Pender, Saturna, and Tumbo Islands
I woke up this morning to the squawk of a heron and water as placid as a pond. As I sipped my morning coffee, a pontoon plane landed and dropped off three people at the end of the dock. This seems to be the most popular form of transportation here. The ferry only arrives twice a day. This little taste of the Gulf Islands has only whetted my appetite for more. Having been boating around the San Juan Islands for four years now, I’m running out of new, undiscovered locations, the ensuing shenanigans, and rush of adrenaline that follows when discovering them.
Case in point: After checking in with Customs at Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island, Andy and I decided to push north to Plumper Sound. This required me to go under the Pender Island bridge which separates North Pender Island from South Pender Island. We checked all our charts and navigation books, carefully studied our tide books, and still couldn’t figure out if I’d fit. After our deliberated guestimation process, the only thing we knew for sure was that it would be close. Very, very close. We decided to give it a shot. The alternative would be to go around South Pender Island, about twice the distance.Andy went under the bridge first and idled into position to simultaneously block traffic in this tight waterway and to be close at hand to lend assistance. I approached the bridge slowly, shifting from idle to neutral 50 yards from the bridge. As I ever-so-slowly crept up on the bridge, it looked as though I would make it with only an inch or two to spare. To be safe, I put the engine into reverse-idle, in order to be at a near standstill going through the bridge. At the very instant I expected to pass under, a loud *clink* sounded and the boat gently rocked backwards. The stainless steel ring at the very top of the mast just barely kissed the bottom of the bridge!
Thankfully, already in reverse, I floored the engine, backing up as quickly as possible. I was also incredibly fortunate to not have anyone behind me, as I backed the 150 yards out of the channel. After a quick meeting, Andy continued under the bridge as I motored and sailed around the south tip of Pender Island.
About Pender, Saturna, and Tumbo IslandsThis trip explored Pender, Saturna, and Tumbo Islands. The Customs dock in Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island has good anchorage, mooring buoys, powered dock slips, and a restaurant. I’m not sure if there was a grocery store or not.
Pender Island is now two islands (North & South), separated by a bridge. The bridge is a little less than 30 feet above mean low tide. I was not able to make it under with my 27 foot long boat at a 1.5 foot low tide. Here is my sailboat specification if you want to dig into deeper data than that.
North of Pender Island, between it and Saturna Island, is Plumper Sound. This shallow body of water is full of good anchorages. The Saturna ferry terminal at the mouth of Lyall Harbor has a government dock that provides gas and unpowered moorage for about $20 per night. A 2 hour stay is free in order to get groceries at the marina store or a quick pop up to the Saturna General Store (about 1.5 miles) or lunch at the Wild Thyme Coffee House (just up the hill from the dock) which is housed in a big double-decker bus. While here, be sure to pick up a free map of Saturna!Around the corner, to the south, between Elliot Bluff and Croker Pt is a public dock and park. The short half-mile walk up the road brings you to the Saturna Winery and Bistro. They offer free wine tasting and reasonable prices.
Around the corner, to the north, is Winter Cove. It’s a great anchorage with a shoreline park. Although I haven’t tried it, crabbing should be awesome anywhere in Plumper Sound. Fishing licenses can be purchased at the store above the Saturna ferry terminal.
East Point on the eastern most end of Saturna provides a scenic view and is one of the best places to see whales. If en-route to Tumbo Island, it’s good to be aware that Tumbo Channel appears to have a reverse flood. That is, a current flows south-east on a flood tide.
There is great anchorage and mooring buoys in-between Tumbo and Cabbage Islands. This is also a designated marine check-in area for CAN Pass and Nexus Pass boaters, like I plan to be soon. There are the remnants of a large homestead on Tumbo that remain largely in tact. Both Islands are public Canadian marine parks with hiking trails and bathrooms.