top of page

Cruising the Broughtons

Practical Guide to Cruising the Broughtons Updated to March, 2021 - By: Gary and Catherine Russell

Notice - as of March, 2021 - Kwatsi Bay Marina Closed

First – just for the record, we learned from a local historian who lives a Sullivan Bay that the correct pronunciation of Broughtons is 'Brottons'. Remember, it is an English word and they often are pronounced different than they look.

There are many well written cruising guides to The Broughtons, as well as other parts of the B C coast, but while they give good directions re docks, or anchorages, they do not tell you what the costs are or have tips on where to buy fuel, or take on water, catch prawns, etc., We have cruised to and through this beautiful area and had a great time. Now we make notes of things as we go along so that we can remember for the next time. Here are some of the notes we made grouped under various headings. They are in no particular order, but we hope they may be of some help to boaters who have never been there before, and to those who have.

Getting There 
There are basically three ways to get there, all involving Johnstone Strait.  One route takes you through Desolation Sound north to Forward Harbour, which is as far as you can go before entering Johnstone Strait. It takes about an hour to go from there to the Strait, but it results in the shortest time in the Strait. The next is directly up Discovery Channel from Campbell River, then into the Strait. At this point you have two choices; one is to leave the Strait at Havannah Channel and then to Lagoon Cove Marina as a first stop. You can also anchor in Port Harvey. The other is to continue to The Broughtons directly or go to Port McNeil first.

Johnstone Strait Weather
Much has been said about weather conditions here, and those conditions have stopped many boaters from enjoying one of the finest cruising grounds anywhere. Virtually every day there is a Wind Warning in Effect, with winds forecasted to reach the 30 mph range. Essentially, that is the case, BUT on most days the winds do not come up until around 2:00 pm or so and don’t reach the higher levels until around 4:00ish. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee, there are exceptions, but it is fairly typical in the summer months. We normally travel the Strait at between 7:30am and noon and it is totally flat to the point where we call it Johnstone Lake. So, early morning is the key here.

Travelling the Strait
It is recommended that you travel on the Mainland side of the Strait at least until you are past Kelsey Bay because there can be very bad currents there which can cause very large standing waves under certain conditions. The other reason is that on the Mainland side you have a few “escape routes”, or at least small coves, if things turn ugly, whereas on the Vancouver Island side there is no such luxury.

Telegraph Cove
Normally we can’t get in there as they cater to smaller 30’ and under boats, but we have been there by car. They do have a couple of docks for larger boats but they are hard to get to. Their main business is the fishing crowd who trailer boats in, stay there and fish for a few days. If you are ever in the area we highly recommend a visit as it is a very interesting place, well done up with a whale museum, and cottages you can rent, if you are so inclined. But, the main thing is the hamburger stand. They produce the best hamburger you can get anywhere.

Fuel availability and cost are always factors. Campbell River is often less than Steveston. But as you go further north the cost increases. Sullivan Bay Marina and Pierre's are the only fuel suppliers in the Broughtons.

If you have a watermaker, no problem, but if you don’t, the following might be of interest. While all of the water at the marinas in drinkable, some is very highly coloured and is referred to as tannin water. Lagoon Cove filters their water. Lagoon, has the best clear water that you can drink out of the tap. Sullivan and Pierre's water is brown and should be avoided unless you have no choice.
We always use a water filter in line with our hose used to fill our tank. This is very important up here because of the dirt. Our filter was completely clogged in two weeks, which gives an indication of the amount of dirt that would have been in our tank. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a regular household water filter available at Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Rona, etc. Make sure you carry extra filter cartridges. The 5 micron ones do a good job. We normally use the activated charcoal one to improve the taste. We also have filters in our water system on board. These consist of a 1 micron filter and a ceramic filter that removes virtually everything from the water so we don’t have to be concerned about cysts, etc., that can be in untreated water.

Sullivan Bay is the only real supply place. They have a good store that carries a reasonable variety of perishable and non-perishable goods and frozen foods. HOWEVER, the trick here is to arrive there on the day the supply boat arrives by noon at the latest as the supply boat comes in around 11:00a m. Check ahead with the marina as to the day, which can change from time to time. There are some basic supplies at Echo Bay, but not to the level of Sullivan Bay. Also, the center of the world for this part of the coast is Port McNeil. Virtually everything is shipped in from there as Port McNeil has a very good IGA store, marine hardware, machine shops, etc. If you need anything, they will either have it or will get it shipped in for you.

