British Columbia Destinations

Destination: Gardner Canal

Wednesday, August 27, 2014S.V. CAMBRIA

Gardner Canal (Devastation Channel, North Coast, BC)

53°34.683’N, 128°48.323’W 
Disclaimer:  This blog article is not to be used for navigation.  It is purely an account of our personal experience in Gardner Canal, a remote wilderness location, during calm weather conditions.  There are no services or VHF reception and any boat that enters should be self-sufficient.

This is our sixth season sailing the waters of British Columbia and while we’ve barely made a dent in the more than 13,900 nautical miles of coastline, we have spent time cruising the best of the best – from the Inside Passage to the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  And Gardner Canal is, without a doubt, the pinnacle of Pacific Northwest Cruising.  Located off the beaten path of the Inside Passage, it’s by no means a detour: Gardner Canal’s a destination in its own right; one well-worth the time and effort it takes to reach.

So, what’s the catch? 

Well . . . paper charts are very difficult to find.  It’s remote and there’s no VHF reception, so you need either a sideband radio or satellite phone in case of an emergency and for weather information.  The anchorages are deep and steep-to requiring more skill to anchor in than most.  The fresh, glacial waters can wreak havoc with depth sounders and hide hazards in the water.  Mist and fog are common in the summer, so it may take days of waiting for skies clear enough to actually see the mountains.  But if you’re prepared and have a boat with gear that can handle the environment, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

The canal, a 46-nautical mile fjord that runs southeastward into the mainland, is divided into five legs, or reaches.  From mouth to head, they are: Alan, Europa, Barrie, Whidbey and Egeria.  At the head of the canal lies the Kitlope Valley, the world’s largest undisturbed coastal temperate rain forest and ancestral land of the Haisla Nation.  Small, side inlets that offer anchoring possibilities are dotted along the canal and include Collins Bay, Triumph Bay, Europa Bay, Kiltuish Inlet, Owyacumish Bay, Kemano Bay, Chief Mathews Bay and Kitlope Bight. 

Europa Bay (53°26.835’N, 128°33.613’W)

Alan Reach has been heavily logged in the past and held little appeal for us, so we skipped Collins Bay, Triumph Bay and Kiltuish Inlet (which sounded appealing but is protected by a shallow, rocky entrance and rapids) and went straight to Europa Bay, situated along the north side of the canal between Shearwater and Europa Points.  The small bight is open to the winds blowing in the canal and the holding is reported to be poor in rock, but BC Parks has set up two mooring buoys marked “Private” that are for public use.  The anchorage itself isn’t overly beautiful or interesting but what makes it worthwhile are the hot spring pools located along the western side of the bay . . . they’re lovely.

Cambria tied to a mooring in Europa Bay.

Owyacumish Bay (53°29.90’N, 128°22.10’W)    

Once past Alan Reach, the logging ends and the real journey begins.  The landscape seems to grow with every mile and just when you think the view couldn’t possibly get any better, you turn a corner and another incredible vista, more amazing than the last, unfolds right before your eyes.  In and amongst all of this, at the junction of Europa and Barrie Reaches, lies the next anchorage – Owyacumish Bay.  Hidden from the main channel, it doesn’t look very promising but is one of the most scenic spots we’ve ever stayed in and now tops our list of favourite anchorages. 

Setting the anchor can be a little tricky – the bottom is steep-to and shoals quickly at the head of the bay but the holding is good in soft mud near the eastern wall in depths of 30 to 40 metres (99 to 132 feet).  Once anchored, you’re surrounded by incredible views: a large waterfall along the northeastern shore, the Brim River Valley to the north, granite domes to the west and snow-caped mountains in Gardner Canal to the south.  It honestly doesn’t get much better than this. 

Cambria at anchor in Owyacumish Bay - a slice of heaven on earth!

Kemano Bay (53°28.28’N, 128°08.25’W)

Five nautical miles down inlet from Owyacumish Bay along Barrie Reach, you have Kemano Bay where Alcan set up a small townsite to maintain a power plant built to supply power to their aluminum smelter in Kitimat.  In 1999, the site was dismantled and now crews come in from Kitimat to service the plant.  The docks, once belonging to the Kemano Yacht Club, are still there but are private property and no longer maintained.  We’ve heard from several other people that you can tie up for the night if you ask permission but didn’t stay there ourselves because less than 10 nm away in Whidbey Reach there’s, what we consider to be, a better option – Chief Mathews Bay.

Leaving Kemano Bay behind and making our way up Whidby Reach.

Chief Mathews Bay (53°22.51’N, 128°03.51’W)

The bay, which is actually a side-inlet, is large and culminates in a valley backed by glacial-capped mountains.  Waterfalls cascade down granite faces along both sides of the shore and snow packs down to the water are still evident late into the summer months.  The scenery in here is among some of the best in Gardner Canal and it’s an amazing place to spend a day or two exploring by kayak or dinghy. 

The west side of the bay, near the mouth of the river, is shallow and foul with deadheads but you can anchor along the east shore off a small creek, south of the landslide, in 20 to 30 metres (66 to 99 feet) where the holding is good in mud.  The anchorage feels somewhat exposed because of its size but, apart from the 10 knots of inflow winds on our first night that caused a ripple on the water, the conditions were calm during our five day stay.

Our friends aboard Salubrious leaving Chief Matthews Bay.

Price Cove (53°16.16’N, 127°56.90’W)

From Chief Mathews Bay it’s 11 nautical miles down to Price Cove, an incredible glacial valley backed by steep granite walls and cascading waterfalls.  In our opinion, it stands out from everything else along Egeria Reach and is the only reason to venture to the head of the canal (apart from bragging rights).  But the cove, which is merely a bend in the road, is steep-to with depths of 40 to 50 metres (132 to 165 feet) and we didn’t attempt to anchor.

Stunning Price Cove.

Kitlope Valley (53°15.22’N, 127°54.69’W)

We’d planned to drop a lunch hook and spend a little time at the head of Gardner Canal exploring Kitlope Valley, the world’s largest remaining coastal rain forest, by dinghy but we’re conservative cruisers and didn’t care for the look of Kitlope Bight as an anchorage.  The bottom shoals very quickly into mudflats littered with deadheads, making Kitlope Valley the least attractive and inviting section of the fjord.

The Kitlope Valley.
To be honest, neither David nor I really knew what to expect from Gardner Canal.  When we first considered it, the fact that Alan Reach had been extensively logged was a real turn off and we didn’t think it would be worth the effort.  Most inlets we’ve explored along the coast have only been day trips because they offer no safe anchorage along the way and, at 46 nautical miles, Gardner Canal is too long for that.  And even though Douglass lists several possibilities, none of them sounded particularly good or looked too promising on the chart.  But then we started to ask around and found a couple who had actually been.  After talking to them, we had a better appreciation of our options and were sold! 

And we hope you are too.

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  1. Your shared blog is very informative. You have provided much detail in your blog post. I just visited the Kemano Bay before my us west coast bus tours. But after reading your inspiring blog, now I decided to visit the Chief Mathews Bay and Kitlope Valley to enjoy the beauty of nature.

    1. You won't regret it! If you do make it down to Kitlope, we met a lady recently who said there's a First Nation Village up the river. I imagine a person would need permission to visit but that could be arranged in Kitimaat or (possibly) Kemano.