Northwest cruisers use the term “Broughton Islands” to refer to a large area at the north end of Johnstone Strait and south of Queen Charlotte Strait. The area encompasses the Broughton Island Marine Provincial Park and numerous surrounding islands, large and small. The area is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including black bears, grizzly bears, whales, orcas, and porpoises. It’s a long ways from Puget Sound but the trip is worth it. For more info see: http://www.vancouverisland.com/parks/?id=332.
Getting There. You must travel several hundred miles north from Puget Sound to visit the Broughton Islands and you must have advanced cruising skills to make the trip safely. You must be able to navigate accurately and carefully, anchor safely in challenging conditions, and tolerate colder and wetter conditions than are prevalent south of Johnstone Strait. Your vessel must be reliable and in good condition. There are significant, dangerous hazards that cannot be taken for granted, including tidal streams with currents over ten knots, overfalls and standing waves, and whirlpools that can swamp and sink a cruising vessel.
There are numerous cruising guides and books that discuss travel to and from the Broughton Islands in depth so we will not attempt to duplicate here the excellent advice given in those books. Please go to our Cruising Guides page for information about these books.
Photos of some of our favorite places in the Broughton Archipelago can be seen on our Broughton Islands photo page.
The following are few tips and hints based upon our experiences.
1. Weather: The weather north of Johnstone Strait is colder and wetter than the areas south. You are entering into an area more like a coastal rain forest and cold and wet winds can blow directly off Queen Charlotte Sound. Bring warm clothing and rain gear. We find that flannel lined jeans or polar-tech lined jeans are often necessary attire in late June and even well into July. Heavy flannel shirts, polar-tech shirts, wool shirts, and long sleeve t-shirts are also useful. It’s not fun to be cold in the long evenings. (During June and early July it stays light enough to be outside until 11:00pm.). Monitor your VHF for daily weather updates but do not put all your confidence in the government weather predictions. If you are somewhere where an FM radio station or internet service is available get additional weather information. The VHF broadcasts do not tell you what the temperature will be or the probability of rain or sun. The government broadcasts focus mainly on wind predictions and often are not able to even get that right with any consistency. The best use for the VHF broadcasts is to listen to the wind and wave conditions reported by the ocean buoys and the lighthouses.
2. Boat Repair and Maintenance. Your vessel should be in tip-top shape. If your vessel and gear is not reliable take care of any problems before you leave. Although parts and repair services are available in the area of the Broughton Islands you are far more removed from repair services than when you are cruising in the San Juan Islands or the Gulf Islands. You should prepare accordingly. A mechanical breakdown or loss of an important creature comfort (like a cabin heating system) can make the difference between an enjoyable trip and a challenging or uncomfortable experience..
3. Trip Planning. Take some time to plan before you go. Read through one or more of the cruising guides and prepare accordingly. Taken together, there are hundreds of islands, bays, coves, inlets, marinas, etc., to visit and unless you plan to spend months in the area you cannot see them all in one trip. Therefore, it’s useful to spend time beforehand reading about places to go and making some decisions prior to leaving. Review your paper charts or your computer charting software to familiarize yourself with places to see, routes, tides and currents, and hazards. If you use a chartplotter to create waypoints and routes it is helpful to have familiarity with the areas you will transit before you make your routes. The shortest geographical distance between destinations may not be the shortest distance in time traveled nor may it be the most comfortable or safest route.
4. Hazards. Any marine trip involves certain hazards and dangers, all of which can be minimized by careful planning and anticipation. A trip north of Desolation Sound is no different except that some of the hazards are truly dangerous and life threatening. Among these are the tidal streams and currents that you must transit in certain areas .
If you proceed north and northwest in Johnstone Strait from Campbell River you must plan carefully and make your trip to coincide with slack tide in Seymour Narrows. You should also plan to go north and northwest in Johnstone Strait on days when the prevailing NW winds are light to moderate and are not blowing against the current. Usually, it is best to get started early in the morning, when the winds are lightest but this is not always possible due to the currents and sometimes the winds are blowing hard early in the day. Listen to the VHF reports of current conditions in the Strait and plan accordingly. Weather conditions in Johnstone Strait can deteriorate very quickly and become dangerous with little warning. During the summer months gale force NW winds are not uncommon in Johnstone Strait and conditions can get very uncomfortable, challenging, and even hazardous. Read carefully the advice and cautions in your cruising guides.
