Sechelt Rapids – The Skookumchuck


An older photograph of the Skookumchuck in action

Heading 4 miles (6.4 km ) north of the mouth of Narrows Inlet brings you to the Sechelt Rapids or as it is more commonly known, the Skookumchuck (Chinook for rough water) Narrows.  Twice every day the tide rises and falls and the water in Sechelt, Narrows and Salmon Inlets either flows in or out of the narrow channel at the Sechelt Rapids.  Eight small islets located in the channel make the passage even more restricted for both boats and water.  At the narrowest point it is only about 400 feet (125 meters) wide and on a 9 foot tide change an estimated 200 billion gallons of water passes through the rapids creating dangerous standing waves and whirlpools.  The water can attain speeds of up to 16 knots (18.4 mph, 37 km/h) and sometimes the difference between water levels on either side of the rapids can be 6.5 feet in height.

Needless to say, a great deal of caution is needed when traversing the rapids.  It is necessary to know when slack tide (the brief period of calm between tide changes) is so that you can make it through the channel safely.  Numerous boats have been lost at the Skookumchuck, the latest in 2009 when a tugboat pulling a barge through the rapids capsized.

Roland Point

Roland Point – a popular spot within the Park to watch the rapids
The rapids are encompassed by the 300 acre (123 hectare) Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park.

Our first experience going through the Skookumchuck was the day after we took command of our boat, Jazz Age.  We picked up the boat in Gibsons, BC, 14 miles down the coast from Sechelt.  We had obtained moorage at the Lighthouse Marina at the head of Sechelt Inlet so we needed to bring the boat up the coast 53 miles (83 km), pass through the Skookumchuck and go 18 miles (30 km) to the end of Sechelt Inlet.  I had about 20 minutes training running the boat so it was somewhat daunting, especially with the Skookumchuck in the back of our minds.  The trip up the coast was beautiful and other than the alternator falling off, uneventful.  By the time we reached the Skookumchuck it was too late to go through that night  so we found a dock and waited until the next morning.

Waiting for Slack

Waiting for the Skookumchuck.
The entrance to the Skookumchuck is straight ahead

The dock we tied up to was 3000 feet from the entrance to the rapids and we had a peaceful, calm evening watching the sun go down.  In the middle of the night we woke to some very unusual noises.  I got up and found the bay we were in was a swirling, boiling mass of water.  The current was pushing the boat up against the dock and it was so powerful I couldn’t have moved the boat if I wanted to.  It wasn’t causing any problems so we went back to bed.  It was very impressive though.


Heading through. The water with a ‘light boil’

At 9:00 am it looked fairly calm over at the rapids so we thought we’d bite the bullet.  All was quite glassy calm until we got right into the entrance and then water developed the look of a light boil.  We were just a bit too early but since our boat only travelled 7 knots (8 mph) at top speed and the tide was flowing in the right direction, I figured it was probably best just to carry on.  We got through okay though often at a 45 degree angle off where the bow should have been pointing.  Jazz Age was 36 feet long and heavy but the power of the water was very impressive.

We have been through the rapids several time since then and each time it has been dead calm.


Heading north through the Skookumchuck. This is how it should look when you go through.

For those adventurous spirits the rapids have become a popular spot for whitewater kayakers who surf the standing wave that forms off Roland Point.  The rapids are also a very popular diving spot because of the abundance of sea life but obviously your timing has to be right!


Upper Narrows Inlet

As mentioned in the prior post, the Tzoonie Narrows is only about 80 feet (25 meters) across.  With two tidal changes a day a lot of water passes through the channel but it is almost always clear sailing as the current only reaches 4 knots (4.6 mph) at the maximum.  However, kayaks and canoes may need to choose the right time to pass through as it could be a tiring paddle.  Once through the channel you are in upper Narrows Inlet and the scenery can be breathtaking. In the glassy calm reflections in the water are amazing, along the shoreline they often look like native designs.

