Friday, 22 July 2016

Tofino: Not a friendly place for cruising boats

Just a short note for cruisers considering a stop in Tofino: don't bother. Go to Ucluelet.

Moorage at Tofino's public dock is extremely limited for transient cruising boats -- during July/August cruisers will almost certainly have to "raft" if  they can find space. (Another cruiser suggested the problem is due to the high rents in Tofino, resulting in more liveaboards. However, this problem was also present 14 years ago in 2002.) We didn't see any space, so elected to anchor off the marina (as we did in 2002, when we also found the public docks to be a poor choice). Well, there was 3-5 knots of current roaring through the anchorage which was full of crab traps (thanks Tofino locals!). We managed to get anchored and ate lunch while we watched the "river" flow around us, and saw Pelagia getting too close to propeller-snagging crab-trap lines. (The night before, a friend had been anchored on the other side of this anchorage, and had been yelled at by a tug boat skipper for being "in the channel".) While anchored, we also watched (with anger) tour boats roar by (at 20-30 knots), with no regard to the effects of their wake on us. Meanwhile, float planes kept landing near us.

With all this cacophony and the dicey anchorage, we decided to get away from Tofino. We planned to head over to the anchorage at Windy Bay, ~7.5 nm away, which would add 1.5-2 hours to our trip to Ucluelet the next day, but would at least be safe and peaceful. As it turns out, as we went down Browning Passage, we felt it might be possible to anchor on the side of the wide portion of this passage a mile or so South of Tofino. The current was still swift, but there was tons of room and no boats passing close by. (And, to liven things up, just as we got our anchor down, a grey whale surfaced right beside Pelagia, giving the stink eye to Michelle -- and stink breath -- and really giving her a fright!) Not sure why guidebooks haven't suggested this as an anchorage option (which made us wonder if there was some problem, such as a fouled sea floor, which we would find out the hard way the next morning).

Our night was quite peaceful, and the next morning, we weighed anchor (thankfully with only seaweed to clean off), and, with a fast ebb flowing out to the ocean (including at our anchorage), we zipped past chaotic (and cruiser unfriendly) Tofino and headed to Ucluelet.

Arrival in Ucluelet presented such a positive contrast to Tofino: there is a speed limit in the harbour which seems to be observed, so no boats roaring by; Ucluelet public dock is so well organized, the harbourmaster Kevin (and staff) very responsive, even meeting your boat to help with docking. Provisioning in Ucluelet is excellent.  Ucluelet is a very nice town.

Note to Tofino Town Council: if you want cruisers to visit, make it more friendly to cruising boats. Learn from places who do it right like Ucluelet, Port McNeil, Sointula, etc. As it stands, Tofino seems only to care about tourists going out on whale-watching and hotsprings tour boats, as well as sportsfishers. Until this changes, we will avoid Tofino.


  1. I've made note of the confusion in the Tofino "Harbour" a few times to various authorities and I am told it does not qualify as a harbour and therefore doesn't have speed limits or controlled traffic patterns. We operate a water taxi in the area and understand your frustration.

  2. I spent a couple months anchored on the sand bar in front of Stone Island and pretty much agree with everything you said. Whale watching boats seem to wake you on purpose, at least till they get to know who you are. It's also a pain trying to find a place to park a vehicle without getting tickets. And whatever you do, don't fall overboard or the current will sweep you away in seconds. Warfinger is also a psychopath. I'll definitely be going back though. Cheers