If you proceed north and northwest via the “inside passage” you can avoid most of Johnstone Strait but you must pass through the tidal rapids named Yaculta Rapids, Gillard Passage, and Dent Rapids, and you may also need to transit Greene Point Rapids and Whirlpool Rapids. (These last two can be avoided by entering Johnstone Strait before Greene Point Rapids, a good choice if the weather is suitable. You can also enter Johnstone Strait after Greene Point Rapids but prior to Whirlpool Rapids, another good choice if the weather if suitable.) Yaculta, Gillard, and Dent can be dangerous and you must transit these areas at or near slack water. We find it’s best to choose a time of the month when the tide changes are at a minimum (difference between high and low tide) since the currents are also less at these times. Our strategy is to arrive at Yaculta Rapids about 30 minutes before the flood turns to ebb and then arrive at Gillard at or close to slack water. We then go north with the beginning ebb current in Dent Rapids. This is how we do it every time and we have never had any trouble.
5. Supplies and Provisions. The wilderness marinas in the Broughton Islands and surrounding areas have small stores where you can buy some basic necessities but you cannot re-stock your trip provisions without visiting a marina or town on Vancouver Island, or on the mainland before your go north of Desolation Sound. Fish and crab are plentiful once you reach the Broughton Islands area but due to lack of funding for shellfish testing the BC government has closed nearly all beaches to shellfish harvesting. Don’t expect to supplement your provisions with clams or oysters. The best plan is to bring with you adequate provisions for the time you expect to be cruising the Broughton Islands area and pick up miscellaneous items at the small marina stores. For example, if you expect to be in the Broughton Islands for three weeks it’s best to bring what you need for that amount of time. However, if you are planning a long trip or you need additional supplies it is a short day trip to Port McNeil, Sointulla, or Alert Bay for grocery shopping at a reasonably stocked market. One fact to keep in mind is that some food items are considerably more expensive in Canada. For example, snack food items like potato chips are pricey are as dairy items like milk, cheese, and ice cream. Fuel is much more expensive in Canada than in the U.S. Additionally, soft drinks in cans and bottles are expensive and you have to pay a deposti of 10 cents per container for such items. In theory, the deposit is refundable if you return the empty containers but getting the refund if often inconvenient or not possible. In most cases, marinas will accept your containers without charge and then return them for the deposit. So, all of this means that you can save money by planning ahead with regard to your provisions and supplies.
6. Where to go and what to see. The cruising guides listed above will give you information about many more places to visit and things to see than we will discuss here. However, everyone has favorites and we are no exception. The following is a list of some of our favorites. These are places we have actually visited, in some cases on numerous occasions. The list is in alphabetical order.
Alert Bay. We enjoy staying at Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. The public marina is not fancy and most spaces are occupied by commercial fishing boats but the marina manager is friendly and helpful and knows who is coming and going and where you can raft if no empty spaces are available. The grocery store at Alert Bay is well stocked and prices are reasonable. The town has a new waterfront boardwalk that makes a very nice stroll through town. The ecological park also has an interesting nature trail that is a short distance from the marina. The Cultural Center has a world class collection of First Nations masks and artifacts and if not to be missed. If you are not interested in staying at the marina it is a short ferry ride from Port McNeil to Alert Bay and the ferry is an excellent way to visit for a day. Moorage at Alert Bay is 65 cents per foot, plus $7.50 for 30 amp power and $5.00 for 15 amp power. The Laundromat is now longer in business (2011) but the harbor manager told us he is hopeful it will re-open in the remodeled building. Alert Bay has an annual “Seafest” festival on the 4th weekend in July and it is crowded for that event. For a slip assignment and help landing call VHF 66A. After 5:00 pm you can call the harbor master (Eric Gregory) at 250 974 8255. (2011). Fuel is not available at the marina but can be obtained at a private fuel dock south of the marina. The grocery store is well stocked and adequate and just a short walk from the marina, with fresh baked bread and rolls.
