Most cruisers heading north choose the sheltered inside route through Cordero Channel, Chancellor Channel, Wellbore Channel and Sunderland Channel to avoid facing the possible heavy seas and unpredictable associated with a long passage in Johnstone Strait. The route runs north from Calm Channel through a string of rather daunting rapids that require careful navigation with diligent study of the Canadian Tide and Current Tables in order to calculate the times of slack water at the various rapids. To make things more interesting, the waters north of Desolation Sound flood southward from the top of Vancouver Island and ebb northward and a boat trying to go northbound would encounter some timing problem trying to run all the rapids.
There are five sets of rapids that need to be transitted; the Yuculta Rapids, Gillard Passage rapids, Dent Rapids, Greene Point Rapids, and Whirlpool Rapids.
We began our journey northward on September 6th from Squirrel Cove and travelled through Lewis Channel and Calm Channel to transit the first three rapids in one go. We motored and fished most of the way and then sailed a bit before approaching the Yuculta Rapids. To transit all three rapids in one go, we followed the piloting instructions as best as possible and the instructions were spot on. We commenced transitting the Yuculta Rapids an hour before the turn to ebb (high slack water) and used a back eddy along Stuart Island shore until off Kellsey Point, then crossed to the Sonora Island shore to use the prevailing northerly current. We followed another sailboat into the Yuculta Rapids about 600 feet behind. They started off on the Sonora Island side of the rapids but then tried transitting the rapids by going straight up the middle; contrary to the sailing instructions, and got caught in several eddies where they came to a stand-still. By the time we both went through the Yuculta Rapids and were approaching Gillard Passage Rapids, we were almost 50 feet away from them! We had speeds up to 7 knots with strong eddies all around. Rob was at the helm while I was at the bow directing as best possible to avoid the major eddies.
As we approached Gillard Passage Rapids, I turned around towards Rob to let him know of a few more eddies when I saw something big splashing behind our boat. Initially, I thought it was a seal but when it came up again, both of us realized that it was a sea lion with a fish (maybe a large salmon??). It was so cool! There ended up being a whole colony of sea lions on Dent Island sunbathing. Our speed through the Gillard Rapids was still high but ended up being about 6 knots instead.
The final rapids we crossed were Dent Rapids and we were able to transit the rapids before the ebb had time to build to full force which could be up to 11 knots. By the time we approached Dent Rapids, we bypassed the other sailing boat as it was still getting caught in the eddies but they also made it through with no mishaps. In addition to the sea lions, we also had dolphins travelling south through the Dent Rapids. Again cool! M. Wylie Blanchet in The Curve of Time mentioned a similar encounter with killer whales that went through Dent Rapids and when she questioned fishermen about them, the fishermen indicated that the whales tend to wait for slack water when transitting the rapids. They were not sure if they waited for slack because they don’t like the current or because it is the best time to fish. Well, apparently dolphins like slack time too!
After travelling for almost nine hours and 34 nautical miles we stayed at Shoal Bay Public Wharf (50°27.502’N, 125°21.056’W) with two other vessels (.70 cents a foot!!!). The lodge and the pub is a wonderful place to hang out and chill but if you need something more energetic, the owners planted a large vegetable patch where cruisers could get their hands dirty and pick your own vegetables. We were looking forward to their wood fired pizza as was described in the Waggoner Cruising Guide but as it was the end of the season they did not have it going. We ended up enjoying a pint of beer with other boaters on the lodge deck and enjoying the sunset over Phillips Arm.
“Shoal Bay is a unique spot. In the late 1800s, it was the most populated town on the coast (including the city of Vancouver) but, over the years, industry in the area died out taking the town along with it. Eventually a fourteen room resort was built on the property which Mark MacDonald bought in 2000. Within weeks of moving everything he owned in, the lodge caught fire and burned to the ground – destroying everything in the process. He stuck with it and over the years has been rebuilding his dream in the form of a pub and cottages with the help of friends, strangers and his wife, Cynthia.” – s/v Cambria
Shoal Bay had the best sign we have seen so far for boaters…”Rafting is Mandatory!! Please put out fenders for rafters now, do not hide below decks pretending you do not see them coming. Cool people welcome rafters and then help them drink their wine.”
The following day we travelled towards Blind Channel Resort (50°24.835’N, 125°30.099’W) about 7 NM from Shoal Bay. To get to the resort, we had to transit another set of rapids, Blind Rapids. Nothing too big as we went through at slack time. We decided to stay at the resort for Rob’s birthday, to enjoy the fully licensed restaurant and fresh-baked goods. Even though it was only September 7th, the resort was slowing down for the season with the restaurant was closed and no baked goods but we were able to order dinner for Rob’s birthday. The following day we hiked through the forest on trails developed and maintained by Interfor (a logging company) and visited a 800-year-old cedar over 16 feet in diameter. On our way back, Rob was ahead in the trail and must have disturb a wasp nest as one stung me as I went through the same area. Luckily I’m not allergic!
On September 8th we made our way further north towards Douglas Bay in Forward Harbour (50°28.952’N, 125°45.293’W). To get there, we had to transit 2 more set of rapids not counting Blind Rapids. After going through Green Rapids, we raised the sails but soon found that we were going backwards as we were going against the wind and the current. We had to bring down the sail and motored through Wellbore Channel but at times we were only going 2.5 knots when we should have gone over 5 knots.
The next set of rapids before anchoring in Douglas Bay was Whirlpool Rapids. Our first attempt through the rapids was not successful as we were being pushed around by the strong current. We drifted back to a safer location and waited for another half an hour before transitting. This time we were successful and finally made it to Douglas Bay for the night. Douglas Bay is a nice little gem of a spot for anchoring (remote & quiet). The next morning while bringing the anchor up, Rob spot a black bear walking along the shore. ~Sophia & Rob