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Sailing Into Vancouver, BC: A Boater’s Guide

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Nautical tourism in Vancouver , BC: Canada’s maritime metropolis. Or: why my hometown is a boater’s paradise.

In This Boating Article You Will Discover:

  • Moorage Options in Vancouver
  • Tips For Visiting Boaters
  • Local Dining & Attractions

Granville Island is the heart of Vancouver’s maritime community. Quite literally a stone’s throw from downtown, this former industrial park is now a hub of nautical activity and services — as well as conspicuous tourism — year-round. And for boaters dropping sail and puttering under the Burrard Street Bridge, it represents a welcome respite; an accessible full-service provisioning station and tourist hub within British Columbia’s largest city.

An obvious no-wake zone from the entrance at English Bay, sailors slipping into False Creek during summer are wise to navigate with assertiveness. Water Taxis, kayakers and fellow yachtsmen clog this already-tight seafaring cul-de-sac. (Once moored, it can be just as difficult to navigate the stuffed-to-the-gills aisles of the Granville Island Public Market, but at least the stakes are lower.)

Navigating the maddening crowds is worth it; the City of Glass simply sparkles in the summertime.

If you are looking for a lively urban port — Vancouver is hard to beat. And it is a simple task to slip in, sample the best of the city, provision then disembark for quieter waters all within day or two stay.

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Granville Island is a fun place to visit and offers everything the boater needs to re-provision.

Urban Fares

Once moored in False Creek, there’s no need to venture far from your slip. The Granville Island Public Market is your go-to to re-stock your galley. Fresh produce overflows the aisles and Longliner Seafoods will fill your icebox if the Fish Gods have not been kind thus far. Siegel’s Bagels and Terra Breads are must-visits, if only for Terra Bread’s impossibly delicious brownies and dozen fresh boiled-and-baked bagels from Siegel’s.

If you buy bread, stop at Benton Brother’s Cheese and Dussa’s Ham & Cheese to pair it with something stinky and something salty. You’re a five-minute walk from the nearest Starbucks at this point, but do as true Vancouverites do and grab a Java from JJ Bean, located in the market. (I’m sure you splurge on fine grinds for your cruise, but I’m guessing you left the cappuccino machine at home.)

Granville Island is home to several specialty shops the likes of which belong to a different time. The Granville Island Broom Company is Vancouver’s only devoted broom store — and it’s more interesting than it sounds. Handcrafted brooms from this boutique operator are said to be symbols of good luck — they sweep away bad fortune and evil (Lord know we boaters are a superstitious bunch anyway…). Near the entrance of the island, The Umbrella Shop sells fine ‘brellas that won’t turn inside out at the first nor’easter. Finally, The Hang Out Place is a specialty hammock store that features their proprietary Chair Hammock, custom built for breezy summer afternoons. Gift shops are too numerous — your stowage space will determine how many you visit.

If you’re looking for the largest selection of marine products, a one-kilometre walk southwest from Granville Island takes you to either Steveston Marine & Hardware or West Marine — Vancouver’s most well-known and largest marine supply stores. However, most boaters’ needs can be serviced on Duranleau Street, located on the Island’s west side. Marine shops and services rim the boardwalk — from rigging supplies right up to major repairs and new boat sales.

There’s really too much shopping to be found — Liberty Wines and the Granville Island Brewing Company will ensure your following nights are merry. Red Sky Clothing & Footwear can replace your threadbare jacket or fit you with new Tevas. A short jaunt south on Granville Street, to West 8th Avenue, finds a Tilley Endurables shop, or for a more eclectic chapeau, try Edie Hats, in the Granville Island’s Net Loft, for everything from handmade Fedoras to floppy sun hats that make sombreros seems modest.

Looming over the Island in an immodest yellow façade, Bridges Restaurant is home to Vancouver’s finest patio.

In the warm months, only the seagulls outnumber the people but the sunset view is worth it. If Vancouver’s famous liquid sunshine is spoiling your outdoor dining options — and you’ve stowed a jacket nicer than plaid-flannel — try the Sandbar for some of Vancouver’s best seafood. Iconic Monk McQueen’s, under the Cambie Street Bridge and accessible directly via Water Taxi, is another classic boater-gourmet destination.

