Queen Charlotte Islands July-August 2016
We are in Prince Rupert for laundry, packing, preparing for Iain Sara & Jackson to leave the boat on their return journey to New Zealand. Carol arrives for the next leg. We explore Prince Rupert and take in the museum then provision. After bidding adieu to Iain and Sara we try to fuel up but docks were too busy. Overnight at Pillsbury Cove. We catch 4 massive Dungeness crab and toast our good fortune. Sweet white flesh compartmentalized like cloves of garlic sheathed in cartilage instead of a papery skin. We feast with abandon licking lips and throwing shells overboard.
Fuel dock fiasco….. Made Graham Island after 10 hours sail at 10 pm in time for an amazing sunset and a rainbow over Tow Hill. We are now in the Queen Charlotte Islands the historic lands of the Haida people.
0930 anchor up to Massett under foggy conditions. Landed at the public dock the 3 Native fellows sitting on the high public dock. They wave as we pull alongside in huge currents. They then offer us fresh picked berries for sale although theirs, in plastic bags after all day, do not rival the fresh berries everywhere . We walked around town then to Old Massett and Sarah's art gallery. We find a new pole underway and discover an old pole in a storage shed adapted for rail transport. We walk the beach exploring old boats and hitch hike back catching a ride with Sarah. Set sail at 7pm and anchor at Strial Islands inside the outer bar.
At first light we sail around Rose Spit, see rafts of sealions outside of Graham Island then have our work cut out to make Skidegate tacking against a strong wind and current to anchor in the lee, inside Jewel Island at dark. A restless night is passed with the watch commander alarm set every 90 min to check anchor. We are joined by another sailboat with two French couples, with similar plans to ours.
This park Gwaii Haanas is unique in Canada and it is celebrating 20 years of joint stewardship between Parks Canada and the Haida people. The Watchman program is also unique and places Haida at the historic sites of Tanu, Windy Bay, Skedans and SGang Gwaay to welcome visitors, provide interpretation and ensure the security of these sacred sites. we try to take part in 2 planned tours but somehow miss both.
Haida Gwaii Heritage Center reveal themselves at dawn and we row ashore for our exploration and interpretive tour.
Back to the Heritage Center at 9am for our Gwaii Haanas orientation. We are told the park is full till 20th which will not work for our sail plan. There are caps on the number of daily visitors as well as per site to manage traffic. We are given special permission and are able to purchase our passes allowing us to make plans to start the following day. We set sail to Queen Charlotte for a wx update and supplies, leaving at 4pm making way towards Louise Island. 5kn winds and a broad reach is what was expected but winds 25 gusting to 35 and close hauled is what was experienced -we were not organized so things broke including Craig's waterproof camera. The destination changes to a sheltered bay in the lee of this unexpected blow, something Hecate Strait is famous for, and enjoy a restful night.
We leave Sheldon Bay and sail to McCoy Cove where we row ashore for a beach fire/picnic. We attempt to walk thru to the other lake but the forest is so thick we retreat back to the shore there are still no bears but a gorgeous forest setting and afternoon in the sun. We tramp around and deer greet us along the beach. Here we see heaps of the plastic detritus from the tsunami in Japan gathered and awaiting removal.
Up early we make our way to Skedans and and are again greeted by deer on the beach. We walk among the totems and are joined by Nick a young Haida Watchman. Nick is 20 something and intensely proud of the fact that his family heritage is tied to the site. He sometimes struggles with the script of dates and names but beams with pride when he puts it together. Skedans was an intensely occupied site and there are numerous poles still standing although many were taken from this site to museums like Royal BC Museum in Victoria. This is the family village of artist & carver Bill Reid who is here, marked by a simple but beautiful wood plank with his Haida name. Many poles here were righted in the 1980s but now will be allowed to fall and return to the earth. Nick tells us that in Haida culture a mortuary pole stands in memory of a chief until it falls and releases the spirit into the seven levels of the afterlife. We see poles commemorating chiefs who have hosted as many as 13 potlatch. We collect mussels by the cliff painted by Emily Carr and return to spend a lovely afternoon drifting, fishing and watching a pod of killer whales off in the distance. We make way towards Tanu and stern anchor out at 1130pm spending the night rocking and rolling.
