Saltery Bay Freedive/Cycle Trip

Sat 12 November 2016 by Tom Lightfoot

Early on in the diving season Jaap proposed a diving/camping trip to Saltery Bay, just south of Powell River. I wasn't too keen on this idea because I hadn't been camping in probably 20 years. Also, the chill, dampness and poor sleep that inevitably come with camping don't lend themselves very well to a good dive experience. I ended up committing to cycling up to Comox to visit the folks on that same weekend. However, as enthusiasm for Jaap's plan grew over the summer I began to think:

  • I haven't been to Saltery Bay yet
  • Maybe I could swing by for a visit on the way up to Comox
  • How far is it to Saltery Bay? - Over 100km, not including bus and ferry
  • Can I find accommodation part way? - No
  • Is my tent still in good repair? - Yes
  • Would someone be willing to take my tent, sleeping bag and dive gear up for me? - Yes. Yay Olli!

So my trip up to Comox to visit my parents turned into an epic circle route of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, combining my two loves of cycling and freediving along with camping. My dive buddies had really pulled through for me to make this happen so I was all in.

Friday, August 5, Burnaby to Saltery Bay

This was going to be a big day for me as it included three firsts:

  1. First time cycling 100 km or more
  2. First time cycling on the Sunshine Coast
  3. First time camping in 20 years

My day started with a ride from Burnaby to downtown Vancouver to catch the bus to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal where I caught the 9:40am boat. That put me on the other side with enough time to catch the other ferry at either 5:35 if I didn't waste much time or 7:40 if I needed more time. Either way, I would still be able to make it to Saltery Bay in daylight.

Things progressed very well at first. I took the low roads as much as possible to avoid hills and highway traffic. That ran me straight into Molly's Reach in Gibsons, where I had a moment of Beachcombers nostalgia.

The next leg had me down along a very quiet road along the rocky shoreline. I was following a GPS track that I had downloaded from MapMyRide. Unfortunately the track ran me straight into somebody's private driveway. It was a cheat I wasn't willing to do. I had to abandon my scenic route to backtrack a few km and climb up to the highway.

I had lunch in Sechelt and continued up the Sunshine Coast. I stopped again at a place called Cooper's Green. It's a nice shore diving spot near Halfmoon Bay. I had gone about 60 of my 100 km. My legs still felt good, I had just re-filled my water bottle and I was still in good time to catch the earlier ferry.

Things got much tougher after that.

The remaining 40 km to the ferry was an unending series of soul-crushing hills. The road didn't look that steep but I frequently found myself gearing right down. The GPS also showed big shifts in altitude. At this reduced pace, I was watching my time buffer gradually diminishing. I was also running out of water. I had to take several breaks at the side of the road but I also had to keep them short if I was to make the ferry.

I rolled in to the Earls Cove ferry terminal with about half an hour to spare. Such a relief! I even had enough time for a bite to eat.

Once loaded on to the ferry I found Luca, his girlfriend Cam and his other camping buddies. The solo part of my journey had come to an end and it was nice to see familiar faces.


Once on the other side it was just a short ride to the campground. There I saw Olli and Heather who had brought my tent and sleeping bag. They were already set up in the campsite across from me along with Luca and his party.

My own campsite was empty as Jaime and Jean had both been delayed in Vancouver. Jaime had spent over two hours stuck on the 2nd narrows bridge. I had enough time to set up my tent and have a cold shower to wash off the day's ride before dinner at Jaap's campsite.

Jaap and Olli had already been diving that day and reported that the visibility was pretty bad. However, they were still keen to get back in the water that night to check out the bioluminescence. I was tempted to get in myself but after such a long ride that day I was too wrecked for anything but dinner and sleep. All of the plankton that was killing the visibility apparently made for quite a light show. Jaap, Olli, Luca and Don raved about the experience.

Around that time Jaime arrived on the very last ferry from Earls Cove. Fortunately for me, Jaime had brought a sleeping pad for me to borrow. Just in time and it made a big difference.

Saturday, August 6, Diving the Mermaid

The big draw of diving Saltery Bay is a bronze sculpture of a mermaid, created by Simon Morris. It is installed at 15m depth just off the campsite. They have added shore amenities to make the mermaid more accessible, including wheelchair ramps, change rooms and showers.

We dove the mermaid late in the morning. It was raining a bit and the visibility was pretty bad but it was good to get in the water. She was well covered in anemones and calcareous tube worms. Her face was unrecognizeable. About the only parts that one could recognize were the hands. However, I am sure that this is what Simon Morris originally had in mind; nature would be the final part of the sculpture.

Powell River

I dried my equipment as much as possible and then packed it all up with my tent for Olli to take back. I was back on the road in the late afternoon. There was much less riding to do that day. It was only 32 km to Powell River and then a 7km ride from the Comox ferry terminal to my parents' place.

I could still feel the previous day's ride in my legs and in my butt. The first hill was pretty hard but everything felt much better after that. Vehicle traffic was very light almost all the way into Powell River. After that there wasn't much to do but wait for the ferry. There were no sailings all afternoon and evening until 8:45. Fortunately the terminal had WiFi and the waiting area is very scenic.

I had a very enjoyable dinner on board with a side of sunset.

It was very dark by the time the ferry arrived in Comox. I waited until all of the cars had unloaded and left the terminal before pulling on to the road. I was used to riding at night but the trip still seemed spooky.

The Ride Home

I stayed in Comox for a day and a half, had a swim workout with my mom's swim fit group and then started heading down island. My shoulders felt tired from the swim but my legs felt great after a day of not cycling.

I spent the night at the Lighthouse Motel in Qualicum Bay. It is my favorite place to stay on Island trips because it has a nice view of the water and Hornby Island. I can also lock my bike up on the balcony just outside my room.

The next day was another good riding day. This was my fourth bike trip to this part of the Island so I've figured out most of the scenic ways to avoid the highway. The increased familiarity makes the trip seem shorter. I rolled in to the Departure Bay terminal early in the afternoon and was back home in Burnaby around 5pm.

It was a great and memorable trip. I will have to find other ways to combine freediving with cycling or maybe even camping. I'd like to give big thanks to Olli for hauling my gear for me, Jaap and Jean for keeping me fed and Jaime for the use of her sleeping pad.

Here is a Google map of my full route: