With winter on the horizon, two things are bound to happen in the coming months in the Salish Sea: low pressure systems will sweep in off the Pacific Ocean bringing strong southerlies, and brisk northerlies will push down from the Fraser River Valley.

As boaters, we obviously need to keep a keen eye out for these potentially hazardous winds and to protect our boats appropriately. And if you’re out cruising this time of year — which we highly recommend — you’ll want to have some places in mind to duck in and wait out weather from any direction. Here is one of our favorites in the Gulf Islands.

Royal Cove, Portland Island

British Columbia’s Gulf Islands are our favorite place to cruise during the winter in the Salish Sea. There are a number of wonderful parks, anchorages, towns and cities to visit, and there is quite a bit of protection from the southerlies and southwesterlies that briskly sweep through. And of all our comfortable winter hidey-holes in the Gulfs, Portland Island’s Royal Cove is among the best when an ominous southerly is in the forecast.

Portland Island sits north of Sidney and just south of Salt Spring Island.

Located on the norther tip of Portland Island and protected from the northwest by Chad Island, Royal Cove has a straightforward entrance from the north and plenty of depth in the middle. The park dinghy dock at the south end of the cove is there all winter and will put your feet onto miles of excellent hiking trails that encircle the island. A few things to note, though, are the rocks and reef to the west, shallow depths in the southeast corner of the cove and a bottom composition that can include copious amounts of kelp. Besides that, you’ll find numerous places to take a stern line to shore, which is a tactic that we highly recommend if there are other boats in this small-ish anchorage (there rarely are in the winter) or if a big southerly is coming. And this is one of the reasons we love it as hidey-hole and have used as such on so many occasions.

A rough look at where to drop the hook and then stern tie. Always be courteous and conscious of other boaters needing to stern tie as well.
Yahtzee stern-tied in Royal Cove on a not so windy day.

We’ve sat comfortably through storms that have thrown gusts in upwards of 50 knots over the island and our anchoring tactic goes like this: Drop the hook in the middle of the cove to the north and west of the park dock. Then back down towards the rocks to the west of the dock. MAKE 100% SURE the anchor is set and holding and then find a ring mounted in the rock to take a shoretie to and then back to the boat. If’ it’s really blowing a hooley and if there are no other boats in need of it, you can tie two lines to shore for extra security. We’ve done this, and slept very well. When tucked in like this, the wind streams right over the trees that are high above and behind you. It’s simply perfect, and the only movement of the boat can be that of a ferry wake from nearby Satellite Channel.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Three Sheets Northwest in 2018.