It took several years of kayaking before I built up the nerve to kayak the west coast of Vancouver Island. Then in 2003 I was able to take an entire summer to kayak the coast and all five major sounds. It remains a highlight of my kayaking experiences, and affirms my belief (cultivated through many subsequent kayaking trips) that all areas of the coast can be safely navigated if attention is paid to a few simple safety rules.
The first and most basic rule, naturally, is to stay off the water when conditions are questionable. Determining what's safe and what's a risk can be made by following weather forecasts and a good basic knowledge of the prevailing weather conditions. Some of these conditions are touched on lightly below; considerably more detailed attention is paid to them in the various volumes of The Wild Coast series of coastal guide books. They are a recommended companion to this series of coastal atlases, not only for the safety information, but for the additional information on camping, history, geography, ecology and services in each region. More information on The Wild Coast series can be found at www.whitecap.ca or the companion website, www.thewildcoast.ca. Keep an eye on the latter for updates that will help keep these atlases current for years to come. This atlas generally mirrors the geographic area covered in Volume 1 of The Wild Coast. Cross-references have been added throughout the atlas; the prompt "WC 1-273" will direct you to the first volume of The Wild Coast series, and to page 273 for more information on this region.
When a mariner or kayaker builds up the confidence to travel the outer coast of Vancouver Island, it is an experience like no other. Each of the five major sounds has its own character, from the intricate passages of the Broken Group to the sand beaches of Kyuquot. But the greatest reward, in my mind, comes from travelling the outer coast. There is a raw wildness to places like Cape Scott and Brooks Peninsula that make them completely unique. 'While other coastal locations like the Gulf Islands have their charm, there is simply no comparison to the feeling of reaching a remote destination on the outer coast. There is also nothing quite like camping on a sprawling, perfect sand beach with no one else in sight. Add a parade of wildlife, including everything from humpback whales to tufted puffins, and you have the potential for a worldclass wilderness experience.
These best locations are, not surprisingly, the most difficult areas to reach, but the reward matches the effort. Many of these places can be reached only by kayak due to a barrier of offshore rocks and a lack of coastal access points by road, keeping exceptional kayaking locations such as Checleset Bay, the Mission Group and Cape Sutil rarely visited. They are all among my favourite destinations.
For those who aren't ready for the challenge of open water, the outer coast presents sheltered options in each of the five major sounds, all of which can be reached, in varying degrees of difficuky, by vehicle. The most accessible is Clayoquot with paved road access to Tofino. Barkley Sound and the Broken Group also have good access off Highway 4, either by Ucluelet or by a short stretch of logging road to Toquart Bay.
Farther afield is Nootka Sound, where road access leads through Gold River to reach Tahsis or Cougar Creek. A more difficult route is to Zeballos from Highway 19. Kyuquot is among the more remote of the sounds, with road access to Fair Harbour via a circuitous route of logging roads from Highway 19 that first passes through Zeballos. A more direct route by logging road is to a launch at Artlish River on Tahsish Inlet. Quatsino can be reached by road through Coal Harbour, Port Alice, or Winter Harbour. The latter provides good access to the outer north coast, though the road is famous for the toll it takes on tires.
The north limits of the island can best be reached only by a launch through the San Josef River into San Josef Bay, or from a launch at Port Hardy. The Cape Scott Trail provides foot access to the north coast, and the completion of the North Coast Trail will increase the hiking range to Shushartie Bay near Port Hardy. Keep track of updates at wwwthewildcoast.ca.