Where is the Sunshine Coast? For our purposes the area referred to as “The Sunshine Coast” lies on the east side of Georgia Strait beginning just North of Vancouver Island and ending at the north end of Malaspina Strait. Click here for a vicinity map of the Sunshine Coast.
How to Get There: The area is accessible by crossing Georgia Strait from the Gulf Islands or by heading northwest up the east side of Georgia Strait. If you charter, a good strategy would be to charter a boat from Vancouver. This makes for a short ride (about 35 nm) northwest along the mainland. If you cross from the Gulf Islands a good starting point is Silva Bay or Nanaimo. If you are chartering from Vancouver 7 days will make a nice trip. If possible 9 or 10 days would be better. If you come northwest from Bellingham or Anacortes, Point Roberts makes a good stopover. Leave early the next day, clear immigration in Vancouver, and proceed.
We usually clear Canadian Immigration in Vancouver at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club marina in English Bay (RVYC Jerico Dock). We call in using our Nexus permits and stop to check-in. Its very convenient and avoids going into False Creek or Coal Harbor. Once we complete our check-in we head northwest past Bowen Island then turn north up Collingwood Channel and around the north-east tip of Keats Island. We like to spend a night at Plumper Cove Marine Park or Gibsons. This route avoids crossing Shoal Channel (discussed below) but if the weather is calm there is nothing wrong with that route.
When to Go. The Sunshine Coast is close to Vancouver and is popular. It will be crowded during the main part of the summer season, beginning in the first week of July and ending with Labor Day. That’s when the weather is most likely to be sunny and warm. However, we have had spectacular cruises here in June and popular spots like Smuggler Cove and Jedediah Island may have only 2-3 other boats on weekdays during the weeks before July 4th.
Here are some of our favorite places, moving from south to north. To see some photos of places discussed below click here: Sunshine Coast photos.
Union Steamship Co. Marina, in Snug Cove on Bowen Island. Located about 8 nautical miles north of Vancouver, on the east side of Bowen Island, this is a nice stop on the way north. Snug Cove has a government dock with free moorage but it is exposed to the noise and wash from the ferry running back and forth to Horseshoe Bay. Moorage at the Marina is much better. Union Steamship Co. Marina is very nice, with many recent improvements and a friendly and helpful staff. There is easy access to the nice shops and parks of the small town located around the harbor. This is a very pleasant stop. Call ahead for reservations: (604) 947-0707.
Plumper Cove Marine Park. Although we don’t usually think of this area at the entrance to Howe Sound as part of the Sunshine Coast, we will mention Plumper Cove because it makes a great stop-over if you are traveling north up the east side of Georgia Strait. The park is well kept, with campsites and play areas and there is a nice newly refurbished dock. There are 10 buoys (8 new). The bay is open to the northwest and can be bumpy at times. The anchorage area is relatively deep (35′ – 65″) and on busy summer weekends it will be crowded. There is a nice 2 km walk on a trail through the woods to the Keats landing public dock. (No moorage there).
Gibsons. If Plumper Cove is crowded, the town of Gibsons is a good alternative. There are two marinas. The town is fun to visit and there are several good restaurants and lots of nice shops. If the weather is rough in Georgia Strait Gibsons is a good place to wait. When you leave Gibsons to head north you will enter Georgia Strait via Shoal Channel. This passage demands your attention but is not difficult. The passage is well described in the Waggoneer Cruising Guide. It’s best to cross at or near high tide in calm weather. In strong west winds it’s best to wait. We have crossed near low tide in rough weather and it was not pleasant. The swells from Georgia Strait rose up in the shallow water and we went slow. Watch your chartplotter and depth sounder carefully.
Smuggler Cove Marine Park. This is a perennial favorite. The entrance is just north of Welcome Passage. Use your binoculars and look for the marine park sign. The entrance is narrow and you should favor the port side of the entrance to avoid the reef to starboard. Smuggler Cove can get crowded and anchoring with a shore tie is necessary. There are metal rings set into the rocks along the shoreline. We like to anchor in the bay just east of the entrance and shore tie to the north shore but there are also rings along the east shore. Small craft with shallow draft can go into the innermost bay at high tide and anchor there also. Its fun to spend at least two nights here. There are trails on the shore, and small bays and inlets to explore by dinghy or kayak. Smuggller Cove is well protected from the winds outside.
Buccaneer Bay Provincial Park. Buccaneer Bay lies between North and South Thormanby Islands just west of Smuggler Cove. It is a large bay and the Provincial Park features a broad sandy beach on a sandspit in the gap between North and South Thormanby Islands. The bay is fairly deep throughout and the bottom slopes steep to the beach. Anchorage is possible but the Bay is exposed to prevailing NW winds. There is a small sheltered anchorage behind the island located along the east shore near the entrance. The beach is popular for day use during the summer months and very pretty.
Secret Cove. Secret Cove lies just north of Smuggler Cove. There is plenty of room to anchor throughout the Cove and the Secret Cove Marina is nice also if you want to be at a dock (restrooms, showers, and a good store.) There is public dock but space is limited and usually not available. The Secret Cove entrance is marked by a channel marker to starboard as you come in. If you choose to anchor check your chart for the reefs and rocks that lie in the Cove at various spots.