Blind Channel Resort. Blind Channel Resort and Marina is north of Dent Rapids and Calm Channel. It is a convenient stop on the way northwest in the “inside passage”. The resort and marina is only about 15 minutes from the south end of Greene Point rapids. The Marina is well run and there is a fuel dock. There is a nice forest trail, a small grocery store with excellent cinnamon buns in the morning, and a good restaurant with a beautiful view of Mayne Channel (known locally as “Blind Channel”). If the weather is suitable you can head west in Mayne Channel and proceed northwest in Johnstone Strait through Current Passage to Port Neville, Port Harvey, through Chattam Channel, or all the way northwest in Johnstone Strait to Alert Bay, Port McNeil, or Sointulla. However, if you leave Blind Channel and enter Johnstone Strait you must plan for the strong current in Current passage. If you decide to continue northwest in the inside route you must plan for the current in Greene Point rapids and Whirlpool rapids (unless you head west in Chancellor Channel to Johnstone Strait prior to entering Whirlpool rapids.)
Crease Island and Goat Island. Crease Island has an interesting anchorage on the east side, open to the east. There is little protection from east or southeast winds and it can get quite bumpy if the wind comes up from that direction. However, during the summer prevailing winds are light and usually from the north or northwest. The anchorage has room for numerous boats and the small islands and islets are interesting to explore on foot or by kayak. The bottom has extensive kelp in places so be sure your anchor is securely set. The beach on Crease Island is steep and has large driftwood, evidence of the southerly winds that can blow in. The anchorage is an easy hop from Lagoon Cove or Potts Lagoon, two other favorite spots. However, you must pass through Beware Passage. Don’t be deterred by the foreboding name or the narratives in the guide books. Beware Passage, although filled with rocks and reefs covered at high tide can be safely navigated by carefully following your chart or chartplotter and the advice in the guidebooks (especially Waggoneers ). If you go through Beware Passage at low tide many of the hazards are clearly visible. Go slow and be cautious and careful. Crease Island and the adjacent Islets are worth the trip, especially if the weather is fair and the sun is shining.
The current in Beware Passage can run fairly strong and make it difficult to maintain your coarse between the obstacles. However, if you study the paper chart and create a course using your chartplotter the trip will be uneventful. Coming from the south, we prefer to pass to the north of Kamano Island, then turn north with Turnour Island to starboard past the abandoned village of Karlukwees, then west past Care Island to starboard, then continuing west with Beware Rock to starboard. We try to time our passage at or near slack water at low tide to eliminate any problems with the current and to be able to see the rocks and reefs.
Pierre’s Echo Bay Marina and Lodging. Several years ago the facilities at Pierre’s Marina and Resort were moved to Echo Bay after Pierre and his partners bought the facilities at Echo Bay. The docks have been replaced and the marina is undergoing continuing upgrade and improvement. When you visit the Broughton Island area Echo Bay is not to be missed. If you enjoy social gatherings then plan to visit during one of the many events that occur all summer. If you want less activity come during the week. It’s best to make reservations in advance. Pierre’s Echo Bay is especially fun if you are traveling with one or more other boats but even without such companionship you can expect to meet other cruisers who you will encounter at other areas in the Broughtons during your trip. The camaraderie of other cruisers is one facet of a Broughton Islands cruise that is very different from the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands, or Desolation Sound and Echo Bay is a terrific place to begin meeting folks you will see in other places. Additionally, the owners and staff are friendly and helpful and full of useful advice. Nearby, and just a short walk away is Billy Proctor’s “museum”. A vist with Billy Proctor is fun and informative.
Joe Cove: Joe Cove indents the south side of Eden Island. The route to Joe Cove through Blunden Passage and Misty Passage is very pretty. Joe Cove has a good anchorage at its north end and their is a funky old float located in the small bay that juts off to the east near the north end of Joe Cove. The old float is small and held together with rusty cable, some plywood, logs, and nail. It swings around fairly freely. Entering the east cove to get to the float is a bit tricky and requires careful navigation. If you arrive at Joe Cove at low tide the rocks are visible. Joe Cove is a scenic and secure spot.
Kwatsi Bay Marina. Kwatsi Bay Marina is another excellent example of a very popular “wilderness marina”. It is a bit out of the way but the trip to and from Kwatsi Bay is extremely scenic and well worth the effort. It is highly recommended that you make reservations (by e-mail) as Kwatsi Bay has become very popular and dock space is limited. Anchoring is possible but challenging due to deep water and the steep bottom contour. There is a beautiful walk through the woods to a large water fall. The bay is closed to fishing due to rockfish conservation. Chances are that if you have been cruising in the Broughton Islands for a few weeks when you get to Kwatsi Bay you will meet some of your new cruising friends and have a great time sitting on the chairs on the wide and spacious dock, enjoying conversation, coffee, and happy hour. It’s just that kind of a happy, friendly place.
