British Columbia


West Coast of Vancouver Island - Mid



Our new plan was definitely in mind as we looked at the guide books choosing anchorages for our final weeks on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  We would depart from Tofino, a small town about two-thirds down the coast, for Hawaii and we made a preliminary date of early August.


We headed 'inland' again up Esperanza Inlet; way up at the head of the narrow finger of water, surrounded by higher hills, was a small settlement with the intriguing name of Zeballos.  This area has much maritime history, explored, charted and named by Spanish and British explorers.  Ciriaco Ceballos was here in 1791. It looked like a 'rough and ready' place, a raw community, and that is what it is.  A small community, population 200, existing at the end of a gravel road from Port McNeill and at the head of a long sea water inlet.  In the past it had been a centre for gold mining, then iron, before logging, fishing and tourism became the mainstays.


Tom and I walked the one-street town, passing the red shop then the white shop, which also housed the laundromat, opposite that the largest building in town the newer bar and restaurant, and finally on to the small Museum.  There were some interesting photographs, newspaper cuttings, artifacts and information about the mining era for gold then iron ore.  We also learnt that Zeballos was hit quite badly by the 1964 Alaskan tsunami with a 6 foot wave washing right up into the town centre and damaging many buildings, even here some ten miles up the inlet.  We took in the sights of the river trail boardwalk, avoiding falling through any of the rotting boards and read some of the historical signs along the street.  This is small-scale tourism but the locals have tried hard to provide some interesting features in this 'end of the line' town. The best part of the day was having a shower, after eleven dirty days.  Two loonies (a Canadian water bird features on the one dollar coin) was a cheap price for cleanliness, in a very basic public shower facility but with lovely hot water.





Next stop was a very special place – where the English and Spanish sailors first set foot in the Pacific NW.  Nootka Sound is where James Cook, George Vancouver and the Spanish explorers Y Quadra, Martinez and Juan Perez explored and charted, anchored their ships for rest and recuperation, water and wood, where they met with local Indian tribes and where a significant maritime treaty was signed.  The local names tell it all:  Esperanza Inlet (Cook named it Hope Bay, hoping for a safe anchorage; then Hope was turned into Spanish), Boca de Infierno (Mouth of Hell, named by the Spanish after the rushing tides), Friendly Cove, Bligh Island, Resolution Cove, Spanish Pilot Group, San Rafael Island.


On 29 March 1778 Captain Cook aboard his ship Resolution sailed into Nootka Sound in the vicinity of Bligh Island on his third voyage of exploration around the world.   He, like us, visited Friendly Cove and talked to some of the 'friendly' locals.   We anchored and walked ashore; he did the same but also claimed the surrounding territory for Great Britain.  He became the first European to set foot on the shores of what is now known as British Columbia.














Friendly Cove's official name is Yuquot; it was and is the summer village of Chief Maquinna and the Mowachaht people.  When Cook was here the Mowachahts numbered several thousand.  Cook successfully traded sea otter skins and established a fur trade, which brought people of the Northwest coast into extensive contact with Europeans.  In 1794, a settlement was signed here – the Nootka Convention.  Captain Vancouver represented Great Britain and Captain Quadra representing Spain.  This basically set the rights to give all parties freedom of the seas and it granted territorial rights of the West Coast of Vancouver Island back to Great Britain from previous Spanish 'occupation'.  Nootka at this time was the most important sea port north of Mexico. The small Church in the cove has two stained glass windows donated by the Spanish, depicting these significant events.



We spoke with some of the Mowachaht locals.  Their main settlement is well inland now, but every year they all gather back in Yuquot, families on holiday together, camping on the grass and for the young people learning some of their history.  We walked the spectacular beach, not a white sand beach but one composed of billions of rounded pebbles and stones.  For over a mile the curved foreshore stretches around the outer bay with Pacific surf breaking on the beach to continue smoothing and rounding the stones.  Walking was hard work; but for beachcombers the distraction under foot meant lots of stops.  There were tiny pebbles no bigger than pin heads, rising incrementally to small rocks the size of a mango; and all were round and smooth.  The colours were magical – black, midnight blue, slate grey, silver grey, ochre, rust, maroon, pink, green, cream and white.  A handful of stones gave a feature in texture, shape, size and hue.  We enjoyed walking on and scooping up the beach.







