Wiles of Winter Cove
This video found on Youtube depicts a popular spectator sport: watching vessels test Boat Pass between Winter Cove and Georgia Strait during high flows. It’s a task that demands either local knowledge or foolhardiness.
For many years, an open pit quarry and furnace operated near the eastern shore of Winter Cove, between Samuel and Saturna islands, producing stone chips mostly used for building roads.
The quarry’s closure in the ’70s marked the last of such industrial operations in the southern Gulf Islands.
In 1979, a 92-hectare (228-acre) provincial marine park was happily established in its place allowing boaters to share this lovely sheltered location overlooking the wide Georgia Strait. Ashore is a picnic area, pit toilets and a short trail.
In the years that followed, the cove has become madly popular with cruisers and is the site of a Canada Day (July 1) barbecue that grows in fame with each passing year.
It is a wonderful anchorage in a beautiful setting between Georgia Strait and Plumper Sound, with entrances from both, though either passage can pose difficulties for the unwary.
The most used passage, from Plumper Sound, can be hazardous for vessels which stray too close to Minx Reef which stretches hundreds of metres northwest from Mikuni Point. The reef disappears at high water.
Boat Pass, which separates Winter Cove from Georgia Strait, and Saturna Island from Samuel Island, is another story. The nine-metre-wide (30-foot) passage is best negotiated at high slack during settled weather. Slightly favour the Saturna Island shore, avoiding the submerged rocks off the Samuel Island side.
During times of high flow, when currents can reach seven knots, the pass can look a bit like a waterfall. It is treacherous, especially against the flow, and a need for local knowledge goes without saying.
Anchorage depths in the cove reach 6.5 metres (21 feet) at zero tide at the cove’s deepest point in the cove’s northeast near Boat Pass, but most of the little cove is much shallower.
There is quite a bit of swing room, but on busy summer weekends, especially near Canada Day, it can be a sardine can of vessels on extremely short scope.
During moderate high-season conditions, that is rarely a problem, but the southern half of the cove is wide open to the northwest. If strong winds are forecast, ensure your hook is well set.
In rough weather, be watchful for other boats dragging into you, since the quality of ground tackle and experience of boaters does seem to vary.
But in typical conditions, the cove is sheltered and tranquil, with friendly boaters watching out for each other.
(Winter Cove is covered in Salish Sea Pilot’s Cruising Guide to the Gulf Islands.)