Travelling by Boat

Read about Music by the Sea in:

48° North Magazine
NW Yachting
Pacific Yachting
Sea Magazine

There are two ways to get to MBTS by boat.

Trailer your boat to Port Alberni

If you have a trailerable boat you can drive to Port Alberni and launch your boat from Clutesi Marina – on highway 4 as you leave town towards Tofino. Information about Clutesi Marina is available from the Port Alberni Port Authority Web site (

From the marina it is approximately 35 miles to Bamfield and if you have never seen the Alberni Inlet and the islands in upper Barkley Sound the trip alone is well worth it. If you want to stop over on the way there is a Public float (no shore access) in the south west corner of San Mateo Bay, or you can call in at the Port Alberni Yacht Club outport in Robber’s Passage between the North end of Fleming Island and the south tip of Tsarsus Island. The club has guest mooring, showers, earth toilets, water and emergency power. Plus they have an extensive series of trails in the forest that are well worth a visit.

Sail or motor around Vancouver Island

sailboat_4118If you are experienced enough to sail around the North end of the Island you don’t need any help from this page! But less experienced boaters can manage the trip from Victoria along the South West coast of the island if they plan properly, allow some extra time to wait for the weather and overcome a natural reluctance to tackle Juan De Fuca Strait and the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.
First of all, that Graveyard reference is about ships being wrecked along this coast in bad weather and before the days of electronic aids or the Coast Guard. You will be going in July and hopefully in fine weather—it is a magnificent sail.

Some pointers:

There are a number of cruising guides that cover this trip. Any one will be very useful.

  • You will need charts: 3606 Juan de Fuca Strait, and 3671 Barkley Sound. There is a small length of the coast around Pachena point that does not appear on either of these charts, but you should be well offshore there and the large chart (3602) that shows this coast is probably to small scale to be useful. There are also detailed charts for the Broken Group Islands (3670) and the Alberni Inlet (3668). If you plan to spend some time in Barkley Sound the chart 3646 has detailed plans of inlets and harbours, including Bamfield.
  • At 6 knots it takes about 15 hours from Victoria to Bamfield, or 10 hours from Sooke to Bamfield. If you can go more than 6 knots it becomes much less tiring and you are less affected by weather changes on the way.
  • Entrance and exit to Sooke requires planning and an understanding of how to read the two ranges on the way into the harbour entrance. Don’t attempt it at rapid flood or ebb unless you know the waters. Note that the inmost (third) range marked on older charts has been replaced by a series of Port and Starboard-hand can and conical buoys. Moorage is available at the public dock among the fishing boats. The wharfingers are very helpful and friendly. On the way out follow those ranges again, even if you think that they are directing you into the lighthouse! They work, and the deep water IS alongside the spit by the lighthouse.
  • It is possible to stop and anchor at Port Renfrew (about halfway), but the anchorage is poorly sheltered and uncomfortable in a strong westerly swell (most of the time). There are two small nooks in the N and S sides of Port San Juan Inlet that can provide shelter and anchorage and avoid the trip all the way down to the end of the inlet: pick either one depending on the prevailing wind. At 6 knots the trip in and out of Port Renfrew adds 2-3 hours to the overall trip. When you get there you will need to dinghy to the dock as the floats only accommodate very small craft. The Pub is worth the trip.
  • Pay attention to the tides and the current station for Juan De Fuca West entrance. You can get quite a boost (or a drag!) from the current along the strait beyond Sooke.
  • Unless the weather is very calm, stay at least three miles offshore around Carmanagh and Bonilla Points and most of the way up the west coast. The swell can be very bumpy off the points where it meets the shallow coastal shelf. The same is true around Cape Beale, but by then you will be heading inshore for Bamfield. Just give Cape Beale a wide berth, even in calm weather.
  • If the sea is VERY calm (and it can be) there are two sights well worth seeing close inshore. First the rock arches at Magdelena Point, and later on the waterfall N of Nitnat Lake where the Tsusiat River crashes down onto the beach.
    Before you leave Victoria or Sooke pay attention to the marine weather forecast and remember that you will be out there for at least half a day, so the conditions later in the day at your intended destination matter. Listen to the forecasts for all the Juan de Fuca Strait locations and for Vancouver Island South.
  • Pay attention to VHF messages about the Naval test area WH (Whiskey Hotel) between Sheringham Point and Sombrio Point. It is often possible to pass through when the area is active if you contact the coast guard and stay close to the Canadian shore.
  • As you round Cape Beale you are still about an hour from Bamfield (at 6kn). It is about 45 minutes from the Port-Hand whistle buoy at the entrance to Trevor Channel. As you pass that buoy the stressful part of the trip is over and you can look forward to anchorage in Bamfield very soon, and some relaxation and a concert!

Practical issues for boaters spending a few days at Music by the Sea.

Even in July, if travelling north allow extra days in case you need to wait for the weather.
Local people are friendly and helpful and get into the spirit. The community holds a dinner where you can meet the musicians.

Diesel fuel is now available again in Bamfield. The old Kingfisher fuel dock remains closed but Harbourside Lodge (1-250-728-3330 – is now supplying diesel. McKay Bay lodge still supplies gas. The folks at Harbourside are trying to supplement services on the West side. They offer mooring, power and (for a fee) water. The West Side “Public” dock still has “plans” to provide water and power, but as of September 2010 there was no indication of progress. Contact Rick McLeod, 1-250-728-3450. Our experience in 2009 was that the west side dock is being run as a commercial concern and the majority of the spaces are reserved for local boats and those with reservations. It was difficult to get transient moorage in July and August without a reservation. The East Side dock is still operated as a public dock and usually has space.
Marine gas is available at the McKay Bay lodge. There is no longer marine diesel at Bamfield. Diesel is available at Ucluelet. Green Cove store at Kildonan in Uchucklesit Inlet is planning to install diesel service this summer but no definite date is available.

There is a general store on both sides of the inlet. Either are only minutes away by dinghy or water taxi. There is a marine store and mechanic shop (Breaker’s Marine) on the East side.

Public showers at the local park office and private laundry facilities at a hotel are available from the East dock.

The inlet is not technically a “no discharge zone” but one should be prudent. No pump-out is available, so plan a morning’s pre-concert sailing to dump the tank as far out as possible. It is a nice trip across Trevor Channel and through Satellite passage and back in time for lunch.
There is a gravel road to Port Alberni, so you can get out in an emergency, and the MV Frances Barkley makes the trip between Port Alberni and Bamfield Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to pick up and deliver freight, passengers and mail. A Post Office is located on the West side.

There is an emergency Nursing station on the East side.