North to Desolation Sound


The past week has seen us continue northwards from Vancouver to 2 of the gems of the Pacific North West Coast, Princess Louisa Inlet and Desolation Sound.

Princess Louisa Inlet is considered by many to be the "holy grail" of cruising in these parts. Lying at the head of Jervis Inlet which itself extends 46 miles into the coastal mountains, and with its entrance guarded by the Malibu rapids in which tidal currents can flow at up to 9 knots, Princess Louisa Inlet is not the easiest place to reach.

However once through the rapids the rewards are are rich. Princess Louisa Inlet is about five miles long, a third of a mile wide and the mountains that flank it on either side are over a mile high. The view as you reach the head of the Inlet is beautifully described in Wylie Blanchet's book "Curve of Time":

"... Then suddenly, dramatically, in a couple of boat lengths, the whole abrupt end of the Inlet comes into sight - heavily wooded, green, but rising steeply. Your eye is caught first by a long white scar, up about 2 thousand feet, that slashes across... and disappears into the dark green background. Again another splash of white but further down. Now you can see it has movement. It is moving down and down, in steep rapids. Disappearing .... reappearing ... and then in one magnificent leap plunging off the cliff into the sea a hundred feet below. As your boat draws closer the roar and the mist comes out to meet you".

We spent the night tied up to a wooden float just at the foot of the falls with only a few other boats and a seaplane for company, these being the only 2 ways of reaching the area as there are no roads. The following day we kayaked in the mist of the falls and explored other smaller falls around the edges of the Inlet before once again braving the Malibu Rapids and continuing northwards to Desolation Sound.

Rounding Sarah Point to enter Desolation Sound provided yet another memorable moment. After a 25 mile haul up the Malaspina Straits with nothing more exciting to see than mile after mile of heavily forested coastline, suddenly we found ourselves in an amphitheater of snow capped mountains as the full splendour of the coastal range opened up in front of us. It was simply breathtaking.

We found it difficult to reconcile what we were seeing with Captain Vancouver's description of the same view back in 1792, when as the first European to fully explore these waters he said, "..there was not a single prospect that was pleasing to the eye", whilst giving it the dismal name that it retains to this day. Vancouver's statement has not stood the test of time. Today Desolation Sound is one of the Northwest's most dreamed about and sought after cruising destinations.

As we have slowly explored the area it is easy to understand its popularity as a cruising area. Perfectly sheltered from the worst of the Pacific weather, and with a surprisingly benign summer climate in which the water temperature can get up into the mid 20's, Desolation Sound has hundreds of miles of interlinked channels and wild anchorages all waiting to be explored by the cruising yachtsman. Every time you turn a corner in the winding and often narrow steep sided channels, a new mountain vista opens up in front of you, together with another set of channels leading deep into the mountains. An enticing prospect for the cruising yachtsman with time on his hands, but after a while cruising here one can also begin to understand Vancouver's dismay.

Like so many European maritime explorers of his era, his holy grail was to discover the illusive northwest passage that would provide a shortcut from Europe to the trading markets of the Far East. What for us today is an enticing cruising prospect, was for him yet another Inlet leading deep into the mountains which had to be painstakingly explored in the hope that it might lead back through to the Atlantic. When we reach the head of one of these inlets we can afford to marvel at the rock walls and waterfalls that confront us. For Captain Vancouver that same splendid view must have been yet another bitterly disappointing dead end, just increasing the prospect of having to return home without having found the prize that would have guaranteed him fame and fortune.

One could spend a lifetime exploring this area, but the summer is short and there is so much more to be explored further north before the approaching autumn storms drive us back to the south of Vancouver Island where we will overwinter.

Next week will see us heading up through the many rapids that lie to the north of Desolation Sound in which the tides can run at speeds of up to 15 knots and which can only be safely traversed for a very short period either side of slack water. The Tide Tables will be our bible for this next leg and we will be religiously reading them chapter and verse every night before going to bed!!

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