Everybody loves a circuit. AHOY BC’s circle tours lead you to a variety of boating experiences with varying levels of amenities and experiences of the wild. Pick one that is right for your perfect marine holiday.
The Salish Sea offers a natural circle tour. The counter-clockwise route begins in Vancouver and leads up the Sunshine Coast with its charming seaside towns, many marinas, intricate waterways and oceanside pubs. Plan to spend a few days in Pender Harbour. Indescribably beautiful Princess Louisa Inlet is a must stop half-way up the Sunshine Coast. At the top of the Sunshine Coast and Salish Sea is world-famous Desolation Sound, with its warm-water marine park. Provision in Powell River and stop for a last taste of civilization in cute, little Lund.
From Desolation Sound, you sail across the southern reaches of the Discovery Islands to the maritime hub at Campbell River. You will want to explore the rugged Discovery Islands with many comfortable resorts to choose from, abundant ocean life, fabulous fishing and enchanting landscapes. You are in the best fishing waters up here. Campbell River offers full marine services after a long voyage. Then it is southward along the Vancouver Island East coast. As you journey south, the pattern reverses. Towns become more numerous and you may wish to tether for a few days in the lee of pubs, restaurants, galleries and museums in Courtney-Comox, Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Parksville and Cowichan Bay. Near the end are the Gulf Islands, the most popular sailing destination on the BC coast. And before you say a fond farewell to the mini-world of the Salish Sea, take one last opportunity to dine and enjoy West Coast culture in Victoria, the Provincial capital. Of course, you can reverse the circle.
The minimum estimated time to complete the Salish Sea circle tour is 30 days. If you have less time, then we recommend you visit a few of the Salish regions. Tours combining Victoria, Gulf Islands, south part of Vancouver Island, Princess Louisa Inlet and the Sunshine Coast offer a variety of boating, natural and hospitality experiences.
Gulf Islands and Southern Vancouver Island East
This circuit is close to the U.S. border and BC’s urban areas. A short jaunt — perfect for families — begins in Victoria and leads around the Saanich Peninsula to Saanich Inlet and Brentwood Bay. Get your land legs back with a massage at Brentwood Bay Resort Marina. There are plenty of marinas on the Peninsula, many beaches and charming Sidney has an accessible downtown with amenities and attractions for young and still young. Continue up the coast in protected waters behind Salt Spring Island to destination marinas in Maple and Genoa Bays. You will find plenty of cozy, more private anchorages, too.
Continue your trip with stops in Cowichan Bay and Chemainus. Both have everything you need within walking distance. Chemainus is famous for its outdoor gallery of murals. Your last coastal community stop on this circuit is Ladysmith, where shuttle services to the nearby community are offered at its three marinas. Finish your adventure by circumnavigating Salt Spring Island, famous for its eclectic culture, thriving arts community and handcrafted foods and wines.
The name means “Islands of the Haida,” the people who have inhabited these misty isles for countless millennia. There is probably no place in British Columbia where traditional culture and life is more evident. The Haida led creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, which protects thousands of square miles of land and water at the southern end of the island group. Preservation of the land and water ensures that the Haida can continue to live by traditional means.
It is more than 150 miles (250 km) from one end of the islands to the other. Getting there from Vancouver takes a couple of weeks, presuming stops along the way. This adventurous experience is for seasoned skippers with time for the experience of a lifetime. The nearest full service ports are Port Hardy and Port McNeill on north Vancouver Island. Prince Rupert is closer, but it is out of the way a little bit. In Haida Gwaii you will find everything you need to re-supply and re-fit.
Two weeks minimum, four weeks preferred, are needed to even begin to explore this world where time stands still. We recommend that you begin on the east side of the island group, where all of the communities are located. Get advice on sailing the western shores and ask about best fishing places and where the big trees are. Visit the heartbeat of the Haida culture in Old Massett and Skidegate. Meet world-renowned Haida artists and book a land tour to include cultural sites or visit the award winning Haida Heritage Centre and Museum. You will find hospitality and services in Queen Charlotte City, Skidgate, Port Clements, Masset, Old Masset and Sand Spit. There are marinas in Queen Charlotte City, Masset, Sand Spit and Port Clements.
The northwestern corner of Graham Island (the big island) has few refuges from exposure to the vast Pacific Ocean. The remainder of western shores offer frequent sheltered coves and inlets. There are very few signs of human occupation. You are on your own out here.
The reward? Experience of one of the world’s most ecologically rich regions. A place where preservation has trumped exploitation. A place where the blast of whales spouting and eagles crying are the only sounds. Then there are the ancient forests. It is silent when you stand among Sitka spruce and Red cedar that were seedlings when Leif Erickson visited North America. Combine your spirit-renewing experience of nature at its most prolific with lessons from the Haida Watchman, stewards of these Islands. This is a circle tour in space and in time.
Circumnavigate Vancouver Island
This is one to add to your list of life’s adventures.
You will feel like you are on different planets as go around the largest island of the west coast of the Americas. Most often, boaters travel north on the east side of the Island, round the top and southbound coming back. The reason is the prevalence of northwest winds on the western, exposed side of the island. Plan on the voyage taking one month, and even then you will leave many fabulous places unexplored.
It gets more challenging as you go
Vancouver Island East frames the relatively tranquil Salish Sea. Small cities and towns festoon the southeast Island. Allow at least a few days to explore the Gulf Islands with their unique ecology, local food and islander culture. North of Nanaimo, civilization diminishes and with it wildlife sightings increase. Comox and Campbell River are the last large centres you will encounter for the rest of your voyage.
At Campbell River you enter the Discovery Islands region. You may wish to come back to them another day, but on this circumnavigation probably only Quadra Island can be included. Sail up the Discovery Passage and enter the Broughton Archipelago/Johnstone Strait region. Confined waterways, currents and tides create navigational challenges. If you stay close to the Island, then ample ports with full services are nearby. Port Hardy is the last full service port until, weeks ahead, you return to southern waters.
It’s an exhilarating accomplishment
As you round Cape Scott at the top of the Island, you are exposed to the full sweep of the Pacific Ocean in the Vancouver Island West region. Settlements are few and the coast is treacherous. You must be a very competent skipper to take this challenge. Please consult our For the Skipper connections to navigational aids and safe boating. There are welcoming marinas and resorts in Winter Harbour, Zeballos, Tahsis, Gold River and Port Alberni.
You will know you are getting close to civilization again when you reach Tofino and Ucluelet. These communities offer world-class hospitality. You’ve earned some comforts, so tie up and sleep in a steady bed. Enjoy a fine meal. Replenish. The waters remain exposed as you journey south, until Port Renfrew. There are marinas in Sooke and along the south coast of the Island. Finally, the lights and sounds of Victoria greet you again and you’ve done it. Bravo.
Do it for the fishing
The fishing is good almost anywhere, but from Comox north, all around the upper Island, and most especially on the west side of the Island, the fishing is unsurpassed. Most marinas specialize in serving fishers. You will get plenty of tips and you can replenish gear. Remember: catch only what you can eat.
Main image at top of page: Cruising the Inside Passage, credit Tourism Prince Rupert