MV Dirona



Christmas in Desolation Sound

In the winter of 2002, rather than our usual trip to the Gulf Islands, we instead traveled to Desolation Sound. For those unfamiliar with the area, here's a detailed map.  You can also read about this trip in the December, 2003 issue of Pacific Yachting.


Upon learning of our trip, everyone's first question is always about the weather. It was cold of course — we did not spend any time sitting around in shorts — but we saw very little fog and few storms. The skies were overcast much of the time, but it did not rain everyday, in fact, as you will see from the pictures, we had several mornings and afternoons of blue sky.


We really love winter boating, when the crowds have fallen off and are replaced by huge flocks of wintering seabirds. There are always a few boats in and around the Gulf and San Juan Islands all year round, but once we had left Oak Bay, we were to see only one other pleasure craft underway during our entire trip.  While we did not expect to see many boats, we were anticipating that a few locals might be there at least. However my Dad, who lives in nearby Campbell River, says all his friends thought we were crazy to be going. Crazy or not, it was a wonderful experience.

For our winter boating tips and techniques see
Winter Boating. And for general boating tips and techniques, along with many wonderful, little-known anchorages, see Waggoner sister publication, Cruising the Secret Coast.

It was a crisp, sunny winter day when we crossed the Juan de Fuca Straight to clear customs in Victoria. There was little wind and the seas were very calm. This is the view looking west across the golf course as we approach Oak Bay Harbour. We spent the first night at Montague Harbour Marine Park in the Gulf Islands, which was unusually deserted - not even one other boat.

A gale blew in the Strait of Georgia all night, and at least one commercial boat opted to go through the Gulf Islands the next morning, so instead of heading right out through Porlier Pass as we had originally planned, we went up through Dodd Narrows to Nanaimo. That way the tide would be with the wind when we ventured out. The conditions turned out to be amongst the calmest we have seen though, almost dreamy. The picture at left is just north of the Sisters Island light station, looking west to Vancouver Island.

After passing a sleepy Lund and a very deserted Copeland Islands Marine Park, we continued on to Desolation Sound. Upon rounding Sarah Point, the view down the sound of the Coast Mountains was positively stunning. This is always a wonderful sight in the summer, but in the winter, the peaks are much more impressive with their coating of snow. We were expecting dramatic scenery, but were literally shocked at the vista that greeted us as we turned eastward..

We were both eager to stop first at Prideaux Haven in Desolation Sound Marine Park, the most popular destination in the park and extremely crowded in the summer. The last time we were here, there were at least fifty boats inside, with float planes constantly arriving outside to shuttle boaters between their vessel and the cities. It was noisy and busy on that summer afternoon, but today, one week  before Christmas, the cove is silent and empty. We kept expecting another vessel to show up, but none did.

From our anchorage inside deserted Prideaux Haven, the view of Mount Denman (centre in the earlier picture) jutting a snow-encrusted tooth 6,590 feet into a clear blue sky was particularly impressive. At this point we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.

The following day we stopped in at Refuge Cove to see about getting some fuel, as the closer it got to Christmas, the more difficult this would be. We arrived at a sleepy community, with a few homes clearly occupied, but the fuel dock and store were closed. We walked around for a bit and someone eventually came down to open up for us, so we got fuel and water and were all set for the next several days. The last time we were here in the summer, it was so busy that we had to wait for a spot at the fuel dock. Not so today.

Our next stop was the waterfalls at Teakearne Arm. We were anticipating that the flow would be much more active in the winter, but were delighted to encounter not one, but two waterfalls gushing over the cliff. Anchoring here, where the bottom drops off steeply to over 100', is no easier in the winter than the summer however. After much effort, we eventually managed to get a good set in 120', letting out 450' and pulling back to the point just east of the falls, where we stern tied to an old logging ring.

Our efforts were rewarded with not only a spectacular view of the falls, but a beautiful sunset as well. We bundled up and sat up on the flybridge with a glass of wine as the sun set and the landscape turned purple and blue.

The following day dawned clear and blue, with sea smoke drifting above the water surface near the falls. We took the dinghy over to the park dock to walk up to the top of the falls and to Cassel Lake, which feeds them. This is the view looking west down Teakerne Arm. Note the white colour of the wood on the dock surface - it was thick with frost and very slippery.

Cassel Lake, in the summer a warm and popular swimming spot, is chilly and uninviting this time of year. The lack of temperature was more than made up for by the tranquil surroundings however.

The extra waterfall made it quite difficult to make our way to even the top of the falls, let alone around to the lake. As visible in the picture, the water is flowing quite rapidly.

We left Teakearne mid-morning to take advantage of the clear skies and head deeper into the Coast Mountains, expecting some spectacular views and were not disappointed. This is the view down Price Channel, north of the Redonda Islands, of Mounts Grazebrooke and Whieldon at the entrance to Toba Inlet.

