Years ago while sailing northward we ended up in a little anchorage that was barely on the chart—and certainly not in any guidebooks. We ended up there by happenstance and as we set our anchor and rowed a stern line ashore, we assumed the only other boat in the little nook was there equally by chance. That night, while sharing cold wine and fresh oysters, we learned they were in the anchorage for a reason: “A few years ago we set a goal for ourselves,” we were told, “we aim to stay in a different anchorage every night, never staying in the same place twice.”
Not all journeys need a reason, but sometimes setting a goal to collect experiences—riding wooden roller coasters, posing with giant fibreglass vegetables, or aiming to visit a new anchorage every time you go out—can make a typical weekend seem more like an adventure. I realized our fellow boaters were doing something I wanted to do myself: A Quest.
“You want to stay in a different anchorage every night!?” Evan asked when I brought the idea up the next morning. I explained that that idea was taken (and I had a few favourite places I couldn’t bear to drop from our sailing roster) but maybe we could brainstorm ideas for a summer quest of our own.
“Let’s visit all the playgrounds in the whole world!” Our daughter Maia suggested (she was four at the time…). I pointed out this was a sailing goal we were setting.
“Let’s visit all the floating bakeries then!” She and Evan said in unison, we had already found two and heard rumours of more. “What about visiting all of the Gulf Islands or sailing through all the navigable tidal passes,” I suggested.
That summer we settled on a less ambitious plan: searching out wineries accessible by boat, balanced by hunting down the best beaches for building sandcastles. And we also came up with a list for future summers and future quests. Here’s what we came up with.
Geocaching If you’ve never heard of it, geocaching is the term used for a high-tech treasure hunt. Players hide a weatherproof container containing trinkets and a logbook then post the coordinates to the stash, a write-up that gives some information about the significance of the place, as well as a few clues to help searchers find the item. Check out bcgeocaching.com or geocaching.com for more details.
There are thousands of caches up and down the coast, with some of them accessible only to boaters. You can choose your anchorage based on cool-sounding caches, “Give Peas a Chance,” “O is for Ocean spray;” head off to find special sites like “Fulford Harbour Petroglyph” or “Best Beach Ever;” or simply look up caches near your location.
To geocache you’ll need a GPS or GPS enabled smartphone, a compass (if your GPS doesn’t have one), a pen to sign the logbook and a few cache goodies—you need to leave one item behind for each treasure you take.
Visiting the Wine Islands With so many vineyards found on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands it’s easy to sample wines from a couple of local wineries over the course of a summer. But because we have more than 40 coastal wineries to pick from (many within a walk or short drive from popular anchorages), why limit yourself? By doing a little preplanning and downloading a copy of the Wine Islands Destination Guide (wineislands.ca) you can easily plan a summer cruise that takes you from vineyard to vineyard.
Start in the Gulf Islands with Garry Oak on Saltspring or Morning Bay on Pender then work your way through Church and State in Brentwood Bay and up through Cowichan Bay, Hornby Island and Comox, and finally up to Southend Farm on Quadra Island. Along the way you’ll learn about the grapes that thrive in our region including Ortega, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Marechal Foch, and you’ll get to meet some of the very cool farmers who decided our gorgeous islands needed a vintage (or several) of their own.
Local Eats The ultimate foodie quest would be to skip the grocery store and cruise from farmers’ market, to farmers’ market—foraging for groceries as you go. You’d find locally produced delicacies ranging from artisan cheese and smoked fish, to fresh fruit and veggies, to yummy breads and baked goods at the dozens of markets up and down the coast.
The Saturday market on Saltspring Island is fantastic, and has been popular with boaters for years since it’s easy to access and centrally located, but it’s not the only option.
If you want to try something a bit different you could plan a cruise from the Mill Bay market which runs on Thursdays from 14:00 to 19:00, to the Nanaimo Downtown Market on Friday mornings, to the Pier Street Farmers’ Market in Campbell River on Sunday from 10:00 to 14:30, then head back down the Sunshine Coast exploring markets over there.
The markets aren’t just a great place to meet farmers and buy fresh local food—they also highlight local musicians, artists and craftspeople. Locate even more options by checking bcfarmersmarket.org or islandfarmfresh.com.
Climb the Highest Mountain While the Gulf Island aren’t exactly known for their towering peaks they do offer up plenty of great hikes—including a few that take you to some great vantage points.
On Saturna Island you can climb Mount Warburton Pike. At 397 metres, the summit is the Gulf Island’s second highest point and offers up gorgeous views of the Southern Gulf Islands and the San Juans.
Over on Galiano it’s a bit tricky to get to the island’s highest point of Mount Galiano. But the Sturdies Bay trail to Bluffs Park, 400 feet above Active Pass, is a beautifully dramatic option, and if you keep going on a side trail you will reach the summit.
Just outside of Ganges on Saltspring Island you can hike to the summit of Mount Maxwell and look out over pastoral farmland to Fulford Harbour.
If you plan to hike it’s a good idea to pick up a current hiking guide: checkout Hiking the Gulf Islands of British Columbia by Charles Kahn. And don’t forget to set off properly dressed and prepared for the outdoors.
Best Beaches The nice thing about B.C.’s beaches is no matter what your definition of a great beach is—whether it’s great beachcombing, space for a long walk, soft sand, tidal pools, or great views—there’s probably something out there for you (unless you’re after powder white sand and warm tropical blue water…)
For a gorgeous sandy beach—perfect for sand castles or wild driftwood forts you can’t beat Sidney Spit, Tribune Bay on Hornby Island or Savary Island. If you love to explore tidal pools Miners Bay on Mayne Island has a shelf of smooth rock that offers loads of little creatures to discover at low tide. For variety, including a warm-water inner bay and a rugged outer beach, Buccaneer Bay Provincial Park between North and South Thormanby Islands has it all (and is our favourite beach).
Setting a quest can be as simple as setting off to do something new every time you head out, or it can be as deliberate as visiting all the coastal light houses or anchoring your way around the islands in alphabetical order.
The goal for us though was to make the most of our sailing time and do something that felt bigger than simply spending a nice weekend on the water (although that’s not a bad goal in itself.) Planning a quest sounded more nautical somehow, like we’re following in the wake of explorers and adventurers as we sought out the next bottle of wine and the region’s most beautiful beach.