Destinations Top Ten Lists

The Best of Desolation Sound | Way Back Wednesday

Wednesday, December 14, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

It’s Way Bay Wednesday, an opportunity to dig through the files and pull out an old blog post to shed some new light on it. Over the years, I’ve written several posts about anchorages we’ve stayed in. Each one includes anchoring information (i.e. holding, protection, GPS waypoints), historical information and a list of things to do. So far, I’ve written 28 of these (they can all be found on our Destinations page) and they’re some of my favourite posts. For the next six months, I’ll be highlighting one every Wednesday (in order from south to north) and adding a new one here and there to help fill in some of the blanks. This week, it’s a return to the Desolation Sound area for some of our “best of” picks (the original post can be found here). 
Disclaimer:  This blog article is not to be used for navigation.  It is purely an account of our personal experience in and around the Desolation Sound area of British Columbia.

Grace Harbour, Desolation Sound Marine Park (50°02.49N, 124°45.40W)

Grace Harbour, located off Malspina Inlet, is fairly ordinary compared to others in the area, but it’s our go-to anchorage in southern Desolation Sound when bad weather is on the way for two reasons: Good all-weather protection and excellent holding in mud. We rode out a series of storms there one September as a 970 Mb low moved over the Queen Charlottes producing 65 knot winds in Johnstone Strait and were very comfortable, seeing only 10 to 15 knots with gusts up to 20, while other boaters we spoke to later had suffered sleepless nights in Prideaux Haven and Melanie Cove.

The entrance is clear but narrows down to about 300 feet before opening into a large anchorage with plenty of swing room in depths of 2 to 10 metres (6 to 33 feet). Like most destinations in Desolation Sound, the sea water is warm enough for swimming right off the boat but, if you prefer fresh water, there’s a half-mile trail at the head of the bay that leads to a lake, just make sure you’re willing to share your space with garter snakes before taking a dip to cool off. If walking is more your speed, there’s a trail that leads to Isabel Bay located at the head of the eastern finger of the main harbor. But be aware, black bears use the trail as well.

Isabel Bay, Desolation Sound Marine Park (50°3.15’N, 124°43.67’W)

Located along Lancelot Inlet and within the park boundaries, Isabel Bay is one of Desolation Sound’s less popular anchorages, but we have no idea why. It has just as much, if not more, to offer than the others in the area – islets begging to be explored by kayak, tidepools, warm-water swimming, beautiful views of the Coast Mountains, a trail that leads to Grace Harbour (located along the western shoreline and marked with orange and pink ribbons) AND cell phone coverage. What more could you ask for?

The main anchorage is behind Madge Island (as seen in the photo) where the holding is good in rock and mud and there’s protection from all wind directions (a stern line is required). But we prefer to anchor in the southwest corner of the bay or behind Polly Island where we can swing freely. It’s somewhat open to the north, but the holding is good in rock and mud. You won’t be alone in either location, but both offer plenty of peace and quiet even in the height of summer.

Walsh Cove Marine Park, West Redonda Island (50°15.98’N, 124°48.14’W)

Located on the northeast side of West Redonda Island, Walsh Cove Marine Park is a sheltered, picturesque spot and a good opportunity to escape the more crowded anchorages of Desolation Sound. It’s also an excellent place to launch a kayak and paddle around. The Gorges Islets are interesting to explore and, if you circumnavigate, offer a beautiful view out to the coastal mountains along Waddington Channel. And don’t forget to look for the ancient pictographs (rock paintings) located on Butler Point – they’re the best in the area. 

To enter, approach from the south between West Redonda and Bluff Point (Gorges Islets). We’ve seen boats go through False Passage at high water but don’t recommend this approach because of underwater rocks (which are visible at low tide). The anchorage itself is deep and steep-sided, so most people anchor along West Redonda Island or Gorges Islets with a stern line tied to shore, but we prefer to drop down in the middle so we can swing freely. Depths range from 5 to 25 metres (16 to 82 feet) and the holding is fair to good in rock. The anchorage is open to the south, but offers protection from the northern quadrant. However, outflow winds from Toba Inlet can impact the area.

Unfortunately, Walsh Cove isn’t well-charted and cruising guides offer little additional help. The Canadian chart book 3312 has no detail, neither does our primary chartplotter, CMap (which is a commercial program). And Navionics has the information all wrong, listing depths of 10 metres (33 feet) in areas where there’s approximately 20 metres of water (66 feet) and 5 metres (16 feet) for 10 metres (33 feet) (though all three show the general contour of the anchorage).

