Easy to reach and easy to enjoy, this Howe Sound haven offers plenty of distractions for the visiting boater.
Just a short hop from home for boaters throughout B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Bowen Island’s Snug Cove is a destination for all seasons – and all reasons. Whether you prefer cruising in company or quiet escapes, hiking, golf or fine dining, you can enjoy all of them in the cove. And you’ll just be scratching the surface of this not-quite-urban cruising destination.
Over the years, we’ve visited Snug Cove in all four seasons, for quick weekend getaways or easy nights dockside en route to farther cruising grounds. We’ve daysailed over for lunchtime outings with family and ducked in to escape lousy weather. We’ve celebrated special occasions in the village’s excellent restaurants and treated our city dog to the long walk through the “wilds” of Killarney Lake. But no matter how often we visit this spot in our own backyard, it never gets old. It’s seems there’s always some fresh surprise, something new to do.
Close to Home
Snug Cove and neighbouring Mannion Bay notch the east shore of Bowen Island, less than two miles across Queen Charlotte Channel from West Vancouver and about three miles north of Pt. Atkinson at the entrance to Howe Sound. Snug Cove is minutes away from the marinas and yacht clubs of West Van, about nine miles from Vancouver’s False Creek and First Narrows, and eight miles from the mouth of the Fraser River’s North Arm. About the only challenge in getting here can be unpleasantly choppy wind-over-tide conditions near Pt. Atkinson – and as you enter the cove, be sure to leave the light tower and the reef off the point that separates Snug Cove from Mannion Bay to your starboard side.
The village of Snug Cove is the business hub of Bowen Island and the terminus for the BC Ferries route from Horseshoe Bay on the mainland. The ferry Queen of Capilano shuttles back and forth hourly for most of the day – and takes up lots of space in the cove’s narrow confines as it arrives and departs from its berth on the north shoreline. The ferry crews are used to rubbing shoulders with pleasure boats here, but you’ll breathe a little easier if you plan to arrive while the ferry is crossing, or back in Horseshoe Bay. If you do arrive while the Queen is in her berth, watch for wash from her propellers even while she is berthed – if you’re not prepared you may be pushed uncomfortably close to the rocky south wall of the channel. Otherwise, you’ll find lots of water as you duck around the end of the government dock, just west of the ferry berth, toward the head of the cove.
The major marina for transient and permanent moorage here is the Union Steamship Company (USSC) Marina, which takes up most of the cove west of the government dock. You may also find limited transient moorage at the government dock or at Bowen Island Marina, just inside the entrance to the cove. If you prefer to anchor, you may find a spot among the boats moored in Mannion Bay, but the bay is exposed to chop and ferry wake.
Opened by owners Rondy and Dorothy Dyke in 1990, the marina takes its name from the steamship line which served communities along the B.C. coast through the first half of the 20th century and operated an extensive holiday resort in Snug Cove from the ‘20s through the Second World War. More than 100,000 visitors a year came to Bowen on the company ship Lady Alexandra for holidays or Saturday night dances at the pavilion beside Mannion Bay.
The USSC is a well-appointed and maintained facility with more than 200 slips, including extensive year-round transient moorage, 30 and 50-amp power and water on the docks, and enthusiastic young dockhands who race along the floats on bicycles to welcome visitors and take mooring lines during the busy summer months.
The marina’s frame-and-shingle buildings recall steamship days and the heyday of the resort. But today, its centerpiece is the new floating office/washroom/shower facility, located at the foot of the ramp to the shore. Snug Cove regulars will know that here hangs a tale…
For the marina’s first 20 years, the Dykes tussled with local government authorities to get approval for their plans for the floating office and washroom. Meanwhile, marina visitors made do with a single toilet and shower that was always intended to be temporary. All that changed when, permits in hand, the Dykes completed the new facility in the same heritage style as the upland buildings, opening it in 2010.
With the marina office and chandlery on the main floor and washrooms, showers, laundry and TV lounge upstairs, the amenities now match the standard of the rest of the marina. They’re bright and welcoming, with large brass portholes and antique nautical appointments, including segments of the wooden skiff The Peanut that was built by Vancouver’s Turner Boatworks in 1954 and donated to the marina by its longtime Bowen Island owners. In the men’s washroom, a fella can find relief with a view, through a porthole, of the length of B dock. And about halfway through their first steaming 10-minute shower (for just a Canadian loonie) in one of the spacious stalls, long-time visitors will shout “Hallelujah, it was worth the wait!”
Given its proximity to the big city, USSC can be a busy place, especially on long weekends in the spring and fall and most summer weekends. Reservations are highly recommended for weekends from June through Thanksgiving, suggests Dorothy Dyke.
There is space for visiting boats to 200’ on both sides of A and E docks, the T-floats at the ends of B, C and D docks, and at slips throughout the marina as available. There is slightly less transient space during the winter. Some yacht clubs lease space in the marina for the use of members. The marina also has seven self-contained character cottages around the cove for daily or longer-term rentals.
USSC is a popular destination for rendezvous and cruises by Lower Mainland yacht clubs and power squadrons. Marina staff has added to the fun by encouraging groups to try “Med mooring” along the west side of A dock. Boats set anchors in the open water off the float – mean low-tide depth is eight feet – then fender up, back down and tie stern-to. The result is an entertaining test of boat-handling skill and a row of cockpit “patios” that is perfect for a strolling “happy hour.”
“We take out a hook from every second or third boat and set them on a slight angle,” explains dock manager Maria Steernberg. “The captains love it, it makes for a cool walk down the dock and it really brings the group together.”
