Rapids and Float Planes


Halfway up its length Vancouver Island is almost joined to the mainland by an umbilical cord of closely interlocked islands with a myriad of narrow channels threading between them. This area, known as The Rapids, forms a natural barrier between 2 of the north west's prime cruising grounds, Desolation Sound to the south and the Broughtons to the north.

On first reading the pilot for the Rapids area you might come away with the impression that it would be sheer madness for any small pleasure craft to venture into this area. The reader is regaled with horror stories of narrow passages through which the tide can roar at speeds of up to 16 knots, of whirlpools which threaten to suck you into their deadly eye, of standing waves and vertical walls of white foaming water which stretch across the entire channel, and of rocks which shake and vibrate because the pressure of water bearing down on them is so great. The pictures which accompany these terrifying tales are no less frightening. The pilot goes on to say that these rapids can only safely be transited at slack water, a fleeting window of opportunity which for many of the rapids is said to last little more than a few minutes, and woe betide the yachtsman who gets his timings wrong and misses this gap.

It would be a foolhardy to dismiss these warnings as scaremongering, but it doesn't have to be quite as difficult as the pilot makes it sound! You can make life an awful lot easier for yourself by timing your passage through the area to coincide with neap tides when the streams in the rapids are a far less terrifying 4-6 knots and many can be safely transited for a period of an hour or so either side of slack water without any dramas. We did just this and it changed the whole experience from being something to fear, to something that could actually be enjoyed as a challenging test of one's navigation skills,

Moreover, between the rapids there were some truly wonderful places to stop at whilst waiting for the right tide to get through the next set. We spent one very peaceful night at anchor in the Octopus Islands and the second alongside a small charming family run marina in Blind Channel where we enjoyed a truly exquisite 5 star dining experience, made even more remarkable by the fact that we were totally cut off from the rest of the world - there is no road access- the only route in is either by boat or float plane.

With the rapids behind us, we spent a few days exploring the Broughton Islands where we encountered a few scenarios beloved of Rule of the Road exams, namely who has right of way between a seaplane and a yacht, but which in 40 years of sailing we had never had to put into practice until now. Our only faux pas was when we unwittingly anchored in what turned out to be the runway for float planes flying in and out of Port McNeill. It is not every day that you get to look out of your cabin windows to find a plane whizzing past you at high speed just a couple of boat lengths away!

After a day of replenishing ship's stores in Port McNeill we are now ready to round Cape Caution, into the next leg of the inside passage from the north of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert.

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