Across to Tanu we meet Walter who has been a Watchman since 2009 and has spent 6 years at this site. He lives here with his wife Mary and their young daughter Raven. Walter is very keen to take us thru the house sites of this ancient village. It is obvious he enjoys sharing the site, interpreting and making connections. Mary invites us to the cabin to have fresh fry bread while young Raven, 3 years old, insists on being called her Haida name. This is the first time we see crowding by groups as several private boats come ashore along with 2 tour operators at essentially the same time. This is why they have a cap on the number of visitors each day in the park and a maximum of 12 at each site at one time. We leave and make way to Windy Bay home of the Legacy Pole (carved and erected to commemorate the stand off between Haida natives and Canadian loggers, resulting in protection of Gwaii Hannas and joint management by Parks Canada and The Haida tribes)
We meet Vince who is soft spoken, eloquent, has a twinkle in his eye and a somewhat mischievous grin. During our time together, Vince reveals bit by bit, story by story, his background. He is both an international ambassador for Haida culture and an elder involved in the repatriation of his ancestors remains. He shows us the ancient forest as he leads us on a forester’s holiday to “the big tree” an 800-900 year old Sitka spruce. There is a group of young people on a week long Haida program based here. The students are staying in the traditional longhouse named Blinking Eye House after the entryway. We bid adieu and after 2 hours, make way from Middlesbrough to Burnaby Narrows to await the low tide on anchor for the night.
One of the richest intertidal areas in the world we are keen to explore in the morning. With low tide at 530am we row in and viewing is good but the light is flat. Highlights include sole, kelp crabs, massive mussels and huge urchins. Huge egg-like jellyfish stream by in their thousands. Craig catches a red rock crab with his bare hands. We collect sea asparagus, crabs, clams & mussels. Sadly the videos shot underwater didn't record so we decide to stay to next low tide. Craig paddleboards as Carol rows but with a higher tide the experience is completely different. We hike discovering huts, eagle bones then follow deer thru grassy meadows. We run the narrows aligning the markers and make way to Ikeda Bay 8km on in flaky winds.
Ikeda is a beautiful bay ringed in pristine forest. Still no bears but it would be postcard perfect if there were. We set sail with 2 reefs in the main but both are shaken out in short time. We sail thru Rose Inlet enroute to Anthony Island and the SGang Gwaay site. There is a small anchorage in the north bay and we try twice to get a bite. We dingy in and are met by Harold another young Watchman from Skidegate. His family is tied to this site. Harold points out the double finned killer whale crest which belongs to his family. He is related to both Mary and Nick of the other sites. Harold is critical of Parks Canada but seems supportive of joint management. We walk the rich, dark humus paths to an open bay and the village site. The site is moss covered and lush with small diameter trees with many- strewn across the forest floor. We do not see seabirds although 40,000 nesting pairs are meant to call this home. There is a Bald Eagle swimming, a very rare site and we are in an enchanted forest of moss and fungi. The poles are massive and numerous, especially funerary poles. Smallpox was brought to the village and killed most. Their bodies lie buried over a large area of the site, where we are asked not to walk. (Smallpox decimated the Haida, reducing their population of around 10,000 to a few hundred!)
Departing for Woodruff Bay we hit an uncharted rock but all seems well. The miles pass quickly but we are sometimes enveloped in thick fog. Luckily it lifts as we round the southernmost tip of Gwaii Haanas and we are able to take in the raucous Stellar sea lion colony at Cape St James as well as flocks of puffins, auklets and cormorants. There is much life here at the edge of Gwaii Haanas and all this coupled with the setting sun mark this end of land as special and special is something commonplace in Haida Gwaii. We anchor off a pristine white sand beach in Woodruff Bay, and settle in for our last night in the Queen Charlottes with a full moon rising.
Up early, the light of the moon is obscured by the fog which has settled around us. We can hear sounds coming from the beach- dogs? bears? but cannot see the short distance to shore. We make a 160 km push to Port Hardy and the majority is sailed in limited visibility, the spinnaker filling softly, the waters eerily calm for this notorious piece of water. We pass an uneventful night and have winds in the morning for a few hours but then it drops below 4kn and the diesel roars to life after 24 hours or more of silent sailing. The Queen Charlotte Strait is glassy calm as Vancouver Island come into view. We anchor out at Port Hardy just off the municipal docks where 2 tall ships are tied. We row in for provisions then tuck in for the night.
Up early we check out the ships Pacific Grace and Pacific Swift 2 SALTS training vessels here for provisions and to take on their trainees. We make way to Kwatsi Bay stopping off the beautiful Lacy Falls for a sundowner and dinner. The bay is small but beautiful and as the full moon comes up we settle in. By early morning the fog has engulfed us and we cannot even see the boats in the small marina across the bay. As the sun gains strength it burns off the fog and we spend a long lovely day traversing inlets & narrows looking for bears which remain elusive. We do see majestic forests scarred by logging and pass 2 pods of dolphins as well as fur seals and of course eagles. We make Brown’s Bay at 11pm and tie up to the fuel dock in the strong current.. The morning light reveals we were tied beside a sign that says “Absolutely NO Mooring on Fuel Dock” which we did not see in the dark last night.