June 18, 2024

Out on a cruise on your own

A cruise through British Columbia’s Gulf Islands is what relaxation is all about.

Poets, dreamers and adventurers celebrate the joys of going to sea and often scribe about the vast openness. It sometimes seems a fantasy in their musings. But in reality, it’s not out of the question for you and your family to get onto the ocean on a budget. What’s the first step? Charter a boat and spend lazy days cruising Canadian waters.

Lazy Days

Embarking on a boating vacation is to become a “turtle” — you take your house with you and move at a slower pace. Make no mistake, live-aboard cruising has nothing in common with water-skiing. The speed is slow, the activities are few and watching the passing scenery becomes the entertainment. Going to the convenience store for a snack and a soft drink isn’t going to happen.

Choose Your Dream Cruise

Boating in the protected waters surrounding the Gulf Islands of British Columbia is not difficult. Distances between harbors are easily navigated and there are choices. Overnight options range from deserted anchorages to islands with friendly harbors; from dockside cafes and small shops to the cosmopolitan marinas and big-city attractions of Vancouver and Victoria, perfect for a sightseeing day ashore and for restocking.

There are also abundant crab to trap and fish to catch, including salmon in season. There is magnificent scenery, with small coves and streams just begging for exploration. Eagles soar and porpoises play alongside. Perhaps you’ll even see a whale. Sunsets are spectacular. Think of the stories you can tell. And don’t forget to bring a good camera.

Best of all for the novice boater, you are rarely more than a few miles from land. Assistance, if necessary, is readily available. Finally, depending on the weather, there can be good boating from March or April through Halloween, or even later.

Begin Planning Early

It’s a trip that requires planning, but anticipation can be half the fun. If you have boating experience, it is surprisingly easy to arrange a sea-going vacation. If not, a family learning experience is a possible vacation bonus. For as little as $250 a day, book a licensed captain to give sailing or powerboating instruction. You could emerge after four days on the water with a “Coastal Skipper Certificate” and a trained “crew.”

A power vessel to sleep four can be chartered during the low season for $2,000 per week. Sailboats are a little less expensive; they also have less space, and sailors spend more time in the open air. For about the same price, though, you could charter a sailboat during “mid-season,” roughly September-October or March-April.

Saving Cents

Additional charges will be for insurance and fuel, for food and moorings. Overnight dockage at local marinas, including power and shore facilities, may run about $1 per boat foot of length. But you can anchor free of charge in beautiful coves to save cents. Distances are short, and by traveling at slow speeds, you’ll conserve fuel. Buying your groceries and cooking on board will cost you no more than eating at home. And the food always tastes better. Most companies have suggested itineraries, and charts and navigation tools are supplied, as are radios and safety gear.

Charter companies operate on both sides of the border. Depending on the exchange rate, your best deal might be found in either place. But you must also factor in travel costs.

Canada issues a Pleasure Craft Operator Card upon completion of an online safety course. Even though the boating license may not be required by some charter companies, it’s advised that all family members study the materials. All passengers on board must have valid passports. Check for updated U.S. and Canadian Customs regulations well in advance of departure.

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