Deep Cove, Jedediah Island. Deep Cove is the only secure, all weather anchorage on Jedediah Island. Try to arrive on a weekday, between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. because the anchorage is small. You will need to anchor and shore tie to one of the chains hanging from the rock cliffs on both sides of the Cove. It’s easiest to tie to a chain at half tide or higher. Jedediah Island is a marine park with paths and trails and plenty to do. The small wild goats graze around the anchorage in the mornings and evenings. The old farm is near the south of the Island. There are oysters and clams in Home Bay below the old farm and in the other bays, which go mostly dry at low tide. Check for PSP warnings (red tide) if you want to gather shellfish. If you get a good spot in Deep Bay it’s worth staying here for two or three nights. This is one of the best marine parks in British Columbia.
False Bay, Lasqueti Island. There is a small community in False Bay and the anchorage is large but only well protected from north and northwest winds. The west wind can blow strong from Qualicum Beach on the west side of the Strait of Georgia. If possible anchor in the northwest corner of the bay and then take your dinghy to the public dock and the small community It’s a pretty place but best in settled weather.
Pender Harbor. Pender Harbor is another perennial favorite. Lots of cruisers use Pender Harbor as a stopping point after crossing Georgia Strait from Nanaimo. It is a good place to relax whether heading north or south or if going to Princess Louisa. There are numerous marinas, several public docks, and space to anchor at Garden Bay Marine Park. There are stores, pubs, and fuel in Pender Harbor. The public dock at Madeira Park has nice docks a short walk from a small shopping district and a good grocery store. The end of the public dock is reserved for float planes from 9:00am to 4:00 pm, so it makes a good spot to tie up for one night.
Hardy Island Marine Park lies at the west entrance to Blind Bay and is delightful. There is room to anchor and swing in fairly deep water (50′-60′) or in shallower water if you shore tie to a tree or stump. The “T” shaped cove provides good anchorage with a shore tie to a tree. The little island composes the park area and is fun to explore around by dinghy or kayak. There are homes and private property around the other bays. There are oysters and clams on the beaches. (Check for PSP or other contamination.) The water is warm enough for comfortable swimming. If you arrive before noon (especially on a week-day) you will be able to find a good spot to anchor.
Harmony Islands Marine Park. The Harmony Islands are northeast of Blind Bay. You can proceed northeast up the Bay and exit via Telescope Pass. The pass is narrow and requires attention but is not difficult if you take it slow and watch for the charted rocks at the narrowest spot. Once through Telescope Pass continue N.E. up Jervis Inlet then a short distance up Hotham Channel. Harmony Islands will fill up during the summer and it’s best to anchor in the channel to the east of the southern island then shore tie to a tree or stump. (The two middle islands are private.) It can be difficult if the wind is blowing or the current is running in the channel. There is room to anchor in the channel but its fairly deep. The tiny cove shown on the chart is shallow with only room for two or three small boats. There are oysters and clams and good swimming in the warm water. The marine park islands have tide pools and rocks to explore at low tide.
Texada Boat Club Marina in Sturt Bay. We hesitate to talk about Sturt Bay because it is not well known and usually not crowded. Its unpretentious and very friendly and we like it that way. Don’t stop if you want to show off your boat, need lots of power (30A or 50A), or like to be in the center of a lot of action. Sturt Bay is on the east side of Texada Island near Vananda on the north end of the island. This marina is owned and operated by the Texada Island Boat club. It’s tucked in behind a substantial breakwater and well protected. The bay is large and mostly deep but anchorage is possible in the NW head of the bay. Locals say that there is a lot of junk on the bottom left over from the days when the mine in the bay was active, including chains, cable, engines, cars and parts, etc. To anchor go as far into the NW part of the bay as possible and anchor with caution. Moorage is inexpensive (50 cents per foot in 2009) with about 150′ of transient space. Power (20amp) costs extra. There are covered picnic tables on the dock and it’s a short walk to a pub and restaurant. It’s a longer walk to the grocery store but you can get a free ride back. About a mile from the marina there is a nice trail to Turtle Lake.
Copeland Islands Marine Park. Although really not a part of the Sunshine Coast, the Copeland Islands are also not part of Desolation Sound so we will include the information here. Located just 2 miles north of Lund, the park is a jewel frequently passed by boats headed further north. However, this is a very nice park, with several good spots to anchor and lots or islands, bays, and islets to explore. The best anchorage is located just west of Thulin Passage. Entry to this cove is either from the south off Thulin Passage or directly from the east off Thulin Passage. Use your charts and be careful. The entrys are safe but a bit narrow and there are reefs and rocks to avoid. Some wake from boats in Thulin Passage gets into the anchorage but most is intercepted by the islets and reefs, especially at low tide. There are also a couple of small coves on the west side of the park that offer room to anchor but are exposed to NW winds. There are trails through the woods, several nice campsites for kayakers, and lots of sandstone beaches to explore. Oysters are plentiful (but first check for PSP closures). The water can be 75 to 80 degrees so swimming can be excellent.