Fun Events
Most of the marinas have some type of event to help attract customers. Historically, Pierre’s at Echo Bay had some type of event every night, but at this point all dining is cancelled. Check their website for information.

The following comments reflect pre-Covid 19 situations. 2021 may be different.

Lagoon Cove provides prawns every happy hour with the guests expected to bring a suitable appie to go with them. 

All the marinas had a happy hour and provide tables and chairs, usually under a covered area, to protect you from the sun or rain. Sullivan Bay had an excellent restaurant, but it is not open every day. Check with them to see when it will be open. We have seen many a halibut caught off the docks. However, if you intend to eat there you will have to make reservations usually several days in advance as it is very popular. When we are in the general area, we normally plan to check in on a Wednesday so we are there for Thursday morning when the supply boat comes in. But, we will plan that a week ahead and call them on 66A and make a reservation for moorage and dinner at the same time.

The Internet is hit and miss in this area. Echo Bay, and Sullivan Bay offer it, but the service is very slow and on and off.

There is no cell phone service at all once you are in the Broughtons. Service is available across Queen Charlotte Strait but once you are in the islands it is gone. Sullivan Bay has a satellite phone that customers can use.

Crabbing, Fishing and Prawning
There is not a lot of crabbing in this area, but what there is, is at 250 feet or more. We don’t usually think of crabbing that deep, but up here that is where you find them. Prawning is generally good but, you need to know where to go and the locals are usually a good source of information. The best spot we found was the Magin Islets across the passage from Shawl Bay. There were several traps just north of the Islets so we dropped ours in about 280 feet. Also, it can be good at the 300 ft. depth just outside Shoal Bay. You can easily get to that from either Pierre’s at Echo Bay or Shoal Bay, if you are anchored there.

We learned something about bait, which might be of interest. To get the most out of a prawn trap you need to leave it down for about 12 hours or more, but the first time we did that all the bait was gone, which limited the amount of prawns we could attract. We learned that it isn’t always the prawns that are eating the bait, it is the sea lice. So, the bait needs to be in a container that prevents the lice from getting at it, or in something else, like the bags that onions come in, which are porous. Scotty makes a suitable container, which has hundreds of small slits in it to let the aroma out but keep, the lice out as well.

Prawn Traps - many of us use the folding type of prawn trap. There are also other types, ones of which is a square box type, which is made of steel and black plastic coated. These are available at:

Pacific Net and Twine in Steveston
and Alberni Hwy. in Parksville
Wise Buys in Colwood
Home Hardware in Sidney
Harbour Chandler in Nanaimo
The brand you want is Bauer, which are made in Sidney. Watch out for the Chinese knockoffs - they look the same, but they rust very quickly.

An experiment was done last summer to see if there was any difference and there sure was! Several times the folding trap and the square non-folding trap were put down side by side with identical bait. Every time without fail the square metal trap produced at least 10 times the number of prawns. The most extreme difference was 4 prawns in the folding trap and over 50 prawns in the square metal one.

Most docking fees are less than you would pay in the Gulf Islands with $1.00/foot being the average. Some are $.85 and a few are $1.35, but the real difference is the power. Because there is no hydro power, all marinas have diesel generators so the usual charge is $15.00 - $20.00 per night. By the same token any goods you might buy are always more expensive because of transportation costs and the cost of running refrigerators, deep freezes, etc. Basically, it all comes down to the cost of diesel fuel.

The typical summer weather pattern is cool in the morning and overnight and, reasonably warm, if not hot, in the afternoons. As you get into August, there is usually morning fog that burns off around 11:00 or so leaving a bright sunny day. So, it is a case of layering. It is much cooler near Johnstone Strait because of the wind coming off the North Pacific than it is further inland.

All Comments Below are Pre-Covid 19

Campbell River
We always stop at Campbell River to fill our fuel tanks and get any last minute items that we may need for the trip further north.

We stay at the Discovery Harbour Marina because the fuel dock is right there as is Discovery Shopping Centre. The Centre has a Real Canadian Superstore, Canadian Tire, Staples, Ocean Pacific Marine Supply, and about 45 other businesses and services. Ocean Pacific also operates a boatyard and has staff that can do almost any type of repair. The Great Canadian Super Store also contains a pharmacy, eyeglass center, and medical clinic amongst other services. The liquor store is located across the parking lot near Marks Work Warehouse. Walk over there past Marks you will see a large grey building. That’s it. The entrance is on the far side of the building. Thrifty Foods also has a store in Campbell River but it is not close to the waterfront. But you can order from their website and they deliver right to your boat.

