Try to say that three times fast! The Skookumchuck Narrows, often called the Sechelt Rapids, are a tidal rapid along the Sunshine Coast of Canada’s British Columbia. With currents on spring tides in excess of 16 knots, they are one of the fastest flowing tidal rapids in the world. If you read much of my blog, you will see that I have an affinity for the coast of British Columbia. Natural phenomena such as these rapids are why. In June of 2015, I visited these Narrows on my way to Princess Louisa Inlet.
While cruising in my 1985 Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, Sampaguita, I made an overnight stop in Egmont, BC, the small town near Skookumchuck Narrows. This would be my departure point for the 35 nautical mile journey up Jervis Inlet the next day, an inlet that provides no shelter or services until you reach Princess Louisa Inlet. I topped up on fuel and had some time for a bit of sightseeing. I had read that the rapids were an impressive sight to view in full tidal flood, so I decided to hike to them by way of Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, an ideal place for viewing. This was a 2-3 mile hike each way from Egmont and well worth it.
Boating in these parts requires an understanding of tidal and current data. When I say “requires,” I mean for safety, by law, and if you want to get from Point A to Point B. I had the good fortune of visiting Skookumchuck Narrows during a spring tide. In simple terms, tide heights and current strengths cycle with the phases of the moon. Spring tides are when the heights and currents are at their highest and lowest extremes. The water level differences on each side can be as much as 9 feet as it builds up, trying to squeeze through the narrow channel. It’s these extreme differences that cause the water to flow so fast, creating rapids, standing waves, and whirlpools as it does.
When I arrived just before the maximum predicted flood, there were kayakers playboating just off the park, and the roar of the water was intimidating. There were enormous standing waves for them to do maneuvers on. While I had read the rapids were a sight to see, I did not realize it was a destination for extreme kayaking. This was a special treat.
As a sailboat (read as “slow boat”) traveler I would not have experienced these rapids without hiking to them. If I were to transit these narrows in my sailboat, I would time my passage with slack water. Slack water is the short period of time when the tidal flow changes direction and the water is close to still. If I attempted it at the time these photos were taken, there would be a good chance I would lose the boat, my life, or both. High powered boats can manage it outside of the standing waves, but if something were to go wrong, they too might be in trouble. In the pictures below you can see a powerboat holding steady in the current, taking pictures of the kayakers.
Here are some videos and stories you can check out: