Cruising in Desolation Sound
One of the most popular cruising destinations along the inside passage is Desolation Sound, named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792. Many experienced yachtsmen regard the Desolation Sound area as not only the most beautiful and varied cruising area in British Columbia, but equal to, if not better than, any other area in the world. This coastal haven of majestic fjords, towering 7,000 ft. peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine lakes provides countless well protected anchorages scattered throughout its spectacular cruising grounds.
The almost complete absence of development or settlement results in a superlative "wilderness" feeling. This quality, which led Captain Vancouver to name the area "Desolation Sound", is the quality that many people today wish to experience. Sea lions and seals can be found sunning on the rocks, dolphins are often sighted and occasionally Orcas (killer whales) will also visit the Sound. Even the great grey whales can be seen in the Strait in the early part of the year. Enjoy hiking ashore where bald eagles, deer and mountain goats are only some of the abundant wildlife to be seen or swim in one of the many warm fresh water mountain lakes.
Warm summer temperatures and the meeting of the tides jointly cause the Comox-Desolation Sound region to enjoy the mildest climate, richest sea life and warmest water on the British Columbia coast. This phenomenon is just one example of the uniqueness of Desolation Sound. Oysters grow in abundance in these warm water areas. Water temperatures in the Sound often exceed 75°F (22°C) from June through September and opportunities for saltwater swimming are numerous.
A week long cruise can encompass a remarkable range of scenery; snug coves tucked among forested islands, sweeping stretches of sandy beaches, snow capped mountains and deep fjords. Extensive networks of marine parks, established to preserve prime anchorages, provide wonderful anchorages and easy access to shore and park trails, picnic sites, beaches and lakes.
Located at the north end of the Sunshine Coast, about 90 miles from Vancouver or 24 miles from Comox on Vancouver Island, Desolation Sound is one of the largest and most famous marine parks in BC. Warm summer temperatures and the meeting of the tides jointly cause the Desolation Sound region to enjoy the mildest climate, richest sea life and warmest water on the BC coast. There is less than a knot of current in this area. This phenomenon is just one example of the uniqueness of Desolation Sound. Oysters grow in abundance in these warm water areas of 22°-24°C (72°-75°F). Fog is uncommon in the Strait of Georgia and in Desolation Sound in the summer months. The sun shines up to 18 hours a day in late June and the warm water temperatures can extend well into the month of September. Desolation Sound Marine Park is full of sheltered anchorages and nooks and crannies to explore - an island paradise of more than 30 miles of wooded shoreline set against the Coast Mountains. Since it was designated a marine park in the early 70's, Desolation Sound has become one of the most popular boating destinations on the BC coast.
Due to poor tidal circulation in the area, which is also responsible for the warm water, Desolation Sound ia a 'no discharge' zone so all yachts are equipped with holding tanks. During the summer, water temperatures of 70°-78°F are not unusual in some of the bays, making for excellent swimming.
This wilderness area encompasses a number of beautiful anchorages, including the popular Prideaux Haven, Melanie and Laura Coves. Other alluring anchorages within the park are Tenedos Bay and Grace Harbour. Pendrell Sound, which has the warmest water in the area, Roscoe Bay, Teakerne Arm and Walsh Cove Marine Parks lie just outside the Desolation Sound Marine Park. Additional Marine Parks include Squirrel Cove and Von Donop Inlet on Cortes Island.
Although Prideaux Haven may be the most popular spot in Desolation Sound Marine Park, Laura Cove, though not as large and requires anchoring with a stern line (too narrow to swing), has excellent holding and is absolutely gorgeous. The remains of Old Phil the Frenchman's cabin, as mentioned in The Curve of Time, is at the east end of the Cove. For the brave and daring there is a rope swing on the south shore opposite the entrance and to your right. Melanie Cove, in between Laura and Prideaux, is also popular. On a quiet evening the sound of the stream at the head of the Cove can be heard. A hike of about 1/2 mile from the head of Melanie Cove will lead to Laura Cove and eventually to the old cabin at the head of Laura Cove.
Across from Prideaux Haven on West Redonda Island is Roscoe Bay. Roscoe Bay is a sheltered, forested bay with drying shoal access across its entrance. This is the only anchorage where you are restricted getting into and out of by the tide. Once past the bar, excellent anchorage can be otained anywhere in this cozy, peaceful bay and it is a very short hike to Black Lake, the main attraction of the Bay, with its very warm water swimming.
Heading north from Roscoe Bay is Pendrell Sound, which branches off from Waddington Channel and nearly divides East Redonda Island in two. This fjord is well worth exploring. It has the warmest waters of the Sound with temperatures reaching as high as 79°F all summer and is ripe with oysters and mussels.
