We didn’t think we’d ever stop at Pirates Cove Marine Park, at the north end of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. The BC Marine Parks Guide bills it as one of the more popular parks in the Gulf Islands, with room for 75 boats. This is remarkable, given that the cove from shore to shore is about 730 by 1275 feet, and only 485 by 910 feet outside the 2-meter contour line where we safely could swing. Stern-tie rings line the shore, allowing many more boats to anchor than if they all swung free.
Normally we save the busy summer anchorages such as this one for the winter, when fewer boats are about. We hadn’t yet visited Pirates Cove though, even in the winter, because of the holding. Most cruising guides describe the holding at Pirates Cove as poor, mentioning fire drills of boats dragging anchor whenever the wind came up. In the winter, when gale-force winds are common, good holding with room for plenty of scope is especially important. We always felt we should try Pirates Cove anyway, and this year we noticed that the guides also mentioned a gooey and sticky mud bottom. We were skeptical that the holding would be poor in that kind of bottom, so we finally gave it a try.
After all those years of avoiding it, Pirates Cove turned out to be an ideal winter anchorage. The holding really isn’t poor, it’s just poor on short scope. On a 5:1 scope, the holding was good. We didn’t budge, even with gale-force southeasterly winds blowing. That scope, however, reduces Pirates Cove from a 75-boat anchorage to about 3-boat one.
We’d arrived during a period of unseasonably cold below-freezing temperatures and lots of snow. We had to dig out a spot to tie off the dinghy, and the ramp was about a foot deep in snow.
Not far down the trail, we noticed a narrow channel had been cut down the hillside along the surface of the snow. From way up high above the trail, the channel swooped through the trees, crossed the trail, and went right down to the water. It was about 8-10” wide, too narrow for a snowboard, and the path through the trees and branches wouldn’t allow anything larger than about 6” high to pass anyway. Pacific Coast Mammals supported our theory that playful river otters made them: “Makes river bank slides 30 cm wide. Snow slides show track marks. When on land, spends most of its time frolicking, chasing tail, or playing tag.”
We found snow slides all over the island. The most impressive slide started at the top of a very steep flight of stairs and went all the way to the bottom. That must have been some ride. Cowabunga!
Animal tracks were everywhere, but ours were the only human footprints ashore. Besides its beauty, the snow gave us a glimpse into the area’s extensive and varied animal life. In some cases, it appeared that the otter Super Bowl had taken place—a veritable highway of tracks led to and from a certain point. We realized it must be one of their dens. We’d never have noticed it without the snow.