Cruising Stories

Exploring the Broughton Islands on Canada's Pacific Coast

West Coast
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October 2016
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By
Cathie
Trogdon

When I'm asked about my cruising adventures in the Pacific Northwest, most people nod appreciatively when I say I love cruising the San Juan and Canadian Gulf Islands. They know something about the natural beauty, the wildlife, the charming island towns and marinas. But when I mention the amazing cruising grounds of the Broughton Archipelago, I'm rewarded with a blank stare. No one has any idea what I'm talking about.

The Broughton Archipelago was named by Captain Vancouver for the commander of one of his ship's during the famous exploration of 1792 when many of the now familiar English names were bestowed on the complicated waterways and over 240,000 islands along the vast coastline of British Columbia. They are a remote group of 200-plus islands that are squeezed between the northern British Columbia Coast and the north end of Vancouver Island. To give some perspective of what I mean by remote, it's important to understand the distances involved. British Columbia is larger than any state in the U.S except Alaska. As the crow flies, the length of its coastline is 600 miles. The distance from Anacortes, Washington, a popular jumping-off spot for cruisers in the San Juans, to the Broughtons is 233 miles. It would take most boats the better part of a week to cover this much water, some of which is difficult navigation due to currents and tide anomalies. Because of this, the only recreational boaters that venture as far north as the Broughtons are those on the way to Alaska and those who are passionate boaters who make summertime adventures on these coastal waters a top priority.

My husband, Peter, and I identify with passionate cruisers, and so we count ourselves among the few who have had the opportunity to visit the Broughtons -- two times. The first trip was aboard our lobster boat, Bee Weems. We made the journey from Anacortes five years ago exploring this watery wilderness for three weeks before returning to civilization. We loved the wildness, the astounding grandeur of dense rainforests sloping to the sea, white capped mountains, the abundance of isolated anchorages and the interesting people we met along the way.

Our second opportunity to visit the Broughtons came in an unexpected way. Following our first cruise we continued to correspond with a couple from San Francisco who we met up there. This couple, also smitten by the desire to explore wild places, keeps their 58 foot West Bay Sonship on the south end of Vancouver Island, a great springboard for their cruising adventures every summer. Last summer, they invited us to join them as guests aboard their boat in the Broughtons. Without hesitation we accepted their invitation, and then we began to research how to meet them up there.

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The only way to get to the upper reaches of the coastal waters of British Columbia, if you can't go by boat, is by seaplane. Northwest Seaplane provides daily flights to many BC island destinations from its Seattle base at the south end of Lake Washington. At the recommendation of our hosts, Peter and I bought tickets on a regularly scheduled flight to Sullivan Bay, where they would meet us.

Seaplane travel is an adventure in itself. The combination of being pried into what feels like a tin can and then speeding along at low altitudes over great expanses of city and water and then trees and mountains is exhilarating. Our little plane was full with seven people including the pilot. Our pilot was chatty and enjoyed playing the role of pilot, flight attendant and tour guide all at once. Each passenger was assigned a pair of industrial-sized headphones to hear the pilot talk and to protect our ears from the loud engine rumblings. We found out that the other two couples on board were to be dropped off at a private island on the way to Sullivan Bay. This stopover was a welcome break on our over two-and-a-half hour trip north. The weather was spectacular, and we had unobstructed views of almost unimaginable beauty.

There were no cities or towns to see as the plane continued north. There weren't even any roads besides the occasional logging roads leading to patches of clear-cut forests. The only building structures were marinas that service the summer recreational boating community, a couple of fishing resorts and a few First Nation communities. The number of people who live full time in the Broughtons is probably less than 1,000.

Sullivan Bay Marina is one of a handful of floating villages in the Broughton Islands. It hugs the north shore of North Broughton Island. The island mountain plunges sharply into the deep water with no space to build roads or buildings on land. This quaint village exists for the benefit of boaters. It is a marina with ample dockage, fuel, water, power, a general store, a shower and laundry facilities, and at one end of the horseshoe-shaped dock lined with floating buildings is the international airport, where two or three seaplanes arrive and depart every day from the U.S. and Canada.

