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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

British Columbia by boat: Tips, Conclusions, and Brief Equipment Reviews

It is indicative of how superlative my experiences are in the Alps and Caribbean that whenever I do comparable trips, the inevitable question I ask myself is: "Why am I not cycling in the Alps instead?" or "Why am I not sailing in the British Virgin Islands/Caribbean instead?" In most cases, the answer comes up short: I'd never chose most locations over corresponding trips in those places instead.

Unfortunately, British Columbia's coast (including Desolation Sound) falls into this category. First of all, the reports of warm water is overblown: 74F water might feel like 80F if you've grown up in the Pacific Northwest or live in the area, but compared to the Carribbean's crystal clear waters and temperature, it's not even close. What's not overblown is the stunning natural beauty of the area: snowy peaks that come all the way down to the sea, Fjords that are the rival of any place in the world.

Set against that are the physical properties of the area: distances are long point to point, and tidal currents and heights make it challenging sailing. Worse, from a sailor's point of view: in summer when weather is finest, the winds are light and there's not much sailing to be had. In poor weather when you have wind, you're in a hurry to get from one sheltered area to another, so motoring is preferred over sailing, unless the wind's blowing exactly where you want to go. To wit: British Columbia is a motor-boating destination, not really a sailing destination. The other problem is that there's limited things to do on land in the area: there's limited hiking trails and the terrain is too rugged for bush-whacking to be appealing. On the other hand, if you're a peak bagger, that means that there's plenty of first-ascents ready for you: the combination of boating skills and climbing skills seem to be rare enough that many of the peaks in the area have never been climbed!

Having said that, the area's pretty enough that like Yosemite, is probably worth a visit. Here are my best tips for exploring the area:

  • Charter a motorboat, not a sailboat. If you get a sailboat, be warned that you'll spend most of your time motoring. It'll be unsatisfying, and to top it off the sailboat's much harder to anchor and stern tie than a motorboat with twin engines.
  • Charter out of Powell River or Comox. Both places have motorboat charters that are ideal for exploring Desolation Sound.
  • The ideal time should be a week. In peak season, the anchorages are very very crowded. Be prepared to stern tie with an anchor most of the time. Be prepared to find favorite spots captured by folks who have the time to spend multiple days in one location.
For exploring the sunshine coast, a combination of car and boat is best:
  • Rent a car for about 4 days from Vancouver, and drive North using the Ferry system to get to Egmont or other places with charter motorboats
  • Rent a high power motorboat (top speed of at least 25 knots) and use that to explore Jervis Inlet and Princess Louisa Inlet. Use the boat to camp out at nice places. Return the boat and get back to the car for more exploration or return to Vancouver.
Would I do the trip again? I wouldn't say never, but my guess is you'd have to flatter me or bribe me by into organizing another trip in the Pacific Northwest again. The sailing isn't really good enough, and the swimming/diving in cold water isn't really appealing enough. Given free boat and lodging I might do it, but I'd rather be in the Caribbean.

The following equipment gave excellent performance during the trip:
Not so performant:
  • Sony Xperia Z1 (US Edition) When I got a replacement phone after the original one died, they gave me a US phone which doesn't pick up all the signals in Canada. This left me without data most of the time.

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