The inlet is 5.2 miles (8.4 km) from the Narrows to the head and varies from 1500 feet (458 meters) up to 3000 feet (914 meters) wide.  The mountains on either side rise steeply up to 5,250 feet (1600 meters).  Mount Drew at the end of the inlet is 5,900 feet (1800 meters).  At times it feels like you are boating through the Rockies.

At the end of Narrows Inlet is the Tzoonie River.  For many years this site had been a logging and booming operation but I believe that stopped in early 2000. Kayaking is great here and you can make it quite a way up the Tzoonie River depending on time of the year. Though we never tried it, you can anchor and stern tie on the north side of the bay and enjoy the incredible view up the Tzoonie Valley.

This area was also a seasonal village of the Tahw-ahn-kwuk (Tewankw), one of the four groups of the shíshálhs (Sechelts).  In very cold weather the waters of the upper inlet can freeze so the villagers would move to warmer climes to the south for the winter.

Click on any of the photos to see a larger version


Tzoonie Narrows Marine Park

Heading east 3.4 miles (5.4 km) up Narrows Inlet you arrive at Tzoonie Narrows Marine Park which is probably my favourite boating destination.  At 200 acres (80 hectares it is the largest park in Sechelt Inlet, encompassing both sides of Narrows Inlet.  The park is the site of Tzoonie Narrows, an 80 foot (25 meter) wide tidal channel into the upper portion of Narrows Inlet.

Remains of a 1970’s commune and remnants of logging equipment from the 1930’s lie in the bush around the park.  There is also archaeological evidence that the area was well used by the shíshálh’s (Sechelt).  On the north side of the park are the ruins of an old homestead where we found apple and plum trees along with grape vines.

There is one fire pit, one pit toilet and room for 15 tents on the more developed south side of the park.  A fairly abundant creek supplies water that can be used for cooking.  Boat anchorage is best between the shore and a tidal islet at the most easterly end of the park.

The scenery is spectacular with the mountains on the north side rising over 4,600 feet (1400 meters) from the waters edge.  A mountain backing the south side of the park measures 3,200 feet (1000 meters).  It is a beautiful area to explore by kayak.

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Storm Bay

Storm Bay 2

Heading north up the east side of Sechelt Inlet 3.6 miles (5.8 km) you arrive at the mouth of Narrows Inlet.  Making a long right brings you into Storm Bay, one of the most popular anchorages in the inlet.  On the west side of the mouth of the bay are two small private islets.  Behind them is a very sheltered cove with protection from winds in any direction.  It is all private land surrounding the cove but you can stern tie to shore.  It is a great place to explore by kayak.

Storm Bay 3

Storm Bay itself is quite lovely with summer cottages hidden amongst the tree lined shore.  In the early 1900’s a brick factory operated in Storm Bay but it only lasted a couple of years.  After WW l there was an attempt to revitalize the factory but once again the venture failed.  Nothing remains of the enterprise.

Storm Bay 1


Halfway Marine Park

Halfway Islet

Halfway Islet – a salmon fish farm can be seen between the islet and the shore

On the west side of Sechelt Inlet, almost directly across from Kunechin Point, is Halfway Marine Park.  This is one of the largest campgrounds in the inlet and can accommodate up to 15 tents.  There is one pit toilet, a large group fire pit and water from a nearby stream.  The pebbled beach is partially protected by Halfway Islet and has beautiful views looking up Salmon Inlet.  You will get the early morning sun here but will also lose the sun in the evenings earlier than on the east side of the inlet.  It is another good place to see wildlife and lots of harbour seals are usually hanging out on Halfway Islet.  Unfortunately, this is another park that is opened to the winds so anchoring your boat is not advisable.

Halfway Beach 1

Halfway Beach 2


Kunechin Point Marine Park

Located at the mouth of Salmon Inlet is Kunechin Point Marine Park which is one of our favourite boating, kayaking and camping destinations.  The Park is divided into two camping areas.  On the actual point there are two wood tent platforms and one pit toilet.  No fires are permitted and there is no potable water.  To the east of the point is Kunechin Bay that has two campsites with enough room for four tents.  There is one pit toilet and fires are permitted but there is no potable water.  We found a seasonal creek in the bay but decided against using the water.  No camping or fires are permitted on the Kunechin Islets, two small rocky islands at the tip of the point.

We have spent a lot of time in Kunechin Bay which is great place for anchoring because it is sheltered in most weather.  Our boat had a draft of three feet so we were able to go right into the bay, very close to the shoreline.  We would stern tie with the bow pointing out giving us a beautiful view right up Salmon Inlet.  Quite often we would be alone so we were fortunate to see some wonderful wildlife.  We had one bear that, for three days in a row, arrived early in the morning and alternated between chewing barnacles off the rocks  and sleeping in the sun.  Ospreys and bald eagles were a common sight and seals would often swim around the bay looking for fish.  There are lots of seals on the Kunechin Islets and basking on large boulders along the shoreline.

The entire point is a great place to explore by kayak with some fascinating geology – stress fractures, erratics, mineral seams, etc. all along the shore.

Just west of the point, heading up Sechelt Inlet is a popular diving site where the destroyer HMCS Chaudiere was sunk by the Artificial Reef Society of BC in 1992.

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Misery Bay Pictographs

About 1.5 miles (2.4 km) east of Misery Falls is a sheer cliff rising out of the ocean with another gallery of shíshálh (Sechelt) First Nation pictographs found on it.  These paintings are more elaborate than the first two sets.  The two-headed figure is once again believed to be Tchain’-ko.  Between the two heads is a depiction of a mountain goat.  Two deer, a tree, a face and other symbols can also be seen.

Pictograph - Salmon Inlet 1


Pictograph - Salmon Inlet 2


Pictograph - Salmon Inlet 3


Pictograph - Salmon Inlet 4

The head of Salmon Inlet is another 1.5 miles (2.4 km) east.  There you will find a BC Hydro dam built between the ocean and Clowhom Lake.  This dam was constructed in the 1950’s to supply additional power to a growing Sechelt.  Overlooking Salmon Inlet and Clowhom Lake is Clowhom Lodge, a fishing lodge that started in the 1930’s as a private enterprise.  It was rebuilt in 1980 and in 2000 became a commercial venture, though I’m not sure if it is still operating.

There have been years of logging activity in the area so there is definitely an industrial look to the head of the Inlet.  Looking on the bright side, it can be quite interesting to consider the engineering aspect of the dam and power project.  There were no roads to the dam site and all of the construction material needed to be barged in.  Power lines also had to be constructed from the dam to Sechelt, a distance of 22.5 miles (36 km) over some extremely difficult terrain.  These were pre-helicopter days so all the materials had to be winched up the mountainside.

All down the north side of Salmon Inlet is the Cheekye-Dunsmuir Power Transmission Line.  Built in the early 1980’s, it runs from the Cheekye sub-station near Squamish, BC to the Dunsmuir sub-station on Vancouver Island.  It is over 80 miles (126 km) long with a portion of it going under Georgia Straight.  It is quite amazing to see considering the terrain and difficult building conditions.

Salmon Inlet

Transmission lines in the upper right corner of the photo

The 13 mile (21.6 km) return trip down the north side of Salmon Inlet is more of a grand scale visual experience – the clouds, light, ocean, steep Inlet mountainsides, etc.  Beauty is always there if you look for it.



Misery Bay

At the mouth of Salmon Inlet kayakers and canoeists have a decision to make.  The next marine park on the south side of Salmon Inlet is Thornhill Creek Marine Park, located about 9 miles (14.4 km) from the Old Glad Tidings Camp.  It is a small campground with two tent sites on hard packed gravel, a pit toilet and creek water that must be boiled.  There is limited shelter along the way and wind can be a problem so this might be of more interest to power boaters.  We anchored at Thornhill and immediately got the anchor snagged on an old submerged logging cable.  Made for an interesting time pulling up the anchor.

Misery Falls

The reward for going this far though is seeing Misery Falls tumbling down a granite cleft into the ocean, located less than a mile on the north side of the Inlet.  Three quarters of a mile east of the falls is Misery Bay that is the site of a now deactivated logging camp.  There is an old dock that we tied up to.  Misery Bay, despite it’s ominous name, is quite picturesque and sheltered.  We walked up one of the old logging roads and found a series of falls which was a surprise to come upon.