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The arrival of our seaplane was the main event of the day. As we gathered our luggage from the rear of the small seaplane,our hosts waved as they walked down the dock from their boat at the other end of the marina to retrieve us. Their beautiful boat, Mellow Moments, would be our home for the next week, as we cruised through this spectacular wild region of BC.

Over lunch we discussed our cruising itinerary, the weather, the wildlife spotted to date, the books read, the best places to set crab and shrimp pots, and gradually, Pete and I began to slow down to the gentler pace of life that comes from leaving civilization and blending into nature and the cruising lifestyle.

Over the course of our week-long trip we cruised narrow fjords with snowcapped mountains rising on both sides of the boat. We anchored in protective coves and watched grizzly bears uncover rocks to feast on crabs. We kayaked into shallow waters to get close to seabirds and watch the sunset in the stillness. We gathered the bounty of the sea -- shrimp and crab -- for delicious meals on the aft deck. We rafted up with other cruising boats for good company, storytelling and shared meals.

At the end of the week, we pulled into the legendary cruisers' gathering place, Pierre's Echo Bay Marina. Arguably the most popular of the Broughton marina villages, Pierre's brings the cruising community together with signature events like the Saturday Night Pig Roast, so popular that reservations are required. The owners, Pierre and Tove, have kept this bustling marina vibrant for over 40 summer seasons. Centrally located on Gilford Island, the largest in the Archipelago, this community offers all the amenities of a marina plus a wood-burning hot tub and a group of chair swings surrounding a hillside fire pit where boaters gather in the evenings to share stories. The only post office in the Broughtons is here, plus the more advanced methods of staying in touch with civilization are available, including WiFi, off and on cellphone service and an international seaplane airport.

An additional benefit unique to Echo Bay is the proximity to the home and museum of Billy Proctor, one of the few people who has lived his whole life in the Broughtons. Billy's Museum is a collection of relics and artifacts he has gathered for over 50 years. The museum is open if he is there. More interesting than the museum are Billy's stories of life in this wilderness. He is well into retirement years now, but he worked as a hand logger, fisherman and beachcomber, and he knows a lot about the ancient traditions of the First Nations people who lived in this area for thousands of years.

Another opportunity that many cruisers take advantage of here in Pierre's Bay is the opportunity to set up custom ecotourism adventures with Nikki van Schyndel, who has made Echo Bay her home base.

Our hosts arranged to spend our final day with this fascinating young woman, a self-described survivalist. Nikki's book, "Becoming Wild," describes her deep yearning to reconnect with nature and reawaken  long-forgotten instincts and perceptions. Echo tours are the way she shares with others the knowledge she gained from her yearlong struggle and triumph in the wild. Nikki picked us up at the dock in her well-worn 18-foot runabout. Because of my interest in the history of the First Nation people, she suggested we go on a 20 mile open sea trip to a forgotten native community on Village Island for a picnic lunch. Along the way, she showed us ancient pictographs and told stories about her encounters with wildlife and her deep respect for nature.

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As we explored the ancient village, Mamalilaculla, which appropriately means village with rocks and islands out front, Nikki gathered wild onions and herbs, built a fire using a bow-drill and made us a delicious hot one-pan meal with wild rice and smoked salmon. The combination of watching Nikki's skillful use of ancient survival techniques and the evidence of ancient middens and totems from the lost Native culture that thrived in these islands before first contact with civilization, made me uncomfortably aware of how disconnected from nature humanity has come.

On our flight home, I vowed to hold the feeling of reconnection with the wild: this reminder to live simply and appreciate the beauty around me, until my next wilderness cruising adventure.

