Velella sailed neck-and-neck with us in a fresh morning breeze and abundant sunshine while we steered Yahtzee wing and wing through Race Passage. For the first time since mid-May, Victoria soon became visible to the north — and as if to welcome us back to the Garden City from our circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, a pod of orcas broke the surface close on our starboard side while the boys looked on from the rail. It was a fitting end to our incredible family journey around a beautiful, wild and enchanting island.
With the sails furled and stowed and the engine on, we motored into Victoria Harbour three months to the day and 1,141 nautical miles after leaving on our counterclockwise loop. Sea planes took off and landed, water taxis buzzed this way and that, and cruisers moved in and out of the bustling harbor, which induced a slight bit of anxiety. It was by far the most people and activity we’d seen in quite some time — way more than Tofino and Ucluelet combined —and we were happy to be greeted at the dock by familiar faces. Our friends aboard Endless Summer IV, who we’d met along the way and live in Victoria, were there to welcome us with smiles, hugs, hospitality and a couple cold beers.
Since closing the loop, we’ve been consistently fielding the question, “How was it?” And after taking a deep breath to attempt an answer, what comes out is a slew of adjectives like amazing, awesome, incredible, inspiring, magical, epic and more, knowing that few can fully understand it. After pausing for a week to absorb the whole voyage, reflect and share stories with friends, here’s a final look at our three months cruising around Vancouver Island.
Time and Weather
Simply said, I can’t imagine cruising around Vancouver Island any faster than we did. I know every boat that does it has their own timetable, schedule and reasons for going around and making it work for them. And as such, every experience is different. But to do it any quicker than three months would have felt rushed to us.
We try hard not to sail to a stringent schedule, oftentimes making it up just one or two days at a time, and the theory that cruising schedules don’t work was once again proven to us as we went around the rock. Though we had an overall timeline of where we wanted to be, we let the wind and tide dictate where we moved and when. Doing this allowed us to find some great breezes and wait out bad weather, which never put us in a situation where we were underway because we felt like we had to get somewhere. That said, a few times favorable forecasts did force us to move earlier than we’d liked and it also cost us places that we wanted to stop and couldn’t. That’s how cruising goes.
In the end, leaving the west coast of the island in mid-August felt like the right decision. While I’m sure there is still some beautiful weather to be had there in the latter parts of summer, we could already tell that the weather was changing. The once consistent northwesterly breezes that we enjoyed on the ocean were becoming fewer and father between and the amount of fog was definitely on the rise. And when the fog was showing up, it seemed to linger longer, sometimes all day. (Turns out, us PNW locals call it “Fogust” for a reason.) Of course, it’s easy for me to look back and say that as we happily enjoy hot, sunny summer days in the San Juan Islands.
West Coast Best Coast
While cruising the Salish Sea over the years, it has become readily apparent that there is almost too much to see. It has aptly been said that you can cruise from Olympia to Skagway for a lifetime and not see it all, and that is definitely true of the west coast of Vancouver Island, too. You simply can’t see it all.
We certainly enjoyed our time cruising up the inside of the island to places like Princess Louisa Inlet and Desolation Sound with Jill’s mom Donna, who is helpful and a pleasure to have aboard. And the Octopus Islands and the Broughtons were unforgettable in their own right, but none of it compared to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Though many of the aforementioned places were incredible and every bit a wilderness playground, we found the west coast to be even more wild and raw. It is truly an awe inspiring place.
The fact that on the west coast you are either sailing on or are very close to the intensity of the vast Pacific Ocean surely plays a large roll in this, but it also has to do with how few boats we came across and how few services there are along the way. We had to be confident in our ability to cruise in a self-sufficient manner and that if we were going to successfully stay out here for an extended period of time, that we’d have to be ready to tackle the winds and waves of the open ocean. Fortunately, we were prepared for both, and in being so, we enjoyed great sailing and the unhurried pace of life that we were in search of.
We also continued to learn and gain a deep respect for the wilderness and the natural world around us. Whether it was a bear ducking under our stern lie, a lone coastal wolf roaming the tidal flats (find out more about these unique wolves here and watch a video here) or a sea lion snagging salmon next to the boat, there were intense reminders that we shared all of it with more than just a few other humans.
Where is everybody?
What surprised us while sailing around the island was how few boats we came across. Leaving to head north in mid-May, we expected this in places like Princess Louisa Inlet, Desolation Sound and the Broughtons, and it was true. But for some reason, I thought that we’d see more boats in July and early August as we came down the west coast of the island. Not true. I can count on two hands how many other cruising boats we saw from Sea Otter Cove through Clayoquot Sound, and even in Barkley Sound, where I expected to come across more boats that had come up from the south, there were still very few around.
The lack of other cruisers was fine by us, we’re good either way. But Yahtzee was the lone boat in the vast majority of anchorages we visited all the way around the island. Fortunately, a few of those that we did come across became immediate or closer friends, which is what happens when meeting others in such remote places.
John and Pat aboard Endless Summer IV were like grandparents to the boys, and their hospitably while rounding the island and then hosting us in their homeport of Victoria was genuine and exquisite. We felt like we’d known them for years. Our solo-sailor buddy Will on Lady Jane was another fast friend who we hope to cross wakes with again. Meeting up with our pals Ryan and Autumn aboard Velella in Barkley Sound topped it all off. And it was great to find another cruising family in Adam, Laura and crew aboard Tuwamish to swap sea stories and see what cruising life will be like for us with older kids. We may not have seen a lot of boats around the island, but the ones we did were memorable.
A Family Affair
As the inside and outside of Vancouver Island captivated us at every turn, it also had us saying “next time” to many places that we passed along the way. Whether it was “next time we want to anchor in a specific spot.” Or “next time we want to visit this place or that,” there were so many things to see that it couldn’t be done all in one pass. But in reflecting on our entire voyage around the island, we’ve come to understand that it isn’t about looking back on next times, best anchorages, stunning mountains, beautiful beaches, enchanting animal encounters or glorious days of sailing, it’s about cherishing how we grew as a family and as a crew.
After reminiscing on leaving three months ago and what we’ve done since, it’s fun as parents to see how Magnus and Porter have matured along the way. Magnus has grown from a baby to a toddler with so many words, phrases and sentences, fresh sea legs that are now far more stable with the many sea miles under them, and hiking feet that are more nimble after trying so hard to maneuver over the roots, rocks and slippery seaweed of forests and beaches. His personality has grown right along with his coordination and can be so electric at times that all I can do is shake my head and chuckle.
And Porter, wow. He’s grown physically as much as he has in his ability to standup paddleboard, swing from the mast, kayak by himself, drop the anchor, tail the main halyard or do whatever task he sets his mind to. Spurts of compassion for his brother and others punctuate his charismatic disposition, and his outgoing nature flows in conversation while his smile lights up a parent’s heart. It’s a pleasure to watch.
If this is what cruising is doing to our boys, we’ll take every bit of it.
Without Porter and Magnus, the trip wouldn’t have been as vivid and the experiences as indelible. To say that our 1,141-mile journey around some of the greatest, most stunningly beautiful cruising grounds in the entire world was memorable seems an understatement at best. Circumnavigating Vancouver Island over the past three months as a family has caused us to fall deeper in love with our nomadic cruising lifestyle, with each other, and with days lived one at a time. And we don’t want it any other way.