Circumnavigating Cortes Island with Neil

After saying our goodbyes to my dad and sister in Refuge Cove, we refuelled Leela and headed to Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island where our good friend Neil was ready to join us for a relaxed 5-day cruise. Our goal: catch up with our hilarious friend while circumnavigating Cortes Island; an itinerary that is only 2nd to circumnavigating the world, so says our trusty Dreamskeeper cruising guides.

On our way from Refuge Cove to Gorge Harbour, the wind was howling and we faced our strongest winds and largest seas on Leela to date.

Saxony was at the helm displaying a cool confidence while she relayed me the various odd jobs required of a good first mate which required me to look down, winch this line, tie this sheet, close the portholes, “can I get a water bottle please?”, etc… With little time to look at the horizon, I became quite queasy. And being queasy is no fun. Eventually, the queasiness passed and for the first and only time on Leela we were down to the 3rd reef, a handkerchief of a headsail and we were still flying along at 7.5 knots!

We sailed right through the tiny gap into Gorge Harbour, anchored near the Gorge Harbour Marina, grabbed our bathing suits and headed for the lovely hot tub at the resort! Aaaaahhhh.. the extremes of sailing never cease to amaze me. One minute you are screaming down Georgia Strait in 35 knots of wind and the other you’re chillin’ in the most lovely hot tub with your honey.

The following day Neil joined us, we lounged in the hot tub again and we ended up partying a little bit too much. That seems to be what happens when the three of us get together. Neil is one of the funniest people we know. He dabbles in stand-up comedy and takes his joke and storytelling very seriously. Saxony and Neil are actually a comedy duo, each keeping track of who had the best joke on any given day. Unfortunately for them I usually end up sneaking up the middle with the joke of the year, but that’s a whole other story! “Promise meeee!!” [that’s an inside joke, you had to be there] 😉

Eventually, we did leave Gorge Harbour, motoring around the West side of Cortes Island. The weather was calm and sunny so we quickly cut the power, grabbed some beers and dropped the fishing lines. This is when Neil clicked on the cruising life: “Ohhh wait! So this is what you guys have been doing ALL summer long?!” Yup, pretty much. I guess Saxony and I were so deep in the chill groove that this wasn’t all that special anymore. But for our friend who had left the hustle and bustle of the City life the day before, this was quite the change. Once again, 30 minutes of fishing and we had dinner.

Fishing from bow of Leela

Is this what you did all summer?!

Neil fishing from Leela

Emmanuel and Neil on bow of Leela

Cleaning fish for dinner

Saxony hard at work cleaning our dinner

That evening we anchored in Von Donop Inlet where we were treated to yet another “Planet Earth”-type show. A rain shower followed by a fiery sunset made for some incredible light.

Sunset in Von Donop Inlet

The three of us are in the cockpit, sipping on our drinks, marvelling at how lucky we are when we hear the familiar “Phoooo” sound of whales breaching. Sure enough, a pod of Orcas stopped by for a visit! We couldn’t believe these whales were actually doing an exploratory round so deep in this inlet. Were they hunting, sightseeing? Who knows. Neil was absolutely beside himself at the spectacle, that’s him narrating the video below.

That night we dropped a crab trap in the sandy bottom hoping to catch breakfast. In the morning we were disappointed to find only one crab, which clearly wasn’t enough food for breakfast. We decided to keep him alive and onboard to add to our dinner fare.

We sailed North and around the North end of Cortes Island and down Lewis Channel where we enjoyed the blissful sunshine and perfect winds that allowed Henry the Hydrovane to drive while we sunbathed on the front deck.

Sunbathing on fore deck of Leela

Sunbathing on Leela

Sunbathing amidst the gennaker and crab trap

Our destination for this day was Cassel Lake, where we hoped to score the primo anchor spot in front of the waterfall. We thought with a bit of luck we could catch a fish on route to supplement the crab we had caught overnight. Saxony and I had discovered we could keep crabs alive throughout the sailing day in a bucket if we replenished it with fresh water every 45 minutes or so. What usually happened is by mid-day the crabs would become very sluggish from a combination of higher than usual water temperatures in the bucket as well as perhaps reduced oxygen levels.

Well, this crab was an entirely different beast. Every single time we would lift the lid of the bucket to add fresh water he would thrust his claws at us, defiantly, angrily. “I’ll rip your nose off if you just get close enough!!” is what I am sure he was screaming at us. The three of us quickly gained an appreciation for his resilient spirit. By mid-day, far from being lethargic, our crab friend was becoming even more combative.

Roughly at this time in the trip, I was reading the biography of Nelson Mandela and was sharing the story and my admiration for the man with Neil and Saxony. Somehow, in our comedic state, our combative and resilient crab was given the nickname “Nelson Mandela!”. Dear readers, please do not read this as anything other than our utmost respect for the actual Nelson Mandela and our admiration of this little crab fighting incessantly for its life.

When we reached Cassel Lake, our admiration for Nelson Mandela the crab knew no bounds and we decided to set him free. This little dude definitely needed to breed more crabs as he was an exemplary specimen of his species. Lucky for all of us, we captured the freeing of Nelson Mandela the crab on video.

We spent the evening and the following day relaxing at Cassel Lake, swimming in its warm waters and eventually resettling in front of the coveted waterfall. Oh and cracking jokes. Lots and lots of jokes.

Neil, Saxony and Emmanuel in Cassel Lake

Aaaahhh the warm waters of Cassel Lake

Cocktail hour in the sun

Cocktail hour in the sun!

Neil looking down on Leela

One of our goals for the summer was to indulge in a bit of spearfishing. However, we didn’t have a wetsuit or weight belt aboard which left us pretty much SOL. Neil saved us from a complete strike-out by bringing his gear along. He used the opportunity of a day relaxing by the waterfall to go and hunt for his dinner. It was quite cloudy and the visibility wasn’t ideal but lo and behold he managed to spear a small-ish rockfish clear through the head.

Neil about to go spearfishing

Photo in front of Teakerne Falls

Iconic James Bond-esque photo of Neil in front of Cassel Falls in Teakerne Arm


Neil caught a fish! Deadly shot!

Fish that has been speared


This was to be our last night together. Neil cooked his fish, Saxony and I enjoyed a veggie dinner and we had a most wonderful night aboard. The next day we brought Neil back to his car and thus completed our circumnavigation of Cortes Island. We bid our farewells and just in time as I don’t think our stomachs could have handled much more laughter. It was a most memorable trip where the three of us bonded at a profound level.

Thanks for joining us on an awesome trip Neil!

Saxony's gangster look

Saxony’s gangster look. I genuinely get scared.

Neil standing in front of food aboard Leela

Neil photo in front of waterfall

Neil’s future Tinder image


  1. oh my god, I love you guys, I felt like I was re-living a memory that I wasn’t even apart of, amazing story telling, thanks for sharing!!

  2. Pingback: August 2017 - Tumbo Island Paradise Found | Leela

  3. Lovely. Though you may want to remove the bit about Neil spearfishing a rockfish in a rockfish conservation area.

    • Thanks for the comment Hugh! You know after 5 years of having this blog post on the internet, you are the first to comment on this and lo and behold you are right, the whole of Teakerne Arm is a Rockfish Conservation Area. I don’t know if it was in 2015, may/must have been. We apologize for spearing a rockfish in a conservation area. Conservation is important and something we all need to take seriously. Thanks for the note.

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