A Gulf Islands Marine Trail Series Article...
One favourite trip is to launch from a beach on Thetis Island. You can either take a ferry to Thetis Island from Chemainus’ old town section on the bottom of Oak Street or consider walking your kayak on to the ferry on wheels and paddling away from a nearby launch site.
Some ferries are non-stop to Thetis Island while others stop at Penelakut Island, the southerly sister island to Thetis.
There is access to the beach north of the BC Ferry dock. Walk your kayak up the hill and follow a trail through the bush – carrying your boats – to the beach. It’s a little steep but do-able. Alternately, you can turn right and walk your kayak along Foster Point Road to another beach/dock and launch there. We have a BC ferry icon located on this spot. A third location if you are driving is to follow Foster Point Road and turn right on Pilkey Point Road. Turn right again on Marina Drive and follow the road to the public beach access.
On this trip we launched from Sunrise Point on the east side of Thetis Island or just inside Leech Island. From the ferry you go straight, right on Pilkey Point Road and then across the island until you take another right on Sunrise Point Road. This launch ends at a gently sloping road; you have to drive a 100m up the road to find parking. This is a great beach at any tide. The water is crystal clear in this area.
We traveled counterclockwise on this trip around Thetis Island. Currents tend to run clockwise but we never had any issues on this trip. Summer weather generally is calm, but like any trip on the water you can expect conditions to change so it’s always good to check the weather on the Environment Canada website (‘Google’ Strait of Georgia south of Nanaimo).
From Sunrise Point we soon entered the narrow channel between Thetis and Penelakut Islands, experiencing some tidal current. It’s shallow allowing for a great view of the seabed. I saw a gigantic Sunflower Star on this trip. This species has up to 20 soft and flexible arms and can weigh up to 5 kilograms. We paddled out of the channel into Telegraph Harbour, where a great pub is located. Traveling south we exited the harbour and began our easy paddling north along the west coast of the island passing Preedy Harbour and the ferry dock.
We paddled 19 or 20 kilometres in fairly calm conditions overall. The west side of Thetis is fairly straight without deep coves and bays for the large part. We also explored part of the inlet on north Thetis, where some residences populate the shore.
Another option is to use Sunrise Point as a launch point and complete a multi-day trip to some camping locations. Wallace Island Marine Provincial Park has three camping spots: Chivers Point, Cabin Bay and Conover Cove. If Chivers is filled up – it’s very popular – consider taking a spot at Conover Cove. It’s approximately 3.1 nautical miles from Sunrise Point, along the shores of the Secretary Islands, to Chivers Point. Add approximately 2 more nautical miles to get to Conover Cove from Chivers Point.
From Conover Cove cross to Hudson Point launch on Salt Spring Island (1.1NM) and work your way along the east side of Salt Spring Island from there. On the way explore the beach south of Walker Hook. From this beach to James Bay on Prevost Island paddle less than 5NM. James Bay is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Generally, there is a spacious area for disperse camping. In the fall, the orchard is full of apples and plums. The site boasts a composting toilet, beautiful views and some trails. When crossing from Salt Spring Island to Prevost be aware that this is a ferry route.
From James Bay head over to Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park on Galiano Island. There are 21 reservable sites at this location and they can be full in the summer so plan ahead. There are additional random sites in a pleasantly mowed field to the northeast of main site near sites 1-7. Stay the night and enjoy the scenery.
From Montague begin your trip back to Sunrise Point along the west shore of Galiano, perhaps stopping for a break at Pebble Beach Retreat Cove. If you are looking for a B&B to stay along any of these routes, this website features some kayak friendly lodgings in the Gulf Islands. You can return to Wallace Island or enter Porlier Pass to reach Dionisio Provincial Park or Coon Bay. There is another site on the east side of Galiano but it’s a really poor landing for kayakers. Porlier Pass between Galiano and Valdes Islands has significant currents and must be traversed during a slack period. It’s not difficult if you plan the trip carefully. The distance from Montague Harbour to Sunrise Point is 11.5NM. It’s a long day if you meet a strong northwesterly so you might consider a stopover at Coon Bay or Wallace Island. I would recommend traveling along the west coast of the Secretary Islands and Wallace Island to gain some additional protection from winds, which typically blow a bit harder on the outside of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia. You can also venture over to Tent Island (closed temporarily in 2020 due to abuse of fire rules by the Penelakut; please follow the BCMT Code of Conduct – it’s better for all of us.)
All in all, there many ‘marine trails’ in the destination called the Gulf Islands Marine Trails. Today we launched from Sunrise Point to circumnavigate Thetis Island. On aprevious trip I circumnavigated Penelakut Island. Enjoy!
Tent Island; Lyle Wilkinson in photo