Sailing up Vancouver Island’s wild northwest coast

The green mountains of the Brooks Peninsula shot up into the clouds off our starboard side. In front of us, Solander Island and its rocky, toothlike shape pierced straight from the depths of the sea. A deep blue Pacific Ocean with frothing white waves, meeting an equally blue and white sky, rose and fell around and under us. And Yahtzee’s white sails spread out wide full of breeze, moving us fast downwind.

Sailing fast past Solander Island and the Brooks Peninsula.

With all four of us in the cockpit, we surfed the swell, smiled at one another, whooped it up and danced to the rhythm of the boat moving with the waves. There’s nothing I love more in life than my family and sailing, and if this day could have continued forever or been bottled and kept for a rainy day, I would have.

Happy sailors enjoying the ride!

A few hours later in the friendly confines of Quatsino Sound, Jill and I looked at each other and, with the adrenaline of the ocean still coursing through our veins, shared this assessment of our latest run north: It was one of the best days of sailing we’ve ever had as a family.

And with the shear amount of sailing that we do — that is really, really saying something.

For sailors, the Brooks Peninsula is an obstacle that juts 12 miles out into the Pacific Ocean from the northwestern quarter of Vancouver Island. When the wind blows from the north or south around its corners, it howls. We’d timed our passage around it perfectly and made incredible time getting to Quatsino Sound, which is the farthest sound north on Vancouver Island.

Rugged Point Splendor

But just a few days earlier while making another another hop north, it was a completely different story. The wind was up and down, the sea calm and after sailing for a bit, the diesel became our only hope for making miles. From enchanting Hot Springs Cove, we ended up motor-sailing  60 miles on a mostly flat calm ocean before picking our way through rocks and reefs to enter Kyuquot Sound and anchor at Rugged Point.

Though a following breeze was in the forecast, the ocean was unusually calm.

Rounding the point and into the Sound, jagged rocks and windswept pines made it obvious why it was called “rugged” and we set the anchor off a gorgeous yet desolate stretch of beach. With sandy beaches on both sides, Rugged Point Marine Provincial Park is set on narrow hook of land that is wild and devoid of human activity. We’d wanted to stop here last July but due to a large incoming swell, the anchorage wasn’t right for it.

Yahtzee anchored off the beach at Rugged Point.

Fortunately, while waiting for a weather window to hop from Kyuquot Sound around the Brooks Peninsula, we were able to spend two rainy days and nights here, which crossed off one of the many “next times” from the previous summer. The solitude was palpable and we explored the beaches and forests, kayaked through the bay and had a fire under the trees and cooking shelter at the park. But when the time came, we were ready to head back out in the ocean again for that ride north on a steady southerly wind.

Our track from Hot Springs Cove to Rugged Point and then around the Brooks to Quatsino Sound.

Back in Quatsino Sound

Making it to Quatsino Sound was a homecoming of sorts. We were captivated by its secluded coves and beautiful scenery during our week here in July, but it is also a great spot to stop for provisions, fuel, laundry and showers. After spending Easter at Drake Island’s Pamphlet Cove, which is one of our favorites on the west coast of Vancouver Island, we made our way through Quatsino Narrows to anchor near the Marble River and then on to Coal Harbour.

Waking to a beautiful morning near the Marble River.

At this point we’re getting used to being the lone cruising boat out here and the only people we tend to see are commercial fisherman. The harbor was abuzz with them and the boys were enthralled by their activity. They were also captivated by something we’d missed last time: the Coal Harbour History Museum.

Porter and Magnus love seaplanes, so the nearby base was a must see.

Located at the old Royal Canadian Air Force hangar, which is now a seaplane base, the museum tells the story of the harbor and how it has changed over the years. From use by the military during World War II, to a whaling station and logging hub, several rooms of artifacts have been well preserved and a 20-foot jawbone of a blue whale can be seen in the main hangar. It’s immense, and worth a look.

With a fire engine, chainsaws and whaling equipment, the boys couldn’t get enough.

But our stop in tiny Coal Harbour mostly meant taking the bus 15 miles across the island to Port Hardy to hit grocery, liquor and hardware stores, to get some library and playground time for the boys, and to have a meal and a few cold pints of beer at Sporty Bar & Grill. Now stocked, re-fueled and ready-to-go, we’re making our way out of the Sound for another turn north. It looks like we’ve got a couple good days on the water ahead of us, and who knows, they might just be our best yet.

7 thoughts on “Sailing up Vancouver Island’s wild northwest coast

  1. Oh how I love your travels…and when I read your stories, I’m right with you! What a wonderful life for all four of you! Stay safe and enjoy! Love you! xoxo mamajo

  2. Great video of sailing around the Brooks Peninsula. I can see and feel the waves and swells as the boat reacts to the enormous pressures being waged. Great weather and love the beaches.

  3. Loving these posts and your new 720p video.

    I was wondering why you skipped past all of Nootka sound. Not much there, or just in a hurry for groceries? 😉

  4. Keep this up and my wife will want to do the outside again this year. If you catch up with the folks on M/V Coastal Explorer please say say hello from us. We are hoping to start flowing north this Saturday. Hope to meet you all up there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *