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Butchart Gardens by Sea

Not part of the San Juans or even the Gulf Islands, Butchart Gardens should be on everyone's bucket list. 
I'll just cover some of what I think are important elements for this adventure, but leave your trip planning to you.

  • We stayed at Jones Island the night before as our jump off point. I wanted to be close to our Haro Strait crossing just in case some weather or other issues came up. Nothing did.
  • We planned our crossing of Haro Strait to match up with low wind forecasts and slack tide waters.
  • Port of Sidney was our obvious Canada check in place.
  • We have a Canadian chart in our plotter, a larger scale would have been nice but certainly not worth buying.
  • I planned to get to the garden early enough to anchor by 5pm and then tour on the same day.  We prefer to walk in the waning sunshine and then walk again after dinner in the darkness with all the lights on
  • Coming back, we carefully listened to the weather report for Haro Strait and took off at 6:30 am the next morning to beat out high winds. We never felt any wind or waves.
  • Checking back in at Roche Harbor less than 24 hours after we left was simple and quick.
  • It would have been very easy to extend this Canada visit to multiple days and destinations, but we had other plans back in the San Juan's.  This Butchart visit was simply a quick overnight-er. We will be back again, it's just too easy not to.
The crossing was a cake walk, we followed our gps pointer straight to Sidney.  We had no discernible current set to counter, no swell to deal with.  The Port of Sidney customs dock is the first float when you clear the marina breakwater, no other boats were there so we glided in tied up and picked up the phone to check in.  Check in took a few minutes, they asked for our names, ages, boat name, and when we were leaving. Oh, and of course they ask about firearms.  They give you a long number which you write on a piece of paper and tape to your boat window.  That's it, your free to go.
We were in awe at the beauty and flowers at the Sidney Marina, not to mention all the very expensive big yachts.

More pictures and story>>>
Butchart by Sea continued
Sidney BC marina
These are the transient docks (at Sidney), so many of the slips are empty

Sidney BC marina
Every piling in the marina has flower baskets
I need to vent a little steam.
I can't let go of the fact that the port wanted to charge $12.50 per hour while we walked to the store.
I asked if we anchored and came in with our dinghy, is there a dinghy dock available. They said of course we have a dinghy dock, its $5.00 per hour.  We declined.  I think that's a cheap chintzy attitude and refuse to pay as a matter of principle.  We would gladly have spent lots of money at local businesses in Sidney but we left and never went ashore.

We pushed off, then wormed our way between some little passages paying close attention to aids and watching out for rocks.   This area is peppered with reefs, I really missed not having a large scale chart. I recommend not making a night time passage in the area just north of Sidney with or without a large chart, unless you really enjoy stress.

Its only 13 miles around the corner and up Sannich Inlet to Tod Inlet.  We arrived late by most standards and so it was no surprise that the five free Butchart buoys were taken so we just ran a quarter mile further and dropped anchor with the other boats in Tod Inlet.  We ran back in the dinghy and tied to the free garden dinghy dock. Two minutes later  at the head of the ramp we paid the entrance fee of $32 ea. and then merged in with the rest of the tourists as if we had been there all along and hadn't stepped off the boat minutes earlier.

We toured the gardens in the late afternoon sun, ate $4 soft cones (chocolate), relaxed on the concert lawn enjoying live music, and napped. As it got very dark we walked again and then putted back to the boat for wine and a late dinner.
The water that night was absolutely flat, still and quiet, what a great nights sleep on board. This day was a very good day.
Butchart Gardens by boat
I'm only showing one flower shot

Butchart Gardens by boat
I was intrigued by topiary

Butchart Gardens by boat
and more topiary

Butchart Gardens by boat
I didn't get a shot of the cougar but these bears are cool

Butchart Gardens by boat
I'm sure I missed some topiary

Butchart Gardens by boat

Butchart Gardens by boat
Topiary is taking over

Butchart Gardens by boat

Butchart Gardens by boat
What's so funny?

Butchart Gardens by boat
I know, Roses are flowers

Butchart Gardens by boat
Linda is convinced the centers were spray painted to get this unusual look, I rubbed them with my finger but couldn't tell.

Butchart Gardens by boat
Butchart Garden dinghy dock and rear entrance

Butchart Gardens by boat
Dinghy dock and five (no charge) buoys. The suns going down, the water stayed flat.

We left Tod inlet at 6:30 am trying to beat out a high wind forecast in Haro Strait. In our haste we skipped breakfast and made coffee on the run.  Just before noon we checked in with customs at Roche, a distance of about 21 miles. Crossing Haro Strait we had no wind, no current, no swell, no whales. All in all a pretty nice morning.

In contrast, on our  return from Nanaimo a while back we waited overnight  at Sidney Spit Park in a heavy rain, then cast off into soupy fog, the current shoved us sideways as much as we went forward, we almost snagged a black buoy which I  don't know why or what it was for.  We had the fog right up to the customs float at Roche and then the  agent was mean and nasty.

When you plan your trip to Butchart Garden by sea, consider these ideas.

  • The garden offers a second day entrance for only $3.50. You might be able to plan a night and day visit.
  • They have a first class restaurant, plus snack bars.
  • Saturday nights (July and August) is a regular fireworks show (same price) and in Tod inlet are some anchor places where you can watch from, but you really should be onshore sitting on the lawn for an up close show.
  • You could (we have twice) stay in Victoria and ride the double-decker buses out to the garden.
  • Don't forget that you must check in with customs before you stop anywhere when entering Canada or the US. (this means you can't swing into a park for lunch) 
  • When heading back to the US, use Sidney Spit park as a jump off or waiting place should you need to, the park has lots of buoys and floats plus shore facilities and hiking.
  • Plan your crossing around the tides and weather forecast to maximize your enjoyment, you don't have to beat up yourself, your boat and crew, or take risks to see some flowers.
  • You don't need any Canadian currency at the garden.
  • The best blooms are in early July.