Related Articles
Our Adventures between the Great Lakes from Detroit to Port Huron
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My husband Tim and I spent 2021 traveling 8,000 miles around the Great Loop. Like many, we wanted to cruise in Canada, but we didn’t get the green light for entry in time. We were initially bummed, but our mood quickly shifted as we discovered some of our favorite stops on the stretch that kept us in U.S. waters, including our journey between Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

Stop 1: Belle Isle

Estimated Mileage: 2 NM

Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in America, located on the Detroit River between the United States and Canada. The island’s only marina is the Detroit Yacht Club, which has a limited number of transient slips for reciprocal members, so it’s best to explore while keeping your boat at Milliken Marina. 

Roughly 1,000 acres, Belle Isle is home to an aquarium, maritime museum, botanical garden, beach, picnic areas and playgrounds that provide a plethora of options to explore. You won’t find great spots to grab a bite to eat, so we recommend stopping at Atwater Brewery on the way back to the marina.

Stop 2: Harrison Township, Lake St. Clair

Estimated Mileage: 24 NM

Often referred to as the Great Lake’s smaller cousin, Lake St. Clair is large enough to easily keep your distance from freighters yet small enough to explore in a day.

By boat, you can visit several of the lake’s swimming spots in Anchor and Bouvier Bays (or “Munchies” Bay as the locals say), popular for their clear water and hard bottoms. After an afternoon of swimming, cruise through the Clinton River and tie up at one of several restaurants catering to a lively boater scene for a drink and meal. Crews Inn is one of our favorites for their fun atmosphere and great food.

Lake St. Clair Metropark Marina is a popular spot for transients. The marina is located in the park, so after docking, enjoy the expansive park’s beaches, trails, picnic areas and swimming pool.

Stop 3: Port Huron, MI

Estimated Mileage: 44 NM

Port Huron is home to the start of one of the longest fresh-water races in the world called the Port Huron to Mackinac Sailing Race, and the port is a charming and boater-friendly destination.

Ideal for its central location and friendly members, Port Huron Yacht Club is a great place for tying up, sipping a drink at the clubhouse and avoiding the drawbridges on the Black River. Another popular spot is about a mile farther down the river at the 95-slip River Street Marina.

Port Huron is home to the Island Loop Route National Water Trail, a 10-mile loop through the Black River, Lake Huron and St. Clair River. Your dinghy is a must through the Black River and for exploring the town and clear waters by boat.

Walk a mile along the Blue Water River Walk that runs along the St. Clair River. Be sure to leave enough time to watch the freighters go by and delve into the area’s history that is shared along the route. Continue a couple of miles farther to Lighthouse Park, where you can enjoy an afternoon at the beach and swim in Lake Huron’s crystal clear water.

During a stroll downtown, check out the Knowlton’s Ice Museum of North America to discover the history of local ice harvesting that took place along the Great Lakes.

When you’ve done enough activities to work up an appetite, Casey’s is the place for delicious breadsticks and pizza. For a more upscale option, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at The Vintage Tavern. Maria’s Downtown Café offers a hearty breakfast, and Raven Café or Exquisite Corpse Coffee House are great options for a cup of coffee.

Kate Carney is a writer and Great Gold Looper who traveled 8,000 miles on Sweet Day, a 31-foot Camano trawler. Learn more about her and her husband’s adventures on lifeonsweetday.com

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Women Take to the Water In Boating Groups & Clubs
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It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Friday. Do you know where your wife, mother, daughter or sister is? She might be at the Chicago Yacht Club, launching off in a learn-to-sail lesson in the summer series that’s part of the Women on the Water Program.  Or, if she’s in the Florida Keys, you could find her relaxing ashore after a day casting about in a Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing! tournament. Or maybe she’s cruising the Intracoastal Waterway in North Myrtle Beach on a pontoon boat with friends, all members of Freedom Boat Club’s Sisters group. 

