We could see the huge waves rolling over the Nahwitti Bar from a few miles out. And the closer we got, the more we rose up over their crests and down into their troughs. At the tops it was like looking out over hills, and at the bottoms, all we could see forward of the bow was water, and astern, a wall of water.

Fortunately, there was just enough wind to put pressure on the mainsail to keep Yahtzee from rolling and pitching uncomfortably and she, once again, proved her strength and performance as we waltzed over the infamous bar at the top of Vancouver Island. As we did, Magnus slept and ate, Porter sat in the cockpit with me and Jill, somehow, made breakfast and coffee. I honestly don’t know how she did it.

Once across the bar, we were out in the sweeping panoramic views of the North Pacific. Yahtzee rode the swell like a boat made and prepared for the ocean and it felt good to be out here again. There is something special, admirable and awe-inspiring about the sea. It gets me every time and makes me want to keep going.

Looking back on the top of the island after crossing the bar.
Looking back on the top of the island after crossing the bar.

Getting Ready

After two and half weeks exploring the Broughton Archipelago, Jill and I had a collective moment in the cockpit while moving from one anchorage to another. Almost simultaneously, we decided to move on from the Broughtons and continue towards the top of the island — we often find ourselves on the the same page, but this was just eerie. With our nomadic tendencies telling us to move, we abruptly changed course and headed west for Blunden Harbour to spend a couple days and then to Port Hardy to prepare for the journey around the top of Vancouver Island to the west coast.

The boys planning their adventure in Port Hardy.
The boys making plans in Port Hardy. As the map says, “Port Hardy — Live the Adventure.”

Port Hardy is an excellent stop to provision before going around and also has playgrounds, parks and a library for the boys. Plus, I got a bunch of work done and we joined in the town’s Canada Day festivities on a beautiful first day of July.

Rockin’ the teeter totter at the waterfront park.

It took three wagon loads of provisions to get us set for what would be our last big stock-up until Tofino or Ucluelet. On top of that, I was able to change the engine oil and get Yahtzee prepared for the possibility of bigger winds and waves that we’d most likely encounter on the outside. We were moving from cruising mode to ocean sailing mode so I rigged jacklines and the inner forestay for our staysail. And just as soon as we’d come, we again got cabin fever, deciding to head out of Goletas Channel towards the Nahwitti Bar and the Pacific Ocean beyond.

Going Round

We left Port Hardy under a mix of sun and clouds with just a slight breeze ruffling the water. About halfway up the channel, a dark squall moved towards us off the tip of the island and smacked Yahtzee for about 30 minutes with driving rain and wind on the nose. I knew it would soon be over and, sure enough, the sun filled in behind the passing clouds, inviting us into Bull Harbour on Hope Island that evening.

The squall moves on and blue sky appears in Goletas Channel.
The squall moves on and blue sky appears in Goletas Channel.

During another moment of classic Jill and Andy spontaneity, we decided late that night to rise early and cross the bar at the first slack tide for the run around the top of the island past Cape Scott to Sea Otter Cove. I fired up the engine at 6 a.m. and Jill drove us out of the harbor and into the oncoming swell and flooding current. We switched jobs and I hand-steered us over the bar as Porter watched silently from underneath the dodger. The power of the massive waves could be felt under the boat as the depth dropped from hundreds of feet to the low 30s and then back up as we made the turn west.

A mostly sunny morning gave way to rain and clouds while rounding Cape Scott and 30 miles after leaving Bull Harbour we entered the narrow yet stunning entrance to Sea Otter Cove under a shroud of mist. Overall, the trip over the bar and around the cape was uneventful if slow, which was just as it should’ve been given the conditions. I’ll take it.

Our route around the island from Port Hardy to Bull Harbour to Sea Otter Cove.
Our route around the island from Port Hardy to Bull Harbour to Sea Otter Cove.

Sea Otter Cove

Arriving in the late afternoon, we found only one other boat in the cove and dropped the hook near a line of big mooring buoys. The kayak was quickly put in the water and we paddled ashore to explore one of the many beaches that surround this wild and isolated cove.

That evening, two boats that were rafted in front of us in Bull Harbour pulled in and anchored nearby. Porter and I rowed over for a chat and found that we’d all be spending the next day in the cove and would plan to meet up. It’s great meeting other cruisers out here, especially in such isolated places.


Independence Day dawned soggy, and the nearby mountains were cloaked in low-lying clouds and mist, but we headed ashore in the kayak and dinghy to find a trail described in Hiking the West Coast of Vancouver Island by Tim Leadem. Never ones to let the weather dictate our mood or appreciation for a place, we found the beauty of the cove enhanced by the ever-changing weather flowing in off the ocean and moved along the shoreline in the boats looking for a sign of the trailhead.

Towards the head of the bay, Jill stopped paddling, and in a soft yet firm shout said, “Andy … BEAR!” Sure enough, just on the foreshore was a large black bear moving slowly away from us. We paddled and rowed closer to get a better look and at some point he/she heard us, turned and looked in our direction and then ambled into the dense woods. Awesome!

From there, we moved towards the other side of the cove and as we did, our friends from the other two boats came ashore to find the trail as well. Starting near a creek that emptied out into the bay, we quickly concluded the overgrown trail was not fit for the legs of a 3-year-old and 18-month-old and instead opted to hang and play in the cool fresh water spilling over the beach.

The boys loved playing in the creek.
The boys loved playing in the creek.

That afternoon, we headed to a nearby island to celebrate the Fourth of July with a campfire, snacks and libations. Our Canadian friends stopped by for a visit and to wish us a happy holiday. Happy indeed. It was a great way to end our time in Sea Otter Cove and to get ready for the next days run back out in the ocean to Quatsino Sound.

We made our own firepit on a nearby island to celebrate the fourth.
We made our own fire pit on a nearby island to celebrate the fourth.