Cruising BC’s southern Gulf Islands

If you have not already read the first post in this series, you can do that here.

Bedwell Harbour – South Pender Island


Departing Sucia Island we headed west into Canada. We decided to check in at Bedwell Harbor, on South Pender Island, where we had entered for our previous summer’s cruise. We’re beginning to wonder if anyone else uses this check in because for the second year in a row, the docks were empty upon our arrival. I gathered all the paperwork and headed up to the phones to get our clearance number. A couple of minutes later I was back on the boat and we were all squared away.

The Customs dock in front of Poets Cove Resort
The Customs dock in front of Poets Cove Resort

Bedwell Harbor is home to Poet’s Cove Resort, which for some people is probably fantastic, but it is a happening place, with bunches of folks at the resort and a lot of boats in the marina, even this early in the season. There is a national park mooring field just off the docks and it too was chock full. All of this was fine by us, because we were looking for something different than the transom party scene, so we proceeded deeper northwest into the harbor where South & North Pender nearly meet.

We dropped the hook in about 8 meters of falling water, and quickly set about dropping the dinghy in so we could put out our crab pots. I had gotten my Canadian fishing / shellfish license so that we could pull up some crab along the way. The season hadn’t opened yet back in the states, but we were hoping for at least a few crabs to go with dinner. Hot damn were Laura & I surprised when we pulled up the first trap and it was overflowing with crab! I have never seen so many Dungeness in one spot, it looked like a live well at the supermarket. This little “stop over” spot was turning out to be fantastic. We took our limit and tossed the rest back to catch in the morning.

Bucket full of Dungeness crab
Bucket full of Dungeness crab

In the evening we took a dinghy ride through tiny cut that separates the north and south islands. Chris and Laura saw a bit of beach to land on and hatched a plan for an early morning hike / run up to the top of Mt Norman, the trail is only 1.5km but it ascends nearly 250m. At the top you are rewarded with wonderful views.

Lutris is the second boat from the left.

When the current outside Bedwell turned favorable we hopped out and caught the mid morning breeze to round up into Ganges. Of course being the summer in the PNW, the wind quickly died to zero and although the current wasn’t sending us backwards we were making 2 kts 90 degrees to our heading (In other words, we were sliding sideways faster than we were going forward. Since that was obviously an untenable situation, we fired up the iron wind, and headed up the Swanson channel. Just as we got to Captain’s passage (and after navigating the 3 converging ferrys that we always seem to find ourselves in the middle of) we got a spirited bit of wind and were able to gybe all the way up into Ganges in about 22 kts.

Ganges – Madrona Bay


Ganges Harbor is split in 2 by the Chain Islands. On the southern side of the bay, is the town proper all the way up at the head of harbor. It’s surrounded by marinas and docks. Again we were looking for something a bit more quiet and opted for Madrona Bay, still close to town but seperated by a headland that goes on to form the Chain Islands. Upon weaving our way up there through far more boats than we expected we found a clear patch of water into which we dropped our anchor. The wind was still up. and I wanted stay aboard the boat and be sure the anchor was holding (it did). The rest of the crew took Mishka (the dinghy) to the public dock for a stretch of legs and a stop at the store. They returned a little over an hour later with some tasty treats, and the news of a fireworks show over the harbor that night! It was Canada Day!

Lutris nestled at the head of Madrona Bay near Ganges
Lutris nestled at the head of Madrona Bay near Ganges

We enjoyed a lovely dinner and began the arduous process of “staying up late”. Usually on the boat especially when the days are so long in the summer, I am tucked into bed the same time dusk comes along. However the fireworks weren’t going to start until it was good and dark, so we waited up. Well, the time finally came, and it became crystal clear why this little spot of water was empty … the headland that kept us from seeing the lights of town – was also exactly tall enough that it kept us from seeing the fireworks too. I recall seeing the tops of 2 of 3, but that was the extent of our viewing. We did discover that we could get a bit more of a view by watching in the reflections of the windows of the houses on the opposite side of the bay, but really it was a disappointing experience, and one I’ll have to remember if we are up there again for Canada Day.

The following day we ventured out, despite of crappy weather. We were intent on getting inland to restaurant Hong wanted to try out. It was a lovely little cider house with a bunch of farm-to-table type foods. Of course we had to try every cider, and we were not disappointed. We walked the few miles back into town and spent some time wandering the farmers market. Chris & I kept watch on the growing bags of stuff while the ladies ventured in to some of the shops to sample their wares.

By this time, we had really developed an evening routine. Sit down to a really tasty dinner, followed by a kitchen clean up, and then we settle into the saloon for an episode of HBO’s The Newsroom (maybe 2). Then off to bed as the last of the light fades from the sky.

The following morning we made a quick stop at the pump out dock to empty the holding tanks and drop some trash off. We had a quick dash around the waterfront businesses looking for enough Canadian coins to start up the pump, but it was mostly uneventful. We made a slow motor (charging up the batteries) down Ganges Harbor and into Captain Passage bound for Montague.

Montague Harbour – Galiano Island


We arrived in Montague Harbour in late morning, trying to arrive just at the end of the exodus and before all the mid afternoon arrivals, securing a nice spot just the right distance away from the Provincial park dock so that we wouldn’t be constantly complaining about the noise and not too far that the paddle would tucker us out. We spent our first day just walking through the park and checking out our surroundings via dinghy. As evening settled in the park moorings were totally filled, and we were glad we got there early.

The harbor is a neat little spot with a peninsula that extends down the western side of the anchorage to further block any wind and swell, and is protected in nearly all weather.

Lutris sitting pretty on a Marine Provincial Park Mooring
Inflatable kayaks are the perfect water toys for the pacific northwest. Fairly efficient through the water, and can be stowed in very little space when deflated.

We spent the following day enjoying the delights of Galiano Island. Our first mission was a group kayak around to the beach on the northern side of the park and a bunch of shoreline exploration. There were crabs, starfish of all types and shapes & fish by the bucketful. Laura & Chris peeled off a bit early to make their way to the scooter rental guy by the marina – they wanted to go explore the farther reaches of the island. The wind and tide picked up and the paddle back was a bit spirited but we eventually made it to the boat. In the afternoon we decided to meet up with Chris & Laura at the marina and catch Tommy Transit’s musical pub bus over to the other side of the island, where there are a few restaurants, a store & the ferry dock. If you have never ridden in the back of a school bus while sitting on milk crates – playing homemade instruments while the driver uses both hands to bang on some crash symbols mounted above him – while he knee-steers over winding, hilly, island roads … I highly recommend it. (Maybe make sure your insurance is up to date)

We ended up eating at a wonderful little Thai restaurant called Wild1 Cookhouse Thai. I have no idea how the barely 1000 full time residents of Galiano managed to get themselves one of the best Thai food places I’ve ever eaten at, but they did. It was delicious food & even better atmosphere. We endured enjoyed another ride on the magical musical bus back over to the marina, where we snagged Chris & Laura’s kayaks and towed them back to the boat just as the sun was setting. It was a really stupendous day, and what cruising these islands is all about.

Stay tuned for the third and final installment – hopefully coming quickly on the heels of this one.
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