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We knew before we landed in Vancouver that our charter out of Granville Island on Labor Day weekend was going to be completely different than any sailing trip we’d embarked on.

For the first time we were operating without the safety net of our beloved Tui-owned charter companies, Sunsail and Moorings, and we only had three days to sail and explore, which at the onset seemed like no time at all. We also had only sailed in the warmth of the BVI, Belize, and Croatia and we knew the weather off the shores of Vancouver in early September was unpredictable.  But a little time on the water is better than no time on the water, even if met with a bit of cold and rain along the way, so we decided to take what we could get.

We got lucky.

The weather was picture-perfect, the wind exactly right, and the days lasted seemingly forever. As we sailed into Howe Sound we were met with every single color of blue, from the deep, dark ocean to the layers and layers of blue mountains. Stunning. This beautiful setting, ideal sailing conditions, and simply wonderful people left us in love with sailing British Columbia.

The too-quick trip chronology begins now:

Day 1

Boat decor…

Our flight landed in Vancouver at 10 am, and after an easy 30-minute taxi to the marina on Granville Island, we signed in with the charter company, had lunch and provisioned at the charming Granville Island market, stocked up on enough wine for three days, and headed to our boat, the Mahalo Nui, a 36 foot sloop crafted sometime in the 1980s and decorated with pictures of Hawaiian girls.

The charter company we used fully embraced the “brief” in the “boat and chart briefing”. Most of our charter introduction was watching a rather disconcerting video showing all kinds of boats tipped over on dry ground, its operators apparently having failed to account for the tidal changes. We noted this grim piece of new information and set off toward our destination of Mannion Bay.

Heading out of the marina

Two seals wished us good luck as we motored out of the marina. We took that as a positive sign.

About 30 minutes into the journey, I was at the helm, and all was well. Then my husband yelled “TURN RIGHT! HARD! NOW!”. With that kind of order, I did what I was told, and we just barely missed hitting a giant, wayward log. That was not in the video. Important note about sailing in British Columbia: Look out for giant getaway logs.

Point Atkinson Light House

Crisis averted and just before the Point Atkinson Lighthouse, the wind picked up and we put up our sails for a bit of fun. With Vancouver far behind us in the distance we turned into Howe Sound and couldn’t believe how beautiful it all was. So different than any place we’d sailed before.

We made it to our destination and found a few empty mooring balls, which we were told to expect during our brief chart briefing. What we had not been told was that these are mostly privately owned. We also did not know that, unlike other places we have sailed, there is no rope tied to the mooring ball for you to pull up with you boat hook.

Private Mooring Ball. Thanks Peter and Ed for letting us stay!

After three attempts and Charles literally hanging over the front of our boat rather dangerously, we had our mooring ball. Later we would watch seasoned British Columbia sailing veterans grab the eye of the mooring ball from the stern with the boat hook, tie the rope from there, then “walk it up” to the bow.

Mannion Bay

Once finally and safely tied up for the night, we turned off the engine. A small boat headed our way, we assumed to collect the mooring ball fee. Unfortunately, the very nice men on the boat, Ed and Peter, had arrived to tell us we were on a private mooring ball and we would need to leave. They found a number on another mooring ball for us to call, and we started that effort. Just as we were about the disembark, they came back and let us know that their cousin who had planned to use the mooring ball would not be arriving until the next day, so we were free to stay. Later that evening, they came by our boat with freshly caught crab and prawns.

Have I mentioned yet how incredible the people are on the Islands surrounding British Columbia?

Our first new friend in British Columbia

We also met some of the wildlife, but it wasn’t what we expected. A stately white swan was making its rounds from boat to boat begging for food. We complied as did everyone else. While we were feeding our new friend, a large deer swam directly across our cove. The morning seals were predictable, our afternoon swan and deer were not.

We settled in for a delicious meal on the boat that we had procured earlier at the market, a bottle of wine, and a dead calm, cool night, perfect for sleeping.

Day 2

We woke up the next morning, took a few pictures, and prepared for a long sail around Gambier Island. Our destination was Gibson’s Harbor.

Great wind all three days!

We motored for the first hour, but as we approached the northern tip of the island, the wind picked up and we sailed nearly the whole way to Gibson’s, our boat enveloped on either side with the big, blue mountains, the iconic tall evergreens, and the occasional logging company.

