Steep cliffs rose high above us and green trees bent over the water. Birds chirped, the faint sound of rushing water echoed and a steady rain could be heard dropping into the Marble River as I stripped off my clothes. Jill and Porter were already in as I ran from the rocky bank and launched my way out into the deep water. Landing in the refreshingly cool freshwater provided an instant rush that felt better than any shower or swimming pool could have in that moment. There was nothing like that swim, and while toweling off with my shirt, we were all smiles, enthusiastically talking about how happy were to find this special place.n
Such was life in Quatsino Sound.
We’d sailed down this long, east-running cut into the northern part of Vancouver Island just four days prior and as we did, it seemed that around every bend we turned and in every cove we explored, there was something rewarding to see and do. Though dotted with the unmistakable clearings created by the local logging industry, Quatsino Sound’s modest mountaintops and green forests spill down to the ocean in the cascading beauty known well to those who adventure throughout the Pacific Northwest by boat.
With white sails spread open wing and wing and a steady westerly breeze scooting us eastward, we found our first anchorage in the sound at Drake Island’s picturesque Pamphlet Cove. Slowly nosing Yahtzee into the inner cove, we scooted over a kelp bed that waved us in like airport workers directing traffic. To check the depth and swing room of this diminutive anchorage, I drove us in a circle around the edge to check the depths and we soon dropped the hook in our own piece of paradise.
After spending the afternoon tromping around on the green grass and tidal flats of the cove’s inner lagoon — and being that the next day was Jill’s birthday — it was quickly decided that we’d spend two nights here to bask in the solitude. Jill’s birthday dawned rainy and cool, but by the afternoon, sun breaks appeared in the clouds and we headed to shore with birthday snacks and refreshments to celebrate and explore. We were surprised to find a short hiking trail looping through the forest, and the sea asparagus and grass made for a perfect place for the boys to run and play. It was a great way to celebrate the person who diligently steers our family ship.
That evening, we poured over the chart of Quatsino Sound and assessed our options. There were so many spots to stop at and seemingly little time to see them all, but it became clear that continuing east through Quatsino Passage was the best plan. On the other side of this narrow, current swept channel we were keen to check out the Marble River and then stop at Coal Harbour to get fuel, water and possibly provisions. While rain continued to spin off the ocean and up the sound, we motored Yahtzee the short distance through the passage at slack tide, made a turn to the southeast and anchored in Varney Bay, where the mouth of the Marble River meets the salty water of the sound.
The seemingly relentless rain continued its deluge as we took to the kayak and made for the entrance to the river. As with much of what we’d seen in the sound, we didn’t know what we’d find, but that’s all part of the adventure. A harbor seal escorted us into the delta and soon the grassy outer banks moved closer together before becoming thickly lined with trees. Continuing on, we snaked through steep rocks; paddling against a swift current that, over thousands of years, had cut crags and crevices into the sides. Nearly two miles from Yahtzee, we came upon a sharp bend in the river with a deep cave cut into the corner and a rocky outcropping adjacent to the dark hallow. We paddled through it and then beached the kayak on a patch of sand, threw rocks, fished, enjoyed a snack and took a dip in the clear water. There’s truly nothing like skinny-dipping in the rain.
All the while Jill and I could hear the faint rustling of water like that of a stream falling through the forest or a river rushing over rocks. When we left the beach we decided to continue upstream to checkout what was beyond our view and just as we’d heard, we discovered the river rushing through and over large boulders in its path. The whitewater was too inviting to pass up and we made several passes paddling up into the rapids and then shooting out with a holler and hearty laugh from the crew. With tired arms and shoulders, we finally decided to turn back, and the paddle home was much quicker with the help of the current and an ebbing tide. What an adventure!
Coal Harbor is a tiny settlement of people living around a small port in the eastern end of Quatsino Sound. There is a fuel dock and small marina with showers and laundry, and along with the sea plane base, commercial and recreational fishing are the most visible activities going on. Other than that, there’s not much to it. Except, that is, for the bus that runs to Port Hardy in a mere 20 minutes. It was sort of wild to be that close to town after sailing nearly 100 miles around the top of the island from it, but we were able to get stocked up one last time, which leaves us far better prepared for the weeks ahead.
While in Coal Harbour, we were joined by a few other cruising sailboats and become fast friends with the group. It was fun to share stories of anchorages, get valuable fishing tips and socialize with some nice folks who loved the boys. It will be great to see them all again as we continue down the coast, and with a good weather window to head south looming over the weekend, we all went our separate ways to head back out into the ocean.
Yahtzee and crew made it west on the ebb and anchored behind a couple secluded islets in Quatsino Provincial Park that will provide a quick way out to the ocean on Sunday Morning. As one last hurrah in the sound, we went ashore to have a fire, s’mores and get every last bit of exploring done before taking off.
Our time in the sound, while seemingly fleeting, went fast and has been extremely memorable, even with so much rain. It’s hard to leave without seeing everything we wanted, but that’s how the cruising life goes — with the wind and the tide, and the idea that we’ll be back again one day.