Ports of Call: Victoria, B.C.

Norris Comer Features Ports of Call

Victoria, photo by Norris Comer

SStanding proud at the gateway to the wild waters north is the singular Victoria, British Columbia. The capital of the province, Victoria stands in contrast to the more typical working, small town coastal B.C. experience and lures boaters of all stripes. Upon entrance to Victoria Harbour, visiting boaters must dutifully adhere to the traffic signage and rules of the road to avoid the parade of departing and arriving seaplanes, passenger ferries, commercial barges, fleets of recreational craft, historic wooden tallships, water taxis, and more. The urban skyline backdrops the waterfront, often swarming with international tourists and street artists peddling their wares or playing music. The classic scene is that of the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel—a patrician Victorian English icon that open in 1908—overlooking the collection of yachts in the Victoria Causeway Marina and the multi-lingual humanity doing everything from gazing longingly at the water to falling in love.

If entering the country from American waters, customs must be dealt with. The most common way to do this is to check in at the Raymur Point Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) Boat Dock located on the south side of the harbor between the floating homes of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Coast Harbourside Hotel Marina. There is a single long dock with yellow capped pilings marked “Customs.” Once you dock, there is a phone on the float that connects you to the CBSA. Reference “Raymur Point CBSA Boat Dock” as your reporting site and be ready to relay your information, passport and vessel information at hand. Hail the Harbour Authority when completed on VHF channel 66A for moorage options. It’s worth noting that if your vessel is over 160’, the float dock is too small to accommodate you, and you should call 1-888-226-7277 to proceed.

Adherence to the navigation markers and signage is necessary to avoid vessel-to-vessel conflict or ticketing from the watchful Mounties. For example, sailboats will have to stow the sails and rely on the motor while entering according to a large posted notice or risk a ticket. This local regulation adds a level of cartoonish comedy to the Race to Alaska, which bans the use of engines and forces racers to furiously peddle and/or paddle their racing machines the nautical mile or so to downtown as boaters leisurely motor past.

STAY AWHILE

LOCAL VICTORIA HIGHLIGHTS

Victoria Waterfront

Waterfront Wonder

If you moor your vessel in one of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority facilities on the far east shore, then you are part of the charming scenery of Victoria’s downtown waterfront. An afternoon stroll along the Inner Harbour Causeway under the watchful eye of the Captain James Cook statue is a must. All manner of artistic expression colors the walkway from painters to mimes, who are eager to delight and earn a living. You’ll also find the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the stately Legislative Assembly of British Columbia building. Afternoon tea at the Empress is a classic experience, reservations can be made by searching fairmont.com. Another attraction of note is the Robert Bateman Centre, a top-quality art gallery.

Victoria, Tally Ho Tours

Tally Ho!

There’s plenty to see beyond the immediate waterfront, and there’s many ways to explore. For a jolly good experience, Tally-Ho Carriage Tours will take you and yours on a horse-drawn carriage for a narrated tour. The company has many offerings, ranging from the 15-minute Short & Sweet tour of downtown ($60 CAD) to the 90-minute Premier Tour ($295 CAD). Bobs your uncle, Tally-Ho is a smashing tonk! Info at tallyhotours.com. Another way to get out there is via bike. Cycle BC Rentals and Tours near the Victoria Conference Center has just about everything with two wheels available. To learn more, check out their website at victoria.cyclebc.ca.

Victoria: Culture

Culture Galore for All Ages

There is a staggering array of cultural landmarks that range from refined to playful. On the light side of things are attractions like Miniature World (miniatureworld.com) that features tiny, very detailed displays of fantasy and history, and the Victoria Bug Zoo (victoriabugzoo.com). The National Toy Museum of Canada at Broad and Johnson streets also may appeal to the little ones. For those interested in historic topics, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (mmbc.bc.ca) and Royal BC Museum (royalmuseum.bc.ca) are excellent. The Royal BC Museum is right next to Thunderbird Park, a uniquely Victoria greenspace with replica totem poles and historic pioneer buildings that include a convent and carving studio.

