Navigation Notes

As you head north toward the Broughtons, where you are far inland from the main channels and the “Inland Passage” to Alaska, the aids to navigation become fewer and farther between. However, key points of danger that cannot be easily be read on a chart – for example in the five sets of rapids – are clearly marked with buoys and on shore towers.

For the rapids, we read as many sources as we could. Guides written by sailors as apposed to power boaters are important here, since the timing of the slack is so much more difficult in a slow boat. Anne Vipond and William Kelley in Best Anchorages of the Inside Passage include a guest essay by the leader of the first Canadian Hydrographic Survey team to develop instruments which could accurately assess the rapids at different times of the tide cycle. Their navigation tips are helpful as are those of Margo Wood in Charlie’s Charts. The exception is her suggestion to northbound travelers to wait for slack Whirlpool Rapids in a bay at the NW end of Chancellor Channel; We couldn’t find place to anchor there but the cove immediately south of the rapids was perfect, for low water slack at least.

The northbound trip through the rapids is considerably more difficult to time in a slow boat than the southbound. When passing the Dent-Gillard-Yaculta trio, keep in mind that you can change your mind between Gillard and Dent and wait our a tide cycle or two in Big Bay. And even ten minutes off slack can be a challenge if you are fighting a drift filled ebb or flood.

While we loved Comox, crossing the bar was counter intuitive. Heading south in one of our are-we-there yet modes, we saw the distinctive bluffs of Cape Lazo and stayed a bit too close to shore. Soon we were heading east looking for two east cardinal buoys which are waaaaaaaay out in the Strait. They are quite distant one from the other and they don’t even look alike; the base of one one is tall, orange and open and the other block, short and squat. Once we found them in our binoculars we could make southerly progress. Then we had to negotiate the bar. Margo Wood says follow the the ranges. Waggonner says use a 222º heading but remember to correct for magnetic. Vipond and Kelly were the most helpful because their directions included reference to the two new red buoys (firmly on starboard this time) which were not on our map.

Thetis Island was easier the second time, but still it’s very shallow rounding into Telegraph Bay. If there is anything that must absolutely be left to “local knowledge” it is The Cut between Thetis and the First Nations Reservation on Kuper. It was hard enough to do in dinghy, yet we watched a 35 foot sailboat head in a high tide.

The term “local knowledge only” actually appears on charts (for an alternate entrance to Victoria’s Oak Bay, for example). That means don’t do it. At the same time, the whole concept of local knowledge is cool. But how do you identify it? Smack in the middle of the entrance to Laura Cove in Desolation Sound National Park there is a submerged rock. But three sailboats, two power boats and a bunch of kayaks were rafted nearby – obviously on a pre-planned multi-family vacation of folks who’d been here. As we crept in, I called out my query and immediately a teenaged girl sprang to one of the bows and pointed to the nefarious place. But short of meeting an old salty fisherman on the dock and then following him out, assuming of course he has the same six feet of draft you do, it’s impossible to take advantage of “local knowledge”. And it’s quite chilling to be taken for local knowledge just because Aurora’s bright work is peeling off and her crew looks comfortingly scruffy.

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