For cruisers from farther afield, the marina makes an excellent base to explore or provision in transient moorage-starved Vancouver. Ride the ferry and then a city bus into downtown, or take a water taxi directly from the government dock to Granville Island, site of Vancouver’s largest public market.
Here’s a tip from this USSC veteran: if you enjoy being at the centre of the action on busy weekends, ask for a spot on A dock. But if peace and quiet is more your style, try the dock-end T-floats; they’re away from the bustle and face the cove’s wooded shoreline just across the channel – you might even forget you’re at the marina!
Or better still, visit during the week at any time of year. You’ll find a sleepier cove and you can entertain yourself watching the island’s commuters come and go on the ferry. Or join the locals for coffee and gossip at The Snug.
Over the past couple of decades, Bowen’s permanent population has grown steadily to more than 3,000, and that has meant more stability and prosperity for businesses and eateries in Snug Cove village. That’s excellent news for visiting boaters in search of dining or distraction. Restaurants, clothing stores, art and craft galleries, a barbershop, grocery stores and bakeries stretch out westward along the south side of Trunk Road from the ferry dock and marina.
Not long ago, restaurants came and went in the village season after season, and finding a quality meal was a challenge. Now islanders and visitors support a rich array of restaurants that offer a variety of cuisines and generally great food. In fact, you could stay here for days and never fire up the galley stove. Heading up Trunk Road from the marina, the diner’s choice looks like this:
Blue Eyed Mary’s: A charming and busy bistro that specializes in seasonal menus and regional ingredients.
Doc Morgan’s Pub and Restaurant: From one of the marina’s shoreside buildings, Doc Morgan’s commands the best view of the cove from its first and second-story patios. Under new management after some uneven times, it offers local seafood, pub fare and local music.
The Snug: Mix with locals and visitors for coffee, breakfast or lunch at this longtime village fixture.
Miksa Restaurant: Lunch and dinner with an emphasis on seasonal and regional menus.
Tuscany Restaurant: A busy trattoria that specializes in artisan pizza, pasta and rustic Mediterranean dishes.
From Trunk Road, turn left on Dorman Road to find more options in Village Square:
Qi Café: Homestyle Indian food and café.
Bowen Sushi: Fresh sushi to eat in or take out.
Village Baker Café: Coffee, bakery, breakfast and lunch with patio seating.
You’ll also find Nancy’s Taco Shack and Ice Cream at the pier beside the ferry dock, and Artisan Eats and Cocoa West Chocolatier in Artisan Square farther up Trunk Road.
Of course, if you prefer to cook onboard, you’ll find plenty of provisions in two well-stocked stores: the General Store on Trunk Road, also a liquor outlet; and The Ruddy Potato, an organic market at Trunk and Dorman roads. During the summer months, local artisans offer fresh foods and baked goods, as well as crafts, in the Bowen Summer Market on the lawn adjacent to the marina’s shoreside building.
Take a Hike
Phew! After breakfast or lunch, or before dinner, you may need a little exercise. You can walk or hike from the cove in most directions, for as long and strenuous a stroll as you like. Head north on Cardena Road past the local library, then turn right to find a sandy beach on Mannion Bay, or continue straight onto the causeway that separates Mannion Bay from the lagoon above it. From the causeway, enjoy spectacular views of the North Shore Mountains to the east, or turn around and savour the peace of the wooded lagoon, where you may see ducks, mergansers, swans and other waterfowl. This is a wonderful spot to enjoy a quiet morning coffee while the village and marina are still asleep. You can continue across the causeway and follow the road through the neighbourhoods around Mannion Bay and Miller Landing.
From Cardena Road or Trunk Road, beside the library parking lot, access the trail network in Crippen Regional Park for an easy walk on the well-trodden trail through the forest to Killarney Lake, a more rugged hike around the lake, or a five-hour trek to and from Mount Gardner. As you walk through this second-growth forest, look for the giant stumps of first-growth trees that were logged over a century ago – you’ll notice the steps cut for the hand-loggers’ springboards. If you need a break, stop for a picnic or swim on the south side of Killarney Lake.
For a shorter but still energizing grind – with the reward of a stunning vista of Vancouver and surrounding waters from the top – climb from the marina to Dorman Point, which overlooks Queen Charlotte Channel, English Bay and the Strait of Georgia. Follow the boardwalk around the marina lawn and past the beach toward the woods to the south – look for signs that mark the trail to the point. On a clear day, you can see much of the Lower Mainland and the waters you crossed to get here. This is also a good spot to check weather and sea conditions before you poke your nose back out of the cove.
If you’d prefer a pleasant meander close to the marina, stroll up from the boardwalk through the Crippen Park picnic ground. Or, look for the sign to Davies Orchard from Trunk Road, near Tuscany Restaurant and follow the lane back to several cottages that date from the Union Steamship Company’s resort days. You’ll pass an interpretive sign that recounts the history of the company and the resort, with lots of historic photos and illustrations that connect the cove of today with its fascinating, bustling past.
The development of Bowen Golf Club, a nine-hole, 3,003-yard course near Pt. Cowan at Bowen’s southeast corner, has generated a fresh wave of traffic to the marina. Weekend visitors bring their clubs, while runabouts and hefty inflatables speed into the cove with foursomes for day visits. USSC welcomes golfers – ask at the office about day moorage and transportation to the club.
Yes, there are many reasons to visit Snug Cove and many ways to entertain yourself once you get here. But maybe the best reasons of all are the simplest ones – it’s easy, it’s close and it’s welcoming.
Details & Coordinates
Union Steamship Company Marina
Monitors VHF 66A
Bowen Island Marina
Bowen Island Tourist Info
By Duart Snow