Desolation Sound Cruise Report

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Desolation Sound Cruise Report

Postby jeffd » Tue Dec 20, 2011 12:58 am

The Desolation Sound area is pretty famous cruising grounds in the northwest. The area is famous for great anchorages, favorable weather in the summer, abundant wildlife, lots of islands, great gunkholes, and even warm salt water. But it takes a bit of effort to get there. Lund, BC, on the mainland side, the "gateway" to Desolation Sound, is about 200 miles north of Seattle, as the crow flies. There is a road up to Lund, but it does take a bit of effort to get there. The route involves two ferry crossings, and the highways up the Sunshine Coast are mostly two lane roads - not I-5. It generally takes the better part of the day to get your boat from Seattle to Lund, but the two ferry rides are very scenic and the drive is pretty nice too, except when towing a SJ21, I always feel like the slow guy, holding up traffic - even the trucks! Another way to get to Desolation Sound is to take the ferry from Tsawassen BC (a bit before Vancouver) to Nanaimo BC, on Vancouver Island, and then drive north and launch somewhere north, e.g. Campbell River. I've had the pleasure of cruising Desolation Sound in the SJ21 three times, in 1984, 1989, and 2008. The log below is about my latest trip, in July 2008, with a few good memories and photos of the earlier two trips.

July 2008 Desolation Sound Cruise Map: (to see whole map, make your browser window very wide)


I've also added a few Google Maps links of some of the cool anchorages below, with the GPS coordinates embedded in the URL.

Day 1: 7/22 - Drive to Lund, BC, launch, motor up to the Copeland Islands

Got a late start this morning, and hit traffic in Bellevue, heading north on I-405. Now I remember why I usually like to leave really early (e.g. 5am) when I head north. Got breakfast in Bellingham, and crossed the Canadian border at Aldergrove. The agent asked us about "objects that might be deemed a weapon …" or something like that. Crossing the border often brings some kind of a surprise. At least there wasn't much of a delay. Unfortunately, we hit a huge traffic jam near Surrey, BC, before the Fraser River bridge, on Canadian Highway 1. Traffic was moving very slowly. At least it was overcast, and not too hot. Turned out the jam was caused by roadwork before the bridge - where 2 lanes go down to 1 lane. As we drove by the 1 lane section, we were filmed by TWO video cameras! We waved and smiled, as we drove by. Maybe we were on the Vancouver evening news?

So we missed the noon ferry because of the traffic. But we were very early for the 2:15pm ferry, so after we paid our fare, we parked in the ferry line, and took a walk around Horshoe Bay. We bought some fruits and vegetables for the trip. In preparation for this trip, I carefully adjusted the mast mounting so that the vertical clearance did not exceed 6' 8", which used to be the cutoff for over height vehicles. Over height vehicles pay a LOT MORE in ferry fares. It turns out the new BC Ferries have a 7' cutoff now. Still, the fare was over $200 US.

Waiting in line for the Horseshoe Bay Ferry:


One nice thing is the Horshoe Bay ferry dock is within walking distance of the shops, stores, and the marina. The overcast cleared, and it turned out to be a very nice day. Finally, our 2:15 ferry approaches.

Horseshoe Bay Ferry arrives:


The ferry ride up the Sunshine Coast of BC is very scenic, and it is a very nice break for the driver - especially after all of that traffic! We go some glimpses of the spectacular scenery we were about to enjoy as we cruised Desolation Sound.

Ferry Ride offers great scenery


It was a nice drive up the Sunshine Coast, but the road has a lot of curves and steep hills. After driving, and then taking the second ferry, and driving some more, we finally got to Lund around 7:30 pm. Luckily, we called Dave's Parking earlier, and the attendant said he'd wait for us. We quickly loaded the boat, raised the mast, launched the boat, and paid for parking. We motored up to the Copeland Islands, to my favorite anchorage, ... 3&z=16&t=k which is just right for a San Juan 21. During both the 1984 and 1988 trips, I was able to anchor in this little cove, which is very sheltered, and after going ashore, and climbing over the narrow neck bluff, there is an awesome view to the west. Here is a photo from the 1984 trip:

Copeland Islands Anchorage, Sept 1984


Too bad - it was occupied this time. So we anchored out around the corner, and enjoyed the sunset over the Copeland Islands, and finishing rigging up the boat.

