Distance: 82 km
Time: 2-3 days
Tide Table: Dionisio Pt
Warning: Strong Winds
Marine Chart: 3313
The Gulf Islands is the name commonly associated with a group of more than 200 rocks, islets, and islands sprinkled all along the southeastern shore of Vancouver Island. And while just about any place among the islands is interesting enough for day or overnight paddling, the following route ties a number of features together including exquisite geology, limited human habitation, bountiful nature, convenient access, two kayak rental companies and excellent camping in a route rarely travelled by commercial water craft. There are a few drawbacks to this otherwise perfect location. Water is scarce so bring plenty, four or five litres per day at least. The sea is polluted from sewage making any kind of shellfish consumption out of the question. Crabs or fish are fine however and swimming is not a problem.
You may reach Trincomali Channel via Tsawwassen Ferry terminal [See Appendix Getting to Tsawwassen.] Ferry service is very limited to Galiano Island so give yourself plenty of time to board the ferry. Debark at Sturdies Bay and call a taxi to take you to either one of two kayaking outfitters at Montague Harbour. If you decide not to begin paddling in earnest right away Montague Harbour Provincial Park is an excellent place to camp while preparing for an early morning start. Reservations are recommended but be sure to specify the more scenic walk-in campsites when you call. Even without reservations there should be plenty of space in the grassy overflow camping area. An added bonus to spending a night on Galiano is the shuttle bus that arrives at the park gate every hour on the hour to whisk thirsty campers away to the renowned Hummingbird Pub for exceptional micro-brewery beer and the finest fish and chips in the Gulf Islands. The bus returns to the campground on the half hour all evening long. The bus service, which costs $2 round trip, is seasonal, beginning on the May 24th long weekend and wrapping up on the Labour Day weekend in September. Service commences at 6 PM and continues on until last call at 11:30 PM.
Don't drink too much, however, as an early morning start is recommended to take advantage of the typically calmer conditions that dawn brings. With luck and planning you'll be able to catch an incoming tide to help propel you along to your destination.
Choose your route depending on wind and weather conditions. If calm you may want to explore the group of islands just off Montague Harbour including the bird sanctuary at the Ballingall Islets. From here you'll have to make a dash across the open waters of Trincomali Channel. It is recommended that you head straight across the Channel to Saltspring Island in order to limit your exposure to wind, wave and marine traffic. Out of harm's way, you'll want to check out Walker Hook before continuing on to Wallace Island.
Alternately hug the coastline of Galiano as you paddle northward. Even though you can expect to repeat this section on the return voyage it is certainly worth repeating.
Just 2 km beyond the white shell beach of Montague Harbour Marine Park you will encounter a large low-lying rock that serves as a harbour seal nursery. Remain well offshore to avoid stressing these sea mammals. Likely, the younger seals will plop into the security of the sea at your approach, popping up in your wake to check out the curious creatures called kayakers.
Moving along the high sandstone cliffs of Galiano keep an eye peeled for eagles surveying their fishing turf or turf-grazing deer on the bluffs above. At the 5½ km mark you'll encounter a large cliff-side cormorant rookery.
At kilometre nine, the beach at the north end of Retreat Cove makes an ideal spot to stop for lunch and stretch cramped leg muscles before darting across the open waters of Trincomali Channel. Since you will, in all likelihood, be exposed to broadside wave and wind action some members of your group may feel uncomfortable during the half hour crossing to Wallace Island. To provide support and increase the visibility of your group remain clumped together while crossing the two kilometres to Panther Point where, incidentally, the HMS Panther ran aground in 1874. No need to repeat the performance.
A Provincial Marine Park, Wallace Island offers excellent camping, hiking and the best drinking water you'll encounter in the area. The main camping area at Conover Cove is the site of a once thriving vacation resort operated by David Conover from 1946 to 1966. Numerous historic buildings, an orchard and bountiful herb gardens have been preserved by BC Parks. You may want to plan a recipe that calls for fresh mint, chives or oregano during your stay on the island. A hand pump 400 metres north of the dock supplies deliciously cool water, perfect for replenishing supplies or a refreshing scrub down. You'll find a photogenic old truck and tractor in the same meadow. The popularity of Conover Cove among the yachting set and the difficulty of landing or launching a kayak at low tide makes this a less than ideal place for over-nighting. Cabin Bay and Chivers Point, 3.3 km further along, both offer more seclusion though their growing popularity with kayakers means you'll likely still be sharing with others, particularly on weekends. The campfire ban is strictly enforced on Wallace Island by parks staff patrolling in motorized zodiacs. Even after dark Big Sister will be watching from her beach front home on Galiano. Violators will be fined.
Continuing northward, you'll want to explore the Secretary Islands, Mowgli and Norway Islands, Reid Island and the Rose Islets before zipping back across Trincomali Channel towards the Indian reserve at Shingle Point. Follow the Valdes Island shore for another 1.7 km to Blackberry Point for ideally-situated camping. As yet unembraced by the BC Parks system, beach fires are permitted here but you will find no toilets or potable water. Be sure to secure kayaks well and pitch your tents in the bush above the beach as it all but disappears during the highest tides of the year. Competition for suitable sites is fierce so arrive early.
The coast north of Blackberry Point is, reminiscent of Galiano Island, comprised largely of eroded sandstone galleries of every imaginable abstraction. At some point you may want to pay a visit to the De Courcy Group of Islands.
De Courcy Island was once the home of a secretive cult known as the Aquarian Foundation. After bilking and boinking his way to infamy, the charismatic leader, Brother XII, vanished in 1933 amidst charges of fraud and rumours of hidden treasure. Besides the allure of buried gold, all that remains of the lascivious cult is Brother XII Trail, a short footpath along the sandstone bluffs of Pirates Cove Provincial Marine Park.
Today the park offers camping, drinking water, toilets, the yachting crowd and mosquitoes in abundance. If possible camp along the western shore well away from the main campsite to avoid the latter two. Better yet, establish Blackberry Point as a base camp and investigate this area as an excursion.
All good things must end and exploring Trincomali Channel is no exception. To save time you may want to make a beeline following the coast of Valdes and Galiano directly back to Montague Harbour. Plan your crossing of the gap between the two islands to coincide with slack tide. Savvy paddlers will choose the lull after high water in order to catch the ebbing current homeward. A word of warning: DO NOT attempt to navigate any of the major narrows, Porlier Pass, Gabriola Passage or Active Pass at any time except slack tide and you had better be equipped with accurate tide information. Misjudgement could cost dearly. It is best to avoid these areas altogether as heavy commercial marine traffic compounds the problems of racing currents, rapids, standing waves, back eddies and whirlpools.