My boat is moored in Deep Cove. While sailing in Indian Arm is always beautiful, I need to transit Vancouver Harbour to go anywhere else. If you haven’t done the transit, here are some things to be aware of.
1. Tides and Currents
It’s critical to make the transit with the currents. Go with the currents and you’ll make the trip in 1-2 hours. Go against the currents and you’ll take 4 hours or more, and you may not make it through Second Narrows at all. So, when planning your trip, line it up with the tides and currents, specifically the current at Second Narrows. In case you’re unsure, rising tides make the current run east.
2. Vancouver Harbour Traffic
When you go through the Harbour, change your VHF to Channel 12. I will normally have Channel 12 on all the way from outside Lions Gate Bridge to Cates Park. This way you can monitor harbour traffic conversation and be reached if someone needs you to move out of the way. You will also need Channel 12 to ask for a bridge rise at Second Narrows.
In addition to large container ships and tugs, make sure you keep an eye out for the Seabus.
3. Second Narrows Bridge
Tidal currents can be pretty intense under the bridge. When you plan your trip, you have two options for when you go through the bridge:
- At slack, or,
- In the same direction as the tidal current.
I’ve tried to go through against the current, and it’s really not a good idea! The current can run at 4-6 knots, tough to beat with a sailboat motor.
And of course, there is the railway bridge. When in the down position, the railway bridge has a clearance of only 10.7m (35ft) – likely not enough for your mast to clear. The default position for the bridge is down, so you will probably need it raised when you approach. About 10 minutes before you are ready to pass under the bridge, you will need to pull out your VHF and call to request that they lift the bridge for you. They don’t really like it if you call them much earlier than that.
When you call them, be prepared to structure your call something like this:
“Second Narrows Bridge, Second Narrows Bridge, Second Narrows Bridge. This is sailing vessel XYZ, traveling eastbound (or whichever way you are going). I’m currently 10 minutes away from the bridge. Would it be possible for you to lift the bridge, please?”
They will respond with any questions or instructions and then they will normally raise the bridge for you. I honestly always feel like the Queen when they lift that bridge for me!
On occasion you’ll have to wait for a train to pass before the bridge goes up. Sometimes that means hanging out in front of the bridge for up to an hour, but, most of the time, they lift the bridge right away and I zip through.
After you’ve passed under the bridge, it is polite to call them back to let them know that you are through and to thank them for the lift.
4. East of the Bridge
Expect eddies both under the bridge and on the east side of the bridge. Lastly, east of the bridge you’ll find a series of dolphins. It’s a good idea to stay south of the dolphins. The area north of the dolphins is a sailboat trap at low tide, with shallow water and muddy shoals.
Every trip through the Harbour is amazing. The views of the city and the mountains are incredible and the traffic and industry are always interesting to experience. Happy sailing and have fun next time you go through the Port of Vancouver!