Nationwide nowadays, many groups and clubs are oriented specifically toward female boaters. Some are exclusively for women, others are clubs within co-ed clubs, and still others are part of century-old all-inclusive organizations that now offer opportunities for the ladies.

“A boater is a boater; it’s anyone who loves being on the water. Still, for many years and often today, boating is viewed as a man’s sport. That’s changing as more opportunities become available for women to get out on the water,” says Mary Paige Abbott, the past Chief Commander of the U.S. Power Squadrons, rebranded as America’s Boating Club with 30,000 members — 30% of them women. The century-plus-old organization opened its membership to females in 1982.

Women making waves in boating isn’t new. New York-born Hélène de Pourtalès was the first female to win a medal sailing in the 1900 Olympics. Helen Lerner, who with her husband Michael and friend Ernest Hemingway founded the Bahamas Marlin & Tuna Club in 1936, recorded a women’s first record catch of a swordfish off Nova Scotia. In 1977, Betty Cook landed a first-place finish in the powerboat world championships held in Key West. These examples are extraordinary but only exceptions to the rule that boating is a male-dominated sport. 

Today, the tide is turning. Take sports fishing for example. About 36% of Americans who went fishing last year were women, an all-time participation high, according to the 2021 Special Report on Fishing by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing involvement in recreational angling and boating.

WHY WOMEN?

Why not? That’s what led Betty Bauman to start Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing! in 1997. Since then, this organization of which Bauman is founder and chief executive officer, hosts weekend seminar series dubbed the No-Yelling School of Fishing, as well as tournaments throughout Florida and abroad. To date, Bauman has empowered more than 9,000 women to sportfish.  

“I attended ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, the world’s largest sportfishing trade show) when I had a public relations agency. The American Sportfishing Association’s director asked in a speech why weren’t more women in fishing? After all, as he pointed out, the sport wasn’t reaching some 50% of the potential market. I thought to myself, women don’t want to feel uncomfortable or get yelled out. So, I came up with a way to teach women the basics. How to tie knots, how rods and reels work, and how to make value assessments when fishing, not just following what their husbands yell at them to do or going down in the galley to make sandwiches,” says Bauman.

Women learn differently from men, and that’s the benefit of learning boating skills with and from other women. Just ask Debbie Huntsman, the past president of the National Women’s Sailing Association (NWSA).

“My husband and I were taking a learn to sail class years ago. I saw another boat in the distance and asked the instructor, who was a man, what I needed to do to be sure we didn’t have a collision. He answered that it was just like going down the aisle at the supermarket with a shopping cart; you just know not to hit another cart. That didn’t do it for me,” Huntsman tells. 

The 1990-founded NWSA is a group of national and international women sailors. It supports its members via everything from a library of instructional videos taught by women, for women, to its annual conference, which features hands-on workshops and on-the-water coaching.

“I think women tend to be more meticulous in their learning. They want to know all the moving parts and why they move. They want to do it right and do it perfectly whether men are onboard or not. That’s what I see,” says Karen Berry, VP of operations at Freedom Boat Club (FBC) of the Grand Strand, in Myrtle Beach, SC.

FBC offers free boating training and safety education to all members, including those in the 2017-founded Freedom Boating Diva program, which Berry helped to launch. The group is now called the Freedom Boat Club Sisters group, and 40% of the clubs nationwide now have a Sister component. Members enjoy time on the water together, training activities, social events and boatloads of camaraderie.

CAMARADERIE & NETWORKING

More so than a one-and-done class, many women-centric boating groups and clubs feature ongoing and year-round events. A good example is Women on the Water, a club within a club run by the Chicago Yacht Club’s (CYC) Women’s Committee. The group’s Friday night learn-to-sail series in Sonar 23s only takes place during the summer. The rest of the year, the women (an eclectic group of boating-oriented 20-somethings to 70-plus-year-olds, singles and marrieds, professionals and retirees) meet monthly for educational programs, networking events and happy hours.

