Category Archives: Cruising in British Columbia

Should Lifejackets be Mandatory on Whale Watching Tours?

On October 25th, the news that a whale watching boat from Tofino had sunk off Plover Reefs was shocking. How could this have happened? I have been on numerous whale watching trips and observed that the tour companies abided by strict safety measures. In fact, we are so confident about whale watching that we often suggest it to our out-of-town guests as an activity to do while they are visiting.

As snippets of news stories were released, the details of the tragedy were revealed. A sudden wave broadsided the boat which was unbalanced by the weight of guests watching sealions from the upper deck causing it to capsize. That’s all it took. Of the 27 people onboard – there were six fatalities and 18 people sent to hospital – lives changed forever.

It happened so quickly that there was no time for the crew to issue a mayday call. If not for the serendipitous turn of the head by a local fisherman from the Ahoushat First Nation who witnessed the flare sent up by some of the survivors in a life raft – this tragedy would have been much worse. Other survivors were in the cold Pacific Ocean clinging to debris from the boat.

The waters off the coast on British Columbia are cold year-round. After a few minutes in the water, even the strongest swimmer’s muscles will be affected by the coldness. Arms and legs become heavy and are unable to swim. Hypothermia is often the killer of people involved in water immersion accidents. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada had this to say about cold water survival in their report on another whale boat accident in 1998 also at Plover Reefs:

” The sea water temperature was 11.5°C. Studies of cooling rates for an average adult holding still in ocean water of 11.5°C (wearing a standard lifejacket and light clothing) show a predicted survival time of about 1.8 hours. Extra body fat can increase survival time.”


My experience on the water has taught me that that boating is a safe activity – statistically it is probably safer than driving your car. However, when things go badly on a boat it happens quickly. This is why having safety equipment on board and being in the habit of using it is so important.

Should Lifejackets be Mandatory on Whale Watching Tours? |
A fun day in a zodiac whale watching boat

In Canada, the safety guidelines for boaters are established by Transport Canada. Depending on the size of your boat, you are required to carry certain safety equipment and can be fined if your boat is found to be lacking in this equipment. These guidelines are a minimum standard for safety and boat owners should develop their own safety plans in addition to these guidelines. Many local whale boat operators are members of the Pacific Whale Watching Association, a self-regulating organization of operators who developed standards of conduct long before they were regulated to do so by Transport Canada.

Immersion suits are worn on zodiac whale watching tours, but perhaps it is time for lifejackets to be worn by all passengers? The current reason for not wearing lifejackets on boats that have enclosed areas for passengers is the possibility of the lifejacket being snagged on something inside the cabin when trying to exit the boat quickly. This is true, but given the passenger’s inexperience with boats, wouldn’t a lifejacket increase their odds of surviving a catastrophic accident? I see similarities with the decision to make it mandatory to wear a helmet when riding a bike; it can’t hurt should the unthinkable happen.

One of the rules on our boat is that everyone must wear a lifejacket before we leave the dock; this rule is non negotiable. Once we are safely at anchor, the lifejackets come off, but when we are underway, lifejackets are on. When we are not wearing our lifejackets they are within easy reach should we have to suddenly move the boat. Some boaters don’t like to wear lifejackets because they find them bulky. There are many styles of lifejackets on the market and newer designs are not bulky so you aren’t even aware that you are wearing one.

You don’t have to be in rough conditions for bad things to happen. Boaters have died by falling off their boat in a marina at night. If they are injured in the fall or have no means to hoist themselves out of the water, hypothermia sets in and results in a drowning death.

Adults don’t typically wear lifejackets when on the dock, but it is a good practice for children to do so. During the summer at our marina, local children come down to the docks to fish. There are lifejackets provided to keep the children safe should they accidentally fall in. Docks can be slippery and an excited child with their first fish on a line are not thinking about personal safety. A lifejacket will help protect a child from drowning should they fall in the water.

I don’t know if lifejackets would have made a difference in the sinking of the Leviathan II, but it might have improved the odds of survival for someone who was injured by the accident before they hit the water. The Transportation Safety Board will no doubt be making recommendations to improve marine safety as a result of this tragic accident. Be your own safety board and wear your lifejacket.