We were originally planning to head up Toba, but by this time it was nearing 4pm and dusk (one of the distinct downsides of winter boating is the reduced number of daylight hours, although the upside is that you don't have to stay up very late to see the stars), so we continued our Marine Park tour and stopped at deserted Walsh Cove. The view is looking northeast from the anchorage across Waddington Channel to snow-dusted Mount Bunsen on East Redonda Island. There has been no wind and the water is exceptionally smooth.

The following day we returned to Desolation Sound Marine Park and anchored in Laura Cove. We bundled up and made a dinghy tour of the anchorages, still expecting to find someone in Prideaux, but once again the entire area was deserted. Melanie Cove was packed with moon jellyfish - literally thousands and thousands - with gonads coloured white, pink, salmon and purple.

Continuing our Marine Park tour, Roscoe Bay was our next destination. The tides would be very high all day for the next several days, so entering and exiting over the shallow bar at the entrance would not pose an issue - nonetheless, a bow watch was in order. We anchored just off a beautiful lacy waterfall on the northern shore, which is just a trickle in the summer.

This is the view looking east across the bay of a snow-covered Dudley Cone (left) and Mount Crawshay (right). The bay was empty except for Dirona and six pairs of Surf Scoters, with their distinctive white forehead and skull patch, who were swimming with a pair of Barrow's Goldeneye, as is frequently their custom.

At the head of the bay, an old logging flume channels the water emptying from nearby Black Lake into Roscoe Bay, the rainforest slowly taking over at the sides. The water was running very swiftly within. We beached the dinghy nearby and went for a walk to the lake. The trail, an old logging road, was covered by a thick carpet of moist and decomposing leaves.

The rainforest on either side of the trail was in fully glory. Steeped with life, it looked, felt, and smelled magnificent. We found many different types of mosses and lichens throughout, in all shades of vibrant green. This healthy mass of Tangle Moss was growing on a tree hanging over trail.

Black Lake was extremely calm and still, with bits of fog catching in the trees on the other side. Later in the evening, fog from the lake could be seen slowly seeping into Roscoe Bay.

The next morning we rounded the south side of Cortez Island into the teeth of a winter storm — we saw gusts to 40kn. It wasn't a surprise, as we had been listening to the weather reports, but it was certainly exciting. We had to tack to the SW before turning north into Sutil Channel - it was rough enough that the ferry heading from Cortez over to Quadra was doing the same. At times the seas were close to 10', but Dirona handles very well in such conditions, so we had no problems, although it was a little disconcerting rising up, up, up in a following sea when a huge wave passed beneath us. The picture at left is in much calmer conditions looking south towards Surge Narrows from Waiatt Bay, but it still looks pretty bleak for a normally calm area.

The next Marine Park on list was Octopus Islands, where we would spend Christmas Eve and wake up on Christmas Day. The park looked rather exposed and uninviting when we arrived, but we found shelter and solid holding in the middle of an empty Tentacle Cove. The storm grew that night to blow 55knots at Cape Mudge, while we saw gusts of 35. Instead of Christmas music, we listened to the Vessel Traffic channel as the ships signed off early and everyone exchanged Christmas salutations.

Christmas is the day for eating, so we started off with fresh-baked Danishes and lazed in the cabin with our coffees, watching a huge flock of Common Goldeneye foraging for their own meal nearby. We couldn't imagine a better place to be for Christmas Morning.

It was misty and overcast in the warm front that followed the previous night's storm. We left our anchorage and came through Hole in the Wall, pictured at the western entrance, and back into the warmer waters below the rapids. Instead of the more typical ten-degree difference of the summer, the water temperature at the Octopus Islands was 44.5 compared to 46 beyond the rapids.

We anchored that night in Von Donop Inlet, empty and silent save for the soulful call of a loon when we first arrived. It was a wonderful setting for our Christmas dinner, which consisted of peppercorn-crusted roast beef tenderloin (see 12/2004 issue of Pacific Yachting for recipe), potatoes 'Da Delfina', boiled fresh artichoke with lemon-butter, and a bottle of Mondavi cabernet. If nothing else, we are certainly maintaining the holiday eating tradition.

The next morning dawned clear and calm, and as there were several more storms forecast, including a 980mb low over the southern tip of Vancouver Island tomorrow morning, we decided to take advantage of the weather break and head south to Princess Louisa Inlet (top right in this map). We would need fuel for that trip, and first stopped at Powell River, which was closed. Egmont was fortunately open, so we able to refuel at this friendly outpost before heading deeper into Jervis Inlet.




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Copyright 2012 Jennifer and James Hamilton