Exploring the overlooked anchorage of Polkinghorne Islands

By Steve Lorimer

On several trips to northern British Columbia or southeastern Alaska, I’d noticed the Polkinghorne Islands just west of Wells Passage. We’d passed these islands in deep fog without seeing them a number of times, but in summer 2016 I vowed that it was time for a visit.

None of the guidebooks mentioned the islands as a safe anchorage, but when talking with Billy Proctor, an old-time commercial fisherman, environmentalist and year-round resident of Echo Bay, he mentioned anchoring there while salmon fishing in nearby waters. That did it! He had confirmed what I had speculated, and as we left Sullivan Bay in the Broughton Islands, we headed for the Polkinghornes.

The day before, we’d spotted four black bears on the beaches, and as we wound our way through the numerous islands at the mouth of Wells Passage,
we observed two more. Between the great weather forecast and our sightings of bears (and two humpback whales), we were greatly anticipating our anchorage.

After dropping anchor in 20 feet of water, we assembled our fishing tackle and skiffed our way to the west side of the Polkinghorne Islands. Just off a small island, our crew caught a nice lingcod for dinner, and we retained one rockfish and two kelp greenling for breakfast the following morning.

While we were fishing, two dozen white-sided dolphins swam in our direction, so we brought in our fishing tackle and headed toward them. They dove underneath our skiff, leapt from the water close by and seemed to be having a great time. We sure were! Finally the dolphins left us, and we headed back to our anchored boat.

As we rounded the island to enter our anchorage, a humpback whale surfaced 20 feet away, took a large breath of air and disappeared from sight with its massive tail just a few feet away.

Two days later, as we got up early to leave, we heard heavy breathing in the nearby waters just before starting the engines. Three orca whales appeared out of the dense fog. They’d been feeding in the nearby kelp bed and headed directly toward us. Finally, they got close enough for us to see them. After we took pictures, they turned away and disappeared as quietly as they
had come.

For the next two hours, we navigated in dense fog to the entrance to Knight Inlet while savoring the memories of the rugged, seldom visited Polkinghorne Islands. Think what we would have missed had we bypassed this beautiful place again!

Just because an anchorage is out of the way or not mentioned in the cruising guides, that’s no reason not to visit. In fact, it’s places like these that our vessel, Loan Ranger, and its crew enjoy the most.


Steve Lorimer lives in Bellingham, Washington, and is a past commander of Bellingham Sail & Power Squadron/16. He and his wife, Cheryl, spend most of the summer boating in Alaska. Steve currently provides boating seminars to yacht clubs and squadrons through insidepassageseminars.com. This article first appeared in the squadron newsletter, Bell Signals.

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