Here’s our latest installment from Three Sheets Northwest guest columnist Jim Burgoyne of

Not a ripple breaks the stillness across Squirrel Cove, one of Cortes Island’s best anchorages. (Photo by Ken Kubesh)

Cortes Island offers much to mariners, from idyllic, protected anchorages to enchanted forest walks within its vast network of trails.

And it has a magnetic pull on cruisers who have been visiting nearby Desolation Sound, unplugged refugees who crave a smidgen of civilization. Of course, there are also the sailors who arrive and never leave, making a home on Cortez and blending into the colourfully eccentric community.

Got two weeks? Maybe three; a circumnavigation of Cortes Island can kill that and even longer with ease.

Salish Sea Pilot’s cruising guide to Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands devotes almost a whole section to the wonders of Cortes Island.

Let’s start at Cortes Bay on the island’s southeast. The bay opens its arms to arrivals from Desolation Sound. Many have anchored here, as we have, without problem, but the bay does have a reputation for iffy holding in strong east and southeast winds. If the forecast is for unsettled weather, use lots of scope, which is generally not a problem in the moderate depths and ensure your anchor is well set.

The bay is home to outstations for the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and the Seattle Yacht Club. For most of the rest of us, there is the public dock, which offers a good dinghy tie for going ashore.

From the public dock, walk west along Bartholomew Road past the many blackberry bushes, turning right on Cortes Bay Road. Walk along the road, mostly uphill, for about 15 minutes, coming to a spot where Katimavik Trail crosses the road. Walking right takes you up to Easter Bluff for some lovely views into Desolation Sound; taking the trail to the left, takes you down to Gunflint Lake, surrounded by the Linnaea Farm, an organic land trust and school that teaches sustainable land stewardship. Here you can often buy fresh produce and tour the small, welcoming community.

The public dock at Cortes Bay offers a good spot to go ashore and pick blackberries late in the summer and early fall.

Walk southwest along a path between Gunflint and Hague lakes into an area of dramatic rolling hills and a network of trails which eventually lead to Mansons Landing.

By water, from Cortes Bay going counterclockwise around the island, it is about six nautical miles to the public dock at Squirrel Cove, where boats can tie up in settled conditions, short-term or overnight, or anchor off if the dock is full as it often is during summer. Ashore is a general store, restaurant, coin-op laundry and showers.

Desolation Sound looms in the background behind the public dock at Squirrel Cove. (Photo by Wilf Ratzburg)

Nearby is Squirrel Cove proper, a well-protected bay with many options for swing anchoring or stern tying. Here there is much to explore, including the tidal rapids into Squirrel Cove Lagoon and trails which lead aross island to Von Donop Inlet.

Next stop, over the top of the island is Von Donop Inlet in Ha’thayim Marine Park. This picturesque waterway cuts deeply into the island, almost slicing it in two. There are many spots to anchor here and many more coves and lagoons to explore by dinghy or kayak. As well, there are trails to explore the inlet’s shores or walk across island for lunch near the Squirrel Cove public dock.

A lovely view at Von Donop Inlet in Ha’thayim Marine Provincial Park. (Photo by Robert Franken)

Almost two miles south of the entrance to Von Donop Inlet is tiny Quartz Bay where excellent protection can be found in the bay’s western fork. Ashore is mostly private homes, but if you have a project that needs attention this might be the perfect place.

Farther south is Carrington Bay, where cover from prevailing summer winds is found behind Jane and Little Jane islets. South from the head of the bay is a large lagoon that is ripe for exploration, as is a network of regional district park trails nearby. The park has hosted various “rave” music festivals over the years attended by young campers willing to rough it.

Moving south boaters pass Coulter Bay, another tiny bay that might be filled with boats on resident mooring buoys. If there is room, it’s a nice anchorage with lots of shoreline to explore at low tide.

The long finger of Shark Spit forces most of us to negotiate Uganda Passage with care. (Photo by Jim Nieland)

Then cruisers come to Uganda Passage, a narrow pass between Cortes and Marina islands. There are lovely anchorages with splendid views on either side of sandy Shark Spit which extends north from Marina Island. Daytime boat traffic tends to be without wake as vessels slowly navigate the twisting passage.

Nearby is the entrance into Gorge Harbour, the large, all weather bay on Cortes Island’s southwest. Inside there are several good spots to anchor and a great marina with a general store, restaurant, pool, fuel and laundry.

The tiny post office near the ferry dock at Whaletown.

About 2km west by road is the ferry terminal at Whaletown, linking Cortes to Quadra Island and Campbell River on Vancouver Island, making Gorge Harbour a good spot to pick up or drop off crew, or temporarily leave the boat if necessary.

Continuing the circuit of Cortes, about two miles east is Mansons Landing, an anchorage or public dock where space to tie up is often available. Nearby is Hague Lake, a popular freshwater swimming spot, and trails which lead back to Cortes Bay, completing the circumnavigation if only by foot.

Mansons Landing Dock at twilight. (Photo by Phil Denhoff)

By road about 1km south of Mansons Landing is Cortes Island’s commercial district which amounts to two grocery stores, post office, museum and a few other shops and cafes.

There is a lot to explore on Cortes Island, with anchorages that feel remote, others that offer opportunities to provision or fuel up. And for many of us, getting off the boat to stretch your legs is important, and Cortes offers a smorgasbord of hiking opportunities.

The anchorages, marinas and docks on Cortes Island are covered in Salish Sea Pilot’s cruising guide to Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands.