Last summer as we returned from Alaska in August we found the fabled cruising grounds of Canada’s Desolation Sound a bit, how to put it, overcrowded.
Here we were pulling into legendary Prideaux Haven Marine Park only to find a traffic jam. We were lucky to find one of the last stern tie rings off in little Melanie Cove, one of the side coves off the main basin.
I know what you boaters out there are thinking. “Well, duh. You went at the height of the summer cruising season when Yacht Clubs will send someone out early in the week to anchor, and others will show up later and they’ll all raft up.” In our defense, we were returning from Alaska, and the timing was what it was.
The point is, it’s hard to enjoy the wilderness with a hundred other boats all crammed in every possible anchoring spot and stern tied next to each other all around the rim of what is a lovely protected bay. And no matter how well we all get along out there, if you get 100 boats together, one of the skippers is a jerk who plays music loud and parties late.
I get that July/August is vacation time in Vancouver and Victoria. And also it’s cruising season for all the American boats that come up here too. All the guides and January boat show seminars will tell you, “Yeah, it can get a little busy. Desolation Sound ain’t so desolate in July or August.
So this year, part of the reason we’re up here in May and June is to see just how much less crowded it is when you play just off the main summer season. Are there services? Can you get into marinas without a reservation?
Our working theory was that if you come early, you get all the great cruising with a lot less of the crowds. Friday night, June 7th, we pulled in to popular Prideaux Haven and found this. There are 11 other boats here tonight. There is plenty of room. You don’t need to stern tie unless you want to. You don’t need to anchor near anyone, unless you want to. (There was pack of four 25 foot express sedan boats back in Melanie Cove who were hanging out together)
And this has been the story of our trip.
We’ve had no trouble getting into marinas when we want or need to. We’ve just called on the phone or VHF Radio as we approached and they said, sure come on in….lots of room. We haven’t had to wait at any fuel dock. Every one we approached was wide open. Makes sense if we’re coming in right in the middle of the afternoon. The fishermen and commercial folks are usually filling up early in the day, but in the afternoon it’s mostly cruisers. And there just aren’t that many out here with us in May and early June.
The other cool thing about cruising this early is that traffic jams at the best destinations, or tricky rapids and narrows, aren’t as much of a problem.
Malibu Rapids, the incredibly dangerous tidal rapid at the head of Princess Louisa Inlet intimidates the heck out of boaters; as it should. In the height of season there can be a lot of boats trying to get in and out at the same slack current. And that slack is only so long. Going even 15 minutes early or late is a real challenge for a sailboat or slow displacement cruiser.
First timers are nervous anyway. With all that summertime traffic in an amazingly narrow gap (especially at the low tide slack) your “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing” meter is now starting to peg over to the right, in the red warning area. And in the back of your mind you’re still thinking to yourself, “I wonder if there will even be any room on the Chatterbox Falls dock? If there’s not, I’ll have to try to pick up a buoy at MacDonald Island (Note: The park has added 5 additional mouring bouys up by the falls). If they’re full, Oh God, I have to try to find somewhere to stern tie in here? No not that.”
Spring cruisers don’t have to worry like that.
Malibu Rapids still needs to be respected, wait for slack. But even at mid day slack you’re unlikely to run into more than an handful of boats coming with you….or coming out as you come in. That means everyone will get to go through at or near slack water. When you’re at slack, it’s just a narrow S-curve by the nice Christian youth camp. You even have time to think, “Oh, that’s such a nice looking facility. I bet the kids have a wonderful time up here.”
And when you get up to the head of the inlet, there’s usually lots of parking room for you. If I can’t land it on an empty dock that long….I really shouldn’t be out here.
So, are there downsides to cruising this early in the season?
Well, as we all know, weather in Washington and BC is more unpredictable in the Spring and Fall. You can get some cool rainy days. But you can also get epic weeks long periods of sunny blue skies and balmy temperatures. If you’re prepared for that, and have the time to hunker down if that’s what the weather calls for, the rewards of spring cruising are enormous.
The only other thing to remember is that North of Lund on the Sunshine Coast, mainland BC, and North of Campbell River on the Vancouver Island side, the earlier you are the more likely you’ll run into seasonal resorts and small marinas that aren’t quite up in full operation yet. After Memorial Day you should be fine, but before that it’s worth a phone call while you still have cell service to make sure the place you were planning to do a fuel stop in three days actually has any.