Copeland Islands Sunset


Day 2: 7/23 - Copeland Islands to Prideaux Haven, then to Roscoe Bay (Blue route, on map)

Woke up early, to the cries of oystercatchers on a nearby rock. The sun is out! Ate breakfast, then motored up Thulin passage, rounded Sarah Point, and noticed a tailwind, so we sailed to Prideax Haven. OK, this is cruising, so I fly the cruising spinnaker and leave the main sail down. It is very nice that the wind is going our way!


Photos don't do this area justice. I is just beautiful here. The run from Sarah Point to Prideau Haven is just gorgeous today.


The spinnaker comes down, before we enter Prideaux Haven. We motor on in, past the Desolation Sound Marine Park BC Parks sign, and pass lots and lots of anchored boats. We anchored out in a very shallow bay - it was high tide so we anchored here: ... 4&z=16&t=k in a cove almost surrounded by Copplestone Island - another perfect spot for a San Juan 21. We were the only ones in there, except for a few dinghies and waterfowl. We inflated the kayaks and went exploring, paddling around Copplestone Island.

Kayaking around Prideaux Haven


The cove/lagoon we anchored in would be high and dry at low tide, so we decided to move on. The wind was blowing! We motored out and beat across Homfray Channel towards Roscoe Bay. We had pretty good winds, and more great scenery:

Sailing towards Roscoe Bay


This was our second very nice sail for the day. Roscoe Bay's entrance gets pretty shallow at low tide, but we got in fine, with about 8 feet below us. We motored up to near the head of the bay, and anchored in about 19' of water, ... 8&z=14&t=k with a stern tie to shore. After inflating the kayaks again (my standard procedure is to deflate the kayaks and strap them on the deck before sailing - then we don't have to drag them, which doesn't work very well anyway), we rowed ashore, and took the short hike up to Black Lake, for a very nice warm fresh water bath! Very refreshing. This is cruising!

Day 3: 7/24 - Roscoe Bay to Squirrel Cove, then on to Teakerne Arm Marine Park (Cyan route)

The water in Roscoe Bay was very calm this morning, offering some good photos with reflections. As you can see, Roscoe Bay is a popular place too. But the first time I was here, the place was really full, and I had to anchor just inside the entrance - which makes for a long dinghy row.

A calm, sunny morning in Roscoe Bay


This day turned out to be another decent sailing day. After motoring out of Roscoe bay, we headed southeast, around the south tip of West Redonda Island, and then over to Squirrel Cove. No trip to Desolation Sound is complete without a stop at Squirrel Cove! Unfortunately, everyone knows this, so everyone goes there! There were quite a few boats in Squirrel Cove, but one nice thing is Squirrel cove has a lot of little hiding spots here and there, so even with a lot of boats, it doesn't seem that crowded. We sailed all the way in to Squirrel Cove, and actually set the anchor while under sail. Unfortunately, it was not quite the right spot (too close to another boat), so we fired up the motor and reset the anchor. ... 9&z=14&t=k One of the coolest things about Squirrel Cove is that there is a lagoon in the northeast corner, and depending on the tide, water flows in or out of the lagoon. We inflated the kayaks, rowed over to the lagoon, portaged around the rocky river...

Squirrel Cove, portaging into the Lagoon


… and kayaked in the lagoon. If you are there at the right tides, you can 'run the rapids' from the lagoon to the cove, or vice versa. I've heard stories of this but I've never been there during the best low tides. We paddled to the north end, landed on one of the little islands, ... 9&z=16&t=k and ate our lunch. There was lots of evidence of otters, and eagles flew by overhead. Kingfishers were here too.