Next stop was a visit to the Nootka Lighthouse.  The Guide Book said that the keepers are happy to see cruising yachties.  We chatted to Joanne and Mark for some minutes.  Lighthouse keepers often lead very isolated lives; here in the summer at least, these two have many visits from cruisers.  Worldwide however it is rare for lighthouses still to be manned.  Canada has quite a few.  For sailors there is always something reassuring about seeing a far off beam of rotating light, or the white upright structure piercing a rocky shore and knowing there is human contact close by.  On this coast there are continuous weather reports that are sent in every three hours from observations by the keepers.  They get one reprieve, no 0300 report!




We have ceased to be amazed by how small the world is when it comes to 'out of the way' meetings or finding friends in common.  We were invited to have drinks on a nearby yacht anchored in Friendly Cove.  We had never met Dave or Sharon before.  As soon as we heard that he was an ex-Cathay Pacific pilot we knew the next coincidence.  He knew our neighbours in Havenview, Nelson, Robin was also a Cathay Pacific pilot!








Hot Springs Cove just thirty miles down the coast was always known as the highlight of a cruiser’s circumnavigation of Vancouver Island.  Here on the far west coast in a rocky hide-away, one could soak away all the troubles and stresses of the challenging sailing and navigation, sitting in a private hot pool, looking out over the rocky foreshore, perhaps even with a beer in hand, in the late afternoon.  That was in the good old days.  Hot Springs Cove has been changed by its popularity.  It is close enough, with the fast travel of sea planes and launches, to be a major attraction for all the tourist visitors who flock to Tofino every summer.
















We walked the mile and half boardwalk through dense rain forest knowing it would not be as secluded as when we visited twelve years ago.  It was crowded at 1630.  Vicky just managed to find a small pool to herself, but three metres away there were nubile young women, hunky men, and blobby middle-agers soaking in the hot waters too.  It was a pleasant dip – but times had changed.








Before we set off of any long passage – for us that is over 2,000 miles – we need a fresh coat of varnish all over Sunstone.  Salt water and sun take their toll on the wood.  So we needed to find a quiet spot; preferably with no other yachts, certainly no fast motor boats, a very sheltered cove, with good views if possible.  We would be there for some five days, varnishing and carrying out pre-passage preparations.  Tom studied the charts carefully in the waters near to Tofino.  The name was descriptive of what we would find, we hoped – Tranquilito Cove.


It was all we wanted.  One small yacht shared the cove with us for two days, but Sara only had a rowing dinghy.  The cove was not on the normal cruisers route, it was pretty and very sheltered.  Even when we could see small white crests rolling up the inlet with an afternoon day breeze, Tranquilito did not even show a ripple.  We stern tied to a small island to keep the boat in one place and varnished all the outside wood.  Much of it was still quite shiny from the binge varnishing session in Desolation Sound only six weeks previously, but we knew it had to be done again.  We went through many other pre-passage checks and we relaxed, knowing we would be sleep deprived soon.  The water in this inlet was even warm enough for a swim, 21'C.  Out on the west coast you are lucky if you get 11'C.



In Tofino we tied up at the public docks among a few yachts and scores of smaller fishing boats.  The supermarket was good and there was even the chance for some retail therapy for Vicky in this very touristy town.  We took a 35km bike ride to stretch our legs which soon would get minimal exercise.


We did go back to Sidney and Victoria where we started off from in April, but by car.  We have so many good friends in that area we wanted to say our goodbyes and we had left a couple of spinnakers with cruising friends, Bryan and Patti. The car was returned on 30 July.  We did the final fresh food shop on 31 July, topped up the propane gas, topped up the diesel jerry cans, topped up the water tanks and we were ready.


On Saturday 1 August, we motored away from the dock, away from Tofino and away from British Columbia, to sail the Pacific Ocean.  Sunstone, Tom and Vicky were heading home.  That was a new concept for us; it was the first time we were heading home, to our second home in Nelson.  The Pacific crossing was broken into three parts; Leg 1 to Hawaii, 2,360 miles; Leg 2 to Vava'u, Tonga, 2,590 miles; and Leg 3 to Opua, 1,200 miles.  The chart showed a vast expanse of ocean ahead of us!