Lady Boot Cove; You can walk to Lady Boot cove from Joe Cove if you want to brave the brush, downed trees and driftwood. Lady Boot Cove is on the north side of Eden Island. We have entered from the north with Fly Island to port as we turn south. The anchorage juts into Eden Island from east to west and has a fairly narrow entrance. There is room for 2 or 3 boats. The cove shoals quickly so be sure to watch your depth sounder. As you enter the small west end of the cove stay in the center to avoid the reef to starboard. Tucked back inside the anchorage is very protected. You can anchor further out in deeper water but its not so well protected. It’s pretty but there is not a lot of area to explore ashore.
Lagoon Cove. Lagoon Cove Marina is a very popular place and should not be missed when you visit the Broughton Island area. It is owned and run by Bill and Jean Barber and Bill will be on the docks when you arrive and will help with your lines. When last visited (after 3 years absence) Bill welcomed us by name and thanked us for coming back. The upland areas are very nice, there are trails in the woods for walking, and the evening pot luck dinner (free prawns and shrimp provided) is not to be missed. There are bears in Lagoon Cove so be careful when walking in the woods and keep pets close by. In 2011 we saw a large male grizzly ambling along the beach and into the back yard but everyone was alerted and there was no danger. If we had a rating system for marinas Lagoon Cove Marina would get the highest possible rating, with extra points for friendly and fun!
Laura Bay: Laura Bay indents Broughton Island from east to west, just south of Penphrase Passage. Laura Bay is very pretty but popular so be prepared to shore tie to keep from swinging too far. Crabbing in Laura Bay can be productive. Enter from the east then turn north into the inner bay. Anchor behind the small un-named island. It is very protected and scenic.
Minstrel Island; Minstrel Island used to be a major destination resort. Now, it is largely abandoned and the government docks are falling into serious dis-repair. The good news however, is that moorage is free and you can go ashore and explore the upland areas. There are no services but plenty of room to tie up. Its a good stopover if you come through Chatham Channel late in the afternoon and just want a convenient place to spend the night.
Port Harvey Marina: Port Harvey is located just off Johnstone Strait next to Cracroft Island. Exit Johnstone Strait into Havannah Channel and Port Harvey is immediately to port. Its a long harbor and the marina is at the north tip behind Range Island. The marina is not visible until you are almost there. The marina is just a few years old and is still expanding yearly. There is anchorage near the marina but it is open to south winds coming off Johnstone Strait and northwest winds can find their way in so it can be bumpy. The owners of Part Harvey Resort are Gail and George and they are friendly and helpful. They have small store and a restaurant, with pizza, hamburgers, and fish and chips. Moorage is $1.00 per foot and they request a $10.00 landing fee if you anchor out but come ashore to walk your pet on the resort grounds. Port Harvey is a nice stop on the way NW up Johnstone Strait and a great place to get out of bad weather or to spend a night or two before heading up Havannah Channel and through Chatham Channel.
Port McNeil: Port McNeil is the “big city” for Broughton Islands cruisers. Port McNeil is located on Vancouver Island and has a large public marina with good protection behind the breakwater. There is lots of room to anchor in the harbor outside the breakwater, open to east winds. Port McNeil has a new visitor’s center with free internet access, a nice Laundromat just a short walk away, good restaurants, and two large grocery stores with good prices for re-provisioning. You can take the ferry to Alert Bay to explore that small community or to see the Cultural Center. We always enjoy a night or two in Port McNeil. There is also a smaller private marina in Port McNeil named Port McNeil Harbour that has all the same access to the town facilities and an easily accessible fuel dock.
Potts Lagoon; Potts Lagoon is just a short distance west of Lagoon Cove, near the east entrance to Baronet Passage and just south east of Beware Passage. There are two good places to anchor in Potts Lagoon. After entering from the north you can turn to port and enter the cove that runs to the east. This is a nice anchorage with room to swing but during commercial crab season is may be clogged with traps. (BEWARE: The crab trap floats may be separated by 100′ but the traps are connected by a cable on the bottom. Anchoring between two floats on crab traps may mean your anchor could get snagged in the cable connecting the traps.) The other anchorage in Potts Lagoon is further in to the south past island 41 to port. This is a scenic and popular spot but it can be crowded. The property around the innser anchorage is private and developed with some home so please be respectful of private property. The innermost area of the lagoon can be explored by dinghy but dries at low tide.
