Cruising Northwest

A Northwest Cruising Guide, Boating Resource Guide and Magazine

Destination Desolation

By Todd Olason

I’ve been up to Desolation Sound twice. I have however been up and near the area south of Princess Louisa in the Agamemnon channel dozens of time. When I first made a trip to Desolation in August of ‘06, I had my wife Mo and I, our twins (4YO at the time) and our 23’ Searay cuddy. My cousin Brady along with his wife Michelle and their two kids (9 and 6 at the time I believe) with their 22’ Searay cuddy also joined us. We trailed up to Pender Harbor on the Sunshine Coast in B.C.

We could not have had a better trip. Desolation is really a getaway that cannot be compared. You’re thrown back to a time where nature, resourcefulness and a pioneering spirit are required, especially in a small boat. If you’re thinking of planning a trip to Desolation there is lots to see so your itinerary will depend on how much time you have. As I said I’ve only been twice. The second trip began departing in ’08 from the Swinomish

Slough near Anacortes. Then we had our current boat a ’00 26’ Searay Sundancer. With more storage and amenities than our 23’ cuddy, we had her packed full and ready to go. We also had an additional week. I highly recommend two weeks minimum to consider a trip, with of course, more time if you have it.The other consideration is how fast you’re cruising and where you’re leaving from. Let’s say for now that you are departing from the San Juan islands. On our ’08 trip we rendezvoused with other boats making the trip at Roche Harbor. We spent a couple days after than in Victoria, then headed North. In this trip we didn’t concentrate on Desolation. For a more focused look in this article, I would like to consider our destination is Desolation and all it has to offer.

Departing the San Juans, a perfect entry point into Canada and to clear Canadian Customs is Bedwell Harbour (aka Poet’s Cove). From there a great run North is on the inside of Galiano Island and up the Trincomali channel. Before crossing the Strait of Georgia I would recommend a stop at Nanaimo for refueling, provisions and an overnight stay to be able to leave early for the best weather and calmer seas. Depending on your speed of cruise, Nanaimo may be your first stop after leaving the San Juans.

Early in the AM, departing Nanaimo you’ll really want to know your next destination. Crossing nearly due North from Nanaimo, Pender Harbour is just north of Welcome passage and on the mainland side of the Strait of Georgia, NE of Texada island. Pender offers fuel, liquor store, groceries, banking and ice cream in case you’ve forgotten to get any of these things done in Nanaimo, or if they were closed while you were there. It doesn’t have to be an overnight destination if you’ve left Nanaimo early.
Depending on your cruising speed and let’s assume a 6AM departure from Nanaimo for a calmer Strait of Georgia, you may be in Pender Harbor by 8AM or shortly thereafter. If the seas are calm and a stop isn’t needed you may want to consider continuing north on the East side of Texada, up the Malaspina strait and onto Powell River or Lund. Powell River has pretty much everything as it’s a small town. Lund has groceries, fuel a marine repair shop and some small crafty shops, but is closer and considered the gateway to Desolation sound.

An overnighter in Lund will put you in a great Launching point into Desolation. Again you’ll want to make sure you’re provisioned well here as fuel, groceries, pump-outs and many other common amenities down south are fewer, farther in between or nonexistent here. At this point we’ve always left Lund and headed to the beautiful marine park in Desolation Sound and the Prideaux haven coves. Melanie and Laura coves make up a very serene and peaceful pair of anchorages that really put your mind and soul into vacation mode. Many of these well protected anchorages are well advised to provide yourself a stern tie to shore. The tide does rise and fall substantially and the cozy coves can prove challenging to anchor if you plan on swinging overnight (see above picture of Laura Cove).

Now that we’re in Desolation sound there are so many places to go and see. My experiences pale in comparison and breadth to the number of destinations in Desolation sound. Only having ventured here twice , I have only seen a handful of places. We’ve been to Squirrel cove, Gorge harbor and Prideaux haven. Prideaux haven has been our favorite and we’ve spent a couple nights there each time. The water is warm enough to comfortably swim in and again the setting is so serene. There are no services, docks or anything there as it is part of the Desolation sound provincial marine park.

Squirrel cove has a small shop and a Government Dock; the Squirrel Cove General Store, with a Liquor Agency and Hardware Department; Propane, Fuel, Ice, Telephone; a Laundromat with Showers; The Cove Restaurant. Squirrel cove is located on the East side of Cortes island.

Gorge harbour , located on the West side of Cortes island, has moorage, fuel (including propane), power (30A and 50A) and basic supplies in their General store. The grounds are well kept and nice and scenic. I would recommend reservations here as it’s one of the more popular stops for those needing to do laundry, get power and getting to land for some time.

Now that we’ve talked about the limited places I’ve been let’s dream together on where we want to go. To me the next top three destinations in Desolation are Refuge cove, Toba inlet and Lagoon Cove.

Refuge cove again is a place I’ve only researched as a destination but really looks like one of the rustic places I enjoy where dockside chat and relaxation in a great setting are the norm.

They have moorage, fuel, groceries, ice, showers, laundry, espresso, and other supplies. It is located on West Redondo Island and a short jaunt across from Squirrel cove.

Toba Inlet is getting much deeper into the “Desolate” areas in Desolation Sound. Located North of Desolation sound north of the Redondo Islands. The scenery is supposed to be amazing. The picture below is aiming at Toba inlet but we never made it that far North.

Lagoon Cove will be reserved for the trip of a lifetime when I have much more time as it’s much further north and I suppose technically in the Broughton’s. I’ve dreamed of heading there though for the famous shrimp hors d oeuvres the marina owner spreads out. I’ve heard that every afternoon at 5:00 pm the marina holds a finger food potluck at its workshop. The marina provides fresh cooked prawns.
The beauty of a trip like that to Desolation sound, in my opinion, is that there is so much to see, so many destinations that if you can get yourself up there it’s then you can begin to plan. We’ve found ourselves really planning on the fly. If the weather stinks, stick around one more day. If the previous night’s conversation was a discussion considering where to go, just make sure you have fuel to get there, check your charts and make it happen. It’s truly a relaxing and awe inspiring corner of the planet few will see and fewer will enjoy as you can on a boat.
Photos from top to bottom:
BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay to the Sunshine Coast; Laura Cove in Prideaux Haven (Desolation sound marine park); Chess in the Park at Lund, BC; Gorge Harbour; Refuge Cove; From Prideaux Haven looking toward Toba Inlet.
(All photos by Todd and Mo Olason)

Desolation Sound


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