Octopus Islands Marine Park
We were excited to head to the Octopus Islands Marine Park, on Quadra Island, for the fun name if nothing else. But it exceeded our already high expectations! When we first arrived, we dodged the multitude of craggy rocks at the entrance and decided on “Tentacle Cove” as our home for the two nights we’d stay here. We dropped the hook and Paige and Steve rowed to shore to stern-tie to reduce our swing, given the cove was quite tight. I was so proud of Paige for rowing the stern line back to the boat while Steve kept it taut onshore. She got such a boost of confidence from it – we could see her growing up before our eyes!
After that, the kids immediately jumped in the water on our toys, which have all been named, by the way. The dinghy’s name is “Kinghy” (named last year by Spencer), the kayak is named “Cookie” (named by Paige), and the paddleboard is “Pepe” (named by me). “Pirate Island,” our inflatable island, rounds out our group of water toys (we have not named the water guns, but I can think of a phrase or two to describe them!). After dinner we made some hot chocolate and hopped in the dinghy for an evening ride to drink in the gorgeous surroundings.
The next morning we decided to dinghy over to Waiatt Bay and hike to Small Inlet, which is on the opposite side of Quadra. Before we left, Steve told the kids we were going to hike to the other side of the Island, which was met with a loud groan from Paige. Luckily, it’s the thinnest point of the island, and would only prove to be a 20 minute hike. There was also a path to Newton Lake, that I really wanted to hike to and go for a dip, but we chatted with some folks covered in sweat who were coming from the lake who said “it’s STEEP!” so we decided against it (though Steve secretly thought, “challenge accepted…how steep could it be?!” We also didn’t have bathing suits and the kids would likely be hungry sometime soon (since they are ALWAYS hungry) and we only had some snacks with us. Small Inlet was a fun, beautiful little hike.
After the hike we dinghied (is that even a word?!) over to the picturesque rocky cliff that overlooked the bay and housed the Octopus Islands Marine Park sign. We were disappointed to see that someone had defaced the sign in an attempt to add octopus legs (arms?) to the sign. We tried to scrape the paint off but it was like nail polish and wouldn’t budge.
That afternoon we were pleasantly surprised to see a boat loaded with kids pull into Tentacle Cove. We counted around 8 people on board a 36’ish boat, Northern Breeze, which turned out to be two families from North Vancouver on a week-long charter. When the kids saw Paige on her paddleboard, one of them jumped on theirs and paddled out to her. However, both being painfully shy, they just kept paddling, passing like two boats in the night. The adults on board both boats laughed heartily at the sight! Eventually, I forced the kids into the kayak and paddled over there in the dinghy, striking up a conversation with the kids to break the ice. Once that initial ice was broken, there was no going back! They were all fast friends. The kids paddled around the cove on the various floaty toys, then headed over to our boat to play Uno. The parents drank wine and chatted on Northern Breeze. It was an enjoyable evening until Spencer and their lively 8 year-old daughter started causing a loud ruckus throughout the anchorage which caused us to send the kids to bed to quiet down.
We decided to stay another day at Octopus so the kids could play together. We started to pump up Pirate Island when the crew of Northern Breeze paddled over and told us they were going to hike to Newton Lake. I jumped at the chance and we threw together some lunch and gathered up our hiking and swimming gear. We tied down the partially inflated Pirate Island so it wouldn’t blow away and hopped in the dinghy for our next adventure. The hike to Newton did prove to be pretty steep, but the kids were all troupers and made it no problem. The three bigger kids went ahead of us and set up booby traps to slow us down. Paige and her new friend started setting up their own traps for those of us at the back. Spencer had a blast knocking down the sticks set up across the path, or adding his own traps for the hike back down. We were rewarded at the end of the hike with a refreshing dip in the lake. Even I went in, which says a lot (and made sure Steve took a picture to prove it)!
After the hike it was back to play on Pirate Island for the afternoon. We had another fun evening with the parents on Moment (inside the mosquito netting!), and the kids on Northern Breeze. Octopus Islands has definitely been one of the highlights of our trip so far!
Handfield Bay, Sonora Island
We were getting close to the end of the Discovery Islands Dreamspeaker guidebook and were trying to find places to purchase the same guidebook for the Broughtons (we LOVE the Dreamspeaker guidebooks, and have a few copies autographed by Anne and Lawrence, who we’ve met at boat shows over the years!). It would soon prove to be much more difficult than expected – finding well-stocked stores has been a challenge so far. Sonora Island would be one of our last stops before heading up the formidable Johnstone Strait on our way to the Broughtons. It was an absolute treasure, with only one other boat in the anchorage. We enjoyed our time here and again the kids had fun paddling around the small bay, which we shared with a curious seal. Spencer was always keen to drive the dinghy when we had the engine on. He and I dinghied over to our boat neighbour to see if they had a guidebook we could borrow. We had a nice chat with Charlene, who lent us her guidebook for the evening so we could read through it and decide where our next few stops would be. The next morning, Steve worked on the holding tank vent (which our friend, Ben, considers a brown job) and once it was fixed (after some dropped tools and swear words), we headed off to Blind Channel.
Blind Channel, West Thurlow Island (and garbage and laundry!)
We decided to aim for the Blind Channel resort, mostly because they had a store so we could find the guidebook we were looking for, but also because it sounded like it had a rich history. Although we found it quite expensive – we paid $1.65 per pound of garbage and we had two small bags that totalled 8 pounds. I wince at the thought of how much garbage we went through at home – we would need second jobs just to pay for garbage removal at that rate! We opted out of the “fine dining” that evening but used the laundry facilities ($12 to wash and dry two loads of laundry). It becomes clear on laundry day how many clothes each person goes through. Spencer was by far the winner. After that, I went through his closet and packed away a large chunk of his clothes so he would be forced to re-wear some of them. Paige has been really good at wearing the same clothes more than once and usually had the smallest pile of laundry.
