How to Sail Around Vancouver Island
The largest island off the West Coast of North America, Vancouver Island is a boater’s dream come true, offering every vista and experience you can possibly imagine. Sail alongside a pod of pacific white-sided dolphins, explore ancient petroglyphs on shore and toast spectacular sunsets as your yacht bobs in the waves.
If you’re up for a longer trip, it will take anywhere from 3-6 weeks to circumnavigate the entire island if you sail with the Northwest winds (counter-clockwise.) Some boaters take months to slowly explore every inch of Vancouver Island and its many coves and inlets.
Using the example of a full circle route of the Island, we’ve chosen anchorages in secluded coves as well as busier marinas and harbours. Whether you cruise around the Gulf Islands or go further afield to more remote locations, this list highlights key anchorages around Vancouver Island.
The group of Gulf Islands has many excellent anchorages. Bedwell Harbour off South Pender Island is a great choice as a sheltered anchorage with plenty of amenities including resorts and a Canadian Customs office.
If you don’t need any amenities and want a quiet spot instead, try Cabbage Island, a small island that usually has plenty of room to anchor.
East Coast of Vancouver Island
If you’re heading into Stuart Channel and Dodd Narrows, Genoa Bay is ideal for waiting out the tide and avoiding the heavy traffic around Chemainus’ Telegraph Harbour. If you need to restock any supplies or refuel, however, Telegraph Harbour is a good place to stop.
Further up, Mark Bay on Newcastle Island’s (Saysutshun’s) south side is a quiet place to anchor for a night or two.
Discovery Passage connects the Strait of Georgia with Johnstone Strait. A long and narrow stretch, Discovery Passage is where casual boaters tend to turn around, since navigating the congested waters of the passage can be a challenge. It’s worth the challenge though, since the Discovery Passage is the start of true wilderness, leading to Desolation Sound.
Anchor in Campbell River or at Brown Bay or Granite Bay on Quadra Island (part of the Discovery Islands trio) while you plan your route northward. Campbell River and Comox are the last large cities you’ll see as you head towards the Johnstone Strait.
Best travelled earlier in the day to avoid stronger afternoon wind, Johnstone Strait has breathtaking scenery and is home to Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, aprotective zone for orcas.
Johnstone Strait has many protected anchorages on either side, including Chatham Point– a good pit stop for checking weather and wind conditions before starting into the Strait. Favourite anchorages in the Strait include the Walkem Islands, the large Port Harvey and Humpback Bay.
Queen Charlotte Strait (East)
The Eastern Queen Charlotte Strait is a fishing mecca. With very productive waters, there are remote resorts, and hundreds of uninhabited and secluded coves to drop anchor. As you enter Retreat Passage, there are several islands and coves for anchorage, su
ch as Heath Bay and Laura Cove.
Queen Charlotte Strait (West)
In Telegraph Cove, the Village of Sointula on Malcolm Island has food, gas, and a marine hardware store. Malcolm Island offers wonderful whale watching opportunities and protected anchorages. Back on mainland Vancouver Island, Port McNeill and Port Hardy are the last two small cities in Vancouver Island North and are popular anchorage spots.
West Coast of Vancouver Island
A challenging trip at the best of times, the Inside Passage (leading to Alaska) or Cape Scott are the two routes to take to go around the northernmost tip of the island. If you decide to go around Cape Scott, plan carefully. On Hope Island, Bull Harbour is a good place to stop and get your bearings before continuing onward.
Nahwitti Bar leads to Cape Scott and can only be crossed when the wind and water are calm, and this area shouldn’t be attempted by small crafts. A good way to ensure a safe crossing is to follow behind a fishing boat or to follow Tatnall Reefs, a calmer channel along the shore. That route will add a few nautical miles, but it’s worth it to avoid the fast current and swells. Once you’ve reached the start of Cape Scott, take the time to enjoy the awe-inspiring Cape Scott Provincial Park.
Continuing along Cape Scott there are no anchorages, so you must boat all the way through until you reach Quatsino Sound. You’ll always be in the company of commercial fishing boats, but it’s very important to be aware of the current, dangerous rocks and winds. Once you see the lighthouse, the toughest part of the journey is over.
Largely uninhabited and wild, Quatsino Sound is a rugged area that deserves to be explored. Hansen Bay is a historic site, sandy San Josef Bay offers three spots for anchorage– Hanna Point Bight, San Josef Inner Bay North and San Josef Inner Bay South.
Winter Harbour is a gorgeous place and a popular anchorage with a fully stocked store. Inner Quatsino Sound is the first large sound on the West Coast and offers plenty of protected harbour as well as access to Hwy 19 back down the Island.
Brooks Bay, Brooks Peninsula and Checleset Bay
The best anchorage in the Brooks Bay,
Brooks Peninsula and Checleset Bay areas is Clerke Point, in the southern end of the peninsula. Brooks Bay itself is a tough area to cross, with no anchorages in the narrow and deep Klaskino Inlet and Klashkish Narrows.
In comparison, Checleset Bay is much calmer and easier to navigate, and you can go further out to sea or stay closer to Nasparti Inlet and anchorages in Columbia and Baidarka Coves.
Walters Cove Resort is an ideal place to anchor at the public wharf and stock up on supplies. There are many places for anchorage within the Sound and it’s best to access these via Kyuquot Channel, rather than Crowther Channel. Kyuquot Bay on Union Island is a popular anchorage, as well as Surprise Island.
Tahsis Narrows leads to Tahsis Inlet and many calm and quiet anchorages with amazing scenery. Many of these are meant for small boats, like Santa Gertrudis Cove and Jewett Cove on Strange Island. The village of Tahsis has anchorage and some amenities. Deeper waters can be found in Tlupana Inlet, better suited for larger craft. Critter Cove and Galiano Bay are just two of many protected anchorages in the area.
To reach Clayoquot Sound, you must go through Estevan Point first. It can be a challenge with rougher waters, but that quickly settles once you reach Hesquiat Harbour. The water can get very busy along Flores, Vargas and Meares Island, but there are still many little anchorages in Sydney Inlet like Riley Cove and Young Bay.
Tranquilito Cove in Tranquil Inlet lives up to its name with a more remote location and warm, protected waters. The village of Tofino has anchorage, including their public wharf.
A very popular tourist destination, Barkley Sound is the busiest Sound on Vancouver Island’s West Coast. Many boaters prefer to anchor and explore the many islands and islets from a dinghy. Ucluelet Inlet and Bamfield Inlet are more open and easier to access than Alberni Inlet, which is best for small crafts that can navigate the steep and narrow topography.
Leading back to the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Cape Beale will take you to the northern entrance of the Juan de Fuca Strait. Prevailing winds that pick up in the afternoons make it best to cross this passage in the morning. The best anchorage sites are Sooke Harbour and Sooke Basin in the Sooke Inlet. Further south, downtown Victoria offers plenty of moorage and all the amenities you could want or need. The last stretch along Haro Strait leads to the Saanich Peninsula, where our full service marina awaits you.
The Gateway to Vancouver Island, Sidney is home to Van Isle Marina, where we offer covered and uncovered moorage available annually, monthly or nightly. Do you have questions about trip planning and logistics? Need to fuel up? Our dock store located on the fuel dock is fully stocked with cruising guides, charts, tide books and many other supplies needed for a successful trip. Come visit us at 2320 Harbour Rd in Sidney, BC.