Thormanby Islands, British Columbia (Sea) Horsing Around

Buccaneer Marina, on the northeast arm of Secret Cove, is a 45-kilometer drive from Langdale Ferry past Gibson’s Landing and Sechelt, on the sparkling Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. We’re headed for Buccaneer Bay on South Thormanby Island…a perfect place to horse around in sea kayaks on a fall Friday, if we can beat the weekend rush. Launch fees ($3 per boat) and parking fees ($3 per night) add to the ferry, reservation, and gasoline fees for a $100 wager on a horse that can’t be beat.

Thormanby, an Epsom-Derby winning racehorse, must have been Captain Richard’s favorite when he surveyed the island in 1860, and Buccaneer Bay (and its provincial park) are named for ‘Buccaneer’, an 1861 up-and-comer. Derby Point, Epsom Point, and Tattenham Ledge evoke equestrian roots, as we jockey in a dead heat to secure a spot on the spit. It’s an odds-on favorite because its open and sandy shallows are optimal for dips and rolls. A half-dozen SKABC kayakers depart at noon and arrive in a blanket finish— we are the first tent posts to hit the sand. Then it’s beach-combing along South Thormanby’s Gill Beach.


Cruising along in our Feathercraft (Klondike)

We light a fire and admire dual, golden incandescence—one burning ember from the horizon matching another from the firepit. Once night falls, a diamond-studded choker reflects Nanaimo’s shore.
Saturday, we circumnavigate the islands in a clockwise direction. With light wind and calm seas, we launch early and take our time, marveling at the sumptuous marine diversity. The Surrey Islands and Tattenham Ledge are sunny, spot lit shoals with sea bass darting and flickering below.



A healthy intertidal zone is a keystone for the whole marine ecology.

The Purple sea star, or pisaster ochraceus, comes in shades of orange, ochre, yellow and reddish brown, in addition to its purple preponderance, and they pile up voluminously in low tide niches, feeding on mussels and small crustaceans such as barnacles and limpets. Intermittently, we see Bat stars, webbed loners, who, seeing one of their own, foist upon one another in slo-mo arm wrestling. Leather stars appear between green flower beds of anemones. We’re so happy to witness a healthy, intertidal zone, ever since Sea Star Wasting Syndrome cropped up in September, 2013.


As we round South Thormanby into Welcome Passage, we stop at two other campsites within Simson Marine Park, named after Calvert Simson—a shopkeeper turned farmer and orchardist, who turned swamp into fertile ground around the turn of the twentieth century.
The coastline is rocky below an upland forest (second growth of Douglas fir and red cedar), and culminates at its high spot, Spyglass Hill. We admire it from below and focus on collecting more firewood. We steer around Pirate Rock and Bertha Island, passing groups of Harbour seal in harems, rookeries or herds, poised as tapered logs—their big, brown-gray mottled bodies sliding gracefully from rocky perches to observe us with soulful eyes, between snacks. We dig out our own lunches on the sand spit, coaxing our boats up on the incoming tide. Crusty sandwiches, inveterate mixes of nuts and dried fruit, and drinks, on this warm afternoon, satisfy us.

Beware lunchtime predators

Purple sea stars love the shoals

An hour’s paddle round North Thormanby’s sandstone-coiffed shores brings us back to our idyllic camp spot. It’s a Saturday afternoon blush of weekenders. We’re hopeful that the flotilla of noisy invaders will disperse, and they do, like an outgoing tide. That’s a lucky long shot against high odds, but we’ve picked a winner, and who would look a gifted sea horse in the mouth?

Standard kayaks measure 15-17 hands…in length!!

The evening unravels, in enjoyment of each other’s company, the sunset, the fire and a day well-spent in British Columbia’s coastal marine corridor. We pack up and out the next morning.

Back in the starting gate, we’re off to Smuggler Cove with its colorful history of liquor-smuggling during Prohibition. Then it’s back to Secret Cove to disembark, and on to Molly’s Reach, home of the internationally-televised ‘Beachcombers’ for our salmon ‘n’ chips, fish tacos, shrimp/crab sandwiches, salad and soup.

Enough horsing around…time to head back to the barn


We’ve horsed around and hoofed it over to the Thormanby Islands, British Columbia, and now we’re, well, healthy as a…kayaker can be.


Steve Barnes with a herd of kayakers









Many thanks to SKABC organizers, Steve Barnes and Patti Gordon.

6 thoughts on “Thormanby Islands, British Columbia (Sea) Horsing Around

    • You describe so eloquently in words how lucky we truly are to be able to Kayak the amazing waters of B.C. You were all great company with whom to share this wonderful weekend experience. Definitely a place worth revisiting in the near future.

  1. Hi Joan
    Sounds like you launched at Secret Cove and discovered my secret. My little summer place is just east of the centre of the cottages that run along the tree line at Gill Beach. This place has been in my family for three generations and my maternal grandmother was a close friend of the Simson pioneers.i loved reading your blog about your experience of discovery of the island and the accuracy of your facts and commentary.
    I always say there are 2 kinds of people. Those who “get” Buccaneer Bay and those who don’t. You obviously are in the former category! No surprise to me, my friend.
    I’m very busy at work at the moment, hope to see you in the pool one day soon!

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