot of water is moving through some narrow spaces between islands.  There are some places that you can't transit unless the current is slack.
Logging is still a big industry in coastal BC so there are always logs in the water.  Some are quite large and we always have to keep a sharp lookout. 
With so many islands there are two primary means for people to move around - by ferry or by seaplane.  Ferries are everywhere, ranging from the 550' behemoths that run between Vancouver and Victoria or Nanaimo... 

spirit of bc

or the much smaller ferries that run among the small islands... more things in the water to keep an eye on!

small ferry

And just to add to the fun, seaplanes take off and land all over the place, especially in harbors with towns.  We had a thrill watching some take off and land right around us yesterday!

seaplane off bow

Wildlife is all around us - so far we've seen otters, bald eagles (daily), guillemots (sea birds), and lots of harbor seals like this one, sunning on a rock at low tide.

harbor seals

We are surrounded by mountains, rocks, and very tall pine trees.  When the air is clear and dry we can see snow-capped mountains on the mainland, and the combination of the sea air and pine smells so good.

tall pines

We're really enjoying hiking, exploring, and learning about our new cruising grounds.

boat pass

Posted By Robin & Jim

After weeks of hard work, Jim finally got the new diesel fired heating system finished and working well.  We enjoyed being "stuck" in the lovely town of Sidney, but we were ready to officially start our Pacific Northwest cruising adventures after years of dreaming and months of preparation.  For the next few weeks we are cruising in the Gulf Islands - an area on the SE side of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.  Later this summer we'll move north to Desolation Sound and the Broughtons.

We cast the lines off on Friday, headed to the fuel dock to stock up on diesel for the big boat and gas for the dinghy, and then we cruised to South Pender Island, part of the Gulf Islands National Park.  On the way to South Pender we saw two bald eagles harassing a gull, and they eventually drove it down to the water.  It was surprising to see the eagle actually land in the water - it didn't float  very well, but it was able to take off without too much trouble.  We see bald eagles every day, as well as harbor seals (they're shy), otters, and various sea birds.

We met up with our new friends in South Pender, launched dinghies, and headed ashore for some hiking.  We read that the view from the top of Mt. Norman was worth the climb and we decided to dinghy to the nearby marina for cold beer and some dinner afterwards.

We had a great time, but the hike turned out to be much more challenging than we thought.  The view was definitely worth it though, and we could even see the snow-capped Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca 50 miles to the south.

mt norman view

On our way down the mountain we had a nice view of the harbor, and we watched a number of seaplanes land and take off.  Seaplanes are a very common way to get around out here, and there is scheduled service to many of the islands throughout the area.

south pender

The weather has been glorious - bright sunny days and just two short rain showers in the last two weeks.  The thermometer says mid-high 60's, but if the wind is light we're comfortable in shorts and t-shirts.  The weather is very changeable though, and we're learning to just dress in layers.

We're also learning to pay attention to the big tidal swings, since we had to beach our dinghy to get ashore.  Our dink weighs about 550 lbs, so if the tide leaves it high and dry we will have a long wait until the tide comes back to re-float it!  Our planning paid off, and we had no trouble.  We saw a lot of these little crab shells on the beach near our dink - left over from the crabs molting (shedding their shells to grow larger). 

tiny crab

The next day we headed to Saturna Island and walked up to check out the little winery (decent!), and then moved to another anchorage recommended by friends for some light hiking.

monday morning

Posted By Robin & Jim

We are almost finished installing the new heating system, and we should be able to start really cruising by the middle of the week.  But if you have to be "stuck" somewhere, the town of Sidney on Vancouver Island is a terrific spot.  There are little shops, restaurants, several bookstores, cafes, a coffee shop on every block, grocery stores and even a West Marine all within easy walking distance of the marina.  Since we're new to the area and we don't know anyone, having such a nice town for walking has been a nice diversion when we need a break from working on the boat.

The marina is surrounded by a HUGE rock breakwater so we don't get much of a view until we get up to the street level... and then the view is beautiful with many forested islands and sometimes ships transiting the Haro Strait.

sidney breakwater

Like we saw in France, the people around here love flowers, and there are planters and gardens exploding with color and beauty everywhere we go.  There are also bronze statues of people sitting on some of the benches around town, and sometimes we find fresh flowers in the hands of the statues.

statue with flowers

The town of Sidney has an aquarium focusing on the local Salish Sea and a little sculpture garden along the waterfront.  Jim was channeling his inner pirate one evening...

sidney pirate

We have been talking to locals on the dock as well as some DeFever friends with a lot of experience in these waters, trying to learn about the hazards as well as must-see cruising spots.  One thing we've noticed right away is what's known as "drift" - logs of all shapes and sizes that are floating in the water.  Big beasties that can ruin one's day.  So we're learning to keep a sharp lookout and now we know why people don't cruise at night.


Another hazard we've been warned about are bears, and since we plan to do a lot of hiking we followed a friend's advice and bought some bear bells and bear repellant.

bear equipment

Between the drift, bears, and wicked tidal currents in some narrow cuts, northwest cruising has its challenges!

But the scariest thing we've encountered so far was when Jim had to cut the big 3 inch hole in the transom of the boat for the heating system's exhaust.  Yikes!

big hole