British Columbia Destinations

Destination: Chief Mathews Bay (Gardner Canal)

Monday, September 01, 2014S.V. CAMBRIA

Entrance:  53°22.51’N, 128°03.51’W
Anchor:     53°20.17’N, 128°06.18’W

Disclaimer:  This blog article is not to be used for navigation.  It is solely an account of our personal experience and anchor location in Chief Mathews Bay during calm weather conditions.  What worked for us at one particular time is no guarantee or indication that it will work for others.  There are no services or VHF reception and any boat that enters should be self-sufficient.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  With some cruising grounds, it’s all about what lies at the end of the road: a white sandy beach, a waterfall, a special hike.  And with others, it’s what takes place along the way.  Cruising the Central and North Coast is the perfect mixture of both. 

And Gardner Canal is no exception.

Approaching Chief Mathews Bay in Whidby Reach.

Once you leave Europa Bay, the canal closes around you and the real journey begins: Mountains break through the water and grow to heights above 5,000 feet; their rugged peaks capped with the remains of the same glaciers that helped carve this remarkable fjord.  Granite domes and walls along the shore bear the scars they left behind.  Waterfalls roar from above, cutting deep crevasses into the rock as they find their way to the sea.  Everywhere you look, you’re surrounded by greatness.

And one of the things that make it so great is its anchorages.

The head of Chief Mathews Bay.

Stopping is a difficult thing to do, but Chief Mathews Bay is a welcomed end to any day.  More a short inlet than a bay, it’s located along one of the most dramatic sections of the canal in Whidbey Reach.  The head of the bay ends in a large river valley backed by rugged, glacial-capped mountains while the sides are lined with steep granite walls where Douglas and Cedar tress cling for dear life and waterfalls fill the anchorage with the sound of crashing water.  It truly is a slice of heaven on earth.  

Our friend, Sylvia, is dwarfed by one of the many waterfalls in Chief Mathews Bay.

Our only real piece of advice for anyone who plans to visit in the future: allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in because you’re going to need it.  We were fortunate enough to spend five days here experiencing a few of the many different moods of Chief Mathews Bay while we waited for rain to move through the area, and I’m sure they’ll go down as some of the best days we’ve had in our six years cruising British Columbia.  I’m also sure that we could have easily spent five more.

A glacial-capped peak in Chief Mathews Bay.

On a more practical side, anchorage can be found along the eastern shore, south of the snow pack and off a small gravel beach, in depths of 20 to 30 metres (66 to 99 feet) where the holding is good in mud.  The bottom is steep-to and the fresh, glacial water can play havoc with depth sounders, so it’s advisable to have a GPS waypoint ready as an aid to anchoring in case the sounder isn’t able to break through and start reading the bottom (as was the case with our friends on Salubrious).  The anchorage itself can feel open and exposed, but the inflow winds from Gardner Canal die down during settled weather. 

Salubrious and Cambria anchored along the eastern shore in Chief Mathews Bay.

The west side of the bay looks inviting but shallows quickly into mudflats and is foul with deadheads.  According to Douglass (which was printed in 2002), the cabin that sits along the mouth of the river was built by The Nanakila Institute, a Haisla organization, in order to assert their ancestral rights to the land.  Douglass calls it a longhouse, but it bears no resemblance to one and a sign posted over the door reads “Kowesas Lodge”.  Apart from the cabin and several curious seals, there are few signs of life in Chief Mathews Bay . . . which is exactly how we like it.    

With the clearing weather, Salubrious leaves Chief Mathews Bay.

Things to Do:

·        Explore the inlet by kayak or dinghy.
·        Take a trip up-river at high water (be bear aware).
·        Watch the ever-changing scenery.

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