The Ins and Outs of Desolation Sound

Soaring peaks and picturesque anchorages will make you wonder why Captain Vancouver named it Desolation Sound

Soaring peaks and picturesque anchorages will make you wonder why Captain Vancouver named it Desolation Sound.   Just 15nm north of Powell River lies one of the best cruising sites in the world.   Just a couple hours after leaving the marina you will round Sara Point and enter this enchanted place.

Fifteen hundred metre (5,000 feet) peaks rise above the deepest continental waters in North American.  Nestled at the base of the mountains are well protected anchorages with stunning views.   These are the warmest waters north of Mexico.   There are hikes, ranging from easy to challenging, which bring you to fresh water lakes for swimming.   You can easily spend weeks and never tire of the area.

Starting north from Powell River your first stop is at 10nm for a short swim off of Savary Island.   The island has beautiful white sandy beaches and water warm enough for swimming.   Drop your anchor and enjoy the swim.  There are no public services on the island.   Lund is just one mile aware and home to the famous Nancy’s Bakery.   It serves a great breakfast and lunch.   The standout item is a blackberry cinnamon bun.  Call the harbour master on VHF channel 73 for a complimentary short-term moorage.   Most marinas on the coast are on 66a, but everything about Lund is a little different. 

A nice first night anchorage is in Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island.   It is a large well protected anchorage with very good holding.   It is a great place to get use the boat with an easy first night anchor.   You may hear wolves at night since the island has a significant population.   Jump in the dinghy and go over to the Squirrel Cove government dock.   Next door to the government dock is the Squirrel Cove Trading Company dock but it is only available at high tides.   It dries at 6 feet.   The Flying Squirrel Restaurant is not to be missed.  

A great choice for the next night is Tenedos Bay.   It is a short 10nm from Squirrel Cove and crosses the sound.   There are several anchorages in the bay but choose the northeast corner.   It has a relatively short trail of moderate difficulty to a great swimming hole.   Carefully examine the charts since there is a submerged work in the bay.   There is limited space to drop the anchor and swing so this anchorage will give you a chance to practice a stern tie.   There are bolts with chains attached to the rocks on shore to which you can tie up.   

Refuge Cove provides the only fuel stop in the sound.    It also has a general store complete with fresh provisions, ice, and a liquor store.    The restaurant has the best pizza you will find around and Townsite Brewing beer on tap.   In the morning you can enjoy their cinnamon buns.   Cinnamons is a cruising thing and you can find them in marinas from Vancouver to Alaska.  The Refuge Cover website describes the marina as whimsical and this is clearly accurate.   It provides power and potable water at the lowest prices on coast.   But, don’t bother to call ahead to the marina.    It is self serve.   Look for an open place and dock your boat.   The moorage is complimentary for four hours and if staying longer you can pay at the store.  It is a great place to spend the evening.

Prideaux Haven is the best know anchorage in the marine park.   It is very well protected and has a stunning view of the mountains to the east.   It is a large anchorage with room for both swinging and stern ties.   Prideaux is very popular and can have be quite crowded during the peak season.  Again, look at your charts carefully the entrance is a little complicated.

Rosco Bay is another wonderful anchorage, but it requires skill and confidence to enter.   Do not use this anchorage unless you are confident of your ability to calculate tides and accurately read navigation charts.   The bay is guarded by a bar that dries at a zero tide.  Once you drop your anchor you are are there until the next tide covers the bar with enough water to allow exit.  There is a very easy walk up to Black Lake that has several excellent swimming spots.   

A few other spots to visit:

  • The top of Pendrell Sound has the warmest ocean swimming around.  Temperatures reaching 26C (79F) in the summer.  
  • Walsh Cove Marine Park at the top of Waddington Channel is a small anchorage with a great vista.   
  • Toba Wilderness Marina is at the bottom of Toba Inlet.   The view is spectacular, as are the rates at $3.50 per foot.  It is quite busy and is advisable to call for reservation. It has power and filtered water.  It is not at all friendly to short term moorage charging $50 for 2 hours.
  • Von Donop Inlet on the west side of Cortes Island is a 3 nm narrow inlet into the island.   Excellent protection and great holding.   
  • Also, on the westside of Cortes Island is the upscale Gorge Harbour Marina.  It is a wonderfully maintained marina with fuel and a small grocery store.   It has a pool and hot tub included in the moorage fee. Once again cinnamon buns are available in the morning. 
  • A little farther afield is Octopus Island Marine Park.   To reach it you need to either go through the either Surge Narrow or Hole in the Wall tidal gates.  Careful attention to the current tables is required to pass at slack current.   

Desolation Sound is a special place to cruise.  There too many places to cover in this brief overview.   The majestic beauty of the sound and the many places to visit can continue to please the cruiser over many visits.   

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