When Captain George Vancouver sailed through British Columbia’s Seymour Narrows back in 1792, he likely uttered a few curse words. What sea captain wouldn’t have? He called the narrows “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.”
The renowned British explorer was quite right. In fact, Seymour Narrows is so nasty that only two other straits (one in Japan, one in Sicily) compare to it. The tides run like a wildly frothing, 16-knot river, and whirlpools 30 feet wide can appear at any moment. When the tide is running, these are waters eager to roll boats or twirl them like matchsticks. It’s not a place to toy with.
The narrows is only one strait of many in this pristine wilderness area. Four times a day, billions of gallons of tidal water squeeze through a chain of hundreds of forested islands in the Discovery Islands area, located be-tween the magnificent snowcapped mountains of mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. The constantly churning, raging currents bring the nutrient-rich cold water up from the deep and oxygenate it, resulting in a superior environment for marine life. Discovery Passage teems with so much of this life that the Jacques Cousteau Society rates it as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world. And it’s perfect for salmon, which is why the nearby town of Campbell River is called the Salmon Fishing Capital of the World.
Given the fact that great fishing and often-cranky waters are hall-marks of this region, is there any doubt that Boston Whaler is the boat of choice here?
Enter Painter’s Lodge and April Point Resort & Spa. Owned by the Oak Bay Marine Group, the two fishing lodges, across the strait from each other, have a fleet of two dozen Whalers that know exactly what to do with riptides, crosscurrents and any other lumpy-grumpy waters. In fact, the lodges have been depending on Boston Whalers to bring guests safely home since the 1960s when, during peak fishing years, these legendary resorts had more than 100 of the boats between them.
The day I arrived at April Point Resort, the waters of Discovery Passage churned lightly, lapping along the shore while overhead the wind sighed gently through towering evergreens. At the seaside spa, women luxuriated in pedicures on the outdoor deck while being lulled by sea breezes. Sunlight danced on the ocean and glinted on the far-off snowy mountains.
At the docks, an inflatable boatload of soaking wet, laughing people had just returned from an ocean rapids tour through the intricate maze of islands and channels that sift the racing tides.
“It’s way wilder than a river because of the depth,” explained guide Bradden Kiley. “We saw some nine-foot waves today. Some standing waves have an eight-foot drop. And on a good day, Devil’s Hole whirlpool is 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep. It’s a breathtaking sight—from a distance.”
Hopping on the 25-foot water taxi to Painter’s Lodge, I got a sense of the water’s power. We were in a calm part of the passage; there were no waves, but still, we were getting kicked around.
From Painter’s Lodge, an 18-foot Outrage sped us to “the Hump,” an underwater peak where salmon congregate to feed. Here the strait is as wide as a vast lake and miles from the surging narrows, but is still profoundly affected by the many narrows feeding into it.
Waves run every which way. There is no running in the troughs because the troughs run every which way as well, like pickup sticks. The locals call it the Washing Machine. Good description, we thought as we weaved through the fleet of 17-foot Whalers filled with happy guides and hopeful fishermen and women.
Late that afternoon, we headed back to the dock to wait for the anglers to return. That’s when things turned serious, as everyone wanted to know: Who caught the big one?
Unloading his Whaler, Bruce Aikman, one of the resort’s top guides, laughed and said: “This Whaler is my office. I’m taking people out into water that gives one pause—but we always get home. This Whaler is 28 years old, and it’s happily running. You can get three guys on one side and it won’t roll; you can get in and out of tight places. It’s the best. This evening was beautiful—we were in the middle of close to a hundred harbor porpoises.”
Porpoises, killer whales (up to 100 in a super pod), bears, wolves and sea lions: This magnificent wilderness teems with wildlife. You can arrange whale- or bear-watching trips, brave ocean rapids rafting, or just take in the splendor of countless bald eagles lining the shore when the salmon are spawning or the hake schooling. And if you don’t want to fish for salmon, you can snorkel beside them in nearby Campbell River.
When it comes to boats, Marine Activities Manager Dwayne Mustard can’t say enough about his fleet of Whalers. “Simply put, they are indispensable,” he said. “With five species of salmon—representing millions of fish—migrating past the lodge, guests can get out on the water no matter the weather, calm or not.”
No wonder celebrities since the days of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope have been coming to this famous fishing hideaway. In fact, guests hail from every corner of the globe. Back at the dock, one guest shared that he’d been coming to Painter’s Lodge for 11 years with work colleagues from across North America and Europe; another, a Denver resident, had been coming for 19 years.
A guest with experience boating on the Great Lakes chimed in: “Here I was in some of the roughest water I’ve been in in my life, and I was completely comfortable because of the Whaler. At one point it got so bad the guide turned to me and jokingly said, ‘You’d better know how to drive a boat in case I get tossed over!’” Of course, the entire crew returned safe and dry.
As much as the adults were enjoying boasting about their fish, their catches were rivaled by some of the group’s youngest members: Nine-year-old Adelynn Heyes, a guest with her parents three years in a row, caught a 26.1-pounder in 2012. And Kimorie Lees and her 8-year-old daughter, Dara Thompson, fought in a 40-pounder last year.
With the fish weighed and the day’s tales largely told, the guests headed to the oceanfront deck to savor a delectable meal prepared by world-class chefs. As the sun set over the sea, I turned to watch dark-ness settle over the fleet of brave Whalers, tucked into their docks for the night—taking a much-deserved rest until dawn, when it would start all over again.