The author and daughter, Vela, take a turn at the helm rounding Cape Caution.

Readers of 48° North surely recall Lauren Upham’s previously published stories of cruising the Salish Sea, baking sourdough on-board, and bringing their newborn daughter on her first cruise. In summer 2023, this young family hopped on their J/40 Velella and went farther north. Here’s a vignette into their cruising life, as they pass British Columbia’s storied Cape Caution and have an extraordinary wildlife experience in Eucott Bay.

Rounding Cape Caution

It’s our first rainy day, so I thought I would finally get around to some writing. I’m hiding, nice and toasty, down below as Ches sits up top all bundled in full foulies. We’re approximately a quarter of the way into our trip and have made it up past Cape Caution and are cruising in the channels around King Island before heading to Shearwater, near Bella Bella, around June 9.

Ches heads out for a paddle in the Deserters Group.
The Ocean Falls dam is a prominent feature in the sleepy outpost.

Yesterday, we ventured up to Ocean Falls for a stay at the dock there. We shoved off in a morning downpour that was apropos, and the dinghy is going to need to be bailed out tonight. The few local residents who live there refer to themselves as “the rainy people” — there’s even a book with that title about the town. Ocean Falls is a small town, now mostly abandoned since the sawmill shut down back in the 1980s. It has a big hydro dam that supplies power to surrounding towns (and so much more that locals have taken up power-hungry bitcoin mining). We took our dog Laska up to Link Lake, which feeds the dam, for a nice freshwater swim.

It’s been a gorgeous trip so far, with mostly sunny days — until now, at least. It started with a lot of beating upwind or motoring since winds were on the nose the whole way up the Strait of Georgia and again in Johnstone Strait. We took our time coming up Johnstone Strait and stopped at some gorgeous spots we hadn’t been to before like Forward Harbour, and were so happy to go visit the Octopus Islands again.

We stopped in Alert Bay for a night before heading to Port Hardy for our final provision and top-up to prepare for the rounding of Cape Caution. Port Hardy was much the same as last time we were there when we circumnavigated Vancouver Island in 2021. This time we stayed at the Quarterdeck Marina instead of the Fisherman’s Wharf. The docks were a bit neglected and, talking with a local resident who keeps his boat there, the new owners weren’t looking to put much money in for repairs and renovations. One of the dock boards near where we tied up was so rotted that I fell through as we were casting off to leave. I still have some nasty bruises on my thighs where I ended up straddling the board. We met a couple other people headed north, too, including a family who is heading to Haida Gwaii as well, so we’re hoping to see them again.

The author and daughter, Vela, take a turn at the helm rounding Cape Caution.

We took a couple days to jump closer to Cape Caution as we waited for our weather window; anchoring in the Deserters Group, a small chain of islands in Queen Charlotte Strait, which was an idyllic spot for taking out the paddle boards while the wee one, Vela, was napping.

We spent the next night in Skull Cove and got up in the morning to round Cape Caution, with a nice southeasterly breeze. Winds were a bit light initially, as we joined the procession of other boats taking the same weather window, but soon built so we were able to fly the chute and enjoy a gorgeous sail. Vela decided she didn’t want to nap, unfortunately, so I spent a big chunk of the day down below trying to settle her, but still got to enjoy parts of the sail!

Since rounding Cape Caution, we have bopped our way up Fitz Hugh Sound and Fisher Channel, stopping in Penrose Island Marine Park and Kisameet Bay. We tried some crabbing at both and shrimping at Kisameet, both unsuccessful except for an undersized spider crab and a hermit crab that were both thrown back. Next, we are headed to Eucott Bay to hopefully get a soak in the hot springs there.

Eucott Bay

We don’t often stay in one spot for more than a night, especially when we are on the hook, but we decided to go against the norm in Eucott Bay and boy-oh-boy are we glad we did. Sitting in the cockpit, we enjoyed the clear evening skies and late sunset, both of us agreeing that this may be the most beautiful place we’ve been.

What drew us to Eucott Bay is the hot springs and the promise of Yosemite-like scenery all around the anchorage, and those two things did not disappoint. We arrived in a downpour, but even with the clouds and fog, the mountains surrounding us were stunning. A long waterfall cascaded down one of the snow-capped mountains to port when we entered the bay and Ches scoped out dream climbing routes with the binoculars on the Half-Dome-esque feature that towers over the anchorage.

Vela waits patiently in the backpack at Eucott Bay Hot Springs.

Ches paddled over to the hot springs to check them out when we arrived and declared the tub the perfect temperature. We planned to take turns taking a quick dip later that night after Vela went down. The rain finally stopped, and we had a cozy dinner down below. Ches ventured out on his paddleboard again and I settled Vela down to bed. By the time she was asleep and I popped up top, I could see him on shore getting back on his paddleboard to head back. “That was quick,” I thought. I climbed over the lifelines onto my board and paddled out to meet Ches where he was chatting with one of the other boats anchored nearby.

As I got closer, I realized they were watching a mama black bear with three cubs clambering around on the rocks on shore. When I joined them, Ches pointed out to me the other bears, brown in color, at the head of the bay. He never made it in the hot springs (other than to dip in his toes), before deciding that there were too many bears around for relaxing in the warm pool.

We paddled closer to the head of the bay to observe the other bears, which turned out to be grizzlies. We watched them romp around and munch on some tasty morsels on shore before we returned to Velella.

The next morning, the sun came out and the beech tree lined shores felt like we were on a lake in the Midwest in July. Except for the 16-foot tides, mountains, and grizzlies. We watched the couple from the neighboring boat row in for a long soak in the hot springs, during which we spotted two more grizzlies a safe distance down the beach. A little bit later another grizzly lumbered out on the shore closest to where we were anchored. We tried to take photos using the binoculars as a makeshift telephoto lens and lamenting our lack of photography equipment.

Our tentative plan was to visit the hot springs after our neighbors returned, bringing Vela in the backpack and Laska on a leash, but all the daytime grizzlies were making us uneasy. Ultimately, we decided to leave Laska behind since she would be the most trouble if we had to make a fast getaway and we waited for the two grizzlies closer to the hot springs to wander off before we headed to shore.

A soak in Eucott Bay Hot Springs is a must when visting by boat.

The man made pool of stone and concrete at the hot springs was the perfect temperature. A previous visitor had plugged the input pipe so it was just a trickle, reading the guide books and comments on Navionics, it is way too hot if the pipe is pumping water in full stream. Vela waited patiently in the backpack for us to have a somewhat relaxing soak, with our eyes peeled for ursine visitors. Luckily, none arrived and we rowed safely back to Velella in time for Vela’s afternoon nap.

I’m sure we will add to the count, but so far, we have spotted 16 bears; some of them could be the same bear coming back multiple times, but still, that’s a lot of bear action! We’ve also seen several bald eagles, a mink, and some harbor seals, but who even cares about those when there are bears afoot.

We don’t want to leave. If we don’t show up back in Vancouver, you’ll probably find us here in Eucott Bay. If someone could bring Ches his climbing shoes and a chalk bag, it would be greatly appreciated.

Lauren Upham and her husband Ches call Vancouver, British Columbia home. They cruise frequently on their J/40 Velella with their daughter, Vela and golden retriever, Laska.