Shawl Bay Marina. This is a classic example of a wilderness marina in the Broughton Archipeligo. It is fairly small, but there’s plenty of room for everyone to fit in, clean, neat and friendly to everyone, including your pet. Shawl Bay Marina is a great place to meet and interact with other Broughton Island cruisers, at the free pancake breakfasts every morning around picnic tables under the large (rain proof) tent. Moorage cost is reasonable at just 80 cents per foot (2011). The big tent also makes a great spot for an impromptu pot luck or happy hour.
Shoal Bay. Shoal Bay is a great stop-over after passage through Yaculta Rapids, Gillard Pass, and Dent Rapids. The government docks are managed and operated by Mark and Cynthia, owners of the upland area, which includes a small pub, a Laundromat, and a self service garden. Moorage is just 50 cents per foot. There is no power at the docks. There are special events during the summer, including a small music “festival” and weekend bar-b-ques. Shoal Bay is a popular stop during the summer and there are guests who say for weeks. There is room to anchor in the bay and crabbing can be excellent during the summer months. Rafting at the dock may be necessary during the busy part of the season. If you stop at Shoal Bay and the weather is good and the currents favorable you can make the passage northwest in Johnstone Strait to Havannah Channel or even further north in one day.
Sointulla. The community of Sointulla is located on Malcolm Island just a short distance northwest of Port McNeil. The community is very scenic and the marina is large and well kept. Sointulla was founded in 1901 by a group of Finnish “utopian socialists”. There are good restaurants and shops and an excellent grocery store (with a chandlery) but its a bit of a walk from the marina. Many cruisers prefer stopping in Sointulla for provisions and a break over Alert Bay or Port McNeil but we find all three places to be equally fun and attractive, for different reasons.
Sullivan Bay. The marina at Sullivan Bay and the adjacent community of floating homes combine to make another highly recommended stopover. Moorage is a bit more expensive, $1.10 per foot but we took advantage of the “3 night for the price of two” offered in 2011. During the summer season you should try to make reservations before arriving. Showers are $6.50, la;undry is $5.25 to wash and $5.25 to dry. The restaurant has excellent food and service but its not cheap. We had a great prime rib dinner (two persons) for $105.00 (including tax and tip). There is a daily happy hour under the tent (good protection from rain) at 5:00pm, with live music sometimes. You can dispose of sorted recyclables but not food waste or wet waste. There is a nice little grassy spot on a separate float for your pet. There are not trails ashore. Sullivan Bay is friendly, clean, neat, and helpful but not cheap. With that in mind, we highly recommend at least one night here.
Turnbull Cove Turnbull Cove is a big, protected anchorage north of Sullivan Bay. It is a pretty spot, popular during the summer but with plenty of room to swing. There is a short but relatively steep trail to the freshwater lake, which is excellent for swimming. Be aware that there may be bears in the area. In 2005 there was a large landslide that provided some excitement during the night. Landslide in Turnbull Cove. We visited shortly after and the damage was impressive. Even now, we would not anchor too close to the slide area due to the possibility of debris on the bottom. Still, this makes a nice spot to spend a few days, relaxed and swinging free on the hook firmly attached in paradise.
Waddington Bay. This harbor is well protected with plenty of room for up to 10 boats swinging. It can be crowded during the summer season and shore tying may be helpful. Anchoring depths are 30 – 40 feet. Crabbing is good in Waddington Bay but be sure to set your trap is a spot where the float will not impede anchoring by other boats. During the commercial crabbing season the commercial traps may make it more tricky to safely put down your hook. There are lots of clams in the mud at the head of Waddington Bay behind the little island but check for PSP closure. (Due to lack of funds to test shellfish on beaches in British Columbia most are closed.) If it is windy the most protected spot to anchor is in the north reaches of Waddington Bay.
Obviously, there are many place to visit and many sights to see in and around the Broughton Islands Archipeligo. We have just covered a few of them here, once again focusing on our favorites. For more complete descriptions of the many places to see and things to do please review one of the guide books we recommend on our Cruising Guides page.