The dockhand, Jess, was super friendly and gave us the lowdown on everything there was to do at Blind Channel. She gave us some history on the German family that homesteaded here and told us Blind Channel had some of the best hiking trails around, with one of them through a second-growth forest leading to an 800 year-old live tree and a huge old snag we would fit inside! These trails were different from most others, since they were created by the logging company that had previously logged and replanted in this area. They were still incredibly beautiful and the trails were very well-maintained. The highlight was definitely the old tree at the pinnacle of the hike!
Blind Channel is an interesting place, where the comings and goings of boaters are dependent on the tides. The currents can roar through the Channel at up to 6 knots creating swirls and whirlpools, so all the boats tend to come in at the same time, around slack water. Jess and her fellow dockhands can be run off their feet during slack, even at this small marina.
Tuna Point and Port Neville
We timed our departure with the tide, along with another group of boaters who were leaving that day, to get through the famed Whirlpool Rapids near slack water. We navigated through the various channels between West Thurlow, Hardwick Island and the mainland, to avoid the strong wind warning on the Johnstone Strait. Sunderland Channel turned a bit nasty, with a northerly wind against an ebb current, kicking up some uncomfortable waves. I still managed to bake muffins, granola bars and three loaves of bread!
We tucked into Tuna Point, only a few miles short of our intended desination of Port Neville, to take shelter from the nasty weather. Steve was grateful for the warm galley once we were settled in. We anchored in a calm eddy behind the point, and saw someone waving from on shore. Steve dinghied (there’s that word again, get used to it!) to shore and brought ol’ Ed a couple of freshly baked muffins. Ed had lived by himself at Tuna Point for around 15 years! Very few boats tuck into Tuna Point anymore, given that there is a fairly large bay, Blenkinsop, close by. He and Steve chatted a bit – he offered to give us a tour of the area and hike to some old logging equipment. Unfortunately, we didn’t take him up on his offer as it was raining the next morning and the kids were happily playing together – so we motored over to Port Neville in the calm waters to check out the store to see if we could find the elusive guidebook. Well, we must have mis-read Charlene’s guidebook, because the “store” at Port Neville closed in 1960!
There was a big aluminum boat tied up at the government dock at Port Neville, and I sauntered over there to chat with the folks on board. They were part of the Guardian Watchmen program, which is a First Nations group that monitors the flora and fauna in their traditional territory. They check on the eelgrass onshore and keep an eye out for invasive species, they also look at the kelp blooms and monitor the sea urchin populations that feed on the kelp. They told us that since the Sea Otter population was essentially eradicated during the fur trade, the invasive urchins have been eating up all of the kelp, and changing the local eco system. They also told us to watch out for bears, cougars and wolves in the area, as Port Neville is on the mainland and there is a lot of wildlife around. In fact, apparently a cougar had even come onto the dock earlier this year!
After dinner we took a walk on shore, keeping the kids close to us. We found some really interesting clay that looked like sandstone rocks on the beach. Steve grabbed a stick and carved into the smooth rock, which was soft and malleable. The kids were excited and picked up a couple of “rocks” to bring back to the dock to carve. You could actually mold the putty in your hands like thick play-doh. We made some cuneiforms and baked them in the oven to re-create old Sumerian tablets that we were learning about in the history book we’ve been listening to as a family, Story of the World.
In the meantime, a group of four sailboats travelling together up to the Central Coast of BC tied up on the dock. One of the boats had two friendly cats aboard, and the kids enjoyed petting them. We chatted with the captain of one of the boats, Robin, and told her about our trip and plans for the year. She was thrilled and quickly went below to grab a photo album of her family from when they set sail from England when she was 5 years old. One of her brothers, who was 3 at the time, was at Port Neville as well in his own boat. We chatted with them for a long while about various topics like homeschooling, solar panels and mosquito netting. Spencer was enthralled when one of the boat cats wandered off to shore and came back holding a mouse in her mouth, which she brought back to Robin, who thanked her for the gift but quickly shoed her away. After the two cats played with the mouse for a while, flipping it up into the air, they devoured it. Yuck!
When the alarm went off, Steve and I dragged ourselves out of bed and got our foul-weather gear on. I was just about to start the kettle to make some tea when I glanced out the window and saw a huge fog bank over the Strait. It was somewhat of a defining moment for us – we didn’t need to get anywhere by a certain date or time. Though we were keen to get some groceries to replenish our stores and find the guidebook, we had the luxury of waiting out bad weather. So, off with our foul-weather gear and back into our still warm beds. We both layed there for a long time, staring at the ceiling and unable to go back to sleep. We heard the roar of the engines of the other sailboats trying to ride the ebb, and since we weren’t sleeping anyways, Steve popped his head out the window and saw that the fog had lifted. So, at 6 am we fired up our ol’ engine and headed out with the others.
We buddy boated with the other four boats and chatted a bit with them over the radio. We were able to sail at a broad reach for a few hours while the wind was favorable. After a few hours, the group of boats decided to tuck into a bay to wait until the next ebb so they could get to Port McNeil. We were hoping that the switch to a flood would help boost us Northwards to the Broughton Archipelago. We were aiming for Echo Bay, around 43 miles from Port Neville. It was a long day and despite the intermittent rain, it was magical. The tiny islands from Blackfish Sound to Gilford Island were breathtaking. We even saw another pair of whales! We think they may have been Minke’s, which seem to be prevalent up here.
We’re starting to get used to this lifestyle, revelling in each and every opportunity we have to connect with locals and other cruisers and the amazing scenery and wildlife.