By Paul Howard & Fiona McCall
In October 2012 We sailed from Toronto on our 38foot Catamaran with a destination of the west coast: British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. Our plan was to head there directly, spend two seasons cruising that west coast, then cruise our way back to Toronto. We were not acquainted with cruising the west coast. Other than flying out a few times and knowing some people with boats, we had not spent any appreciable time on the water there. These were new cruising grounds to us, though we were seasoned cruisers in many other parts of the world.
We needed cruising guides and I like to have lots of information. When we have a destination I like
to know the choices and reasons for going there. We arrived in Victoria, B.C. in May, 2013, and headed north, up the inside passage of British Columbia, to Ketchican, Alaska, and returned south to leave the boat in Anacortes, Washington, to haul the b oat ashore in November. The following spring we returned to Anacortes in April to launch Carpe Diem and headed north again and carried on to Juneau, Alaska, and beyond to the Icy Straits and returned down the inside passage again visiting some favourite places and some not yet visited. Thus we made two round trips on this coast covering thousands of miles in a relatively short time, but nowhere nearly exhausting the list of harbours and anchorages. We sailed from Neah Bay at the tip of the Olympic Penninsula on the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Cape Flattery at the end of September, 2014, direct to San Francisco, following the recommendations in the Douglas Pacific Coast guide (see below). Following is a summary/review of the cruising guides we used that does not include land based guides such as Lonely Planet guides, etc.
Waggoners Cruising Guide, Robert Hale
Covers from the Puget Sound (Seattle, Washington area) through the complete British Columbia coast and across the Dixon Entrance to Ketchican, Alaska, the first port in Southeast Alaska. There is no equivalent guide for further north in Alaska even though the typical cruise in southeast Alaska is north to Juneau, Icy Straits and Glacier Bay.
This is an essential guide for this coast for its information on marinas, fuel stops and availability, grocery stores, liquor stores, hardware, etc. It is easy to read and well organized in logical sections with locator maps. There are lots of glossy photos and good pilotage information, though it is short on suggested anchorages outside of towns. The Douglass’s Exploring guides are often quoted in this text (see below). Updated annually.
Exploring guides, a series of guide books by Don Douglass & Reanne Hemingway-Douglas.
Including: Exploring the South Coast of British Columbia; Exploring the North Coast of British Columbia; Exploring Southeast Alaska; (and less relevant to this section but important to us on our sail from the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Mexico is the Exploring the Pacific Coast). They have published additional guides to the above, but these are the ones we used.
These are essential guides for travelling this coast. We are experienced cruisers and enjoy getting off the beaten path to lonely and isolated anchorages but also enjoy the occasional marina and town. For marinas and towns the Waggoner guide was all the info we needed. For everything and everywhere else our first reference was the Exploring series. The Douglass’s often quote sections of the government coastal pilot and then give additional detailed information from their own experience along with (in many cases) diagrams of anchorage entrances, rocks and kelp to avoid and just where to drop the hook. We followed their directions religiously and never found an error in their recommendations. The guides are a pleasure to read and an invaluable reference.
The Inside Passage, Route Planning Map, South Portion and North Portion published by Fine Edge.
These strip maps are another essential tool for navigating along this coast. When we began cruising up this coast we were not familiar enough with the geography to know major passages from minor passages. Referencing the charts and guides still left some guessing as to what particular island to go around on which side when going from one anchorage to the next, especially in the more isolated areas. These two strip maps give an orientation to the geography of the area in a way we did not find anywhere else. The alphabetised list with Lat/Long waypoints allows one to immediately locate any island, town, passage, mountain, anchorage, etc. and know its relative position to others. Essential reference for cruising this area.
Ports and Passes; Published by Ports and Passes.
Tide and current tables covering from Olympia, Washington, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
I like having a paper book with tides and currents. We used digital charts but also carried paper charts for the entire area. Digital chart programs give tide and current timing for state of tide and current direction for their coverage area. I find the annually updated paper books much more accurate that the digital chart tables that are electronically generated for decades. Also, I like being able to look up tides and currents for planning departure timing for the following morning without turning on a laptop or tablet. I did begin cruising in tidal areas on my own boat in 1975, so perhaps this is a generational issue.
I liked the Ports and Passes book for the accuracy of its information and for the extras it included, sort of like an almanac with information on the local area beyond the tide and current tables. You will note that the book does not cover north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, just near the Alaska border. While in Alaska we used the digital and on-line information plus the small local give-away tide tables that are often a free-bee at fishing supply stores. I felt the lack of a comprehensive tide and current book in Alaska and would purhase the appropriate government publications if I go back there. Put Ports and Passes on the essential list.
Anchorages and Marine Parks, Peter Vassilopoulos.
As the title suggests, this book deals mainly, but not exclusively, with marine parks. We found it more useful in the Vancouver Island area, and the San Juan and Gulf Islands, though the book includes information up to Prince Rupert and the Dixon Entrance. There are few places to get ashore in the more islolated anchorages but marine parks always have a landing area and this book tells you where they are and what facilities are available. There are diagrams indicating anchorages and aerial photos and some anchorage waypoints but the Douglass books have more details and pilotage information. Some parks have floats and mooring bouys for inexpensive mooring (much less than marinas) and there are almost always places to anchor, too. There is an extensive portion on the west coast of Vancouver Island, though we did not go there. The coverage of Haida Gwaii is minimal, both the Douglas and Waggoners is more useful there. The coverage does not extend into Alaska. Not essential, though it is useful and well organized.
Boat Camping Haida Gwaii, Neil Frazer.
Written mostly for kayakers and small powerboat cruisers who are tent camping in Haida Gwaii. The information is more relevant to those people than us cruising sailboats but does have good information on these fascinating islands. We loved Haida Gwaii and were awestruck when visiting the heritage villages and when speaking with the watchmen, the only inhabitants of those long abandoned homesites. Any and all information about this special area was eagerly studied.
A Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide, Volume 1, Gulf Islands & Vancouver Island, Anne & Laurence Yeadon-Jones.
We only purchased one vloume of this series of six cruising guides that cover the Canadian part of the northwest coast. They seemed to be more geared to inexperienced boaters who were not going very far or for very long, two week summer holidays or weekend cruising. The book has lots of drawings and capsule maps of towns with recommendations for restaurants and shopping. I grew impatient with the guide as I felt it was not intended for someone of our experience or the distances we intended to travel. The book does not contain as many or as varied anchorages as the Douglass books. It would be a good guide for local cruising or a companion to the Waggoners and Douglass guides if staying in one area for a period of time.