When we dropped the hook south of Cole Island in the northwestern corner of Esquimalt Harbor and took stock of our surroundings, it was hard to believe we were so close to a major Pacific Northwest city. Sure, stately homes peaked out from the rocky shoreline and Canadian naval infrastructure engulfed the entrance to the harbor. But it was all subdued in a way that didn’t make you feel like you were so close to so much.
After finishing the Swiftsure International Yacht Race, we had a few days to burn before meeting up with friends for a benefit at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Cadboro Bay, so we checked our cruising guides for a place to laze away some time. Only one of the guides made reference to Esquimalt, so we figured we might as well check it out.
Located just a few miles west of the bustling Victoria Harbor entrance, Esquimalt is home to a Canadian naval installation, the Canadian Forces Sailing Club and not much else. Due to the harbor’s military presence, it is requested that recreational boaters call Harbor Security on VHF channel 10 upon entering and exiting the harbor. We did and it was little more than a hello and thank you.
In our view, there are basically three places to spend a night in the harbor: at the Canadian Forces Sailing Club guest dock if you have reciprocal privileges, anchored south of Cole Island in the northwest corner of the harbor or anchored in Thetis Cove in the northeast corner of the harbor.
We arrived in the late afternoon and made our way to the sailing club to see if the guest dock was open so we could spend the night, take showers and top up provisions at the nearby Thrifty. A breakwater made of two hulking barges protects the marina from any southerly swell and you can enter either side, though the eastern end is closer to the guest dock, which is colored blue for easy identification. There was no charge to spend the night and showers were free. A large Thrifty store is not far and you can walk along now defunct railroad tracks to get there.
The next morning we dropped our lines and headed into the northwest corner of the harbor where we anchored just south of Cole Island in 12 feet of water. A few small boats were swinging on moorings and the homes sitting on the tree-lined shore were impressive. The holding was superb and when a fresh southerly kicked up in the evening it brought some chop, but nothing uncomfortable. My guess is that this wouldn’t be the case in a strong southeasterly, though.
Cole Island is a National Historic Site that is owned by the Province of British Columbia. There is a small dinghy dock on the the southern point and you can go ashore to have a look at the remains of a Royal Ammunition Depot that was built by the Royal Engineers and occupied by the Royal Navy from 1859 to 1905. Though many of them are now crumbling into the harbor, the structures are impressive and are being slowly renovated by the Friends of Cole Island Society. We rounded the other side of the island in our kayak on the way back to Yahtzee and ducked inside one of the old buildings to discover some impressive brickwork.
While looking at Esquimalt on Google Maps, we noticed Portage Regional Park in the northeast corner of the harbor and moved to adjacent Thetis Cove the next day to have a look.
Similar to the Cole Island anchorage, Thetis Cove has excellent holding in about 15 feet, and this would be the spot I’d choose if I was here in a strong southeasterly, as you gain better protection from the Inskip Islands and Ashe Head to the south.
Portage Park has a rocky beach suitable for landing a dinghy or kayak and Jill and the boys spent hours lounging here on a sunny day. Forested trails lead away from the beach and we were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a beautiful, local pub, sports bar and restaurant called the Four Mile House and Brew Pub.
The Four Mile House is an old home that has been sectioned off into the three establishments and claims to have been serving patrons since the late 1800’s. Not ones to turn down a pint of beer, we chose a seat on the flower-edged patio and ordered a few of their tasty house brews along with a delicious snack. I would highly recommend stopping here if you make it Thetis Cove, and if you have a growler aboard, grab it, because the sports bar in the the lower level will fill it up for you. Also, the park and pub are very near the Thrifty, so provisioning can be done from Thetis Cove as well.
In the end, what turned into a place we knew very little about has become a spot we would definitely come back to the next time we’re on the south end of Vancouver Island.