Boating in Desolation Sound
Comox on the southern coast of BC boasts one of North America’s most spectacular wilderness coasts, a coastline studded with islands and secluded beaches. Many of the islands along the coast are home to bald eagles and hundreds of species of seabirds, as well as marine mammals including the Dall’s porpoise, Pacific white spotted dolphin, and of course the killer (orca) whales. Seals and sea lions hang out regularly on rocky outcroppings and otters are often spotted scampering along the shorelines of quiet coves. For sailors and power boaters this intricate coastline with winding channels and mountain fjords is a cruising paradise. The anchorages are sheltered; the weather is excellent, the scenery diverse and access to cruising is readily available.
One of the most popular cruising destinations along the inside passage is Desolation Sound, named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792. Many experienced yachtsmen regard Desolation Sound as not only the most beautiful and varied cruising area in British Columbia, but equal to, if not better than any other area in the world. This coastal haven of majestic fjords, towering 7000 ft. peaks, cascading waterfalls and pristine lakes provides countless well-protected anchorages scattered throughout its spectacular cruising grounds.
A week long cruise can encompass a remarkable range of scenery; snug coves tucked among forested islands, sweeping stretches of sandy beaches, snow capped mountains and deep fjords. Extensive networks of marine parks, established to preserve prime anchorages, provide wonderful anchorages and easy access to shore and parks trails, picnic sites, beaches and lakes.
Located at the north end of the Sunshine Coast, about 80 miles from Vancouver or 24 miles from Comox on Vancouver Island, Desolation Sound is one of the largest and most famous marine parks in BC. Warm summer temperatures and the meeting of the tides jointly cause the Desolation Sound region to enjoy the mildest climate, richest sea life and warmest water on the BC coast. There is less than a knot of current in this area. This phenomenon is just one example of the uniqueness of Desolation Sound. Oysters grow in abundance in these warm water areas of 22’-24’C (72’-75’F). Fog is uncommon in the Strait of Georgia and in Desolation Sound in the summer months. The sun shines up to 18 hours a day in late June and the warm water temperatures can extend well into the month of September. Desolation Sound Marine Park is full of sheltered anchorages and nooks and crannies to explore – an island paradise of more than 30 miles of wooded shoreline set against the Coast Mountains. Since it was designated a marine park in the early 70’s, Desolation Sound has become one of the most popular boating destinations on the BC coast.
Because of poor tidal circulation in the area, which is also responsible for the warm water, Desolation Sound is a no discharge zone and all yachts must be equipped with holding tanks. During the summer, water temperatures of 70’ –78’F are not unusual in some of the bays, making for excellent swimming.
This wilderness area encompasses a number of beautiful anchorages, including the popular Prideaux Haven, Melanie and Laura Coves. Other alluring anchorages within the park are Tenedos Bay and Grace Harbour. Pendrell Sound, which has the warmest water in the area, Roscoe Bay, Teakern Arm and Walsh Cove Marine Parks lie just outside the Desolation Sound Marine Park. Additional Marine Parks include Squirrel Cove, and Von Donnop Inlet on Cortes Island.
Although Prideaux Haven may be the most popular spot in Desolation Sound Marine Park, Laura Cove, though not as large and requires anchoring with a stern line (too narrow to swing), has excellent holding and is absolutely gorgeous. The remains of Old Phil the Frenchman’s cabin, as mentioned in The Curve of Time, is at the east end of the cove. For the brave and daring there is a rope swing on the south shore opposite the entrance and to your right. Melanie Cove, in between Laura and Prideaux, is also popular. On a quiet evening the sound of the stream at the head of the Cove can be heard. A hike of about ½ mile from the head of Melanie Cove will lead to Laura Cove and eventually to the old cabin at the head of Laura Cove.
Across from Prideaux Haven on West Redonda Island is Roscoe Bay. Roscoe Bay is a sheltered, forested bay with drying shoal access across its entrance. This is the only anchorage where you are restricted getting into and out of by the tide. Once past the bar, excellent anchorage can be obtained anywhere in this cozy, peaceful bay and it is a very short hike to Black Lake,the main attraction of the Bay, with its very warm water swimming.
Heading north from Roscoe Bay is Pendrell Sound, which branches off from Waddington Channel and nearly divides East Redonda Island in two. This fjord is well worth exploring. It has the warmest waters of the Sound with temperatures reaching as high as 80°F all summer and is ripe with oysters and mussels.
It is an easy cruise to venture a little further to a great little anchorage at the top of Waddington Channel called Walsh Cove. There are Indian pictographs (rock paintings) on the cliffs at the northern part of the anchorage just inside the bight of the cove. From the water they are partly hidden by trees, but once ashore they are easily found. These are hundreds of years old and were discovered by Vancouver’s botanist Archibald Menzies in 1792.
Moving north, there is little or no current in the gap between West and East Redonda Islands. Traveling through here you will have a great view up Toba Inlet, a truly beautiful and remote area. It is 25 miles up to the head of the inlet, which, though very scenic, has no anchorages save Brem Bay in good weather. No anchorage can be found at the head of Toba Inlet as it is shallow, windy, and exposed. You are guaranteed however, to most likely have the entire area all to yourself.
Coming back south via Homfray Channel makes for a nice circuit. Homfray Channel is the second deepest sounding in North America reaching depths of 2400 feet with peaks rising 5000' to 8000' around you. In no time at all you are back to the Prideaux Haven area. Keep going south past Prideaux to a great anchorage in Tenedos Bay. From here it is a short hike up to Unwin Lake, which is very warm for swimming from June to September. There are also endless hiking trails all through this area.
Heading out of the park area and onto West Redonda Island is Refuge Cove. There is no anchorage here but dockside moorage is available. This is the only place to get fuel, water or provisions in the immediate area of the Sound. As well as a good general store, you will also find a liquor store, craft shop, showers, washer & dryer and a hamburger stand that has recently been enlarged with the addition of a CAPPUCCINO BAR!