It is an easy cruise to venture a little further to a great little anchorage at the top of Waddington Channel called Walsh Cove. There are Indian pictographs (rock paintings) on the cliffs at the northern part of the anchorage just inside the bight of the cove. From the water they are partially hidden by trees, but once ashore they are easily found. These are hundreds of years old and were discovered by Vancouver's botanist Archibald Menzies in 1792.
Moving north, there is little or no current in the gap between West and East Redonda Islands. Travelling through here you will have a great view up Toba Inlet, a truly beautiful and remote area. It is 25 miles up to the head of the inlet, which, though very scenic, has no anchorages save Brem Bay in good weather. No anchorage can be found at the head of Toba Inlet as it is shallow, windy and exposed. You are guaranteed, however, to most likely have the entire area all to yourself.
Coming back south via Homfray Channel makes for a nice circuit. Homfray Channel is the second deepest sounding in North America reaching depths of 2400 feet with peaks rising 5000 feet to 8000 feet around you. In no time at all you are back to the Prideaux Haven area. Keep going south past Prideaux to a great anchorage in Tenedos Bay. From here it is a short hike up to Unwin Lake, which is very warm for swimming from June to September. There are also endless hiking trails all through this area.
Heading out of the Park area and onto West Redonda Island is Refuge Cove. There is no anchorage here but dockside moorage is available. This is the only place to get fuel, water or provisions in the immediate area of the Sound. As well as a good general store, you will also find a liquor store, craft shop, showers, washer & dryer, and a hamburger stand that has recently been enlarged with the addition of a CAPPUCCINO BAR!
Another must see Marine Park is located just north of Refuge Cove. Teakerne Arm is the site of one of the best swimming spots on the South Coast. There is a fabulous 90 foot waterfall cascading right out of Cassel Lake down into the bay. Most boaters anchor at the bight west of the falls with plenty of rode and a stern line to shore. There is a dinghy dock and an easy 1km trail that leads past the falls to the best swimming spot on the shore of Cassel Lake. The water in the Lake can reach over 74°F. Swimming and diving off the rocks is a lot of fun. Old logging artifacts, such as a donkey engine, can be found in the surrounding forest. Unfortunately, you cannot stay overnight at this anchorage. You will be dropping the hook in 45 feet to 65 feet of water with a stern line ashore. Your stern will not be far from the shore, the holding is very poor, and there is no room for error. A south easterly drives a fair size sea right into this corner and moving anchorage in the middle of a dark night with no navigational aids is nobody's idea of a fun, or safe, time.
Stern-to anchoring is very common in the Sound. If you have never done it before, the following is one of the best methods to do it with minimum problems. Before you actually drop the anchor, have someone go ashore with the stern line, tie it securely to a tree or rock (above the high water mark), then row the line out to approximately where you want your stern. Anchor the boat and back up towards the person in the dinghy. It is much easier for the dinghy to maneuver than the boat with a hook down. Once secure, if the bottom is not quite visible, make up some sort of lead line to check the depth of the water at the stern. The bottom drops off quickly here and the sounder may read 30 feet where it is, but you may have only 10 feet at the stern. With as much as 18 feet of tidal range you can drop as fast as 3 feet an hour!
Squirrel Cove is the closest and best anchorage to Teakerne Arm. There are not a lot of marine facilities in the area, but government docks and an excellent general store can be found at Squirrel Cove. There is good holding ground in the Squirrel Cove anchorage as well as lots of swinging room. In the NE corner of the bay, drying rapids lead to a saltwater lagoon. The entrance to this lagoon is known as the "Reversing Rapids". Salt water flows in on a rising tide, then out again on a falling tide and all at quite a fast rate.
Although there is so much to do and see, Desolation Sound is not a huge area. Even slow boats can go from one end to the other in a day. The Sound offers a wilderness setting, generally easy waters, hundreds of bays and coves to explore and anchor in, and marinas where fuel and supplies are available. Navigation is straightforward with few hazards and everything easily visible. Closer to shore is a different story, but the rocks and reefs are charted and diligent attention to the charts is an absolute necessity. Great care must be taken when navigating and choosing overnight anchorages. In reference to the colouring on your chart, it is simply said "Sail on the white bits; anchor on the blue bits; drink on the yellow bits."
It seems the most popular time to cruise Desolation Sound is from mid July to the end of August, when the prospects for sunny warm weather are best. It's also when the anchorages and facilities are most crowded. However, in late May, June and early July the days are longer and crowds are not a problem and the winds are fresh. The waterfalls are the most awesome and the resorts and businesses, while open and fully stocked, are least harried. This being noted, many people consider the very best time to cruise Desolation Sound is September. By then the high season crowds have departed yet summer hangs on for a last and glorious finale. Stock in stores may be thin and summertime help back in school,but the low slanting sunlight paints the hills and mountains with new drama, and the first colours of autumn make each day a new experience. Fall storm patterns don't usually begin until October. The Strait is protected from rainstorms by the Vancouver Island mountain range, which deflects precipitation and causes a rain shadow throughout the area.