During the summer of 2020, my dear wife and I enjoyed an epic season of perfect summer sailing the waters on the east side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Our adventures took us from Hornby Island, to Darcy Island, to the head of Finlayson Channel, and more.
I’ve written a few posts now, chronicling adventures I felt deserving of complete, dedicated entries. I stand by those decisions. But I also feel like there were some experiences that, although not really material for entire pieces, are worthy of some note, all the same. So I’ve put them together in a sort of short summer sailing anthology. A mariners montage of sorts.
Although a decent amount of water was navigated over the season, much of our sailing was done in around Saanich Inlet, all the way from Finlayson Arm to Cowichan Bay. Todd Inlet and Mill Bay Marina (the best marina I have ever been lucky enough to frequent) were our two main bases of operation.
Mill Bay Marina, as a facility alone, is enough to deserve mention, with it’s big, well-built, wide docks and sturdy new pilings, tonnes of space for transient moorage at very reasonable prices, and it’s fantastic restaurant. But Mill Bay as a top-notch facility staffed by the best people on the west-coast makes it a truly exceptional experience. If it’s not one of the best marinas anywhere on earth (which it is), it’s definitely one of the very best in British Columbia.
Every time we’ve been there, rain or shine, or howling wind just before closing time, we’ve been treated like absolute gold. We were there many times throughout the season, and spent over a month there at the end of it, and the service never waned once. A million thanks to everyone down at the docks and up at the restaurant. All marinas in the world have you guys to compare to, and, seeing as we’re traveling the world now, we’ll let you know how they measured up if we return home some day.
Mill Bay Marina. Best Marina EVER!
The Mill Bay Marine Group runs facilities in quite a few locations that I know of on BC’s south coast, and I would strongly encourage any boater to go out of their way to give them your business. They’re obviously doing something right. And to quell any suspicion, we do not have any business arrangements with them. This is not paid advertising. we were just that awed by the level of service they provide. It’s rare in southern BC to be treated so well. Thanks for a perfect summer!
Todd Inlet, farther up Saanich Inlet, and tucked out of sight just past Brentwood Bay, is a decent place to anchor up now and again. There’s a little man-made beach at the head of Todd with a trail leading to it from a nearby country road, and a dinghy dock that’s only a short walk from Butchart Gardens.
Beautiful Butchart Gardens. A Short Walk From the Dock at Todd Inlet.
Todd Inlet tends to get hugely over-crowded with elderly stuffed-shirts during peak times of year, so we generally anchor near the entrance and stern-tie to shore if we plan on staying up past 21:00 hrs.
All weekends during the summer are jam-packed, elbow-to-elbow, and I’ve never seen such a small area with so many unintentionally beached boats before. It’s definitely a weekend mecca for seafaring novices, so bring your “A” game and expect to encounter boaters with little ability or nautical know-how. And don’t bother losing your cool over completely unaware meat-heads with zero clue of what a a no-wake zone is or you’ll be furious all weekend.
The fireworks shows are worth the craziness for a few weekends of the season, however. It just takes a lot of alcohol to reach the same base-level IQ as everyone else.
Butchart Gardens Fireworks Show. Worth the Circus a Few Times a Year.
Eagles, orcas, seals, and otters (the deceptively cute, rapey little murderous psychopaths) frequent all parts of the coast and can often be spotted even when anchored or moored up, saving one the effort of firing up a motor to go harass them, as, unfortunately, too many boaters still do. On a short cruise with the nieces (their first time on the water) we were fortunate enough to see a pod of orcas frolicking in the distance just off of Mill Bay.
When you own a boat, every available weekend is spent with guests. And, I must confess, near every sailing weekend we were in the vicinity of anyone we knew, we had friends or family aboard. Which, though often exhausting, was also rewarding.
Our son was out a few times: for a trip to D’Arcy Island, for a night in Todd Inlet with his buddy, and for a night or two at McKenzie Bight, where he disembarked and hiked up a mountain with a full pack on to meet a friend. Our daughter and her beau only managed to make it out once, for a short excursion, but it was fun. Even when the boaters we were with had their anchor let go as the wind kicked up, and their huge wooden boat got blown into ours, not dislodging my much smaller vessel one bit.
That near disaster, and the rough, windy trip to get the kids back ashore was a lot of boating in a short period of time. They weathered it all without batting an eye. My daughter even fell asleep as we thrashed through the waves. A testament to my wife’s seamanship and the worthiness of our stellar little gem of a boat. And my daughter’s ability to sleep anywhere.
One of the best overnighters, though, was a reunion of sorts in Cowichan Bay. I picked up a good friend that I hadn’t seen for a long time in Victoria, set off from Brentwood Bay in the evening, and he piloted us almost the entire way to Cowichan Bay while I played with the sails. It was his first time at the helm, and he handled it like a pro. You’re a natural old salt, Nigey!
Beautiful British Columbia. Enroute to Cowichan Bay with Nigey.
We glided in to the shallow, shallow bay on a high tide just before darkness fell, anchored up, and zipped to shore for hugs, laughs, food, and drink. Most of us sat by the beach-fire until well-past sunrise the next morning. In the early morning light of a low tide I could see that, once again, I had somehow anchored perfectly. Five metres closer to shore and we would have had issues. Most of the coastline of British Columbia is rocky, which isn’t at all forgiving to poorly positioned boats.
Around the fire at Cowichan Bay.
Pulling anchor later that day and motoring to Mill Bay was exceptionally taxing. And while putting the short distance back, time and the miles crawled by at an agonizing snail’s pace. At least it waited to rain until we were underway. Boating in the rain with a hangover is always a treat, but it was completely worth it.
The entire sailing season was non-stop action for us. We put many a mile on our beautiful specimen of a glorious little craft, and barely a hiccup through it all. Good times aplenty were had, and a few not-so-good. We got to experience a lot of west-coast paradise, as we cruised from port to anchorage to raft-up, with different friends and family. We were treated like royalty at the best marina anywhere, and when it was done, we made an effortless sale to a woman we couldn’t have better picked for our boat if we’d had to.
The summer of 2020 was a smashing success, an undoubtedly perfect summer of superb sailing along the stunning south coast of British Columbia. We can’t wait to set foot aboard our next vessel, whatever she may be, to sail new adventures in different waters.