View from the Island at the north end of Squirrel Cove Lagoon, looking south


After enjoying the great weather and wildlife in the lagoon, we paddled back to the boat, headed out of Squirrel Cove and headed north toward Teakerne Arm. The wind was light, so we were sailing north on a light downwind breeze. We had a 'race' with a tug towing a log boom, but unfortunately, the wind died on us, and he won. We had to wait for the tug, and his log boom to pass. Turns out he was headed into Teakerne Arm also. We motored on up to Teakerne Arm Marine Park, and anchored just off the park's dinghy dock. ... 3&z=16&t=k The slope is steep here - we were in 40 feet of water, but quite close to shore, and put out a stern tie. Low tide this evening! We got some oysters - Yum!

Day 4: 7/25 - Teakerne Arm, Lewis Channel, Von Donop Inlet (Magenta route)

Teakearne Arm Marine Park anchorage, with oysters!


This morning, we inflated the kayaks, paddled to Cassel Falls, and enjoyed the cool mist and great views.

Cassel Falls, Teakerne Arm Marine Park


After thoroughly enjoying the falls from the bottom, we kayaked over to the park's dinghy dock, and took the short hike up to Cassel Lake. Cassel lake is a very nice lake, very clean - a bit cooler than Black lake. We took a swim, and played on the submerged logs. We met some other cruisers with a herding dog- "She only herds us when we're swimming!" we were told. And swim they all did - all the way to the other side of the lake.

Cassel Lake, Teakerne Arm Marine Park


We left just in time, as the first boatload of tourists from a small cruise ship arrive. Glad we got there early, before rush hour! We motored out of Teakerne Arm, and headed north up Lewis Channel. Lewis Channel has some great scenery and views.

Sailing up Lewis Channel, looking North


The wind is from the south so we get to run up Lewis Channel. Even the sun is out! Now this is cruising! When we get to the north tip of Cortez Island, we go around and turn south, towards Von Donop Inlet - another great place in Desolation Sound. Von Donop Inlet 'cuts' into Cortez Island, and is over 3 miles long. On previous visits, I've motored all the way in, and anchored near the end, but this time, we decided to anchor in a bay about 2/3 of the way into the inlet, in a small bay ... 3&z=14&t=k On the way in, we passed the entrance to the salt water lagoon, to the east. Hmm, looks like a good gunkhole - maybe another time, at high tide.

Von Donop Inlet Anchorage


From our anchorage, we inflated the kayaks and rowed across the inlet, to the west side, and explored the bay that kind of heads north/west. There's a new dock and a homestead - with a loud generator going. Not very peaceful. The weather is overcast and there is a bit drizzle. The weather forecast is for cloudy/overcast and some rain. Still, this is such a great place to hang out and explore.

Day 5: 7/26 - Von Donop Lagoon, Rebecca Spit, Village Bay (Green route)

This morning, there is a light rain, and its a gray kind of day. The sun is trying to come through. After breakfast and some relaxing, we decide to head out. Up comes the anchor and we motor slowly north. As we pass Von Donop Lagoon, we notice the tide is rising at the Lagoon. We decide to have a little fun and try to take the SJ21 into the lagoon! (most sensible cruisers take their dingy in)

Chart of Von Donop Inlet and Von Donop Lagoon (notice no depths are indicated in the lagoon!)


On the first try, we bump the keel a bit, so I go below and crank it all the way up - we are now at minimum draft. There is still a bit of a current going in, so if we do get stuck, at least the tide is still rising. Check out the Google map aerial of the entrance to the lagoon: Notice the rocks and stuff - are we crazy? ... 2&z=17&t=k (I probably shouldn't admit to such craziness on the web. With this kind of history, no one in their right mind will ever bareboat charter me a boat!)

Approaching Von Donop Lagoon


We went through OK, but with a pivot on a rock from the inflow pressure, we did the last 50 feet backwards! What a ride!

