Photo: A log barge and a sailboat in Quatsino Sound
Outside in the ocean, northwest winds blew gales of 30-40 knots, generating seas of four meters. With an eighty-nine mile trip ahead of us, north up the coast, around Cape Scott and across the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, we were trapped -- waiting for the right weather. Commercial fishermen stayed tied to the docks and even southbound sailboats stayed in the sound. But what a way to be trapped. Inside Quatsino Sound we had blue sky, hot weather and calms.
Of all the sounds on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Quatsino Sound would have been my last choice in which to spend an extra week. Clear cuts scar the hillsides and log booms and fish farms clog the anchorages. But forced to spend a week here waiting for a change in the wind, we found some surprising gems:
Coal Harbour, Holberg Inlet. 50 5.51'N, 127 5.25'W
Photo: Former Air Force Hangar and Whaling Center at Coal Harbour.
We made three trips to Coal Harbour in our week in the sound. Each time we found something new. We came here because of three-times-a-day bus service to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island's east side -- access to grocery stores, post office and coffee shops. But Coal Harbour is worth a visit on its own. And we always found space at the small public marina operated by the Quatsino Native band.
In World War II, Coal Harbour served as a Royal Canadian Air Force seaplane base. Later (1948-1967), that same airplane base served as an industrial whaling plant, similar to the earlier one at Cachalot. One hangar is still there and serves as a commercial seaplane and water taxi service. It also houses "Joey's Coal Harbour History Museum, " a one room museum crammed with artifacts from logging, seaplanes, and whaling. In the main hangar sit old engines rescued from the forest and the huge jawbones of a whale. You won't find the museum listed in museum guides, or even cruising guides. It's the sort of place you learn about by being trapped by weather.
Coal Harbour promises to get even better. The marina has expanded in the last year and now has fuel (albeit at a very small dock). On shore the old assembly building for the airbase is being renovated as a general store, restaurant and lodge.
Rumble Beach (Port Alice), Neurotsos Inlet. 50 22.95'N, 122 27.18'W
Photo: Port Alice Yacht Club
The town of Rumble Beach, commonly called Port Alice, charmed us. The last remaining mill town on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Rumble Beach offers parks, green lawns, a yacht club, grocery store, liquor store, post office and two restaurants. The pulp mill is around the corner at the real Port Alice - out of sight.
"I retired here for the fishing and boating," a volunteer at the Port Alice Yacht Club told us as he gave us a tour of the town (it took all of five minutes). "We bought an RV, planning to travel, but we haven't used it in the two years we've owned it. We've never wanted to leave home."
"We've been in business here 32 years," a waitress at the Victorian Steak House told us. "Same owner, same menu." With its wooden wainscoting and Greek costume sketches on the wall, it was a pleasant place. The Greek platter for two was delicious.
We liked Port Alice so well, next time we'll go there instead of taking the bus to Port Hardy, as long as we don't need boat parts or repairs.
Photo: Julian Cove (50 29.4'N, 127 36.22'W)
It may have been blowing 30-40 knots in the ocean, but in Julian Cove it was so sunny and warm, I thought longingly of our awning in the basement at home. We've become so used to sailing in rain that we'd never even thought of bringing the awning.
Steep forested hills circle the cove --one of the few places in Quatsino Sound where clearcuts aren't visible. One afternoon we took a walk on the nearby tide flat and had to wait for a bear to leave before we could safely return to our dinghy.
With us in the cove were Paul and Alison of the sailboat Essence
and Neil of the sailboat Tango
was waiting to round the Brooks Peninsula heading south down the Vancouver Island coast while Tango
was really heading south -- to the Marquesas. They were all three pleasant company. One day a sports fisherman gave Paul and Alison a salmon and we all feasted on salmon with a salmon berry crumble for dessert.
Marble River & Varney Bay (50 33.38'N, 127 32.47'W)
Photo: Paul and Alison of SV Essence
exploring the Marble River.
A trip up the Marble River is worth a trip to Quatsino Sound just by itself. With the sailboat Essence behind us, we motored through Quatsino Narrows with the flood tide and anchored in Varney Bay. In our dinghies we wove our way across a marshy delta and through a narrow opening in the trees. In a few short turns, we were in a steep canyon of marble cliffs. Ferns hung down the damp canyon sides and mergansers swam along the cliff base. Ahead we could see white water and hear the roar of rapids.
"Let's try it," said Steve. I thought he was crazy. It took us three tries to get through the rapids. The first time, the outboard couldn't make progress against the rapids. We turned and the current carried us back down - so fast the dinghy bumped against rocks and almost ran over Alison and Paul in their dinghy. We took the two dinghies over to a back eddy across the river where we could watch the rapids. "I think they're getting flatter," said Steve after a few minutes. "The tide's still coming in." We tried again but still couldn't make it. But a few minutes later the rapids were even flatter. "One last try," said Steve.
The dinghy roared and ran in place in the rapids, moving from side to side as the current caught its bow. On either side of us I could see rocks lurking beneath the surface. Steve gunned the outboard and we inched ahead. Finally, the river smoothed out and slowed down and we turned around to look back at Paul and Alison struggling up the rapid in their dinghy with its small outboard. They made it too. Ahead of us we could see the large overhang with its tall cliff and beyond that real rapids. We had gone far enough.
Photo: St. Olaf's church.
"We may as well stop there," said Steve, referring to the village of Quatsino. "It has a public dock."
It also has the historic St. Olaf's Anglican Church. Named in honor of the Scandinavian roots of many of Quatsino's pioneers, the building started its life in 1898 as a schoolhouse and became a church in 1949. We found the church up a short hill to the right of the dock. No one was around but we opened the unlocked door and walked into a peaceful setting of wooden pews, an old reed organ and windows looking out at green forest.
Closer to the dock we found a small museum with picnic tables in the front yard and old tractors in the parking lot. A sign on the door told us it is open 7 days a week July and August, 1-2. We couldn't get into the museum because we had arrived after 2 o'clock, but a teenage girl on a bicycle stopped to talk to us. The museum held mining and logging artifacts she told us, and lots of photographs. It also sells candy and pop and offers wifi. Next time we'll come earlier.