Cabbage Island, southern Gulf Islands, BC 1–3 Sept. 2018

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, Sep 10, 2018.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    Looking back through my kayaking photos, I realized it’s been almost a year since I’ve launched a boat on the waters of British Columbia. Unacceptable! BC has the best kayaking in the world, and here I am missing out, even though I’m just three hours away. What kind of kayaker am I turning into?

    Cabbage Island was the closest new place in British Columbia, and I was hopeful its relatively remote location would mean a beautiful trip for Labor Day weekend. Best of all, my brother Nathan was able to come with me for the first time in years.

    00 Route Map.jpg
    00 Route Map: We managed to visit all the best parts of beautiful Saturna Island.

    I’ve always accessed the Gulf Islands from VI or from the San Juans, so I never before had to worry about the inter-island ferries. In my naivety, I assumed they’d run at frequent intervals and far into the night. What an unpleasant surprise to reach Tsawwassen at 10:00 on Friday night, only to discover no ferries to Saturna until the morning!

    Making the best of it, we car-camped at McDonald on VI and caught the first boat to Saturna. We had a whole morning on the island while we waited for a favorable ebb tide through Boat Passage. We took advantage to visit Monarch Head and the beautiful museum at the East Point lighthouse.

    01 Boat Passage on strong flood.jpg
    01 Boat Passage on strong flood. It was fun to visit this pass by trail before we came to it again in our boats.

    02 Nathan at Boat Passage.jpg
    02 Nathan at Boat Passage. With a whole morning to spare, we took a brief nap on the rocks, lulled by the rush of water through the pass.

    The crossing to Cabbage was short, sunny, and serene. I was disappointed to see few seabirds—of the Big Four, only pigeon guillemots, and not many of those—but heartened to see something on the order of 100 harbor seals hauled out on various outcroppings. From half a mile away, their fish-market reek was overpowering!

    03 Nathan entering Boat Passage.JPG
    03 Nathan entering Boat Passage. There was a fair amount of traffic through the pass, and not every powerboater was comfortable with our presence in the narrow strait.

    04 Alex enters Boat Passage.JPG
    04 Alex enters Boat Passage. The southern Gulf Islands can feel almost tropical on a beautiful, early fall day.

    05 Alex and Nathan headed east along Saturna Island.JPG
    05 Alex and Nathan headed east along Saturna Island. The Strait of Georgia was kind, showing us her calm, beautiful side.

    06 Osprey over Saturna Island.JPG
    06 Osprey over Saturna Island. No human fisherman can compete with this master of the seas and skies.

    Cabbage Island was so crowded we couldn’t find an official campsite. But out on the west point was a lovely little clearing that we decided, with only a little dash of wishfulness, could qualify as “official,” just for one night. Far from the other campers, we sat out on the rocks and sand and read our books until a fantastic, smoky sunset. That night and every night, we lay out under the stars, watching satellites and meteors until we drifted off to sleep.

    07 Nathan on Cabbage Island.JPG
    07 Nathan on Cabbage Island. Wildfires created a red, smoky haze as the sun descended.

    08 Sunset from Cabbage Island.jpg
    08 Sunset from Cabbage Island. On days like this, you feel as if you've been transported to another planet, far away from ordinary experiences.

    Cabbage Island is so dry, the raccoons have learned a new trick: unscrewing the caps of water jugs. I’ve had jugs chewed through on Turn Island in the San Juans, but this unscrewing business was worse. For some reason (probably malice), these raccoons did not content themselves merely with opening the jugs; they actively defiled them by scooping sand inside! We woke up to a near-total depletion of our water supply.

    We’d been planning a day hike on Tumbo Island anyway, so we incorporated a visit to East Point to replenish our water with the last two unsullied jugs. It took longer than we thought to find a building with actual running water, but two kindly vacationers helped us to their jugged water. We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking on Tumbo, amazed by the enormous size of the Garry oaks, a rare and delicate species in our region, though common elsewhere. We got back to Cabbage just in time to read a few pages and fall asleep in our new campsite, one of the “official” ones on the lovely main beach.

    09 Rounding Tumbo Island.JPG
    09 Rounding Tumbo Island. Patos Island on the left, Orcas Island dead ahead. How lovely to see my old, familiar San Juan Islands from this angle.

    10 Returning to Cabbage Island.JPG
    10 Returning to Cabbage Island. As people cleared out over the weekend, it became possible to think of this little island as a castaway home.

    11 Second sunset Cabbage Island.jpg
    11 Saturday night on Cabbage Island. I love our land of mountains and clouds.

    12 Exiting Reef Harbour.JPG
    12 Exiting Reef Harbour. Outside the harbor, whitecaps and currents heralded a long, slow paddle back.

    On our last morning, the wind picked up to around 15 knots, spreading whitecaps across the Strait of Georgia. We briefly struggled against the wind and an adverse current, hoping to return to Boat Passage in time for the turn to ebb, but our progress was negligible. For safety and comfort reasons, we aborted the attempt and made for East Point. Inside protected Tumbo Channel, away from the stiff westerly breeze, we encountered smooth, glassy water and a moderate current that pushed us to the lighthouse in mere minutes. While Nathan unloaded our gear, I hitchhiked back to the car. Thanks to our short, easy itinerary, we even managed to catch a convenient afternoon ferry back to Tsawwassen.

    Cabbage Island’s own beauty and its spectacular settings fully lived up to my expectations. The profusion of Garry oak and Rocky Mountain juniper were lovely surprises. I could have wished for fewer people and better seabirds, but the crowds of harbor seals were a fine consolation. Perhaps I’ll visit again later in the season one of these years.

    Though I don’t like to close on a sour note, I must warn folks that I got a ticket for overnight parking at Winter Cove, even though I’d called Parks Canada in advance and had been told parking there “should be fine.” The ticket was only $29 CAD, but I’m still going to make a stink.

    Astoriadave and stagger like this.
  2. LAM

    LAM Paddler

    Dec 28, 2012
    Awesome trip report, as always Alex. Thanks for sharing. We have not been to Cabbage Island since 2007 and I fondly remember our time there. It was our last camp site of a 7 day Southern Gulf Island paddle. We also had a raccoon incident there! The ferry system and hordes of people keep us away now days but after your report I might talk Doug into an October Cabbage run!

  3. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

    Jan 19, 2015
    Landlocked in Tennessee
    Sounds like a great trip! :)
  4. jefffski

    jefffski Paddler

    Jan 2, 2014
    Nice write up.