Further reading:

October 25, 2015, Times Colonist

October 26, 2015, Globe and Mail

October 26, 2015, CHEK News

October 26, 2015, CBC News

October 30, 2015, Global News

Captain of Leviathan II makes first statement on boat’s sinking


Updated news articles:

November 6, 2015, CKNW

November 23, 2015, CBC News

November 24, 2015, Huffington Post



Tripping at Tribune Bay

During all the years that we have been cruising, we had never anchored in Tribune Bay. We had been to Hornby Island by car several times but this was our first time by boat.

Tribune Bay is completely open to the southeast and is seemingly protected from northwesterly winds, but we had been warned by other boaters to be careful in a strong northwesterly because the wind funnels over the low lying areas of the island and blasts into Tribune Bay.  And so it did.

Trib’s sandy bottom does not always give a secure anchor hold and boats have been known to  drag. We heard one story of a skipper who awoke to an extra quiet morning in the bay only to find himself adrift in the middle of the Strait of Georgia. I am a fair weather sailor and a light sleeper so last night’s wind kept me awake. My husband sleeps well knowing that I do not. At 3:00 am, I finally accepted my state of non-sleeping and crawled out of our cozy bunk.

I wasn’t the only one not sleeping in the windy, moonlit anchorage. The jittery beam of flashlights from other boaters could be seen checking anchors and neighbouring boats followed by a nervous check of the rocky shore. About an hour later, the wind blew itself out and peace and sleep descended upon the anchorage.

Our CQR anchor had dug in nicely but we were still swinging around the chain like a hypnotist swinging her watch side to side.  Our anchor goes off the starboard side and this combined with a 3/4 keel contributes to our activity at anchor. On this trip we noticed a few boats with mini sails off their backstay to help correct their boat’s natural tendency to dance at anchor. I will have to add this to my list of things to make for the boat.

In the light of morning, we surveyed the anchorage and noticed that a few boats were not in their original place. Of the 70 or so boats anchored in the bay one boat was notably not in its place. Hmmn. Maybe they left early?

Tribune Bay, Hornby Island sunset
Tribune Bay, Hornby Island sunset

We had noticed the yacht the day before primarily because it was the largest boat in the anchorage. Sitting in the cockpit of our boat, our conversation inevitably lead to imagining how wonderful it would be to have a large boat that we could host all of our family on. We could show them all the beautiful nooks and crannies that indent the British Columbia coast.

This 86-foot yacht had beautiful lines and would provide a very comfortable trip up the coast.  No. Could that be her? Approximately one nautical mile to the south, there stood the beautiful yacht resting dangerously close to the rocks that guard the bay’s southwestern entrance.

There was no sign of life on the yacht (who will remain nameless to protect the embarrassed skipper).  In these situations I have been told that there is a moment of incomprehension when you try to figure out how all the other boats moved closer to the beach during the night.  Slowly your brain catches up to your reality and you realize that it is you who have dragged anchor.

In this case, a smaller boat (in actuality it was bigger than our boat but in relationship to the big yacht was smaller) was rafted to the yacht. I don’t really understand the practice of rafting boats myself as it puts a lot of strain on the anchor and chain now tasked with holding the weight of two boats in place.

Dragging anchor for boaters is embarrassing. In this case, it was difficult to sneak back into the anchorage unnoticed when you are an 86-foot yacht with another yacht tied to your port side. But to their credit, they did inch ever so slowly back to their original anchoring spot. Personally, I would have chosen another site if the first one did not hold, but hey – each to his own.

Now boaters are some of the most generous people I have met who will drop everything to help you when you need it, but when no help is needed they are happy to watch events unfold as we were doing.

So, you would think this would be the end of the story but alas the beautiful, big yacht dragged again later in the day with the smaller yacht still afixed to its port side. Clearly a lesson not learned.

Equip your boat with the right size of anchor for your boat’s size and weight and inspect the tackle annually. Choose your anchorages wisely based on weather and choose a site within the anchorage that provides the swinging room that you need. If you choose to raft to another boat, make sure that the anchor being used can withstand the addition of the weight of the additional boat. Have fun but stay safe.

