This is the first in an ongoing series called “5 Favorites” in which we’ll explore a range of topics such as anchorages, breweries, fun things to do, ports, beautiful places, pubs, days of sailing, meals to make aboard and much more. The aim is not to make a list of “bests”, but rather of things we’ve enjoyed while cruising in the Pacific Northwest.
In this first installment, and in no particular order, I’ll take you to my five favorite anchorages that we visited aboard Yahtzee while rounding Vancouver Island from mid-May to mid-August. During our circumnavigation of the island we spent 62 nights at anchor, which provides me with many potential spots to choose from. Picking just five was extremely difficult and while we enjoyed all the places we visited for one reason or another, these stuck out as favorites.
When we pulled into the Bunsby Islands on Vancouver Island’s west coast, parting clouds greeted us, but very few other boats were around. This gave us our choice of spots to drop the hook and swing freely or find a perfect place to stern tie. We did the latter on a small rock- and tree-lined peninsula that jutted out into the anchorage. With our anchor firmly set in 30-feet in a mixture of sand and mud, we brought a line ashore to one of the two stern-tie lines that had been left by previous cruisers.
The weather was forecast to be benign while we were there, but we were protected from nearly every direction. Even when one of the typical afternoon northwesterlies kicked up, we barely felt it. And had a southerly arrived, it would have streamed right over the top of the mast.
Tucked in tight, we spent two days exploring the lagoons, coves, islets and beaches of this incredible group of islands. From the stunning white sand beaches, tall green mountains on Vancouver Island shot up to one side and the open Pacific Ocean spread out to the other. It was truly a surreal setting to drop the hook.
Pamphlet Cove, Drake Island
Located in Quatsino Sound — one of our favorites of the five sounds on the outside of Vancouver Island — Pamphlet Cove is a small indention in the northern side of Drake Island. When settled into the bottom part of the cove, we were completely protected and found good depths even at low tide. The hook went down in 25-feet and though a few other boats could have fit here, we were the only one in that part of the cove for two nights.
Pamphlet makes the list for a couple of memorable reasons. One is that we spent Jill’s birthday here, and the another is simply how relaxing it was. In the morning, Jill and the boys explored the cove by kayak while I worked and in the afternoon we found a nice grassy area to have a picnic. Unexpectedly, we also found a short loop trail and a camp we think is used by kayakers.
From our experience, not many cruisers travel this far up Quatsino to Drake Island but for us, it was well worth a visit. Pamphlet Cove is also an attractive anchorage because it is relatively close to Quatsino Narrows, which needs to be transited at slack tide or with a following current. Once through the narrows, Marble River is a great place to explore by kayak and then Coal Harbour has fuel, showers, laundry and a bus that took us to Port Hardy in just 20-minutes to do a full provisioning run — which is a huge bonus on the outside where adequate stops for food are few and far between.
A lot has been written about the Octopus Islands (by myself included) and there are clear reasons why: it is as beautiful as it is tranquil. When we made the turn into this collection of tree-covered islands and rocks on a windless morning, not a single other boat occupied the several coves that are perfect for anchoring. Due to the careful attention required to pass rapids on the way too or from here, boats tend to only enter and exit at certain times of day, and by way of doing so, it keeps the population down. That and it is typically used as a stop by cruisers transiting north or south.
Whatever the reasons, only a few other boats joined us over the course of three days and our time here was idyllic. With our choice of spots, we once again opted to stern tie into our own protected little spot to while away the days. Highlights were the excellent crabbing and a trip to a nearby cabin, but more than anything it was the peaceful disposition of the place that we found most enthralling. Drop you hook here and you might stay for days on end.
Watson Cove, the Broughtons
When we squeaked through the narrow yet deep entrance to Watson Cove, we’d just sailed up from Village Island, passing Echo Bay and the Burwood Group before entering Tribune Channel. Cruising guides gave conflicting reports on this anchorage, purporting it to be a temporary stop only and that anchors had been fouled. We’d heard otherwise from a fellow cruiser and with a trip line set on the anchor, decided to give it a shot.
The star attractions in Watson are a giant cedar tree on the southeast corner of the cove and a stunning waterfall to the north that you can hear clearly. Billy Proctor later told us that the tree was the largest one that he knows of in the area, and being the Broughtons legend that he is, I’ll take his word for it. Growing tall and exceedingly large at its trunk, the tree can be visited by following a short path up into the dense rainforest from the southeast corner of the cove. Across the cove from the goliath cedar we found the waterfall tumbling down from the cliffs above. Landing a dinghy or kayak was a bit of a challenge but once in, we discovered the forest floor sparsely populated and easily hike-able.
We anchored in nearby Kwatsi Bay as well and hiked to falls there, but we were the only boat in Watson Cove and found good holding and depths in the northeast corner. The trip line never got used and as far as I can tell, this is an incredibly protected anchorage save for when a brisk westerly blows up Tribune Channel and may funnel a bit of swell through the entrance. The night we spent there was blissfully peaceful.
Robbers Passage, Barkley Sound
As I type this I’m starting to see a pattern emerging amongst the favorites: our most memorable anchorages have included few boats and/or had us stern-tying into a spot of our choosing. I’m going to break from both with this one.
Robbers Passage is a narrow cut between Fleming Island and Tzartus Island in Barkley Sound. The spot is well-known with cruisers because of the quaint and unassuming Port Alberni Yacht Club Outstation, and though we were welcome to tie up there (for a small fee), we decided to anchor and raft with our friends aboard Velella in the northern part of the anchorage off a white sand beach.
The sun was out in full summer splendor as we dropped the hook in 15-feet of clear blue-green water just north of the marine farm buoys, which is now defunct. Holding was great in the sand and though a strong northwesterly came through, we were completely protected. That afternoon had us all playing on the beach, tide pooling and climbing on the rocky islets adjacent to the anchorage. In the end, we were glad we opted to stay here instead of at the outstation.