Trip Ideas

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. Below are tour guides for:

Salish Sea, Gulf Islands, Haida Gwaii and circum-Vancouver Island.

Salish Sea

The Salish Sea offers a natural circle tour. The appeals of this route are sheltered seas, proximity and the experience of a variety of BC coastal boating experiences including deep fjords, mazes of islands, abundant sea life, charming communities and urban delights.

The counter-clockwise route begins in Vancouver and leads up the Sunshine Coast with its picturesque seaside towns, many marinas, intricate waterways and oceanside pubs. Near the start of your route we recommend stops at Gibsons, Smuggler Cove, Secret Cove and Painted Boat Resort.

Plan to spend a few days in the bliss of Pender Harbour. If you’re thinking you should get those limbs tauter before your voyage, Sunshine Coast Resort offers fitness packages. Relax in their spa and variety of accommodations as a reward. If you would like something more rustic, then camp or rent a private cabin at Pender Harbour Resort.

Indescribably beautiful Princess Louisa Inlet is a must stop half-way up the Sunshine Coast and well worth the detour. Refresh at Backeddy Resort and Marina. An option is to take a tour to the Inlet and Chatterbox Falls with Sunshine Coast Tours.

Ballet Bay and Hardy Island Marine Park are popular stops at the mouth of Jervis Inlet. On your way back the Harmony Islands offer a set of glorious anchorages. See a selection of Sunshine Coast anchorages.

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. Historic Refuge Cove offers many amenities and supplies. Sunshine Coast Tourism is the source for information on land-based activities and services on the Sunshine Coast.

Whale watching Desolation Sound, credit Pacific Yellowfin Charters
Whale watching Desolation Sound, credit Pacific Yellowfin Charters

From Desolation Sound, you sail across the southern reaches of the Discovery Islands to the maritime hub at Campbell River. You may wish to explore the rugged Discovery Islands (video) with many comfortable resorts to choose from, abundant ocean life, fabulous fishing and enchanting landscapes. You are in the best fishing waters up here. Re-supply in Refuge Cove, then spend a night in luxurious Dent Island Lodge, fine dining and fine fishing at Blind Channel Resort,  and more of the same at Brown’s Bay Resort.

Heading south to Campbell River, you will negotiate Seymour Narrows, which is not a challenge at slack tides. Campbell River (video) 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 and Ladysmith.

Put some time aside to explore Cowichan Bay, Maple Bay and Brentwood Bay; all are attractive places with destination marinas. Sidney is perfectly located as a base for exploring these bays and 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. Victoria Harbour Authority has three mooring locations in the heart of the City. Of course, you can reverse the circle.

We recommend 3 weeks for this tour. If you add the Discovery Islands loop, add 4-7 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 Bay and Genoa Bay. 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. Both Oak Bay Marine Group and Mill Bay Marine Group have multiple marinas in this region. They provide guest moorage packages.

Ganges aerial credit John Cameron
Ganges Harbour, Salt Spring Island

Continue your adventure by circumnavigating Salt Spring Island, famous for its eclectic culture, thriving arts community and handcrafted foods and wines. Or extend your circle with a run to Gabriola Island and tour the Island from the many comforts of Page’s Resort and Marina. Return along the passage between Salt Spring and Galiano Islands. We recommend a stop at Montaque Harbour Marina for full comforts and best sunsets. Finish the Gulf Islands circle tour with a visit to the newly renovated Port Browning Marina.

Haida Gwaii

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.

The "Misty Isles" of Haida Gwaii
The “Misty Isles” of Haida Gwaii, credit Mary Lou Von Niessen

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 route is up the Inner Passage as far as Banks Island. Rounding Cape Caution takes careful planning and patience waiting for the right conditions. Stock up at Port Hardy or Port McNeill on north Vancouver Island. Duncanby Lodge and Marina and Shearwater Resort are oasis on the way.

In Haida Gwaii you will find everything you need to re-supply and re-fit in Queen Charlotte City. 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.

Traditional culture is alive in Haida Gwaii, credit Canadian Tourism Commission
Traditional culture is alive in Haida Gwaii, credit Canadian Tourism Commission

The northwestern corner of Graham Island (the big island) has few protected refuges. 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. Absorb the silence 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 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 you go around the largest island off 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, due to 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.

humpback whales bubblenetting herring
humpback whales bubblenetting herring

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. Sidney is a good base for exploring the Gulf Islands and deep bays of the big Island. 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. Heading north from Campbell River, you will negotiate Seymour Narrows, which is not a challenge at slack tides. Take your comforts while you can at Brown’s Bay Resort and Telegraph Cove Resort. Port McNeill and Port Hardy are 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. We provide detailed information for marine services, anchorages and boater’s restaurant guide.

Your first port after rounding Cape Scott is Winter Harbour. Port Alice has fuller services. There are secure anchorages as you travel south. At Nuchatlitz Inlet you may begin to take inner passages the west side of the Island is famous for. Tahsis and Zeballos have most of what you might need. Westview Marina and Lodge is a great stop for a rest and Moutcha Bay Resort is an oasis of fine comfort. Both provide fishing charters and guides.

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 before seeking anchorage in Barclay Sound and the Broken Group of Islands. Alberni Inlet cuts halfway into the Island with the welcoming and bustling community of Port Alberni at its terminus. Bamfield, on the south side of Barclay Sound has moorage and most marine services.

Pacific Rim National Park, credit Russ Heinl
Pacific Rim National Park, credit Russ Heinl

The journey south from Bamfield is exposed until Port Renfrew. Stop in at Pacific Gateway Marina for your last experience of bluewater fishing. 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. Victoria Harbour Authority has three mooring locations in the heart of the City. 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. Use our links to fishing regulations.

40 lb. Chinook caught at Painter's Lodge, credit Oak Bay Marine Group
Nice catch at Painter’s Lodge