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Traveling to Butchart Gardens by Boat - Itinerary - Canada/USA Customs - Anchor in Tod Inlet

         For  us, one of the best parts about cruising the San Juan's is not having to make any reservations or depend on anyone else.  After a quick stop at the store for food, we just go, and then let the  relaxing begin the moment we cast off. Four days, five days, ten days, I quickly leave everything behind, (including the wine and Hershey bars by mistake) all my thoughts are of traveling and  carefree times.

          However, many times my plans are waylaid by life's little curves and family events. Life curves that I have little control over, and family that - well that just takes precedence over my cruise plans.

          Case in point, it took me four years and three tries to finally see in person the flag lowering ceremony held each balmy summer evening at Roche Harbor.  One time I missed the cruise altogether, and another time a boat dragged anchor into us just minutes before the cannon went off. When I did get to witness the entire show it was just by happenstance that we were there, for I had given up and mostly forgot about the cannon firing sundown ritual.  So when this baby replica of a middle age artillery piece blasted a hole in my thoughts, and its muzzle flash lit up the manicured lawn, I was taken by surprise to say the least. Oh I may have yelled or screamed just a little but no one heard me. The blast was not really deafening but very loud never the less, took me by surprise and captured everyone's attention.  Then the returning echoes bouncing off Henry Island from across Roche Harbor drowned out all evidence of my heavy breathing and rapid heart beat.  What did he just babble? (how to relax?)

click below to read about Butchart Gardens!


        So I'm planning to visit Butchart Gardens.  This won't be our first visit and I hope not my last, but it will be the first where we anchor and arrive by dinghy. We will most likely swing by Sidney, but I'm not ruling out Victoria, to check into Canada, then anchor somewhere in Tod Inlet.   It used to be that the gardens did a fireworks display on Saturday nights, we attended one such display many years ago.  I fondly remember being assured by everyone that if we stayed late for the fireworks we would still be able to catch the last Double Decker bus back to our boat tied up in the inner harbor in front of the Empress hotel in Victoria.

     It was true, we rode the bus out after lunch, enjoyed the gardens in the afternoon, napped and read until after dark, toured the gardens one more time walking the illuminated pathways.  We paused for the longest time at the fountain overlook while the water jets danced to music shooting multi-colored water streams high into the darkness. Then when I was thinking we had for sure missed the last bus, fireworks lit the sky for a grand finale to a wonderful day outing. We hurried to the bus patiently waiting in the parking lot, it's driver nowhere to be seen. Of course he or she I don't remember which was most likely walking back from the fireworks in the throng we had just beat out the gate.
 A moving rhapsody of light and water at Ross fountain, you can almost hear the music.

           The short ride back to Victoria in the darkness opened up new lights to marvel and pieces of history for the driver to relate. Shortly we were graciously deposited back in front of the Empress our boat only steps away across the street.  I eagerly anticipated my warm soft berth but first a trip to the public restroom at the far end of the seawall was called for.  Unbelievable I said, here they have tourists everywhere on a beautiful Saturday night in the middle of summer and they lock the dumb restrooms automatically at 10:00 pm, What in the world are they thinking? Someone needs to tell the Queen, so off to the Empress I go. (and not to see the Queen)

         I  have fond memory's of Victoria, and would like to include a visit on this cruise   I wonder if we can manage a  reverse ride from Butchart into town and then much later back to the Gardens, all without missing a ride, or finding ourselves locked out. I wonder how one would explain breaking into a world famous garden to get to your dinghy because you missed a double decker bus ride earlier in the evening. Do they even  lock up the boat dock?  I wonder if we could manage all this on a Saturday so we can see the fireworks again. I wonder if we can find our way in a nine foot dinghy back to our anchored boat in the dark. I wonder if we will actually make it to  Butchart Gardens this summer or is something already plotting against me.
I wonder where my passport is. ( I need to relax, where's my boat?)

Enjoy a few pictures from years past.
After dark, lights lead the way for a new experience well worth waiting for.

July is the best month for blooming flowers.

Sturgeon fountain and many others wait to be discovered by you at Butchart Gardens.

In keeping with this sites stated purpose I have written out a brief suggested itinerary for first timers wanting to go to Butchart Gardens and maybe needing just a little help, but as always plot your own course and make it happen your way. This will be a first time for me as well, at least by dinghy.
  • Let's start in Bellingham or Anacortes, for me I will probably start in La Conner, we've already gone over boat ramps etc.Try to put in a few days before Saturday so you can see the fireworks at Butchart Gardens Saturday evening.  Map of boat ramps in the San Juan area
  • Plan to overnight at Jones Island, Stuart Island, or Roche Harbor.  Any of these places is a good close jump off point to cross Haro Strait.  Keep in mind if you have a fast craft you can make it all the way from the mainland to Sidney on Vancouver Island easily in a morning trip. Its about 45 miles from Bellingham to Sidney, but who wants to spend their vacation time banging into waves on a planing boat. (easy way to end a marriage) Parks in the San Juans
  • I suggest getting to your jump off point a day or so early, and then try to cross over  a day or so early.  If fog or rough seas out in the strait delay you, you can still make a Saturday garden tour. (when I say delay, I don't mean lost in the fog, I mean you should stay off Haro Strait and do something else until conditions improve, you should even consider canceling visit or a big change of plans at this point if the weather doesn't cooperate) Then try again another time or for me another year.
  • On the day you plan to visit, cast off or weigh anchor early, if you luck out and have a window of slack current so much the better, but most likely you will encounter a cross current during the six mile crossing, adding a little to your time.
  • You must head for the customs dock at Sidney to check in. You're not allowed to stop anywhere else until you check in. The last information I have is that it is still a telephone check in system on their red dock. You will need complete information about everyone on board and about your vessel. (names, age, addresses, purpose of visit)
  • Once checked in, cast off and head around the point to  Saanich Inlet and on to Butchart Gardens.  Hopefully your able to get anchored and make it to the dinghy dock early in the afternoon for a daylight tour, then plan on hanging around until dark for another walk around under lights, followed by a up close fireworks display. This is a long tiring day, I plan to sleep well and late the next morning.  
  • Plan your own trip, stay several days, the garden offers a next day visit readmission program at a discount.
  • When your ready to head back consider visiting Sidney and/or spending the night at near by Sidney Spit Park while waiting to cross Haro Strait. 
  • You must report back in to the USA first before you go anywhere, you're not allowed to go back to Stuart or Jones, so go to the red customs dock at Roche Harbor. You will need passports for adults and birth certificates for children last I heard. Fresh food/fruit seems to be an issue in both country's so eat it or can it.
  • I will have alternate plans (not really) just in case something interferes with the trip.  OK, I'll share what really happens with us, it seems like whenever things go awry we  just go to Jones, feed the deer, have campfires, hike and hang out for days, and maybe swing by somewhere for some ice cream. That's my alternate plan, I can feel myself relaxing already.
Update - Okay we made it, here are the real details Butchart Garden visit