Gone Floatabout

Lucky to live on a boat!

2013: British Columbia

500-mile Shakedown Cruise in BC’s Inside Passage

Desolation Sound

We set off to test out Celeste on a big sea trial on August 4, 2013 from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club (which had been Celeste‘s home port since she was built 27 years prior), bound for Hornby Island.  Ellen wanted to revisit her old friends and Seth was interested to see Ellen’s childhood haunts.  We made a fast overnight passage, timing the tidal currents up Haro Strait and Boundary Pass well.  We motored up the Strait of Georgia in a dead calm until the wind blew up in force at 03:30 in the middle of Ellen’s watch.  Celeste performed beautifully beating against the NW wind and we reached Hornby’s Tribune Bay at 16:00, 27 hours since leaving Victoria.

Beating up Strait of Georgia

The bay was exactly how I remembered it: the sandy beach at its head, the cliffs on its eastern side, even my family’s old home on its western side.  But there were three times as many boats as when I was last there 12 years prior, and I was amazed to see a seaplane arrive twice a day!  The pilot took off and landed among the anchored boats with great skill.

Sea plane

After a whirlwind of catching up with friends, rediscovering my favorite places, and meeting some curious otters, we set sail for Savary Island and thence to Cortes in the mountainous and sparsely populated Discovery Islands.

River otters

We enjoyed practicing our traditional coastal navigation skills on these sails–Celeste had no GPS or chartplotter (something we decided might be a good idea to install for the Alaskan fogs we would eventually meet!).

Paper chart

The entrance to Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island is literally a gorge, made that much more dramatic by the spacious, nearly landlocked harbor within.  After some time hiking, browsing the farmer’s market, catching up on chores like laundry, and getting to know the sailors anchored near us, we set off for a little-frequented bay further up the island.

Gorge Harbour

This was our first experience with stern-tying: many anchorages in the Desolation Sound area are so deep that you have to anchor very close to shore.  To ensure you don’t swing into the rocks and damage your boat, you run a line from your stern to a stout tree. Celeste‘s previous owner had a stern line on a spool already rigged up! One the many great things he’d done for the boat over the years!


Low, dark clouds lent a wild, mysterious mood to our sail north the next day into the heart of this area’s steep, uninhabited peaks.  After a fast, downwind run to the top of Cortes, we turned the corner into Lewis Channel separating Cortes and the even steeper Redonda Islands.  We beat the whole way to Teakerne Arm, a fjord in the middle of West Redonda, and we inspired 3 boats to follow suit! (The tendency in BC seemed to be to motor whenever the wind was contrary.)

Lewis Channel

The skies cleared while we were anchored at the head of Teakerne Arm, so we were able to explore the waterfall and the lake from which it flows.

Cassel Falls

Seth even set up our stern line to be a zipline! (I was excited to win Best Photo 2014 from Sailing Today magazine for this shot of the zipline!) Then it was off to the true Desolation Sound.


Sailors use the term Desolation Sound to include the Discovery Islands, the fjords surrounding them, and even Johnstone Strait, but on the chart Desolation Sound only refers to a specific body of water bordered by the mainland and the Redonda Islands.  It’s there that some of the most dramatic mountains rise 5-6,000 feet right out of the sea.  Anchored with a view of the iconic Mt Denman, we enjoyed snorkeling among the anemones, giant starfish, and abundance of little fish; hiking through old growth rainforest; catching glimpses of wildlife; and swimming in huge, deserted lakes.

Swimming in Lake Unwin

To read more about the Desolation Sound cruise, Sailing Today magazine has kindly provided me with this PDF of a feature I wrote for the October 2014 issue.

The calendar and the weather forecast brought us back to reality a few days later and we set off south again.  We made an overnight passage from Desolation Sound to Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands, and thence back to Victoria.

After saying goodbye to the previous owner, we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Washington, imported Celeste to the United States, and hauled her out of the water in preparation for her repairs.

It was a perfect first voyage for us to get to know Celeste and see a region that’s on every sailor’s bucket list!  We found that Celeste had been very well cared-for by her previous owner, although given her age there was a lot we needed to do before embarking on a longer, harsher voyage to the Arctic.  Much of her equipment was original, so needed upgrading. Some of it was non-existent (like GPS); some of it didn’t’ work (like the VHF radio); some of it sort-of worked but needed so much repair it’d better be replaced (like the engine).  There were also routine maintenance jobs that come due when a boat’s that old (such as a new hull barrier coat), so we wanted to complete those to avoid problems and extend the boat’s life.  But overall she’s a great boat, well cared for, fast sailing, and beautiful!


All text and photographs © Ellen Massey Leonard and Seton Leonard, 2015, All Rights Reserved.