From Granville Island, a few bucks per person hires a Water Taxi to English Bay, and the entranceway to Stanley Park. Despite the metropolis of downtown standing in your way, it’s merely a two-kilometre stroll along the beaches of English Bay (perhaps stopping to eat an internationally famous JapaDog along the way) and cut-through Stanley Park to reach Coal Harbour, Vancouver’s second nautical hub and home to the city’s super-yacht community.

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The Nine O’Clock Gun fires from Stanley Park’s Brockton Point every night at 9:00 p.m.

Coal Harbour holds downtown’s marinas — featuring transient moorage at three locations. If you choose to tie up here, piloting your craft into this area is done via the Burrard Inlet, a wide-open artery with little of False Creek’s shoulder-to-shoulder personality. However, strong tidal currents and frequent use by tankers and cruise ships can present navigational challenges. And if you happen to sail ‘round Stanley Park at 2100, don’t panic — the navy isn’t shooting at you; it’s just the Nine O’clock Gun, a 12-pound muzzle-loaded cannon which has been fired from Brockton Point for the past 107 years. Its trademark boom can be heard all the way to Port Moody — historically, it was a method of keeping time so visiting ships could set their clocks when they heard the blast. Nine at night, every night — a living part of Vancouver’s nautical history.

The number-one attraction to mooring at Coal Harbour is nearby Stanley Park. A walk, jog or cycle around the nine-kilometre Seawall is perfect to get blood flowing to your sea-legs.

Keep an eye out for 18-metre-tall Siwash Rock — a famous sea-stack on the northwest side of the park. Art appreciators will recognize it from a famous Roy Henry Vickers painting.

The best on-water dining in Coal Harbour is found at Cardero’s — located in the Coal Harbour Marina. Try the Pan Seared Cajun Lingcod in the restaurant, or grab a burger and a beer at the pub. Views of the North Shore Mountains are free with your meal. Afterwards, Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl often features summertime outdoor concerts. On a still night, you might even be able to listen for free from your boat…

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Siwash Rock is one of Stanley Park’s most famous landmarks.

Moorage Options: False Creek/Granville Island/English Bay

Captain and Surveyor George Henry Richards was disappointed when he sailed into the inlet we know as False Creek in 1859 — he had expected it, frankly, to lead somewhere. It did not — and the insulting moniker stuck. As boaters entering these waters today are looking for moorage, it’s safe to say few who venture beneath the triad of downtown Vancouver Bridges — Burrard, Granville and Cambie — will leave disappointed.

The Burrard Civic Marina (604-733-5833), located under the Burrard Street Bridge, is the largest in False Creek, with 423 water berths and 163 on land, along with 69 spaces for canoes and kayaks, as well as a pump-out. There is limited transient moorage at a cost of $1.96 per foot, per day (45-foot maximum). This is also False Creek’s only fuel-up location — gas and diesel.

To your starboard when entering False Creek, a small cove holds two more marinas. False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf, operated by the False Creek Harbour Authority, welcomes transient boaters and features a full array of services — showers, pump-out, laundry, garbage disposal and the like. Rafting is allowed here as well — and since it is popular with both recreational and commercial boaters, fresh fish is often for sale on-site (604-733-3625).

Blue Pacific Yacht Charters, directly across the harbour from Fisherman’s Wharf, also has space for visiting boaters and offers power, water and garbage disposal (1-800-237-2392).

Located at the Granville Island Hotel, on Granville Island, Pelican Bay Marina is a popular choice. Temporary moorage is available year-round — just call ahead at 604-263-5222. Pelican Bay has a complete chandlery service.

A pitching-wedge further into False Creek will take you to Heather Civic Marina (604-874-2814). It has fewer berths than Burrard — but it does feature laundry and shower facilities as well as a pump-out station. Transient rates are $1.42 per foot, per day.

If you’re piloting a leviathan power yacht, Quayside Marina, near the terminus of False Creek, may be worthy of a looksee. With slips up to 120 feet, most boaters can be accommodated (unless you’re piloting the Nova Spirit). It’s also a full-service marina, with 30, 50 and 100-amp power, full hookups, showers, laundry, garbage disposal, pump-outs, security and more. They offer rates for short-term (under 30 days) and long-term (over 30 days) moorage — phone 604-681-9115 for more information. Plus, for there is a gambling house nearby for those who like to play casino games.