It was just before 4 pm and we neared Gibson’s Harbor where, it seemed, everyone was heading. We took this as a good sign right up until we radioed to announce our arrival and await further instruction. We were informed that unless we had a reservation, they didn’t have a spot for us at this bustling marina. This whole “need a reservation” thing was a new piece of Intel that had not popped up in the brief briefing when Gibson’s was recommended as a destination.

Beautiful Port Graves

We headed back out and contemplated anchoring just outside, but it was deep. We gave it a shot, but after two failed attempts and a review of our anchoring math, it was clear that 300 feet of chain and rode wasn’t enough. After motoring around a bit, we headed for another spot we’d read about in the charter books back on the west side of Gambier Island, but when we arrived we realized that it was for smaller boats, so it was on to Plan C: Port Graves.

We’d read about Port Graves and the other protected inlets on the South side of the island in the charter book, and at this late time in the day we were anxious to be settled in for the night. We motored as quickly as we could, read up on the approach and situation, and arrived at 5:30 pm, much later than we’d hoped. On the way, we’d pulled out our sailing school book to brush up on all things anchoring, as this was going to be our only option. We did not have a Plan D.

Fortunately, with our first try we were anchored. That isn’t to say we didn’t monitor the situation for a few hours, but the bay was as calm as could be and after our dinner, wine, review of the day, and a long talk about life, we went to bed pretty sure we’d be in the same spot when we woke up.

Day 3

We were in the same spot when we woke up! Anchoring success.

Heading to Snug Cove.

After breakfast and pictures, we headed out, originally planning a long sail around the North side of Bowen Island and back up to Snug Cove, but we quickly redirected to the short cut, keeping Keats Island and Bowen Island to our Starboard side, then approaching Snug Cove from the North. We remembered the whole “reservation” thing from Gibsons, and while we weren’t quite sure how to make a reservation, we knew we wanted to arrive early and have enough time for a Plan B if needed.

Our parking spot for the night. The stunning Union Steamship Marina.

As we approached Bowen Island’s Snug Cove and the Union Steamship Marina, we radioed in and were told they could accommodate us on Dock B. Charles did a pro job pulling up to the dock and I managed to help get us tied up in a way that made it appear that I was on top of things. Once secured we looked around and realized we were in the most magnificent spot with a view of sailboats against the big, blue mountains.

Boat renaming ceremony for the Mariana

There is simply too much to share about our experience at the Union Steamship Marina to include here. It deserves its own post, so more to come. But, I will confirm that the live-aboard residents of this fine marina – about 25 in all – are outstanding. We met the owners of the boat West by North, a couple in their 80’s who had sailed around the world with their cats who apparently joined them in Turkey. We also met Alex, his daughters, and their dog Tuna who invited us to their boat renaming ceremony that afternoon where we and a crowd of full-time residents and lucky visitors like us helped christen the Mariana.

The Snug Cafe

We spent the spectacular sunny afternoon wandering the docks looking at boats ranging widely in condition and wear, savoring a cup of cappuccino on the patio of the bright blue and yellow Snug Cafe, and enjoying long visit to the Squirrel on Bowen shop where we met its delightful owner Caro and learned about her passion for organizations that support our planet. We finally left, but not without our own anniversary gift and keepsake “flip flop” elephant from Ocean Sole.

Our love affair with Bowen Island was well underway by the time we made it to Barcelona Tapas and Wine Bar for dinner, where we emerged not sure if we would return our charter boat to the marina the next morning or join the other live-aboard residents.

Getting fuel on the way back to the marina

After another cool, calm night, we woke up early and decided it was in everyone’s best interest for us to return the boat we had rented. We headed back to the marina stopping on the way, as instructed, to fill up our gas tank, something we hadn’t done before. All went well. We called our charter company and they told us which slip to use. Once again Charles drove us in like a professional. I’ll add that he does drive for a living, but I am still always impressed that he can figure that whole “driving in backward” thing. I on, the other hand, fumbled with attempts to tie the fenders onto the side of the boat.

And then, suddenly, our perfect trip was over. Just like that.

It turns out that while a quick sailing trip in British Columbia IS incredible and worth it if you don’t have more time, no doubt you’ll be left wanting to stay a little longer. Three days isn’t nearly enough.

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