Saturday, February 24, 2007

Paddle Saanich Inlet

Saanich Inlet:
Coles Bay, Brentwood Bay, Bamberton, Tod Inlet, and Squally Reach
Use Chart 3462 Juan De Fuca St. To St. Of Georgia or
Chart 3313 Tsehum Harbour to Ladysmith Harbour (supersedes #3310)

Saanich Inlet stretches from Deep Cove in the north down to the entrance to Goldstream Park in the south, and dropping over 100 metres below you. The main area out of Brentwood Bay comprises some of the most beautiful and protected paddling areas, and some of the worst excesses of the local land developers.
Access is usually from the east, leading you into areas like Coles Bay and Brentwood Bay. Coles Bay has public access to the beach through a park, which is nice because there is longer term parking, but requires hauling your boat(s) a long way (better part of a kilometre?) down a narrow path. Once at the water, the tide defines whether the launch will be easy or difficult, as the high water makes launching…crowded.
The waters out of Coles Bay are beautiful and clear, with a scoured rock bottom mostly unobstructed by, well, anything. Patches of plant growth, but mostly white smooth rock. The bay itself is quite shallow and protected , with a southern exposure. On the north end at the mouth of the bay is Yarrow point and Dyer Rocks, which make for a good place to get an impression of conditions in the inlet proper.
Our paddling has been exclusively to the south of the bay, heading down the shore towards Thompson Cove and Brentwood Bay. Saanich Inlet is close to two nautical miles across at this point, and one could cross from Coles Bay on the east side of the inlet, to Mill Bay on the west side. Mill Bay marks the western embarkation point for the Brentwood Bay ferry, and doesn’t offer a lot of on-shore inducements to the paddler. Paddling down the east side of the inlet offers stunning views, with the Malahat running along the crest of the first hump of mountain out of the water.
Coles Bay has a wide opening into Saanich Inlet, and the shoreline continues around a long curve to Thomson Cove and Henderson Point. Just south and west of Henderson is Senanus Island, part of the Senanus First Nations territory.
The island is a great place to paddle around; relatively isolated even though it is so near so many people, the island is a great place for watching wildlife. Seals feed in the waters around the island and sunbathe on its rocks (remember, the rule is to stay 100 metres away from seals—particularly during the spring and early summer when they’ve just pupped). And the water is clear and relatively shallow, making it a good place for undersea life watching. A myriad of sea stars, crabs and fish can be seen amongst the eelgrass and kelp. But the island itself is First Nations territory, so landing is not on.
If you come out on Keating Cross road to West Saanich Road, and turn onto Verdier Ave, you find at the end of the avenue the Brentwood Bay Ferry, which travels between here and Mill Bay on the northwest side of Saanich Inlet. As kayakers, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for the ferry because to it we aren’t much more than speed bumps. Between the ferry terminal and Brentwood Bay Inn and Spa is a small park and sidewalk that leads down to the docks and to the public beach (what little is left of it). Remember that parking here is limited and restricted to two hours. And don’t park in the ferry worker’s spots! Brentwood Bay Inn rents kayaks to the public, if you find yourself needing a boat, or you can launch your own from the public beach. The public beach does have a tendency to disappear at high tide, so it is important to time your launch and return.
If you launch from Brentwood Bay, the trip across the inlet to Bamberton is about 4.5 kilometres or over to Senanus Island is about 2.2 kilometres. An alternative to these trips is to more or less follow the shore to the south and head past Daphne Islet and into Tod Inlet about a kilometre from the launch point.
Tod inlet is a part of the Gowlland Tod park and extends roughly a kilometre and a half. The waters here are extremely protected, and quite shallow. Used to moor boats (mostly sail), it’s also home to a lot of different wildlife. We’ve seen eagles feeding on ducks, ducks feeding on fingerlings, sea stars feeding on whatever they feed on, oysters, crabs, cormorants, herons, and plenty more wildlife of various kinds.
At the far end is a small dock and a couple of picnic tables, making this a great place to take a break and maybe a walk. A trip up Tod Inlet is beautiful, relaxing, and easy on the paddler. Definitely a must do—especially for the novice paddler.
For the more adventurous, heading out from Brentwood Bay to Bamberton is a good start. Heading slightly south to Willis Point is a good idea, as it lets you check conditions before heading across. You can shorten the distance across Squally Reach by heading from Willis Point south and then across to either Sheppard Point (1.5 km) or McCurdy Point (1 km). But be warned, Squally Reach is well named, and winds seem to channel down the mountains and into the reach, making conditions a bit treacherous on occasion.
The shoreline, particularly on the west side of the inlet, rises steeply out of the water, making it difficult to find places to beach your boat and have a look around. There is a pullout just on the north side of Bamberton and the B.C. Cement pit, but that’s about it. The rest of the way from McCurdy Point to Bamberton is mostly rocks and coves full of rocks. Great for the seals—they have several haul outs and feeding areas along this stretch—but not so great if you need to pull in. But we have met paddlers from Cowichan Bay (20 kilometres to the north) paddling down the inlet to Finlayson Arm. A major all-day paddle; we were such wankers compared to them.
Another put in can be found at the bottom of Marchant Road in Brentwood Bay. There’s a public wharf, but t isn’t suitable for kayakers. Instead you have to descend a steep flight of concrete stairs to a public beach that, again, disappears at high tide. But, on the plus side, both public beaches have nearby restaurants—a definite plus after a day of paddling.

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