False Creek Yacht Club, on the north side of False Creek, has at least one aspect that every visiting yachtsman should take advantage of — the Vancouver Boating Welcome Centre. Operated in a small restored boat under the Granville Street Bridge, a phone call or pop-in (604-648-BOAT; 0900 to 1700) will uncover the answer to just about any boating-related query — such pump-out locations, moorage options or even where to grab a great seafood dinner. It’s also the spot to pick up a free anchoring permit if your intent is off-shore mooring. This private club also rents out vacant members’ slips on a nightly basis; phone 604-682-3292 for more information. As expected, the FCYC has just about every service — including a pump-out.

Anchoring in False Creek and English Bay is permitted — provided you drop anchor outside of the navigable channel. There are five dinghy docks in False Creek to service short termers. Just remember — anytime you wish to anchor in False Creek or English Bay for longer than eight hours, or between 2300 and 0900, a permit is required.

Finally, Granville Island provides boaters with three hours of free moorage; the dock is located north of the market. This is a first-come, first-serve basis — so you can guess what it’s like during summer.

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Sailing beneath the iconic Lion’s Gate Bridge is a Vancouver must-do.

Moorage Options: Coal Harbour

Passing through First Narrows and under the Lion’s Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic routes in the Vancouver Area. With mountains to the north, park and urban landscape to the south and that historic Green Giant looming overhead, the view from the entrance of the Burrard Inlet typifies yachting in Vancouver like none other.

Moorage is available to guest boaters at three marinas in Coal Harbour. The first, aptly named Coal Harbour Marina, can host yachts larger than a staggering 200 feet in length, with rates starting at $2.10 per foot (30 to 49 feet), right up to $4.25 per foot for 200-foot-plus yachts. As a posh marina, expect the full range to services — pump outs, Wi-Fi, laundry, 24-hour staff, business services and other luxuries. Phone 604-681-2628.

Your second option is Bayshore West Marina. With berths ranging from 46 to 70 feet, a stable cement float system, pump-outs at every berth and aluminum access ramps, it’s an easy spot to moor for the weekend. Transient moorage rates are $2.00 per foot, per night, up to 65 feet. (Larger boat? Give them a call.) Contact the marina at 604-689-5331. Finally, Harbour Cruises, located between the two, has limited guest moorage with power, water and garbage disposal (604-605-6019).

If you’re just planning a quick stopover — three-hours or less — tie up at the Harbour Green Dock. Visiting boaters are allowed three hours of free moorage during daylight hours. Also, two floating fuel docks are located at the entrance to Coal Harbour.

Summer Sailing

For the boater, Vancouver’s signature summer event is the Celebration of Light. Now in its 22nd year, this event sees three countries in competition for world fireworks domination. Crowds of hundreds of thousands rim English Bay, False Creek, Vanier Park and Kitsilano Beach to watch the sky light up — but boaters have the best seats in the house.

On event days, a flotilla of about 1,000 boats occupy the waters of English Bay and False Creek — some arriving at first light to claim the ultimate fireworks-watching spot.

It’s pandemonium to be sure; you’ll need a keen eye and a quick sensibility, but with an enhanced police presence on-water it generally goes off without a hitch. This year, the event lights up the skies on three nights between July 28 and August 4. It’s a sight to behold — the parade of bobbing navigational lights is nearly as eye catching as the fireworks.

A stay in Vancouver readies one for a quiet anchorage in the Broughton Archipelago or the Southern Gulf Islands in both a literal and figurative sense. Literally, your stocks will be overflowing from a few days’ worth of provisioning runs, and figuratively as the million-strong madness of Vancouver has a way of sending boaters to seek calmer waters. However, a stopover in Vancouver is always a pleasant one — with 50 km of shoreline, more than 2,000 hectares of water space, ample opportunity to purchase sailing gear and generous anchoring options, few major cities cater to cruisers so well.

Tomorrow morning, when you bite into a kosher bagel with fresh lox, you’ll appreciate your stay even more.

BONUS: Vancouver Maritime Museum

No seaman can leave Vancouver without a visit to the Vancouver Maritime Museum, located in Vanier Park — walking distance from Granville Island. For the past 50 years, this museum has been the premier link to Pacific Canada’s maritime history. It currently holds more than 170,000 objects — from artifacts, to books, to photographs and paintings and artwork — all of which illuminates the storied history of the sea.

Until May 21, the museum is featuring the exhibit Chatwilh — The Craft and Culture of the Squamish Canoe. And to recognize the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the News of the Titanic exhibit runs until July 8 — featuring news clippings and other documentation of the world’s most famous shipwreck.

(Article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Pacific Yachting magazine.)



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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

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