Victoria, Wharf

Wharfside

The Inner Harbour Causeway isn’t the only way to enjoy the harbor. While the Fisherman’s Wharf marina caters to longer term moorage and commercial vessels, one can venture westward away from downtown and beyond Laurel Point to find the Fisherman’s Wharf nexus. This area is a bit less urbane and home to the area’s commercial fishing fleet. Not only are there plenty of fish and chips to be had (like at Barb’s Fish and Chips), but the fresh catch of the day is mongered at Finest at Sea, the local seafood market. Fisherman’s Wharf Park is a charming greenspace perfect for leg stretching or picnic blanket lounging. For boaters, it’s worth noting the area’s fuel dock and Canadian Coast Guard station.

Victoria, On-Water Experiences

Hull Hop

Even if you just cruised into Victoria on your own hull, there are lots of intriguing on-water experiences that may tempt you. If you’re sick of seeing whales in passing and want an intimate, professionally lead experience, the Prince of Whales Whale Watching tour company is one of the most established in the Pacific Northwest and offers both small zodiac and larger power catamaran platforms. One of their tour packages includes a visit to Butchart Gardens from May to September. You can see all their offerings at princeofwhales.com. Other companies include SpringTide Whale Watching & Eco Tours (victoriawhalewatching.com) and BC Whale Tours Victoria (bcwhalewatchingtours.com).

Besides the many fishing and three-hour tour style businesses, Harbour Air Seaplanes also operates heavily out of the Victoria Harbour. Not only is this a potential asset for an extended cruising scheme, but they offer aerial tours for a perspective you don’t get on the water. You can learn more about them at harbourair.com.

Victoria, SHopping

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Barring a detour to Vancouver, B.C., Victoria is by far the biggest city northbound cruisers will encounter until Alaska. If you’ve got that urban itch, the downtown between the Fairmont Empress to the south and Chinatown to the north is jam packed with shops, boutiques, and mini-malls. Need reading material? Russell Books has you covered. The fashionable ladies aboard want some comfortable cruising attire? Lululemon in Market Square may be a stop. Maybe the wardrobe needs some rugged hiking additions? Robinson’s Outdoor Store or Patagonia Victoria is there for you. More fun shopping opportunities include the Silk Road Tea shop, Kaboodles Toy Store, and Goodfellas Cigar Shop. Practically speaking, pharmacies, liquor stores, grocery stores, and just about anything you need can be found.

PRINCE RUPERT, BRITISH COLUMBIA

GASTRONOMY

Blue Fox Cafe, Victoria

Victoria is a full-blown city and is well equipped to sate just about any culinary itch you may have: Mexican, vegan, Vietnamese, Italian, Thai, bubble tea, Japanese, Tibetan, French, Lebanese, and more. I can personally vouch for Koto Sushi Izakaya across the street from the Great Victoria Harbour Authority office. Their giant menu of affordable and traditionally prepared local seafood entrees is top notch and affordable (typically between $15 and $30 CAD). Check it out at kotosushivictoria.ca. If you want something more North American and upscale in nature, Nautical Nellies Steak and Seafood House is a stone’s throw away for that fancy splurge night (nauticalnelliesrestaurant.com). For hearty and delicious breakfast or brunch, head a few blocks east on Fort Street to the Blue Fox Cafe (thebluefoxcafe.com) – be warned, there’s often a line by 1000 hours.

One stellar aspect of Victoria is all the great drinkeries ripe for anything from an afternoon pint outside to a rowdy bar crawl. For a complement to a sunny afternoon, the outdoor seating at both The Local and Darcy’s Pub—across the road from each other along Wharf Street—have the perfect airy vibe. When the weather turns, the English bar scene is as strong as it gets with places like Irish Times Pub, Garrick’s Head Pub, The Churchill, and the Bar & Banker, all cozied up to each other on Government Street.

Read our full Victoria Guide on Issuu

Norris Comer

Written by

Norris Comer is the managing editor of Northwest Yachting. He was raised in Portland, Oregon and got his BS in Marine Science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL where he lived aboard a 1973 Catalina 27 before moving to Washington. He has worked as a commercial fisherman, wandered aimlessly around the world, studied oil spills, and was a contestant on the Norwegian reality TV show, Alt for Norge. He loves living in a state where he can explore the ocean and mountains in the same day.

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