Inside Von Donop Lagoon


Once inside, it was very cool - oysters, seaweed, jellyfish and all kinds of neat stuff. We saw a loon and a seal in there too. It was a very peaceful place. We motored to the far end of the lagoon, and went around the small island.

Far end of Von Donop Lagoon


But we decided not to try to go around the big island - it looked kind of muddy in there!

Far end of Von Donop Lagoon. Can't make it around the big island!


So after a peaceful put put around Von Donop Lagoon, it was time to head back out - at high tide. My sister provided a bow watch, to help me steer around the rocks.

Bow watch, as we attempt to leave Von Donop Lagoon


This time, the idea was to provide enough power to keep moving through the current (which was still coming in), avoid the rocks, and not get turned around. At times, it took MAX POWER. A few bumps, through the narrowest part, zig zagging to avoid the rocks, and we were out. Adventures in Gunkholing!

Next, we decided to head to Rebecca Spit, on Quadra Island. There was no wind, so we motored and charged the battery enroute (good excuse). As we motored along, we saw eagles on Cortes Island, surveying the water from high up in the trees. Rebecca Spit is really quite a place. The long, narrow sandy spit provides great beaches on both sides to beachcomber, and check out the driftwood ... 4&z=15&t=k
We anchored off the spit, and went ashore, We walked on both sides of the spit. What great views. The park offered a nice surprise: a trash can and an outhouse (sounds a bit odd, but both trash cans and outhouses are rare in Desolation Sound - funny, the things we can appreciate when we're out on a boat for a while!). The beaches had lots of driftwood, with a lovely cedar smell.

Rebecca Spit Marine Park


The narrow part of Rebecca Spit Marine Park, looking south. Drew harbor is on the right


Rebecca Spit - the side facing the Strait of Georgia


After exploring Rebecca Spit, we decided to move on. No wind, so we slowly motor north. Our destination is Village Bay. ... 1&z=14&t=k We arrive at high water - no oysters yet, and the "wash station" at the river is brackish now, so we'll have to wait till tomorrow to take a freshwater swim, and see if there are any oysters.

Day 6: 7/27 - Village Bay, Surge Narrows, Octopus Islands (Purple route)

Village Bay is a great place. Its not very popular (we were the only ones there), but it is very protected, has a good stream for fresh water, a good place to take a bath and wash up, and even a trail to access the roads on Quadra Island. And there are oysters! This morning, at low tide, we get oysters. So breakfast is oysters and oatmeal. Then we go ashore to fill up some water jugs, and take a freshwater bath.

Our Village Bay Anchorage, near the stream


Then, its time to move on! Our goal today is the Octopus Islands, which involves going through Surge Narrows at slack water at 1pm. We motor north and get through Surge Narrows near slack without any problems. To get into the Octopus Islands, most cruisers approach from the north, and use the deep channel. We decide to take our chances and take the direct approach from the south, and pick our way between the little islands and rocks to the south of the Octopus Islands. We found a nice anchorage in the 'middle' bay, ... 8&z=14&t=k although we were not alone. This place is a bit like Squirrel Cove - lots of people know about it and come here. Still, the views are great, and there are some great places to explore by kayak.

Views from the Octopus Islands


We jump in the kayaks and have a great time paddling between the islands.

Kayaking in the Octopus Islands


Tomorrow's weather forecast calls for strong winds and rain in the morning, so we plan to stay here, maybe try the hike from the head of Waiatt Bay to Small Inlet, and maybe up to Newton Lake. Hoping the weather improves - it would be fun to go through "Hole-in-the-Wall" ... 8&z=13&t=k I've heard a lot about it, and my sister has actually sailed through it. But we'll have to see what the weather brings us.

