Pacific Northwest live aboard sailors share their experiences spending the winter in the boatyard at Canoe Cove Marina in Southern Vancouver Island
We began our trans-Pacific voyage on board our 45ft sailboat Distant Drummer back in June 2015. A year and 10,000NM later we arrived in Sitka, Alaska after a memorable voyage through French Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands.
It was a glorious summer cruising down through SE Alaska to Juan de Fuca Sound, B.C. but by September we were looking for a place to hole up for the winter in the southern Vancouver Island area.
We wanted to haul-out to get a bit of engine and fibreglass work done, get the auto-pilot fixed and add a couple of coats of anti-foul. We planned to be on the hard for at least three months as we had a two month holiday in Europe over Christmas to look forward to as well.
We chose Canoe Cove Marina because it had the best winter rates for a three month minimum period. We would like to share our experience in Canoe Cove and suggest a few tips which have improved our winter living aboard in the boatyard.
(Photo above: The boatyard at Canoe Cove Marina in January. Distant Drummer is 7th on the right!)
Services at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard
For the most part we found Canoe Cove to be a great place to haul out for the winter. The staff in the marina and boatyard were welcoming and helpful and all the services we needed were available as well as plenty more including rigging, canvas work and a chandlery shop.
There’s a great little café called Canoe Cove Joes and the laundry is the cheapest I’ve found since Prince Rupert. The only negative aspect is the wifi availability but that is often the case in most marinas. The wifi provided by the marina is very slow and doesn’t reach the boatyard or the outer half of the longer piers. We bought an aerial booster, fixed it to the mast and now have a better connection. Luckily the café, as well as having great coffee and tasty lunches, also has good wifi.
The travel lift is quick and efficient and has your “pride and joy” propped up on the stands in no time. It was quite busy when we hauled out in early October so it’s a good idea to book it a day or two ahead.
We used Raven Marine for the auto-pilot and rudder work and Blackline for the fibreglass work. We used Gartside Marine for the work on our Perkins engine. They were prompt to get started, quick to finish and were very knowledgeable about the proclivities of our old donk!
Everyone we’ve worked with has been friendly and courteous and respectful to our boat. Many of the boat owners we have met have been bringing their boats here for years, a testament which speaks for itself!
Shultz Bay, the ferry terminal for the Vancouver ferry, is a ten minute walk from the marina. It’s convenient if you happen to want to go to Van City but also it means that there is a good bus service into Victoria and into the nearest town Sidney. You can cycle into Sidney in fifteen minutes following part of the Lochside Trail along the shore of Tseum Harbour – it’s quite scenic especially in the fall. Sidney has all the stores you’d want, plenty of eating options and a fresh fish market on the pier.
Also of note is Tanners Bookshop which has a surprisingly good nautical/boating section at the back. There are no shops in between Canoe Cove and Sidney but if you find yourself short on dinner the Stonehouse Pub just up the road does great pizzas!
Spending Winter Living on board in the Boatyard
Living aboard on the hard is always difficult, especially if the weather is wet, cold or both. As the boat is about 12ft above the ground access is via a ladder and everything – shopping, laundry, rubbish etc. – has to be hauled up or down.
Obviously it’s not possible to use the heads so a shower or a trip to the bathroom involves a climb down the ladder and a couple of minutes’ walk to the toilets beside the café. I cook on board so we still use the sink for washing up and a hose from the stop cock directs the water into a bucket which we empty into the drain every so often. During a really cold spell the water in the boatyard was cut-off for a couple of weeks so that too had to be hauled on board in jerry cans.
One of the benefits of the southern Vancouver Island area is the weather. The temperature rarely drops below freezing so most people don’t bother to winterise their boats, even if they are out on the hard. This was a new experience for us so we asked advice from lots of folks and got lots of different stories!
In the end we decided to winterise as it only takes one cold night to freeze the pipes. It basically involved either draining or putting antifreeze into all the fresh water systems. It took a bit of time and was a fiddle but I’m glad we did it as this winter was unusually cold and was freezing on and off for several weeks.
Electricity is the biggest problem in the boatyard. The number of sockets available is inadequate and the power is only 15 amps.
During cold snaps there is a big demand for power to run heaters on board as many people have not winterised their boats. We need a heater just to keep warm but the plug often gets pulled out of the socket or the power posts get overloaded and short out. The boatyard is aware of the problem and are always prompt to fix the sockets when required.
The Canoe Cove Community
You meet the most interesting people in boatyards and at marinas!
Looking around the place an ocean-going row/sail boat caught my eye. It was built by Patrick, who looks after the boatyard and travel lift, and his mate Tim for the R2AK race in the summer of 2015. It is a Swapscott Dory which they have enclosed and added tanks, a bunk, heavy steel rowlocks and a sliding rowing seat.
The boat weighs 350lb and is a good, tender little sailer making more than 5kt under sail and 3kt when rowed. The R2AK is a race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan into which any boat without an engine can enter. Of the thirty five boats that started in 2015 only fifteen finished, Patrick and Tim made it Ketchikan in just twenty two days – what an amazing achievement!
Another interesting boat was a local tug boat named Peggy McKenzie. She was built in Vancouver in 1974 and is now located in Sidney BC and used for hauling logs and barges. She weighs sixty tons and the hull is made of ¼” steel.
Along the hull from bow to stern are a series of ridges. We asked the skipper about them and he explained that they are channels used to cool the water from the engine. Another ingenious feature on the vessel was the recycled car tyres which had been cut into 1ft lengths and strung tightly together around the hull to act as fenders. Love that idea!
We have enjoyed our winter in Canoe Cove and have completed the jobs that needed to be done. In a couple of weeks we will be back in the water and moving on but I think we are going to miss the friendly folk at Canoe Cove!
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I love how you said that you meet the most interesting people by using a boatyard service or marina. It is one of my favorite things to meet and get to know new people. I never knew that going to a boatyard or marina would be such a good place to meet some good people! I’ll have to go with my husband the next time he goes boating with my sons to see if I can find a few gems.
Thanks for sharing your experience. My son has been living in his boat in Port Credit ON. for two years. I did not know there were marinas where they would allow you to live on the hard while you worked on your boat. I lived in Vancouver for 9 years but back then I was not a sailor. I would love to get back there and explore the west coast.
How very fascinating and nice to read from you! Glad all seems to be going well, let us know when you sail by Bristol and we will serve you a nice cup of tea! Maike, Ciaran and Maya
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