From stormy Ucluelet to enchanting Hot Springs Cove

Shortly after arriving in Barkley Sound, I took my usual long hard look at the weather and began to notice a string of intense lows setting up for a long march eastward across the vast openness of the North Pacific Ocean. The frequency and pattern of the systems seemed somewhat atypical for this time of year and I remarked to Jill, “I have a feeling the weather is going to get real weird for about the next 10 days to two weeks.” Turns out, I didn’t realize how right that assessment would be.

Fast forward about a week and our intended one or two day stop in Ucluelet — or Ukee as it’s affectionately known — started to slow down when an intense low, followed by a slightly weaker one, was forecast to sweep in off the ocean and pummel the Pacific Northwest. The pressure of this low was something more akin to the storms we get in late fall and early winter, and having cruised through many of those, we had no intention of being at anchor or underway when the storm force winds started driving ashore.

Storm watching from the Wild Pacific Trail.

One of the unflinching truths of cruising is that the weather always wins. Always. And early spring on the west coast of Vancouver Island is no exception. We knew that when we chose to come out here this time of year, and we started living it in Ukee. The prudent decision to hunker down was an easy one and I arranged with the affable harbormaster to stay put at the marina for the remainder of the week.

Porter blowing out the candles on his birthday cupcakes.

Sitting at a dock for that much time isn’t what we’re used to and the simple thought of it made me antsy, but the ray of sunshine in all of it was that we happened to be in one of our favorite places. The rain and wind didn’t stop us from getting outside and we hiked several sections of the Wild Pacific Trail, meandered around town, ate at several new favorite restaurants and made trips to the beach to watch the storms roll in. Our time in town also happened to be the same week Porter and I had birthdays (April 5th and 8th) so it was cause for celebration, and with a few sunny days mixed in, we even managed to get some projects completed on the boat that are best done at a dock.

It helped that there’s a family-friendly restaurant with a bowling alley in it by the marina.

By the time the last low swept by, we were itching and ready to go. And just as abruptly as we’d sailed into town, our time in Ukee came to an end.

Hot Springs Magic

When that second low cleared the area, we were set to ride northward on its coattails and planned an early morning getaway from the marina. The ocean still wasn’t too happy when we rounded Amphitrite Point to shape a course towards Hot Springs Cove, but with sails up and the morning sun bathing the sea and mountains in soft light, off we went.

After a week in Ukee, it was great to be back underway again.

With a consistent following breeze, the 45-mile hop northwest up the coast was a quick one. The lumpy seas helped us along, too, and even when the sun gave way to a steady rain, it didn’t matter, we were out sailing again.

We found ourselves at the wave and current-swept entrance to Hot Springs Cove around three o’clock and, once inside and protected from the swell, we dropped the hook near the park dock. Not surprisingly, no other cruising boats were around but there was a small yet steady stream of tourists getting flown in and out on floatplanes and brought by taxi boat. The trick here is to wait until they all leave at 5 p.m. before heading to the salient waters of the hot springs and we passed many of them going the other way while bounding down the park’s long wooden boardwalk.

The boys on the boardwalk over the hot springs.

Our first soak in the hot springs since last July was breathtaking. The evening was cool and a steady rain fell that made the warm water seem that much more of a delight. Besides the boardwalk, which is replete with personalized markings left by boaters and campers, and a changing area and composting head, the springs themselves are a rocky, natural wonder that drop into the sea and have been left largely unchanged by the increasingly greedy hands of man. No roads lead here and hopefully none ever will.

By the following day, the weather was once again a factor and it looked like we’d have one brilliant day of sunshine at the cove before heading out for another run north. Sure enough, we awoke to bright blue skies and Jill and the boys were soon off on the kayak to explore a nearby beach while I stayed home to work. The plan was again to hit the springs when the tourists were gone so the afternoon meant preparing Yahtzee for another jaunt on the ocean.

Magnus helping paddle home.

Porter and I headed up the rig to re-tape a couple spreader boots and then Magnus stood by while I did some splicing. Jill got our watermaker fired up (admittedly, we’d missed “top up water” on our pre-departure checklist in Ukee — D’ oh!) and when the batteries were being charged with sun and wind power, freshwater got pumped into the tanks. The ability to be so self-sufficient while in remote places is incredibly satisfying and is something we cherish about this lifestyle — put some food on the boat and we can be out for a while.

Porter and I take a break for a photo op on the mast.
Yahtzee soaking up the sun.

Of course, the afternoon went faster than anticipated and we soon found ourselves back on the boardwalk heading for the honey hole. We were the only people left at the springs and with the evening sun lighting up the rocks, it was a scene that was truly magical. Walking back through the electric green forest with a refreshed pep in our steps, the last vestiges of daylight were fading, replaced by an orange and red sky. As often happens, my thoughts turned to the upcoming weather and I couldn’t help but think of the old saying, “Red at night, sailor’s delight.” We’d soon find out if that was true.

The sun drops behind the trees from the hot springs.

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