Sailing On BC’s Beautiful Coast – Howe Sound & Gulf Islands

The coastline on Canada’s western shore is unmatched in beauty. With tree covered islands dotting the water and snowy mountains on the mainland, there are endless opportunities for gorgeous views on British Columbia’s coast. One of the best ways to see these amazing vistas is from a sailboat.

We have been on four multi-day sailing trips in this area travelling through Howe Sound, north of Vancouver, and around the Gulf Islands east of Vancouver Island. Here are some of the views you can see on your sailing trip.

English Bay

Getting in and out of Vancouver by boat means cruising through picturesque English Bay. Our boats have always been docked in False Creek, a narrow, busy channel leading from downtown to the bay. Enjoy the views on your way to English Bay as you pass modern apartment buildings, several marinas, Granville Island Market and under two bridges .

From English Bay there are gorgeous views of the city in front of its mountain backdrop. Large ships are usually moored in the deeper waters of English Bay while waiting to enter Vancouver Harbour. Our boat always feels small as we sailed between them.

Howe Sound

This long, narrow bay is close enough for a day trip from Vancouver, but quiet enough to feel world’s away. Filled with small and large islands, this 42 km long sound is the perfect body of water for a sailing trip. Not only do you travel between pretty islands but you also have picture-perfect views of the Garibaldi Range on the mainland.

On the west edge of Howe Sound is the town of Gibsons. It’s actually on the mainland, but is easier to access by boat so it feels like you’re approaching an island. Many Canadians will recognize the town as the location of the popular 1970s Canadian TV show, The Beachcombers. As we sailed into Gibsons Warf Maggie was imagining Nick, Relic and other characters acting out scenes from the show.

In addition to being the setting for the TV show, Gibsons Wharf is incredibly picturesque with tall mountains providing the backdrop to a harbour full of docked sailboats. When we were there a few swans were floating on the water adding even more beauty to the scene.

Bowen Island is a large island in Howe Sound. Sailing into the island’s popular Snug Cove you are treated to more remarkable landscapes. The views make it easy to see why this area is so popular.

The city of Squamish sits at the northern tip of Howe Sound. It’s a popular city for adventure lovers due to the variety of mountain sports available. Towering over 700 m (2,297 ft) above the harbour is a granite monolith called The Chief. This tall cliff is very popular for climbing and makes a unique background for the harbour.

Kitesurfing and kiteboarding are also very popular in Squamish. The geography of Howe Sound creates perfect conditions for anabatic winds in the summer. These constant and predictable winds flow up the narrowing fjord creating the ideal environment for sailing, windsurfing and kiteboarding.

Gulf Islands

Crossing the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver will take you to the idyllic Gulf Islands. Lining the shore on the east side of Vancouver Island, these islands host a variety of forests, marine parks and small towns. It’s easy to spend a few days cruising between these beautiful islands, soaking in the peaceful scenery.

There are many places in the Gulf Islands to spend your nights. The small Princess Cove on Wallace Island is a quiet place to anchor over night. When we were there we were treated to a gorgeous sunset from the sailboat.

Another option to anchor is the quiet Pirate’s Cove on the shore of De Coucey Island.

Many of the islands have small harbours where you can dock for a few hours and explore the island by foot. We stopped at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park on Galiano Island to go for a walk. There are small pebble beaches along the quiet cove and a few walking trails in the park. It’s also a popular place to bird watch.

When it was time to leave the Gulf Islands we planned to sail through Gabriola Passage. The large amount of islands in the area affect the flow of sea water causing the currents to be very fast during tides. In Gabriola Passage the current could be as fast as 6 knots at the peak. We were travelling against the current and even using a motor our sailboat could only travel at a maximum speed of 4 knots. This meant that our boat wouldn’t have enough speed to overcome the oncoming current and we’d never make it. We also couldn’t enter via this passage because going with a current that strong would make it impossible to steer and control the boat. To be able to get through we had to cross the passage at slack tide when the current would be only 1-2 knots in the opposite direction. It made for a slow, but safe journey through Gabriola Passage.

As we returned to False Creek, we were welcomed back by the two familiar bridges.

Coming Next: Exploring Vancouver’s Coastline On Foot

For pictures from other blogs go to Gallery at

To read other trips in Canada click here. To read more of our adventures from around the world go to Destinations.

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