Routes to BMSC: By land or by sea

by Amanda Kahn

Hello again! After a long hiatus while studying for my candidacy exam, I am back to writing in the blog.  And…I am back in Bamfield!  I’m a student at the University of Alberta, so getting out here requires some logistics–but there are definitely several ways to get out here.  I don’t know anyone who’s done the trip in less than 2 days from Alberta, though it’s theoretically possible if you fly in to Victoria, Nanaimo, or Comox and rent a car.

If you’re coming to BMSC with a lot of gear, you’ll want to drive.  Those I talk to drive from Edmonton to Vancouver on the first day, about a 12-hour drive, spend the night, then hop on the ferry to Nanaimo the next day and drive from there.  You can take a neat detour through Coombs to stock up on gourmet foods, fresh produce, and silly photos of goats on a roof.

If you’re coming to BMSC and you do not have a car, or do not want to drive, then you can fly.  Up until this trip, I’ve always flown to Victoria, stayed the night at a hostel, and then set out on the West Coast Trail Express, a bus that runs daily from Victoria to Bamfield and back (summer only).

This time, I opted for a different route, one (partly) by sea.  I flew into Nanaimo (though Victoria OR Vancouver-then-ferry-to-Nanaimo could work too), took buses to Port Alberni, and stayed at a hostel in Port Alberni, then continued the following day on a ferry out to Bamfield.

Fat Salmon Backpackers

Fat Salmon Backpackers hostel in Port Alberni. Credit: A Kahn 2013

Overall breakdown, with costs, timing, etc.

  • Flight from Edmonton to Nanaimo ($280 or so), depending on stops, 5 hours or so..I arrived 10:15 AM
  • Nanaimo Airporter shuttle from Nanaimo Airport to Departure Bay ferry terminal ($33), 30 minutes.
  • Tofino Bus from Nanaimo to Port Alberni ($25, $22 students), depart 2:45 PM, arrive in Port Alberni 4:30 PM
  • Port Alberni transit (city bus system) ($1.75): Take the #3 bus to the Safeway shopping center, then the #1 bus, which will go right past the hostel.
  • Spend the night at the Fat Salmon Backpackers hostel ($25).
  • Depart on the MV Frances Barkley (Lady Rose Marine Services) ($35).  Depart 8:00 AM (be onboard no later than 7:45) and arrive in Bamfield between 12:30 and 1:00 PM.  Make sure this step happens on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday–the ferry doesn’t go to Bamfield other days.
  • Two options: Get off on the west side and call a friend to pick you up from across the inlet, or take the water taxi for $5.  Better if you are toting lots of gear.  Second option, wait until the Frances Barkley stops at the east side.  This doesn’t require water crossing so you can walk to the station, but it’s a good 1.5 km or so to get to the station and there’s a nice hill in there.

Total cost breakdown: flight (variable) + $33 shuttle + $25 Tofino bus + $1.75 city bus + $25 hostel + $35 ferry + $5 water taxi = ~$125 + flight.

I’ll write about my experiences in a later post, but for now, I wanted to present this as one option to consider when trying to figure out how to get to BMSC.  For now, I’m off to go diving for my research!

Bow of Frances Barkley

The view from the bow of the Frances Barkley. Credit: A Kahn 2013

Save room for Coombs when coming to Bamfield

Amanda loves tide poolsby Amanda Kahn

One of the two driving routes to get to Bamfield takes Trans-Canada Hightway 1 north from Victoria up to Nanaimo, then BC-19 to Parksville, then takes Highway BC-4 W toward Port Alberni.  From there, it’s a route along the logging roads.  However, a slight detour, taking Highway BC-4a instead of BC-4, adds only a few minutes and takes you through a wonderful town called Coombs.

To be honest, I’ve only really explored one little part of Coombs, and that is the Old Country Market…better known as “Goats on the Roof” market.