Winter Cove, Saturna Island

We had planned to visit Winter Cove a couple of years ago, but a storm system moved in and we changed our plans choosing to wait out the storm in Montague Harbour, Galiano Island. So, we were both excited when we were able to spend a few days in Winter Cove in May of this year.

Saturna Island is a small, hilly island with 310 year-round residents. Two-thirds of the island is now protected by park status. Parks Canada has actively been acquiring new park land to add to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve to represent the rare, west coast ecosystem.

The approach to Winter Cove is protected by Minx Reef, now made famous by the grounding and sinking of the Robertson II in 2007. When entering the cove, follow your charts and watch your depth sounder. The temptation is to cut the corner too soon, but there is a submerged rock that is inline with the reef, like the period at the end of an exclamation mark. The reef is a popular haul-out location for seals, but it is best to explore in your dinghy or kayak. Once beyond the reef, the cove is large, but you still have to watch your depth and chart to avoid shallow sections.

Parks Canada has provided a dinghy dock and there is a short trail through a marsh and wooded area to Boat Passage. In spite of the strong current that flows through the narrow passage, we watched several vessels transit near or at slack tide. There were some local boats which came through the passage at any time during the tide cycle, but the current can run as fast as 7 knots here, so local knowledge is recommended.

Boat Passage, Saturna Island
Boat Passage, Saturna Island

We were told a story of a kayaker who was transiting Boat Passage when a small, power boat came through the passage at the same time. The wake from the power boat, swamped the kayak which capsized. Luckily, the kayaker was wearing a life jacket because she was quickly taken out to sea by the current. She was doubly lucky that the current brought her near the Belle Chain Islets where she was able to crawl up onto the rocks until she was rescued. It happened so fast, that the power boat did not even know what that they had caused an accident.

Across the narrow channel is Samuel Island, a privately owned island with a year-round caretaker. If it wasn’t for Parks Canada, and BC Marine Parks, many of the small island marine parks that we enjoy, would be privately owned and inaccessible.

We enjoyed a tour of Saturna from a marina neighbour who also enjoys a home here. The island is very hilly and would be challenging to navigate by bike.  We toured the island’s winery and out to East Point light station which offered beautiful views of Tumbo Island. It is a 10-15 minute drive to the village centre where you can find a General Store and recycling area.

Tumbo Island from East Point light station

Winter Cove is beautiful and now that we know how to approach the reef, we will be back again for another visit.


Roscoe Bay Bran Muffins

This recipe comes from Melissa’s, a great restaurant in Banff that we frequented in the 1980s. Unfortunately the restaurant is no longer there. Melissa’s made these bran muffins in over-sized tins and when smeared with peanut butter, were the perfect snack for hiking; they are also terrific for sailing.

One cold, rainy morning in Roscoe Bay in Desolation Sound, we knew that a group of young kayakers that we had befriended were going to depart for the next leg of their trip. I made a large batch of these bran muffins and carefully wrapped them in tinfoil when they were still hot out of the oven.  As each kayak neared our sailboat, we called them over and gave them the freshly baked muffins. After spending the rainy night in tents and then packing up wet gear, the warm muffins were greatly appreciated.

This recipe makes a lot, so I have included the measurements for a smaller batch.  When making the muffins, I usually make two small batches: one to bake now and a second batch of the dry ingredients measured into a Ziploc bag so all you have to do at a later date is add the wet ingredients and voila – muffins!

I really like that this recipe calls for more bran than flour. Remember not to over-mix. Enjoy!

Roscoe Bay bran muffin ingredients


  1. In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients.
  2. In a larger bowl, beat milk, eggs, vanilla and oil together at medium speed to combine.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet, add molasses and mix for 3 minutes.
  4. Pour the batter (it will be runny) into greased muffin pan (or chicken pot pie tins for larger muffins) at 400F for 20-25 minutes (30-40 minutes for larger muffins).


Add nuts, sunflower seeds, other fruit.