Gunkhole is a nautical term loosely defined as “to wander, discovering whatever is around the next bend or just over the horizon.” My wife and I enjoyed a splendid week of gunkholing aboard CruiseWest’s Spirit of Endeavor on their Pacific Northwest Coastal Escape departing from Seattle. The ship carries only 102 passengers and its small size allows it into coves and inlets for an up-close look at the scenery.
Navigating U.S. and Canadian waters, our journey took us to Vancouver, Desolation Sound, Nanaimo, Victoria, Friday Harbor, the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands and Port Townsend. Departing from Seattle in the late afternoon, we headed west through the famous Hiram Chittenden Locks toward Puget Sound and then turned north, en route to our first port, Vancouver.
Hiram Chittendam Locks
The following morning, we passed under the Lion’s Gate Bridge, which was completed in 1938. The Guinness family (think beer) built it to connect their land purchase on Burrad Inlet to Vancouver. Once the ship had docked, our chartered bus took us to the spectacular thousand-acre Stanley Park for sightseeing and then to Granville Island, featuring a Public Market with water-view restaurants and over 100 stalls filled with local fresh produce, meat, poultry and fish, baked goods and arts and crafts. Our last stop was at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, one of the highest footbridges in the world, stretching 450 feet over and 230 feet above the Capilano River. Walking across is not for those with a fear of heights.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
When we reached the poorly named Desolation Sound, we experienced gunkholing at its finest. What could Captain George Vancouver have been thinking? This fjord-like region, with over 60 miles of breathtaking coastline, is the largest marine park in British Columbia, dotted with picturesque islands, inlets, bays, and coves. It was here that the advantage of a small ship was obvious. From the deck, we touched rock formations, were splashed by waterfalls and took close-up photos of the flora and fauna.
The Spirit of Endeavor
Upon arrival at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, we were welcomed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and then took a guided walking tour of this historic town, the third oldest city in British Columbia. We climbed the Bastion, built in 1853 by the Hudson Bay Company. Wandering and discovering on our own, we stumbled upon a casino. On my first pull of the slot machine, we won $22.50. We left immediately!
The Travel Writer, His Editor (and Wife) and Friends
Sailing into Victoria put us on the same course that ships have followed for hundreds of years. In 1778, an impressive list of sailors first discovered and claimed Victoria for England: Captain James Cook was accompanied by George Vancouver and William Bly (of Mutiny On the Bounty fame).
The Historic Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C. from the Bridge of the Spirit of Endeavor
An outing to Butchart Gardens while in Victoria is a must. In 1904, Jenny Butchart turned this abandoned limestone quarry into an extravagant 55-acre garden estate. Yearly, over one million visitors enjoy this one-of-a-kind homage to the whims of the very rich.
The next day, we cruised Puget Sound off the north coast of Washington. More than 450 islands, split into two groups, make up the archipelago known as the San Juan Islands in the U.S. and the Gulf Islands in Canada. Eventually, we tied up at scenic Friday Harbor and leisurely strolled around this tourist-friendly waterfront community with its shops showcasing local artists.
Friday Harbor in the Washington San Juan Islands
Port Townsend, named in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver after the Marquis of Townshend, was the last stop on our trip. We joined our fellow passengers on an escorted walk along the waterfront of this charming seaport, noted for its vast number of preserved Victorian homes and buildings. Today it boasts a vibrant arts community.
Victorian Home in Port Townsend, Washington
Finally, we arrived in Seattle; our eight day gunkholing adventure with CruiseWest over. It was great fun and we had experienced firsthand the thrill of wandering, discovering whatever was around the next bend or just over the horizon.
Here are four reasons to sail on CruiseWest:
1. Interesting itineraries, informative lectures and knowledgeable expedition leaders.
2. Relaxed, casual atmosphere with an attentive, friendly staff.
3. Tours, airport transfers and gratuities included in the price of the cruise; only alcohol is extra.
4. Good food with emphasis on local cuisine, freshly baked bread and pastries; dietary needs or special requests gladly
Websites for further information.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
Desolation Sound – www.britishcolumbia.com (then search)
San Juan Islands