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