Walsh Cove and Refuge Cove
02 July 2023 | Walsh Cove, Desolation Sound, B.C., Canada
Barbara Johnston | Fair
June 30, 2023
On Saturday, June 24, we departed civilization and made for Walsh Cove, a delightful, scenic, isolated, not-very-crowded Provincial Marine Park off Waddington Channel. This was our entry to Desolation Sound, which has been our cruising destination so often in the past.
When our kids were little, we came up here nearly every summer. Those were the days when we lived in Seattle and got two weeks of vacation. We figured out how to make the absolute most of those two weeks and maximize our time in Desolation Sound. A week before the vacation we sailed our boat (first a Columbia 26 and later an Islander Bahama 30) to Victoria (usually Oak Bay), tied her up, walked onto the Princess Marguerite (a Victoria to Seattle ferry), disembarked in Seattle and found our way home on public transportation. We put in another week’s work and then on Saturday morning took the Princess Marguerite again to Victoria, then onto our sailboat and headed north. With those smaller, slower sailboats, it took 5 days to make it to Desolation Sound. We’d get 5 days in Desolation Sound, then turn around and head back south – 15 days in all, before climbing again onto the Princess Marguerite in time to be back at work on Monday. The following weekend, of course, was our end-of-season retrieval of our little sailboat.
Now, in a larger boat, we can make it from Victoria to Desolation Sound in 3 days, and since we’re retired, we’re only limited by life’s vicissitudes. (We do miss having our kids with us, but this summer we’ll at least get to have Laura aboard for a few days in mid-July.) This summer we should have more than two weeks in Desolation Sound. We had originally planned to go further north, but life doesn’t always work out the way you plan. If you have a cruising sailboat, you learn to be flexible. Extremely flexible.
So let me tell you about the last week – we’ve been in Walsh Cove, then Refuge Cove, and now Walsh Cove again. When we were in Refuge Cove earlier this week, we considered the many places we might go in Desolation Sound, and a return to Walsh Cove topped the list. We stocked up on groceries and water and came back to this little gem of an anchorage.
Why do we like Walsh Cove so much? Not so many people come here. There is no commerce nearby; it’s just an indentation in the east coast of East Redonda Island, protected by three beautiful little islands from the winds that can whistle down the adjacent Waddington Channel. The cove is mostly too deep to anchor freelyThe Park Service has installed 10 or 15 shore anchors – basically a big eyebolt drilled into the rock with a chain hanging down. The idea is that you put your anchor out into the cove and then back up to the shore, stringing a floating line from your boat to the shore anchor. Some boats seem to do this easily; others struggle mightily, deploying their anchor multiple times, and sometimes seemingly give up in disgust and chugging off in search of another anchorage. Many of the boats strive for perfection, which seems to be the shortest shore line possible. The depth dropoff is impressively steep, so it is possible to get very close to the shore. Many of the boats that come here are locals. US flagged boats seem to be the exception. Since this is Friday, many local boats are showing up for the weekend. Last night we had only 4 boats here, but I’ll bet there will be 10 or 12 tonight.
The most prominent bird here seems to be the oystercatcher. It’s all black except for a bright orange beak. They like to fly around across the water in groups of 3 to many, blaring at each other like a group of traffic cops with whistles. They do this intermittently from dawn until well after dark. It makes me laugh every time.
It was a group of kayakers (camped out for the night on one of the adjacent islands) that told us the name of these birds. They said that the birds were named by Canadian kindergarteners through some sort of contest. Presumably the birds eat oysters? We are lacking a bird book this year, and while we’re here at Walsh Cove we are, of course, completely without internet. Those beautiful cliffs on all sides do not allow any cell phone signal to get through. There are tens of thousands of oysters on these shores, ready to puncture your inflatable dinghy if you venture too carelessly ashore. The oystercatchers are presumably the only ones eating oysters because harvesting them (or any bivalve shellfish) is strictly prohibited this time of year (concern about red tide poisoning).