“We’ve done everything from a sunset powerboat tour to admire the architecture of the Chicago skyline to a cooking class taught by the club’s pastry chef. During the pandemic, we continued to meet virtually. We had the female president of the U.S. Naval War College speak. We met some of the crew of the Maiden Factor, which is sailing the world to promote women’s sailing, and we had one of our own speak — Maggie Shea, who raced in the 2020 Olympics. The fact that our events fill up and sell out almost immediately tells you there’s a need for this,” says Nancy Berberian, head of the CYC’s Women’s Committee.

Similarly, the nearly four-decade-old Women’s Sailing Association (WSA) at the Houston Yacht Club hosts a residential women’s sailing camp. The Windward Bound Camp, one of the first of its kind in the nation, organizes racing, educational and social events throughout the year.  

“Our sailing socials allow time on the water with other women in a non-competitive environment.  Yearly, we organize a ‘Sail to High.’ Yes, we wear lovely hats and gloves on the sailboat and dock at someone’s home for tea and trimmings,” says Jane Heron, WSA president.

More recently, Women on the Water of Long Island Sound (WOWLIS) was born, made up currently of more than 250 women from 14 yacht clubs in Connecticut and New York who love to sail, race, learn and socialize. 

“It started as a Supper Series, as a way to connect women across our venues,” says Cathleen Blood at WOWLIS. “Now, there is regularly held one-design racing on Ideal 18s, team and fleet racing events, chalk talks and clinics, summer regattas, frostbiting in the spring, and an annual winter meeting to plan for the year ahead. 

To participate in most of these events, you must be a member of one of the yacht clubs. In this way, it’s all about getting clubs to commit to training and get more women on the water. There’s a real advantage. Say there’s a race I want to sail. I’m never stuck for crew. I have a pool of over 200 women, whether I know them or not, I can ask. We’re all united by a shared love of sailing.”

A SAMPLING OF WAYS FOR WOMEN TO GET ON THE WATER

Chicago Yacht Club’s Women on the Water


Freedom Boat Club Sisters Program


Houston Yacht Club Women’s Sailing Association


Ladies Let's go Fishing


National Women’s Sailing Association


Women on the Water Long Island Sound

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Exploring Antigua by Land and Sea
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The beautiful island of Antigua was our destination for a short Caribbean getaway. Having visited many of the Caribbean islands, we were looking forward to exploring a new tropical locale and experiencing the wonderful local charm, culture, vistas and beaches. In fact, this Eastern Caribbean island boasts 365 beaches: one for every day of the year!

My travel companions for the week included my husband Jim, brother Anthony and sister-in-law, Amanda. Always a great group to travel with (our last adventure together led us to Greece, Italy and Croatia), so I knew a fun week filled with laughter was in store.

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Jim and Jen on the catamaran

As we peered out the airplane window on the approach to Antigua, we were instantly mesmerized by the pure turquoise blue waters and rolling green hills, and eager to get out on the water.

For my brother, this trip was not just an ordinary vacation. While it was my first time visiting the island, my brother has incredibly fond memories of trips to Antigua during the 1970s as a child, traveling with his grandparents, affectionately known to us as Meemah and Deedah. This week was an opportunity to share with us one of his favorite places in the world.

Anthony decided the best way to explore the island was by land and by sea. The first part of our trip was spent touring the island with a local driver and tour guide named Elvis, who is a native Antiguan living in one of the six parishes on the island with his wife and children. When Anthony spotted him on the beach wearing a Yankee cap, he knew this was the tour guide for us. Anthony and Elvis instantly bonded (even discovering they shared a birthday) and together planned our extraordinary excursion.

Our tour of the island started with a visit to St. Johns, the capital city of Antigua. While part of the town is geared toward the large cruise ships that help support the local economy, St. Johns retains its charm, filled with farmers markets, stalls and local restaurants. Amanda was immediately enchanted by one of the young local shopkeepers selling souvenirs with his mom.

