Where the Ocean Meets the Sky
By Aaron Wasylyk
All around, majestic mountains soar thousands of metres from the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Curious seals swim playfully alongside. Quiet solitude envelops you as you explore pristine wilderness so beautiful that everywhere you look is like staring at a picture perfect postcard. Welcome to cruising along British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.
When Producer and Host Mike Gridley informed me that we would be returning to BC to shoot a feature for PowerBoat Television, exploring the Sunshine Coast, my heart immediately skipped a beat. I was going “home”! Well, at least that’s how I think of British Columbia, despite being born and raised (and currently residing) in Ontario. They say home is where the heart is, and twenty years ago, British Columbia locked mine up and threw away the key.
As a former member of the BC Provincial Freestyle Ski Team and a graduate of Vancouver Film School I spent the better part of a decade traveling up and down the Sea to Sky Highway—geographically speaking, a stone’s throw or a short ferry ride away from the aptly named Sunshine Coast.
Now more than a dozen years into a career as a Director and Cameraman, specializing in outdoor adventure television, I’ve been exceptionally privileged to have traveled the world’s waterways. From the canals of St. Petersburg, Russia, to the black sand beaches of Bali, I can unequivocally claim that cruising along BC’s Sunshine Coast is some of the finest boating you’ll ever experience.
The unique nature of this trip is that even if you don’t live locally and have your own yacht, but you’re familiar with and comfortable handling cruisers, you can still experience this incredible voyage as the captain of your very own vessel. Nanaimo Yacht Charters offers “bareboat charters”, and has been doing so for more than 25 years. For those unfamiliar with bareboat chartering, the concept is simple. An organization like Nanaimo Yacht Charters offers a selection of both sail and power yachts that are available to rent. You simply supply the piloting expertise, provisions, and crew, while they provide a well-maintained yacht, guaranteed to get you to where you’re going and back.
Fortunately for us, our boat—a Meridian 368 Motoryacht—is fully stocked and ready to go. The owner and captain, Al Browne, normally offers his boat as a rental through Nanaimo Yacht Charters, but he has generously made himself and his yacht available to us for the next two and a half days.
Our adventure begins in Egmont; a small waterfront village nestled on the shores of Secret Bay, in Sechelt Inlet. This quaint ocean community plays a very important role for those looking to cruise up the Sunshine Coast to Princess Louisa Inlet. As it just so happens, is precisely our destination. Egmont is the last point to get fuel and provisions on the way to Princess Louisa Marine Provincial Park. After this, it’s nothing but ocean, mountains, open air and pure awesomeness.
As we get underway, Al and Mike take up positions at the helm while I settle in and begin filming from the front deck. Setting off from Backeddy Resort & Marina, the Sunshine Coast is definitely living up to its namesake. With the sun shining brilliantly, this mid-September day could easily be mistaken for the middle of summer. The ocean is calm, the temperature is right in that sweet spot of not too hot and not too cold, and the sky is completely bluebird. If there’s ever been a more perfect day on the water, I’ve yet to experience it. Personally I like to think that BC is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to lure me back, but the reality is, this is just another day in Sunshine Coast paradise.
Our route from Egmont to Princess Louisa Marine Provincial Park winds its way along the Jervis Inlet. Approaching Prince of Wales Reach, the first of three arms that comprise Jervis Inlet, Mike takes the helm as we cruise along at about eight knots. At this speed it will take us approximately five and a half hours to travel the 38.6 nautical miles from Egmont to the docks at Princess Louisa. It is by this point that you really begin to experience the incredible remote beauty of this part of the Sunshine Coast. Apart from a few selective logging sites, and an active quarry, it really is untouched wilderness. However, you likely won’t be completely alone. This is a popular journey for boaters given the relative close proximity to more populated areas such as Pender Harbour and Nanaimo.
Occasionally another boat will come into view, either heading to or from Princess Louisa. Considering the remoteness of the waters we’re navigating, it is somewhat reassuring that in the event of a mechanical issue or other emergency the odds are in your favour that you will cross paths with another boat sooner rather than later. As we pass through Princess Royal Reach, the second arm of the Jervis Inlet, and enter Queen’s Reach, the third and final arm directly preceding Princess Louisa Inlet, the Coast Mountains tower above us on either side. Achieving dizzying elevations exceeding 2,400 metres (8,000 feet), the horizon is painted with snowcapped peaks and vast ice fields. Equally impressive is the depth of the water we are cruising through. The wide blue ribbon that is the Jervis Inlet is deceptively deep, with depths ranging from 240-335 metres (800-1,100 feet).
While Mike has had the reassuring luxury of cruising in hundreds of feet of water, and I’ve been spoiled with the impossibility of composing a bad shot, our host Al has been busy in the galley preparing the evening’s meal. As a successful businessman and entrepreneur with decades of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry in Calgary, Al has come equipped with a secret weapon for long, leisurely cruising: the slow cooker. So with the slow cooker working away on Al’s signature rib recipe, he returns to the helm just as we approach the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet.
The entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet is a gauntlet of sorts, defined by the Malibu Rapids. It is at this point where the water level drops significantly, registering only 13 metres (43 feet) at its deepest point. There are rocks to be aware of, so be sure to consult your charts. It is best to attempt passage at slack tide, as the tidal flow approaches nine knots at peak flow. Not to worry though, with Al’s expert guidance, and Mike’s steady hand, we cruise through without incident as I film the passing Malibu Club. Built in the 1940s, the Malibu Club sits onshore at the entrance to Princess Louisa Inlet and was originally designed as a luxury resort for the rich and famous. Today it operates as a summer camp for high school students from across Canada and the U.S.
Once through the rapids, we complete the short half hour run to the docks at Princess Louisa Marine Provincial Park. A collection of sail and power yachts have already tied up to the boat docks for the night and we quickly set about doing the same. As twilight sets in and the evening air grows still, our surroundings take on an almost ethereal feel, only offset by the massive granite walls, rising in excess of 2,100 metres (6,000 feet) that dominate and surround the tranquil inlet. We’re just here for the night, so unfortunately we’ll only be able to explore a tiny fraction of this 65-hectare park.
Taking advantage of the fading light, Al, Mike and I venture ashore and eagerly make our way along a section of the 800 metres (2,600 feet) of trails and boardwalks that lead to the crown jewel at the head of the inlet: Chatterbox Falls. The water that cascades 45 metres (150 feet) over the edge of Chatterbox Falls is the culmination of more than 60 waterfalls that are fed by melting mountain snow, high in the alpine. It truly is a rare secluded wonder and the perfect conclusion to the day’s journey.
No sooner have the last rays of sunlight disappeared behind the imposing granite cliffs when it seems like the sun is rising again the next morning. It’s time to retrace our route back down the Sunshine Coast so we set out early, to ensure that we’re able to pass through the Malibu Rapids again at slack tide. Our destination today and culmination of our trip will be Pender Harbour, approximately 49 nautical miles due south.
The route back down the coast takes us through Agamemnon Channel. A wide-open channel of water approximately 10 nautical miles across. Rounding the point at the entrance to Lee Bay signifies our arrival in the unincorporated community known as Pender Harbour. With a population of less than 3,000 it is comprised of small villages including Irvine’s Landing, Garden Bay, Madeira Park and Kleindale.
We are now very clearly back in the midst of civilization, yet it is no less picturesque. Multi-million dollar homes sit perched atop the surrounding bluffs over looking the ocean, with million dollar views. There are a host of marinas found sprinkled throughout the various bays and coves that make up Pender Harbour. As we pull in and tie up at Madeira Marina, I’m very excited. Al has promised to break out the fishing rods so we can toss a line in and try our luck at landing some Lingcod. For me, getting the chance to fish, when I’m not filming, is definitely one of the many perks of the job.
But first there’s still some work left to do as we load up the small tender we’ve been towing along behind us and head off to explore the surrounding area. The tide is low as we make our way through the narrow and shallow entrance to Gunboat Bay. Al informs us that any sightseeing done in this area by way of a larger boat must be done at high tide. Since even with higher water, there still isn’t a whole lot of water to work with. As Gunboat Bay gives way to Oyster Bay, the currently low tide reveals the very obvious reason this bay got its name. With the receded water, the surrounding rock and shoreline is exposed and we can see that everything is completely covered with oysters. It’s like boating through nature’s largest raw bar. I’m pretty sure I caught Mike licking his lips and lamenting that he wished he’d brought along a bottle of hot sauce.
While I will readily concede that oysters are delicious, I’ve got bigger fish to fry…er, I mean catch! At my prompting we head further out into Pender Harbour to a spot that hopefully will yield some Lingcod. Under the slightly suspicious and watchful gaze of a colony of local seals, we select a spot adjacent to some rock cliffs near the entrance to the harbour. Using frozen herring as bait, we fish in about 15 metres (50 feet) of water, by jigging off the bottom.
I wish I could report that this fish tale has a happy ending, but alas it was not meant to be. Al is the only one who manages to actually catch a fish. A grubby little specimen called a Tiger Rockfish. Mike snags a pretty fine piece of kelp. And I get skunked. It’s all good, though. The way I see it, that’s just the Sunshine Coast adhering to the old showbiz adage of “always leave them wanting more”.
And there definitely is more, lots more in fact, from world-class salmon fishing to some of the best diving in the world. From secluded coves and hidden anchorages to endless coastline, the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada offers some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever had the pleasure of filming and exploring by boat. So put it on your bucket list. Check out a bareboat charter and get out here!