Port McNeil Area
If you go to Port McNeil, one of the interesting things to do is visit Sointula and Alert Bay. This is easy to do as you simply get on the B C Ferry around 9:00am, which goes to Sointula. Sointula is on Malcolm Island and was founded in the late 1800s by a Finnish group who were looking for a perfect place to live in total freedom. (Sort of early Hippies, in a way.) They flourished here in almost total isolation for many years. Finnish is still spoken here by the “old people”, some do not speak English to this day. They have a very interesting museum and the town itself is well worth a visit. The pub near the ferry dock may or may not be open. However, there is a bakery nearby where you can get a variety of baked goods, coffee, etc.

Next, take the ferry back to Port McNeil but stay on board. It will leave in a few minutes for Alert Bay located on Cormorant Island. This is a First Nations area and they have a spectacular Native Heritage museum, well worth seeing. In addition, Alert Bay boasts the world’s tallest totem pole at 173 feet and there are many other totem poles to see. NOTE the museum closes at 5:00 so we suggest heading for that first as soon as you get off the ferry. You need to allow an hour to see it. The ferry runs are each about 30 – 45 minutes and the Senior’s rate is $5.80 during the week. That covers both trips. So, for a couple (of seniors) it is a $12.00 day plus whatever you eat. The main point here is to use the ferry – don’t go in your own boat because the marinas are not in the towns. The ferry docks are right in the middle of the villages on both islands.

But, as a separate trip, take your boat to Sointula. They have a very good small boat harbour, with a very good fish and chips shop near the dock. Also, the hardware store is nearby. The Port McNeill Harbour Authority who operates the city marina offers a weekly rate. You pay for 5 days and get 7.

The North Island Marina is also very good and offers services such as filling your propane tanks, fuel right at your boat so you don’t have to go to the gas station, a courtesy car and help in sourcing parts if you need them.

Port Hardy
Visited there by car. Not too impressed but they do have a decent small boat harbour for pleasure craft. Town is very spread out and would be awkward to visit on foot.

Mackenzie Sound
All areas are beautiful, but Mackenzie Sound is one of the best and least visited. Part way down the sound, is Nimmo Bay and Little Nimmo Bay. There is a fishing lodge on Little Nimmo Bay, which is where one of the Canadian Tenors grew up. His parents still own the lodge and his brother now runs it. If you are a Canadian Tenors fan, you may want to put this on your list to visit. You can’t normally stay there overnight, but you can stop for a visit and a guided tour. It is quite an upscale lodge with accommodation at $500.00 per night for a cabin – but that includes breakfast. Dinner is $150 per person and is a 7-course gourmet meal. All fishing is done by helicopter in the various lakes in the area, so while it is on salt water, it is only a fresh water fishing lodge. Their website is: and you can look at that for free! Whether you like the Tenors or not, the lodge is well worth a visit as you can see one of the most beautiful waterfalls you will ever see. You cannot see it from the water; you have to walk to it on a forest trail. It is natural, but it looks like one of those fantasy waterfalls you see in movies. They normally allow visitors unless they are fully booked or have a private party, in which case they will tell you when you can come back for a visit.

Arrow Passage
There are a number of ways to get into the Broughtons area. Retreat Passage, Arrow Passage , Wells Passage and Fife Sound, but Arrow Passage is our favourite. It is short but absolutely beautiful. Sort of a mini inland waterway. 

There is plenty of that. You can see Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, Porpoises, Pacific Whiteside Dolphins, at least 3 different types of seals, bears, assorted birds, and perhaps a Right Whale. The most amazing thing was the pods of Dolphins. They are all over the place and often run along side of the boat, turning on their sides to look up at you. But the most amazing thing was what is referred to as a Super Pod. We came across one of these and there were well over 100 Dolphins in it all jumping and having a great time. The surface of the water was boiling with their actions. Other boaters saw them as well and some estimated that there were over 150, which could have been the case.

We hope this gives you some idea of what you might see and do in this wonderful part of the coast. We know many of you have been there, some many times, but to those who haven’t, if you can figure any way to do this, you won’t be disappointed. Just make sure you have an extra deep freezer with you for all the seafood!
bottom of page