Retired and on the Move

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Location: BC, Canada

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tugboat Island

When we leave Vancouver our first destination is often Tugboat Island. Located in the Flat Top Islands at the southern tip of Gabriola Island, it is about 10 miles before Nanaimo and about 24 nautical miles from downtown Vancouver. Sailing, it takes 1½ to 3 hours depending on the speed and direction of the wind. Under power, at a comfortable 8 knots we need about 3 hours, dock to dock.

Since winds in Georgia Strait blow from the north or the south (with easterly or westerly in them) if we are heading north to Desolation Sound or beyond, Tugboat Island and Silva Bay constitute a good layover if the wind is from the north. For the uninitiated, a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind. While it can sail with the wind directly behind it, a following wind about 20 degrees to one or the other side of dead astern will move the boat faster. Thus if we want to go essentially north to Desolation we need to tack, keeping the wind about 30 degrees off the bow. Tugboat is usually one long tack from Vancouver, making it an ideal layover if we don’t want to go all the way north in one day.

Silva Bay Marina and Resort provides public moorage, a fuel dock, restaurant and liquor store. It also boasts Canada’s only full-time wooden boat building school, an amazing support for a threatened craft that once thrived in Canada.

While Silva Bay provides a good anchorage in most winds and a reasonable one in high winds, it also contains Tugboat Island one of the 7 private outstations owned by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club (RVYC). With docks, showers, toilets, clubhouse, barbecues, a playing field and playground, trails, shelving sandstone beaches, tidal pools, and a 4 acre private island it can be a destination in itself. Purchased in 1960 by the RVYC it has been preserved in its natural state. Deer, raccoons, otter, mink, owls and a multitude of seabirds frequent the island an the smaller tidal islands and reefs to the south provide low and mid tide resting spots for the 200 seals that fish here.

The clubhouse has an excellent view of the playing field from one side and of Silva Bay from the other.

Silva Bay has a number of serious hazards to navigation around the general area, in the entrances and within the bay, requiring caution and prudent navigation. The reef in this shot is within the bay, just after the narrow and principal entrance. At high tide it is covered and many imprudent boaters not paying attention to their charts have tried to “cut the corner” here and run up on the covered reef.

The Gulf Islands are in the rain shadow of the mountains on Vancouver Island. Receiving much less precipitation, their normal summer dryness makes fire an ongoing threat. There is no smoking on this island and the RVYC maintains large water buckets at a number of sites. There is not sufficient natural ground water on the island to provide fresh water so fresh water is produced by desalinating ocean water.

As the tide drops, the narrow channel between Tugboat and Sear Island dries affording a resident heron a better opportunity to earn his living stalking fish in the eel grass.

Low tide also provides enhanced access for raccoons to seafood.

Whether it is a question of establishing sibling dominance or just a contest for food, raccoons do fight – quite viciously. In this instance the loser’s head was held under water for about 1½ minutes, but he/she did eventually get up and walk away.

Seaplanes (sometimes called float planes) are an important source of communication and transportation on the coast and Silva Bay will see about 10 landings and takeoffs on an average summer day.

RVYC is a major supporter of sailboat racing in British Columbia and Tugboat Island is used as a layover point for some races. Some of these races will fill the docks with many boats rafted to
one another.

The playing field becomes a campground to accommodate the support people and some of the crewmembers.

As the earth rotates on its axis and the sun begins to sink, the musical instruments come out and the racers start to party.

Racing involves people from all segments of society and includes among its most dedicated

members, the Chairman of Cloverdale Paints, who showed up with his guitar and a new Riptide 50, an all carbon boat from Ian Franklin Boatbuilders in New Zealand.

Sunset led us to the quiet of our berth, after a tour of the incredible Riptide 50, and a snug sleep.

The next morning we learned that the “younger” racers had partied until 3 a.m. Ah the energy of youth.

While we’ve primarily described a private island that is accessed by boat, Gabriola Island is easily accessed by a 30 minute BC Ferry ride from Nanaimo. Gabriola has an excellent small shopping center, many arts and crafts outlets, parks, petroglyphs, and numerous bed and breakfast types of accommodation. It also has the spectacular Malaspina Gallery, a natural very long carved out sandstone “cave” along the ocean. You can get around the island by car, by bicycle (you might need to walk up a few hills if you haven’t ridden for a while) or you can rent motorized scooters. Go check it out! It is somewhat off life’s beaten path – and after a few days you’ll be on “island time”.

British Columbia Coast - Overview

The coast of BC is not only physically magnificent and challenging; it also has a fascinating history of human occupation beginning with the first nations and the later incursions by Russian, Spanish and British explorers and traders and ultimately by extensive European settlements in the late 19th century and continuing throughout the 20th. With over 965 km. of coast (as a crow flies), 25,000 km. of coast if we follow every inlet and the perimeter of every one of its 40,000 islands, this coast stretches 5,000 km. farther than all the other coasts of Canada – combined. We could spend the rest of our lives in a different BC anchorage every night and never cover them all.

This summer we’ll make a little dent and share some locations with our readers. It is a sad fact that British Columbians, with these incredible treasures on their doorstep, are essentially land-bound animals. If they explored more of their mountains and rivers we might rationalize that they are too busy to explore the coast. Unfortunately, apart from an occasional ferry trip to Victoria or Nanaimo or the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Alberta’s Banff or Jasper, the majority never experience these natural wonders. In a sense that’s OK because it keeps them un-crowded for the few of us who love going off life’s beaten track.

To expand this introduction a bit we’ll use the following excerpt from Wikipedia for the rest of this post. We have left in the active links in case you want to explore further – at your fingertips. But ultimately you might want to just get out there and do it!

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The British Columbia Coast is one of Canada's two continental coastlines; the other being the coastline from the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic Ocean via the Northwest Passage and Hudson Bay to the Ungava Peninsula and Labrador and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Bay of Fundy to the international border of New Brunswick and Maine at Passamaquoddy Bay.

The British Columbia Coast is a temperate rain forest, within the Pacific temperate rain forest region.

In a sense excluding the urban Lower Mainland area adjacent to the American border, which is considered "The Coast," the British Columbia Coast refers to one of BC's three main regions, the others being the Lower Mainland and The Interior. In the Interior, "down on the Coast" generally refers, however, to being in the Lower Mainland or Greater Victoria, while "out on the Coast" could mean in Prince Rupert or Port Hardy, on the North Coast and northern Vancouver Island respectively, which are only some of the vast coastal region's many distinct subareas.

Although fully totalling 965 km in aerial-distance length from Victoria on the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Stewart, British Columbia on the Alaska border at the head of the Portland Canal, its aerial length is usually considered as the 840 km that from the 49th Parallel in the Straight of Georgia to 54'40", which is the southern limit of the Alaska Panhandle (see Oregon boundary dispute).

However, because of its many deep inlets and complicated island shorelines - and 40,000 islands of varying sizes, including Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands (now properly known as Haida Gwaii, Land of the Haida), the total length of the British Columbia Coast is 25,000 km - much longer than the entire rest of the Canadian coastline at 20,000, even including the island of Newfoundland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. This is known as the coastline paradox

The coastline's geography is most comparable to that of Norway and its heavily-indented coastline of fjords. The inland straits, the Strait of Georgia in particular, share coastal affinities with the semi-inland waters of Oslofjord and its shoreline archipelago and similarly with the waters around Trondheimsfjord farther north. North from there the mainland coast resembles the great fjords of Geirangerfjord, Hardangerfjord, Sognefjord and the rest of the western and northern Norwegian coastline.