July 24, 2024

Sailing the Inside Passage

Fury Island anchorage is one of the most beautiful of Fitz Hugh Sound.

There are many scenic waterways in this world, but there is only one Inside Passage. Stretching northward from Puget Sound in Washington State to Glacier Bay in Southeast Alaska, this vast and intricate coastline of winding channels, turquoise fjords and forested islands is a famous sea route travelled by vessels of all sizes. Cruise ships ply these waters, but the ultimate is to embark on a voyage of the Inside Passage in your own boat.

Of all the boating I’ve done along the Inside Passage, one of my favorite cruising areas is British Columbia’s central coast, just north of Cape Caution. This aptly named cape marks one of the few exposed legs of the Inside Passage. Here there is no avoiding Queen Charlotte Sound – an open stretch of water, best approached with ample preparation and a close eye on the weather.

Once past Cape Caution, boaters enter some of the best coastal cruising in the world: dozens of deserted islands, secluded anchorages, beautiful beaches and an abundance of wildlife, not to mention some of the best sport fishing anywhere.

Almost without exception, the first anchorage we pull into after rounding Cape Caution when northbound is Fury Island at the mouth of Rivers Inlet. This anchorage, part of Penrose Island Marine Park, is partially ringed with dazzling white beaches of crushed shell and sand. In sunny weather the setting is reminiscent of a South Seas atoll, especially at high water, when the water lapping ashore turns a brilliant turquoise as it shimmers over the crushed clamshells. The cove’s outer beaches can be visited by dinghy or kayak, and are a lovely place to have a picnic or a secluded swim.

Midden beaches ring the west side of Fury Island.

These stunning beaches are actually archeological sites – kitchen middens dating to pre-historic times when the Indigenous people living in villages along the shores of Rivers Inlet came to Fury Island each summer to harvest clams. The shells of these clams were tossed aside and the piles they formed were, over time, crushed and compressed into the shell beaches now enjoyed by boaters and kayakers. Visitors are welcome to laze on these beaches but not disturb them.

More beautiful beaches lie across Fitz Hugh Sound on the outer shores of Calvert Island. The main anchorage in this area is Pruth Bay, reached via Kwakshua Channel. Pacific white-sided dolphins frequently feed at the mouth of this bay and at its head is a former sportfishing lodge that has been transformed into a research facility for environmental science. Called Hakai Institute, it accommodates scientists and undergraduates who work here throughout the summer months. Boaters are asked to anchor well away from the institute’s docks, which are used by delivery vessels and seaplanes, but the rear fingers are kept free for dinghies to tie up. From here you can access the trails leading to the beaches on the other side of the island.

West Beach on Calvert Island is a quiet beach over half a mile long.

It’s an easy hike along a groomed trail to West Beach – a long crescent of soft sand with views of the surf pounding onto distant reefs. Smooth rock formations overlook parts of the beach, where ocean swells rumble onto shore and sandpipers skirt the edge of the surf as they flit across the wet sand. At the south end of the beach is Lookout Trail, which climbs to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean, then descends to a series of smaller, secluded beaches lying to the south. At the other end of West Beach is a signpost for the North Beach trailhead. This trail includes a sturdy boardwalk bridge straddling a wetland filled with native water lilies and leads to another beautiful sweep of ocean beach.

Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.