Teakerne Arm Marine Park, West Redonda Island (50°11.12’N, 124°51.37’W)

Teakerne Arm has two must-see attractions: the best fresh-water lake in the Desolation Sound area and a 100-foot waterfall, both located in the northern arm.

Temporary anchorage can be found along the northwest shore in depths of 10 to 20 metres (33 to 66 feet) or near Cassel Falls. A stern line is required in either location, and there are eyebolts located throughout the anchorage for this purpose. The holding is only fair in rock and boats are subject to winds that can wrap around the northern point and funnel down the inlet. For better protection, anchor in the southern arm where the holding is fair in rock in depths of 5 to 7.5 metres (16 to 25 feet) (a stern line is required). Two nooks along the northern shore, called “Good Sex Cove” and “Great Sex Cove” by locals, offer the best shelter from northwesterly winds. But be advised, the area has been heavily logged in the past and we’ve fouled our anchor on old logging cables more than once. 

To access the lake, take the dinghy to the park dock that sits at the eastern end of the northern arm. There you’ll find a short trail that leads to the top of Cassel Falls and continues on to the lake. There’s some rock scrambling involved, so it’s a good idea not to wear shoes that can easily fall off your feet.

Von Donop Inlet, Cortes Island (50°11.06 N, 124°58.95 W)

Because of its long, narrow, twisting shape, Von Donop Inlet (H├áthayim Provincial Marine Park) on the northwest side of Cortes Island is a veritable hurricane hole and the best protected anchorage in the entire area. It can be blowing a gale in Sutil Channel, and you’d never know it because very little wind is able to find its way inside.

The entrance shoals down to less than 2 metres (6.5 feet) at its narrowest point, and there’s a rock mid-channel about half way through which can be seen at low tide. When approaching, favour the southwest side and keep the rock to port. Note: There’s a saltwater lagoon in the northeast corner of the inlet that pushes a lot of current into the main channel, particularly during mid-tides.

There are several bights and coves along the 3-mile inlet that make good anchorages, but the best (and most popular) is at the head where there’s plenty of swing-room and access to the park’s hiking trails. The holding is good in mud throughout the inlet in depths of 4 to 12 metres (13 to 40 feet).

Access to hiking trails* can be found along the eastern shore at the head of the basin. The trails are located just beyond the outhouse and are unmarked, making things a little confusing. If you take the trail on the right, it eventually leads to an old fishery and the main road. If you turn left and continue walking another mile or so, you’ll end up at Squirrel Cove where there’s a general store and restaurant. The trail to the left leads to the lagoon. The lagoon can also be explored by dingy or kayak, but the entrance becomes a waterfall as its ebbing and entering and exiting (neither of which we’ve done) is recommended at high-water slack.

*There are aggressive wolves in the area that also use the trails.

Rebecca Spit Marine Park, Quadra Island (50°06.34N, 125°12.00W)

Rebecca Spit Marine Park was a favourite of our dog, Sally (who sadly passed away in June of 2014), so it’s a special place for us and we go back every year. With beautiful views out to the coastal mountains, it’s the quintessential Pacific Northwest beach with a gently sloping shoreline piled high with driftwood and granite rocks. There are walking trails that travel one end of the spit to the other and beyond through the protection of 300 year-old cedar trees, a large grass field for kicking a ball around or lounging, and picnic tables with fire pits lining the shore.

Entrance to the anchorage is straight-forward, but it shallows up quickly close to shore. The holding is fair to good in hard sand and gravel with depths of 2 to 20 metres (6 to 66 feet). Protection from the northwest can be found throughout the park with southerly protection at the head of Drew Harbour. But whether the wind is coming from the north or the south, if it’s really blowing, it can get lumpy in there.

The nearby Heriot Bay Inn (next to the ferry terminal) has a garbage dump (for a fee), propane, fuel, a restaurant and a pub (all good food), laundry and moorage. There’s a popular hamburger stand just up from the public wharf, a TruValue grocery store on the corner of Heriot Bay Road (David swears by their cream puffs), a BC Liquor Outlet and post office. If you need to buy more provisions than you can carry, someone from the store will drive you back to Heriot Bay.

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  1. Wow! Aggressive wolves and great sex coves....does it get any more wild?!

    1. Lol. It's always an adventure on the water!

  2. Truly an amazing area. I can see why Desolation Sound is one of your favorite places to cruise. The opportunities and beauty are endless!

    1. It really is beautiful, but it's so busy in the summer months.

  3. Such a beautiful area! Love the sex cove signs - too funny :-)