Wait It Out at Wakes Cove

Oozing with mystery, history and intrigue, the cove is a popular stopping point before transiting Gabriola Passage.

  Wakes Cove, situated at the north end of Valdes Island, has long been considered a good location to wait for slack in Gabriola Passage where in the spring the current, which floods east and ebbs west, can reach 8 knots. The 1-mile-long passage separates Gabriola and Valdes islands and connects the Strait of Georgia to the inner Gulf Islands. The waterway is only 100 meters wide at its narrowest section between Cordero and Josef points and can be a busy thoroughfare during the summer cruising season.

Wakes Cove is the site of a provincial park, which is a good reason to stick around for a while. Some of the cruising guides report the holding in Wakes Cove is suspect because of large patches of kelp, debris from past logging operations and exposure to boat wakes. Supporting these reports, the remains of a steam-driven donkey can be seen at low tide on the western shore.

We prefer to set Easy Goin’s hook in nearby Dogfish Bay, as it’s locally known, which is the best choice to hole-up and wait for slack water when cruising west through Gabriola Passage, and it’s also the home of a yacht club outstation and an alternative anchorage for Wakes Cove Provincial Park visitors.

The long, narrow and shallow bay lies east of Valdes and in the lee of Kendrick Island. The best area to set the hook is north of the floats and buoys that belong to the West Vancouver Yacht Club (members only) in 25 to 40 feet over a mud-and-sand bottom. South of the buoys, the water shoals rapidly to rock and kelp.

The anchorage provides a view of the magnificent sandstone formations along Kendrick’s western shoreline The best way to view these formations and caves carved by thousands of years of winter storm is by dinghy or kayak.

The anchorage is near popular salmon and bottom sportfishing areas in the Strait of Georgia, and it’s common for sportsfishermen to seek safe refuge for the night in Dogfish Bay at the end of a long day.

About 40 million years ago, the Gulf Islands were formed by rising sea beds of sedimentary rock. The islands were later scoured by glaciers and battered by eons of wave action that sculpted the sandstone shoreline into the amazing shapes of today.

One-third of Valdes Island is a First Nations reserve. The Lyackson First Nation is a small, Central Coastal Salish Hulq’umin’um community of fewer than 200 members. There are approximately 60 archaeological sites, including several indigenous burial grounds on the island, evidence the First Nation people have used the island for nearly 5,000 years.

There is an ancient legend that dates from the mists of time of a 3-mile subterranean passageway linking Valdes Island’s western cliffs to Thetis Island. According to tribal folklore, Valdes had been used by tribes for puberty rites. An initiate would be taken to Valdes to fast and practice other rituals, then make his way through the passageway beneath the sea to Thetis Island, deposit his staff and return — all with the aid of a single torch.

To this day no such corridor has been found, but caverns 200 feet deep, with artifacts and other evidence of native visitations, have been discovered on both islands. Adding to the legend is speculation that earthquakes may have blocked the route.

From Dogfish Bay it’s an almost milelong dinghy ride through Gabriola Passage to Wake Cove Provincial Park or six-tenths of a mile north, across the passage, to Drumbeg Provincial Park on Gabriola Island.

Established in June 2002, the 205-hectare Wakes Cove Provincial Park is only accessible by kayak or boat. The Marine Parks Forever Society donated funds toward the purchase of the property.

The society received donations from the recreational boating community that were used to assist in purchasing the 73 hectares of Crown foreshore. The park is served by a pier and a small float. The other docks and mooring buoys in the cove are private and there is no camping in the park. The park grounds preserve a mixture of Douglas fir, Garry oak and arbutus trees, as well as several endangered plant species.

From the head of the pier, moss-covered roads act as trails through the park. The trail to the left leads east to the remains of a homestead and orchard, then beyond to the shoreline of Dogfish Bay and a view of Kendrick Island. Walk straight up from the dinghy dock and take the trail, either straight ahead or off to the right to walk a complete circuit through the interior of the island.

The private areas are clearly marked, as are the park boundaries, and the residents’ privacy and property should be respected. The island supports a small community of residents at Starvation Bay on the north shore, but the majority of the population of the island consists of part-time vacationers.

Valdes Island is named after the Spanish naval officer Cayetano Valdez y Bazan, who first visited the area in 1792 as a lieutenant serving under Capt. Alexandro Malaspina on Descubierta. Valdes returned in 1792 as captain of Mexicana to explore the area with Capt. Dionisio Galiano aboard Sutil.

The cove and park are named after British naval Capt. Baldwin Wake, who acquired the land surrounding the cove in 1876, and his family owned it up to the late 1920s. Wake died mysteriously while sailing his sloop. His body was never found, but remains of his boat and belongings did wash up on nearby Thetis Island. His widow moved to Esquimalt with her two daughters, but her son, Baldwin, remained at Wakes Cove.

Baldwin’s widow, Amelia, was still living there in the late 1920s when much of the surrounding land was purchased by Edward Arthur Wilson, a religious leader known as Brother XII, one of Canada’s most notorious cult leaders. A mystic and a former sea captain, Brother XII established an occult society and utopian community called The Aquarian Foundation outside of nearby Nanaimo, in 1927. The Society claimed more than 2,000 members at its height, including many wealthy and prominent individuals. A series of sensational court cases, during which Brother XII was accused of misusing foundation funds, advocating free love and claiming to be the reincarnation of the Egyptian god Osiris, led to the breakup of the original colony.

Brother XII formed a new settlement, a “City of Refuge,” on Valdes and DeCourcy islands, where he and his disciples believed they would survive the coming Armageddon. Conditions at the colony gradually deteriorated, as Brother XII and his sadistic mistress, a woman known as Madame Z, turned their followers into slaves, subjecting them to the most appalling hardships.

Brother XII’s plan for the Valdes Island property was to establish a secluded retreat at which he would train selected disciples. But when he moved his pregnant lover into a newly built cabin, he was accused of turning the park-like setting into a personal love nest and the communal settlement was never completed, of which little trace remains today. There were also rumors that money was buried on the island; however, it has never been proven. It is said Bother XII fled to Switzerland with a fortune in gold.