Old Country Market

The official name, the Old Country Market, in Coombs, BC. Credit: D Ludeman 2011

Inside the market, there are delicious gourmet breads, cheeses, cuts of meat, a fantastic little deli and cafe, and lots of international decorations–really, there’s a bit of everything in there.  Farther down the road from the market is also an ice cream shop (hey, yet another way to get ice cream while working in Bamfield! Cash only.), and a very affordable produce stand with local BC produce.  Also, the roof is an environmentally friendly sod roof, and to keep the grass cut economize on space entertain people / be really awesome, there are goats that live on that roof.  My favorite quotation from the reviews on about the market: “Goats on the roof = automatic awesomeness.

Goats on the roof of Coombs market

Oh, that’s normal for the market…goats on the roof. Credit: A Kahn 2012

Coombs is a great place to stop at on the way into Bamfield, to pick up specialty gourmet foods before needing to order things in or depend on what you find in the stores there.  Apparently, there are also a few other destinations in the tiny town, although I’ve never been to these:

Butterfly World and Gardens – Butterflies, reptiles, and an orchid garden populate the Butterfly World and Gardens in Coombs.  If you miscalculate the time it takes to get to the ferry in Nanaimo and have to wait for the next one, you may want to check this place out.

World Parrot Refuge – The refuge provides a place for previously-owned pet parrots to live out their lives.  They also invite visitors in to learn about parrots and have a huge volunteer base.  Seriously, if I lived near a parrot refuge, I’d be a volunteer!  How cool is that?

Also, a rodeo and a bluegrass festival bring visitors to the tiny town each summer.  Wow.  I’m going to bet every tiny town has as much going on in it as tiny Coombs–I’m just familiar with the happenings of this little place.  Definitely take the detour–it will only be a few minutes extra driving and will let you stock up on hot sauces and specialty Italian cookies before heading out to Bamfield, plus you’ll see goats!  On a roof!

This post empowers free access to ice cream cones for all. You’re welcome.

Amanda loves tide poolsby Amanda Kahn

Unlike when one takes a course or the Fall Program, there is no orientation for researchers coming out to BMSC.  When I arrived for the first time, I did not know what the different buildings were called, whom to talk to if seeking out supplies or equipment, or what resources were available when I arrived.  One of the goals of this blog is to serve as a repository of information, tips, and procedures for working at BMSC.

When I first arrived in Bamfield, I heard people mentioning taking rowboats across the inlet to the West Side.  I figured that I wouldn’t need such a thing–the whole station is on the East Side, and there is a store on the East Side fulfilling any needs I might have.  However, over time it became apparent that a trip or two to the West Side would become necessary, especially once I learned that the Bamfield General Store serves ice cream cones in summer.  Many of the locals live on the West Side, Brady’s Beach and Scott’s Bay are accessible by foot from the West Side, and the Coast Guard, Bamfield General Store, Boardwalk Bistro, and dock for the Francis Barkley are all on that side of the water.

So how does one use the rowboats?  And who can use the rowboats?  You can check out the full details in the WCUMSS guide, but here’s a short rundown:

Any students or researchers who are working at BMSC can use the rowboats between 8:30 and 4:30.  After-hours (but still daylight–no rowing in the dark) and weekend use requires a check-in person, whom you must contact before you leave with an estimated return time.  That person is responsible for reporting a possible disappearance, so don’t be late and don’t forget to contact the person when you return.  Row boats cannot leave the inlet, but inside of the inlet, where the water is calm and relatively unperturbed, it’s easy to cross or to row up the inlet all the way to the Boardwalk Bistro.

Procedure for checking out a rowboat:

  • LoligoSign out one of the two rowboats, Loligo or Postelsia, providing the name of all people going across (max. 4 people), departure time, estimated return time, where you are going, and who your check-in person is, if it is after 4:30. This can be done on the sign out sheet at the dive shed in the North facing cubby.


