Sooke to Shilshole and Final Thoughts on the Barkley Sound Trip

Posted 5 years, 11 months ago


Leaving Sooke we were surrounded by the local sport fishermen as we steamed out at 4:45 AM.  The forecast was for light to variable winds, and there was talk of going all the way home in one final day.  I was skeptical and declared we would decide when we got to Port Townsend, with the option of taking a night there to break things up if anyone was feeling queasy or conditions turned against us.  I wouldn’t have said it could be done with any degree of comfort, but we made it all the way from Sooke to Shilshole in one loooooong day, motoring from 4:45 AM to 9:00 PM.  It helped that things were calm enough for us to all take 2-hour naps in shifts.

Shortly after leaving Sooke, we saw another humpback whale! 

Our original plan was to try to clear customs in Port Townsend, which is by appointment only.  Turns out, those appointments are only available Monday – Friday and here we found ourselves on a Saturday, so that was not an option.  I called the Port Angeles customs office when they opened at 8:00 AM and they were very accommodating, taking our information by phone and offering to meet us at the fuel dock to make for a fast in-and-out clearance.  They didn’t quite go so far as to clear us by phone, but it was about as painless as it could have been.  They wanted to see us and the boat and after verifying everyone’s identity they declared “OK, now is your chance if anyone want to rat somebody out.”  Fortunately, all adhered to the law of omerta and we cleared through with no challenges.

Then we just kept on motoring east and then south through the familiar waters of Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound.  A northerly did fill in after Point No Point, but I was busy cooking a dinner of chicken tikka masala, so we kept things level and continued motoring.  Plus with the buildings of Seattle now in sight, I don’t think anyone wanted to take the hit of the 15 – 30 minute delay that just setting and dousing the sails would entail.

Final Thoughts and Conclusion

It was a great trip overall, achieving my goals for attaining more skills, knowledge, and experience as a sailor.  And of course, any time you are cooped up on a boat with some of your favorite people in the world, you have some great bonding conversations and experiences.  I am sure this trip will be a touchstone we all refer to for years to come.

I would not have thought we would end up making it the whole way from Barkley to Shilshole in a mere two days, but I guess we proved it is possible with the right conditions.  Some people take a week to get there, but that was not our experience.  We were lucky with the weather.

I reinforced my prior learnings that the weather forecast is critical to monitor, but you should not let it override actual observations and paralyze your planning.  The forecasts are invaluable, but they always err on the side of being conservative, and sometimes a forecasted gale tops out at 15 knots of wind or less.

The lack of crowds was a somewhat unexpected delight.  Once school is out, crowded anchorages are the norm in the San Juan, Gulf Islands, Sunshine Coast and Desolation Sound.  I was also very impressed by how protected the anchorages are given the fact that the open Pacific Ocean is always just around the next point.

There was a price to be paid in getting to this destination even in the settled weather we experienced.  Even on a “calm” day hours of quartering swells make for a “grin and bear it” experience at best as you pay your dues to get to Barkley.  As I write this I am still suffering aches and pains from the muscles along the side of my back which were straining to brace my body against the swells for hours upon hours, and I’m probably in the best physical shape I’ve been in for years.  The bottom line question is “was it worth it” and I have to say yes, if for nothing other than the experience gained.  Five days of “grin and bear it” transit, which for one of us included two days of “puke and bear it”, for five days at the destination, seems a bit much for return on investment, but this was always supposed to be a short scouting trip.  Most cruising boats we ran into were spending two weeks to a month in Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds which is a much more palatable ratio of fun to suck.  Will I go back?  Yes, I think so.  It is beautiful.  The wildlife viewing lived up to expectations.  We caught and ate quite a few fish, albeit no salmon.  The rockfish are fun to catch – they will reel the line out and fight as much as anything else, and the fish are quite pretty.  Plus they taste great.  It would be nice to figure out how to catch a chinook next time, and spend some time kayaking and relaxing a bit more than this short trip allowed for.  I question if there is enough to do within Barkley Sound to appeal to everyone’s interests.  Two out of three of our anchorages lacked any opportunity to go ashore, which is a problem for some who go on these trips and are prone to cabin fever.  Bamfield and Ucluelet offer many hiking opportunities and sights to explore, but within the Broken Group, it is pretty much kayaking or nothing as far as activities go.  Bottom line is if you don’t fish or kayak, other than the natural beauty and wildlife viewing opportunities, I’m not sure there is much here outside of the towns and their trails.  It works for me, but probably isn’t for everyone.

The Canadians were all delightfully pleasant, friendly, and accommodating at every turn.  These folks in the BC coastal communities seem to have unlocked at least a few of the secrets of the good life.  You do wonder about the months of November through March though.

Next time, it would be nice to take more time to get up to Clayoquot Sound, Tofino, and the hot springs, but this was an excellent dipping of the toes into the ocean waters of Vancouver Island’s wild westside.  Let me know if you want to join in the next journey!


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