One of the features of Walsh Cove is that fishing is permitted here and in the adjacent Waddington Channel. It’s even permitted for non-indigenous people (like us) to catch and keep King Salmon and most types of rockfish here (with strict limits on size). Craig went out yesterday morning and fished for salmon and rockfish. He was completely skunked on the salmon but did catch a dinner-sized rockfish (yum, yum!) He also caught a larger copper rockfish which is required to be released using a device that returns it to its original depth. So Craig had a first try with the device which seems to have worked well in the end. We hope the rockfish survived the trip!
One of the hallmarks of a cruising boat (in fact one of the definitions!) is “fixing your boat in exotic places.” Craig adhered to this maxim by repairing our swim-step shower. Over time it had developed an “always leaking” strategy, sure to hasten our depletion of our fresh water supplies. Fortunately, from our long-distance cruising days, we had all the necessary parts on hand. He had thought it would be a half-day repair, but in fact it only took about an hour and half. Showers on the swim step are wonderful, except when neighboring boats are too close. Craig has no scruples about it (“if they want to look, it’s up to them; no skin off my nose”) but I’m not quite so bold.
This morning we dinghied over to one of the islands that separates this cove from Waddington Channel. It’s an interesting exercise to find a landing spot that will still be good when the tide rises (or falls) a bit, and then to get past the slippery rocks and seaweed, through the sharp, crunchy oysters and mussels, and then up past the high tide line. We found a good spot for that and walked all around the island. It’s not quite the same as a five-mile hike, but it does allow us to stretch out muscles that really don’t get used aboard the boat. Also, beautiful vistas in every direction. On the way to the island we talked a bit with another cruising couple in a dinghy. They were just returning from checking their prawn trap, having scored only 4 prawns overnight. We’re planning on getting together with them tonight, and we’ll learn more about what promises to be their very interesting story.
Tomorrow we’re planning to move to an anchorage in Tenedos Bay, a bit south of here. According to our “Waggoner’s” guide, there are shore anchors in Tenedos Bay. Hopefully we can get there early enough to snag one. There are also supposed to be trails!
I haven’t said anything about Refuge Cove, which is quite different from this cove. Here, there are no facilities other than the shore anchors. In Refuge Cove, there’s lots of dock space, running water, laundry, showers (sort of), electricity (sort of), wifi (sort of) and a general store. A large area on the south end of East Redonda Island is owned by a housing co-op of 18 homeowners. The co-op leases shoreline areas to operators of the store, the restaurant and the docks. It appears all of the operators are in fact members of the co-op. This was all put in place decades ago, and the systems have not, by-and-large, been updated since. Craig found that the dock power (nominally 120 volts) was actually putting out 88 volts. He got in touch with the facilities manager and worked with him on how to remedy the situation. The system, which also serves all the co-op homeowners, needs an upgrade for a variety of reasons. The governmental authorities, however, will require so many upgrades in so many aspects of the facilities’ operation however, that there isn’t the will or the money to do it. So they’re thinking about just turning off the electricity to the docks.
They have a generator that turns off at 6pm. Supposedly there is still water pressure all night. But I found out to my dismay that a shower commenced at 6:30 pm may stop working unexpectedly, when you are still covered with soap. Fortunately, I was about 15 seconds past that stage when it happened, but it was still somewhat of a rude shock.
There are all sorts of interesting people who live and work at Refuge Cove. Many of them are members of the 18 families. We enjoyed a quite wonderful meal at the restaurant, which is in its pre-opening phase (official opening is July 1). The young couple that operates it seem very good at what they do, and are highly motivated for its success. Being out in the wilderness, with very high standards for their food, it’s quite expensive, and of course their season is very short (maybe 2 ½ months each summer). I wish them the very best of luck.
Another entrepreneur at Refuge Cove is the garbage barge operator. A resort in the wilderness does not accept people’s garbage. You have to take it with you or use the garbage barge. We dropped off one bag: $12.
This blog entry probably won’t actually be posted for a couple of days yet. But I think I’ll wind it up, because it’s getting pretty long. We hope you’re enjoying our adventures – we enjoy hearing from you if you do!