Islands in the Straits
The Butchart Gardens got its start at the turn of the last century when Robert Pim Butchart opened a quarry and cement factory at Tod Inlet. A few sweet peas and a single rose were given to his wife, Jeannie, who planted them outside their home. Gardens soon surrounded the house, and eventually tons of topsoil were brought in to transform the gaping quarry into what is today the Sunken Garden. Walking past giant hanging plants and a rambling rose garden, then through the dark shadows of a tree-lined path, you turn the corner and come to the edge of this spectacular canyon filled with ponds, trees, ivy-covered cliffs, and flowers of every description. Colors and smells were equally overwhelming as we followed the path down to the garden floor and, from there, through a maze of formal and informal gardens modeled after those found seemingly in every country in Europe and half of Asia.
While we chose to travel overland so we could check out the marina in Sidney and visit the local restaurants, it's possible to sail to Tod Inlet. There's a dock near the rear entrance to the gardens, and moorings and a protected anchorage close by. On Saturday nights in the summer, you can enjoy the fireworks over the water, but get there early; the cove reportedly fills up fast.
Once out of the protected marina the next morning, we found a stiff north breeze. We could've turned south and run with it back to the San Juans. Instead, we rolled in a third of the main and jib and headed northwest, back to the Gulf Islands in search of crabs and scenery. Once in Swanson Channel, one long port tack carried us between North Pender and Prevost islands. We saw seals and ferries but no other boats as we then beat our way along the coast of Galiano Island and into the channel that runs behind Parker Island, forming Montague Harbour.
A marine park, a beach, and hiking trails lie at the north end of this large but protected harbor. There we waded through a shallow salt pond and across the spit of land until we could see up into Trincomali Channel, where whitecaps shimmered in the late-afternoon sun. We walked back along paths that wound through pines and past campsites that, at midweek, were empty.
We'd chosen to anchor just outside the park-maintained and filled-to-capacity mooring field and abeam of a handsome ketch that we guessed to be in the 50-foot range. All afternoon, a pair of older gents could be seen in the cockpit. Eventually, Peter and I took the dinghy over to inquire about the boat. The owner and builder, Roy Davenport, of nearby Saltspring Island, was aboard. He and his relatively boyish pal, 70-something Phil Potts, both retired Vancouver homicide detectives, were off for a getaway while their wives visited back home.
"They're bitchin', so we're bachin'," quipped 80-something Roy as he and Phil abused each other and visitors, in no particular order.
"If you turned your face upside down, your hair would be where it belongs," Roy told my bearded but balding friend Peter.
Back on Illuminé, we watched vultures doing acrobatics along the cliffs, where cottages perched precariously among the rocks. As the sun set, Peter whipped up a dinner of grilled sirloin with red-wine sauce, roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables, and fresh cream-of-broccoli soup. By now the wind had blown itself out. The anchorage was calm, and the stars overhead crowded the night sky. We heard later that northern lights had painted the horizon that evening, but we saw none of it. We all turned in early for some well-earned sleep.