Some of our boating acquaintances express admiration and even envy when we reveal that our cruising plans for a summer are, in fact, no plans at all. Other than a general direction of travel, and usually some date or other by which we have told our fine Canadian hosts that we will be out of their country again by, we head off north with no specific goal or destination in mind.
“Isn’t it great to have so much freedom?” they say. “Three months, just sailing around, going wherever you want to go, no pressure, no itinerary! That sounds like so much fun!”
Well, it can be. But having no fixed plans can also be a hindrance, as we found when we decided would skip over to Haida Gwaii rather late in our own trip this year.
It wasn’t as if we hadn’t talked about it previously; we had thought it might be a new, interesting, and relatively unpopulated place to explore this summer, and casually kept it in mind as an option if ever we got so far north as to make the jump.
But by the time we got that far north and started considering it more seriously, we discovered that, in fact, some more serious planning would have been to our benefit; might, in fact, have been entirely necessary for that particular destination.
Although our boat is well-found and our supplies and provisions adequate for crossing Hecate Strait in the right weather window, we had neglected to lay in the necessary charts for Haida Gwaii, and the chandlery in Port McNeill was clean out of the ones we needed when we checked there.
Then there was the fact that the lower half of the Moresby Island archipelago, the southernmost of the two major island groups that make up Haida Gwaii, is the Gwaii Haanas national park, which has numerous restrictions on visitors and cruisers. The park allows no more than 100 simultaneous visitors in its half-million hectares, a fine way to preserve its wilderness atmosphere. In the high season of July and August, though, this requires reservations, which by no means were assured on such late notice.
We thought about continuing north and seeing about charts at Prince Rupert or along the way, then just jumping across to Queen Charlotte City and taking our chances at getting a reservation in person, but by then we were in Pruth Bay, well into the gloomy, damp and chilly preserves north of Cape Caution, and hanging around in the rain on an off-chance suddenly didn’t seem so appealing.
So we fell into one of the other regrettable pitfalls common to those with poor planning skills, which is repetition: we ended up falling back on what we knew we liked instead of trying something new. We’d head back south, cruising down the West Coast of Vancouver Island, risking the fog in favor of the warmer, sunnier spells we knew we could find in the great inlets along that coast.
Having settled upon this idea, we wasted a little time putting it into practice: we continued north to Ocean Falls, which we had never visited before. It quickly became Mandy’s favorite place ever (at least until we get to the next new place) and is worth a story of its own, appearing in this space soon.
As relatively empty as the Broughtons were this summer, the busy channels and anchorages of the Central Coast were a surprise this year. The day we pulled into Ocean Falls, the wharfinger told us we were lucky; the night before, the docks had been entirely full. Other boaters we spoke with there told us that Shearwater was even busier, and had been forced to put a limit on freshwater supplies, such was the demand.
Sure enough, when we sailed down to Kliktsoatli Harbour (on which Shearwater is located) the docks looked full, and there were eight or 10 boats already anchored out, with more following. We hadn’t planned to go ashore except perhaps to have a look around, but the hordes seemed unappealing and it stood to reason that the small store there was likely to have been picked over pretty good already.
Supplies were becoming a minor concern; we had all the water we needed from Ocean Falls, and quite a lot of canned food, but we were about out of fresh and without some supplemental supplies from one of the small stores, getting back to a port with a supermarket sounded more and more appealing.
Probably the best place for that, if one were headed south, might be Port McNeill, but we’d been there, and if we were going to go down the west coast of the Island it would require some backtracking and tide management which would eat up a few days. The same applied to Port Hardy; and we’d also heard from some locals that the stocks there were getting hit hard on ferry landing days, as locals from Central Coast outposts (particularly Bella Bella, which suffered a catastrophic fire that burned down their general store building last year) made their way down to stock up.
Fortunately, another solution presented itself, more in line with our destination: Port Alice.
We had heard from some fellow cruisers last year that the store there was suprisingly well-stocked. And we’d never had an excuse to head down the improbably-named Neroutsos Inlet.
Just as fortunately a weather window presented itself and we prepared ourselves to make the jump down to Quatsino straight from the Hakai Conservancy Area.