Here’s our latest installment from Lynne Picard of SalishSeaPilot.com about a beloved anchorage in the Gulf Islands.

Writing about destinations for a cruising guide means we drop the hook in a lot of anchorages, often returning to them many times over the course of several years.

We try to keep our information factual — based on bottom holding, protection from wind and seas, services and amenities ashore, the view… but sometimes it’s hard not to let our affection for one place or another creep into our narrative.

Portland Island is one of those places. Our Salish Sea Pilot guide to the Gulf Islands has stated in various editions that “if you have a stern line and are accustomed to tying off ashore, then you might never leave” the north shore of the Royal Cove anchorage.

And every time we have been there, whether stern tied or swinging on a hook, we have had an idyllic experience. There is some wake from the ferries passing by to and from Swartz Bay, but never enough to make us feel uncomfortable.

Early this June we headed for Princess Bay at the south end of Portland Island on a weekday afternoon, thinking we might have a good chance to anchor there. But, no, it was full, so we made our way to Royal Cove and managed to grab the last available and most exposed stern tie ring. We enjoyed two days of lovely weather, hiking around the island in both directions and at different states of tide, which we find always gives us an enjoyably different outlook.

The first days in Royal Cove were still, perfect reading weather.

A chilly but invigorating first swim of 2021 from the beach on the northwest shore completed our usual list of goals for our first few days of summer cruising — long walks, a pleasant and relaxed anchorage, a swim, and evenings in the cockpit sipping a single-malt with a good book.

My parents used to sail with friends aboard their small sailboat in the ’80s. A condition for going off for a few days with them was that guests had to sleep on shore in a tent as there just wasn’t room for more than two people to sleep on their boat. Portland was always their first stop after leaving Oak Bay, near Victoria.

And it’s a lovely island, with varied types of shoreline along the 6.5km trail around it. There are large exposed flat rocks, high bluffs, shell middens and sandy beaches. Three camping areas are located on the island with beach access for paddlers at all three. An old orchard remains as evidence of the settlement established there in the 1880s by Kanaka (Hawaiian) immigrants. The shell middens are the most visible remains of a First Nations settlement there long before colonization.

The island was gifted to Princess Margaret in 1958 to commemorate her visit to British Columbia, and in 1967 it was gifted back as a provincial park. It is now part of the National Park Reserve.

Royal Cove is popular.

As the sun reached its zenith on the second afternoon, we noticed a slight shift in the wind. It turned a few degrees, from west to southwest, and began to blow through the narrow pass between the tip of Portland Island and Chads Island which had been our protection. As the wind picked up that evening, it became uncomfortable, more so as wind waves collided with the wake from ferries.

Being on the last and most exposed stern tie pin we felt the worst of it and it was a mostly sleepless night as our heavy sailboat was tossed about. At first light, we took off. So much for never leaving!

After releasing the stern tie and hauling anchor we settled in the cockpit with a coffee and our cruising guide to decide where to go next. Reading what we had written about Royal Cove and our hasty early morning departure, I made a note to edit the text and stick to the facts.

Portland Island is an idyllic cruising destination, but any anchorage can be quite a different experience from one visit to the next.

(Portland Island is covered by Salish Sea Pilot’s cruising guide to the Gulf Islands.)

Read the full post of Salish Sea Pilot.