View from our anchorage in the Octopus Islands


Day 7: 7/28 - Kayak to head of Waiatt Bay, (Red route) hike to Small Inlet and Newton Lake (Brown route)

We heard the wolves last night - one small howl only, just to let us know they are around. There is a gale warning in the Strait of Georgia, north of Nanaimo. Big wind coming, so we'll stay put today. The Octopus Islands are pretty sheltered. Even with lots of wind south of us, we don't feel much. We paddle the kayaks to the head of Waiatt Bay, land, ... 5&z=14&t=k and take the short hike across to Small Inlet.

Small Inlet


Then, we take the hike up to Newton lake. The hike is a very nice hike, even though it starts to rain. It is good to get some exercise too.

Newton Lake


After the hike, we paddle back to the boat … in the rain. Hmm, it sure is a long paddle in the rain! We check the weather again - more high winds from the southeast, diminishing tomorrow afternoon. So we decide to forget Hole-in-the-wall this time, and just head south back through Surge Narrows during the afternoon slack, when the winds lighten up a bit.

Day 8: 7/29 - Octopus Islands, motor through Surge Narrows, and on to Rebecca Spit (Yellow Route)

It was a kind of gray, breezy, showery morning. The Octopus Islands are kind of sheltered, so its not too bad in here. We watch the wildlife: kingfishers, crows, a mink, an osprey, and an eagle chasing what looked like a tern. We leave to catch the 3:17pm slack at Surge Narrows, motoring into a stiff headwind. Good thing we have good rain gear. Its OK through Okisolo and Hoskyn channels. We get to Surge Narrows a bit aery, and roar through at 7 knots! Not many other boats are out and about today.

As we approach the Breton Islands, we're getting the full force of the big wind and waves from the Strait of Georgia. Very exciting! Some pretty big swells, and even with a long shaft motor, the prop pops out of the water occasionally. Kind of a grueling motor, into the wind, waves and swells - glad I have a strong outboard and good raingear. We head for the south end of Drew Harbor, ... 0&z=14&t=k just past Rebecca Spit, and join a lot of other boats trying to take shelter from the high winds.

Trying to Dry out at Drew Harbor


One nice thing about the rapidly changing weather is that we are treated to an awesome sunset. The schooner in the photo is the Maple Leaf, a canadian vessel that takes out groups. The Maple Leaf is a classic 92 foot schooner. It was very neat to see her come into Drew Harbor and anchor - in a perfect place for a photo!

Sunset from our anchorage in Drew Harbor


Day 9: 7/30 - Rebecca Spit, Uganda Passage, Gorge Harbor, Cortez Harbor, Twin Islands (Pink Route)

Woke up to being aground. Oops! I knew it would be close, when we swung around, but did not have the sense to take action. Good thing the SJ21 has a swing keel. After cranking it up a bit, we motored back over to Rebecca Spit, and anchored off the beach, in the perfect spot, between the trees, with the awesome view, and had our breakfast. The sun peeks through, and we are blessed with a sunny day with some clouds. As we try to sail across back toward Cortes Island, we are treated to a wonderful sight - the Maple Leaf Schooner, with all of her sails flying!

The Maple Leaf Schooner, under sail


Unfortunately, there isn't much wind. But just enough to get some good photos of the ship. We motored over to Cortes Island, and motored through Uganda Passage ... 0&z=14&t=k and toured around Gorge Harbor.

Gorge Harbor Entrance


Then, we headed down the west side of Cortes Island and around the floating rocks. As the wind picked up, we sailed through Hernando and Twin Islands, and into Cortes Harbor. We explored Cortes Harbor, but didn't find any place to our liking (too many boats! too crowded!) So we motored back to the Twin Islands, and found a spot on the north end, between the northern most Twin Island, and some small Islets ... 3&z=15&t=k There's lots of wildlife here: Ostercatchers on the rocks, crows, kingfishers, eagles, even a few deer! As we look across toward Desolation Sound, it is raining over here. I feel lucky - only light sprinkles where we are.

Day 10: 7/31 - Kayak around islands north of Twin Islands, Copeland Islands, Lund, (Orange Route) Drive back home

This is a great place! Much nicer than Cortes Harbor. The views are great, and there is a lot of wildlife to enjoy.

View from our anchorage north of the Twin Islands


Our anchorage north of the Twin Islands


We paddled around the low tide rocks and islands- such clear water! Lots of little crabs, starfish clusters on the rock corners, fish, sea cucumbers, cormorants, oystercatchers, and eagles.

Kayaking around the small islands just north of the Twin Islands


The best thing was this family of about 20 merganser chicks and their mom - very cute. We ended up following them around the island a bit.



We motored south, down the west side of the twin islands, pausing to check out the Royal Compound that is situated kind of near the narrow spot between the two islands. Wow! It was pretty nice! We caught a bit of a breeze sailing back toward the Copeland Islands. Just before reaching the Copelands, it started to rain, and the wind died. We putted between the Copelands, spotted a few seals on the rocks. We went back to my favorite spot, but this time, there were three tents pitched up on the bluff up from the bay. So again, we anchored out around the corner. Sigh. I guess this place is getting popular. After considering the long term weather report (forecast calls for moderate to heavy raid for several days), we decided to head back home a day early. Some quick calculations and a call to Dave's parking, and it looks like we can make the last ferry, and be home tonight (actually, early tomorrow morning). So we motor on back to Lund, unrigging the boat as we go. The tide is out, so Lund Harbor is much smaller. And the harbor is very busy today! Somehow, between two water taxis, a big sailboat, and a giant landing craft, we manage to get the boat back on the trailer. Then, it starts to rain - really hard! We quickly pull out, take the mast down, secure everything, and get going. Hmm, and they call this the Sunshine Coast! But we did have some pretty good days too.

Saltery Bay, BC Ferry landing - Waiting in line, again


We did make the last ferry OK, and it was nice to be aboard, riding, and warm and dry. The food tasted pretty good too.

Onboard the ferry, heading home!


We rode the last ferry back to Horseshoe Bay, then the long drive home. We had an uneventful crossing at the border this time. It is quite late so traffic is not a problem. We ended up back home around 2am. What a great trip, through some of my favorite cruising grounds. Maybe next time I'll be able to sail through Hole-in-the-Wall.
Last edited by jeffd on Sun Oct 15, 2017 8:07 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Desolation Sound Cruise Report

Postby Odd Juan » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:20 pm

Great Reports...

I have thoroughly enjoyed your cruise reports on trips to Lake Chelan, Cypress Island, Desolation Sound and others, and am delighted to see someone using the San Juan 21 for cruising instead of just windward/leeward buoy sailing.

Your travels have far exceeded my meager sailing efforts in mid Puget Sound and are certainly inspiring.

Sadly I see very little use of the San Juan 21 for overnight or even day cruise. Back in the early days when Fleet One was first organized, I remember Fleet trips (cruises) just within the confines of Lake Washington like to Kenmore or Rento, or launching at Shilshole Bay and sailing to Blake island (anchoring out on the West side) or just sailing around Bainbridge island in the daylight.

Since my boat is not on a trailer I really can’t take it very far from my home base in Brownsville but still destinations like gig harbor, Blake Island, Bremerton, Port Orchard, Poulsbo and Seattle are not far and offer at least short distance ‘cruise’ sailing.

I believe much of the 21 association devotes its efforts to racing around the buoys on nice days instead of the cruising and learning navigation and seamanship skills. As I recall, the San Juan 21 was designed to be a step up boat for those learning wishing to learn more about sailing so they could transition from dingy-style sailing into larger boats. It was indeed a mini cruiser and advertised is the "cruising sailor’s racing machine" because it performs so well.

Thank you for sharing your adventures in your outstanding reports. Please keep it up.

Maybe we’ll even see you here in the west sound area one of these days.

Fair winds,

Ivar Weierholt
“Odd Juan” #1179
Odd Juan
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