  • Grab Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) from the closet next to the boat sign-out nook of the dive shed, distributing them for all members going across.  Everyone MUST wear a PFD when down on the dock and when using the boats.
  • Check that the boat you checked out has the required safety equipment: oars, a bailing device, a whistle, and line to throw out in case of a man overboard.  Also check that oarlocks (where the oar fits into a holder on the boat) are tight and secure.  Bail the boats if needed, such as if it’s been raining.
  • Designate a rower: that person faces toward the aft (rear) of the boat and rows while facing backwards.  As probably all of us have learned, rowing isn’t tricky but it isn’t easy either–the first few times, go out in good weather with knowledgeable partners in the boat, and practice turning and maneuvering. It’s useful to have someone facing forward to help direct you across, but otherwise find a spot on the shore opposite your destination and keep facing it.
  • Untie the boat from the dock and pull the bumpers up inside the boat–otherwise you’ll continually be veering into a circle as you try to row in a straight line!

Check for oars, a whistle, throw line, bailer, and that all boaters have PFDs. The front of the boat (stern) is the side that has the boat’s name on it. The one who is rowing will face away from the stern, toward the rear (aft) of the boat.

  • Row out to your destination.  Be careful when crossing the inlet–technically as a non-motor-powered boat you have the right of way, but it is wise and courteous to try to time your crossing so you don’t force other boats (and seaplanes!) to work around you.
  • If you’re just going to the General Store, you can park the boat anywhere in the white spaces in front of the General Store dock (the “Store Dock” in this picture).  If you’re going elsewhere, park the boat in the government dock (just to the right of the store dock in the picture).  Throw the bumpers over the side and tie the boat up to the dock using a clove hitch followed by two half hitches.

How to tie up the boat: a clove hitch:

Follow that up with two half hitches and you’re done!  The boat will be secure.

  • Make sure that when you return, you tie up the boats in line with the white markers painted on the docks.  This will ensure the two rowboats do not bump and damage each other if waves or swells come through.
Clove hitches should be tied where the white paint is, unlike what you see in this photo.

Clove hitches should be tied where the white paint is, unlike what you see here. Credit: N Webster 2012

Clove hitches are in the correct place, overlapping the white painted lines on the dock.

Clove hitches are in the correct place, overlapping the white painted lines on the dock.

  • Return life vests and sign back in.  Also, contact your check in person if you had one.

Hooray!  Now you have a quick reference to how to use the rowboats.  Still, once you get to Bamfield for the first time, make sure to go out with someone who knows what they are doing first and check for any changes in boating policy.

I hope you know what this means–you now have the ability to cross to the West Side for an ice cream cone!!  I am sure you’re as excited about that as I was when I figured that out–see you there!

P.S.  This does not give you access to a free ice cream cone, just free access to getting across to buy an ice cream cone.  Tricky wording?  Maybe, but not if you read it carefully…  It’s all in the word order.

The Road Less Traveled

by Jackson Chu

Roads stretch for thousands of kilometers across Canada but I have more memories driving a certain 74 km compared to all others – the stretch of gravel logging roads that connects Bamfield to the rest of the world.

The drive usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours between Port Alberni and Bamfield. But instead of 6-lane highways, aggressive drivers, and a yellow line (you know, the one that tells you you’re on the right side of the road?), you get to dodge logging trucks, deer, and the occasional black bear.  Driving on washboards, potholes, and loose gravel is also pretty unforgiving to your car.   Coming out from Bamfield, the locals in Port Alberni can easily recognize that my car has “just come from Bamfield” because it’s covered in dust when it’s dry, or sticky clay mud when it’s been raining.  I’ve used the carwash in Port Alberni quite a few times prior to driving through to Victoria.

Best view on station

Credit: Jackson Chu.

But arriving at the marine station found at the end of this yellow brick road makes it all worth it.  Marine research at the BMSC is inspiring to say the least.  So, consider getting a flat on those logging roads as a rite of passage and an initiation into the Bamfield culture!

One can also get to Bamfield via ship or float plane, but where’s the adventure in that?  Please share your “Bamfield Logging Roads” experiences in the comments section below.