Misery Falls (upper)

Logging has been going on in this particular area since the early 1920’s and by 1934, when the operation ended, over 7 miles (11.2 km) of railway track ran down the mountainside.  Train cars were hauled up empty up and lowered down full of logs.  This had to be done by cable because of the steep incline. There are little signs of the old operation but more recent logging has left a bit of a mess around the dock area. We just faced out into the bay and quite enjoyed our stay there.

Misery Bay


The Old Glad Tidings Camp

Old Camp

From Nine Mile Point you now make a right and enter into Salmon Inlet.  A little over a mile up the south side of the inlet is the site of the old Glad Tidings Church Camp.  This place always leaves me with mixed emotions.  The area is absolutely beautiful but what has been done to it is very disheartening.  The property is a government Crown lease that was held by the Glad Tidings Church since the 1950’s I believe.  The church had been running it as a summer camp and had built cabins, a rustic but very attractive dining hall, a very large A-frame type structure for activities and equipment storage and numerous staff quarters.  During the summer of 1992 the camp was suddenly closed down because of health issues.

In September of 1992 I happened to be boating in the area and dropped in to see the camp.  I had just spent nine years as Property Manager/Maintenance Director at Keats Camps on Keats Island, so camp operations were of some interest to me.  The place looked as if everyone had been airlifted out with little notice.  The tables in the dining hall were still set, the covered dock had rows of life jackets hanging up.  In the staff quarters books and shoes were still beside the beds and clothes in the closets.  Already there had been some minor vandalism.  The toolroom door was broken open as was the storage building where the food was stored.  There was a backhoe in the A-frame and  if I remember correctly, a skidder.  The diesel generator building had also been broken into.  A sorry sight.

When we returned home we contacted the Glad Tidings Church in Vancouver and told them of the vandalism that we had seen and suggested that the site needed to be secured better.  They indicated that they were dealing with it.

I didn’t get back to the camp until 2008.  The dining hall had been torched (apparently by vandals in 2006) and the long dock had completely disappeared.  Most of the outbuilding were heavily vandalized.  In the A-frame the backhoe had been stripped and smashed with rocks and the entire building was in danger of collapse.  Very little was left of the diesel generator.  Once again we contacted the Glad Tidings organization, more this time to express our disgust.  We were told that they were also concerned and they were trying to formulate some sort of plan.

Very little had changed when this picture was taken in 2010 and it was obvious nothing more had been done to secure or clean up the camp site.  With my years of camp experience I know how hard it is to get funds to run and maintain a camp.  Much of the money comes through people’s tithes and donations.  It was difficult for me to see hundreds of thousand of dollars worth of resources abandoned and wasted and I think the Glad Tidings organization should be ashamed of itself.

There is conflicting information on whether Glad Tidings still holds the lease but recently there has been some very significant archaeological discoveries made in the area, in fact the camp had been built over an ancient burial site.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t an uncommon practice, especially with logging operations, prior to 1960.  It was then that the British Columbia government finally initiated the British Columbia Archaeological & Historical Sites Act.  This act made it a punishable offence to disturb or desecrate middens, burial sites, habitation sites, pictographs, etc.  Desecration is the perfect word for what I have seen happen at the church camp property and I think the government should rescind this government lease and put the land under the protection of the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation, to the people who respect what they have and what they have been given.


Nine Mile Marine Park

A couple of bays north of the pictographs you arrive at Nine Mile Point Marine Park, one of our favourite kayaking destinations in the Inlet.  The campsite is split in two by a good sized creek.  We use the creek for keeping food and beverages cool and use the water for cooking.  There are numerous tent sites, two fire pits, a bear cache and one outhouse.  Harbour seals can often be found at the point just to the north.  Beautiful views up and down the Inlet and another great spot to watch the sunsets.  As with the other campsites, overnight boat anchorage is not a good idea.

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