The next stop was Betty's Hope, one of the earliest sugar plantations dating back to 1651. The sugar mills are beautifully preserved, and we learned about the large role these sugar plantations played in Antigua's history. While enjoying the scenery at Betty's Hope, Elvis surprised us with homemade sandwiches and rum punch. A delightful snack to recharge us for the next stop -- Devil's Bridge in the Indian Town National Park.

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Jim, Jen, Amanda, and Anthony

Devil's Bridge is a natural stone arch that was carved from the rocky coast by the constant pounding of waves. Locals say its name comes from surges of water that snatch away people who stray too close to the edge. The area around the arch features several natural blowholes that shoot up water and spray powered by waves from the Atlantic Ocean.

While Jim and I stayed far from the edge, Anthony ventured out close to the bridge for a unique photo opportunity. Later in the week, we would have a chance to see this incredible rock formation from the ocean.

We continued to travel up the rolling hills to Shirley Heights Lookout, first used during the Revolutionary War as a signal station and lookout for approaches to English Harbor. It is truly one of the most spectacular vistas I have ever seen.

Having reached the highest point in Antigua, it was time to get back to sea level. Our next stop centered around Nelson's Dockyard, a working Georgian-era naval dockyard, designated as a world heritage site in 2016. We delighted in exploring the dockyard and gazing over the beautiful yachts and sailboats moored at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina.

Driving through the lush dense greenery of the rainforest led us to an Antigua delicacy the black pineapple. On the side of the road just outside the rain forest, we stopped at a local fruit stand and chatted with the proprietor while she carved us a fresh black pineapple, known as the sweetest in the world. It definitely lived up to its reputation.

The final stop on our island tour was my favorite -- a chance to taste the island cuisine! Elvis called ahead of our arrival and requested a platter of local foods for us to sample. We arrived at Darkwood Beach Bar & Restaurant and were immediately welcomed by the staff.

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Darkwood Beach Bar

After selecting a table near the beach and ordering the national beer of Antigua, Wadidli (another name for the island itself), we had the privilege of hearing Elvis' story, learning more about his life and family, and even calling his wife to thank her for the yummy sandwiches. Then we feasted on fungee and pepperpot, a hearty meat stew with eggplant, pumpkin and squash, as well as local Caribbean lobster, curries and roti. All in all, an amazing way to end a spectacular day. We said goodbye to Elvis, exchanging addresses and knowing we had made a friend for life.

After exploring Antigua north to south and east to west, we opted for a catamaran tour to circumnavigate the island as our next adventure. The morning was spent pleasantly motoring in the calm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea around the north side of the island. Before we knew it, we were sailing along in the open Atlantic Ocean passing by Long Island, also known as Jumby Bay and a popular destination for celebrities.

After a wonderful morning on the water, we anchored in a protected cove for a stop to swim, snorkel and eat lunch near Green Island. It was a perfect destination for Amanda's first snorkeling excursion. After spotting a large sea turtle, magnificent coral reefs and exotic fish, we enjoyed a lazy swim near the beautiful powdery white sand of Green Island Beach.

Following a traditional lunch of jerk chicken, rice and plantains, we continued our journey around the island down to the southern tip to experience English Harbor and Devil's Bridge from the water. It was even more extraordinary from this vantage point.

As the sun started to dip low in the sky, we returned to the Caribbean Sea on the western side of the island watching a storm brewing in the distance. During the quiet sail back, each of us felt grateful for another magnificent day in paradise.

While traveling with your closest friends is always fun, my favorite memories of our time on this magical island were Anthony's reflections of his previous trips to Antigua with his grandparents, the excitement at sharing his favorite place with his new wife, and the joy that much of the island remained as he remembered it. We are already planning our next trip to Antigua!

STORY BY JEN LEROUX, CEO OF MARINALIFE; PHOTOS BY ANTHONY DESANTIS

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