Haida Gwaii Sea Safari

 Passing Cloud at anchor

Passing Cloud at anchor

As my one year plan unfolds, it’s proving to be quite exciting!

I prepared to go north to Haida Gwaii for the sailing adventure on Passing Cloud with some trepidation as I really don’t like the cold and all the photos I had seen showed passengers bundled up in thick coats and gum boots! And as I had given away all my winter clothes, swearing I would never go north again, it was painful buying the appropriate clothing to take!

But I prevailed and am so glad I did!  The trip turned out to be truly epic. This post is going to be a synopsis of the trip, it was just so jam-packed with activities and excursions and food, it would take a week to just write it.

Because Haida Gwaii, or the Queen Charlotte Islands are so remote, it’s a real mission getting there. The trip started out with an Uber ride from Ryan’s at 4 am to get me to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) for a 6:35 departure to Vancouver, Canada. Thanks to Destination British Columbia, which assisted with my transportation, I flew biz class in a jam-packed plane. Then from Vancouver in a prop-jet to Sandspit, a tiny airport on Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii, arriving late afternoon. An overnight there and a very small float plane to meet the boat in Rose Harbor.

From that moment on, it was non-stop adventure.

 SGang Gwaay UNESCO World Heritage site

SGang Gwaay UNESCO World Heritage site

The boat is a 71’ schooner with three crew and one “specialist” and carries six passengers. For this trip, we had Matt as skipper, Kyle first mate and naturalist and Natasha, our phenomenal chef. Our specialist was James, a Haida Watchman. All of them were great, I only singled out Tash as it was such a treat not to have to think about what to fix for meals! And she did such an amazing job. I know from experience how hard it is to cook on a boat! I certainly didn’t turn out meals like she did.

Because we arrived late in the day, we stayed in Rose Harbor and got acquainted that night with everyone and the boat. Next morning, we headed out, wending our way through the islands. Because the weather was cooperating we went west out to the wild coast and sailed south to the very tip of the archipelago, rounding Cape St. James. Even though it was cold and the seas quite rough, (apparently some to the most treacherous Canadian waters) it was an exhilarating sail. It felt really good to be sailing again, and of course, I couldn’t resist and drove the boat under full sail.

Living by the Weather and Tides

 Going ashore at Windy Bay

Going ashore at Windy Bay

During the course of the week, our so-called routine was dependent on weather and tides.

Some mornings, we’d be up very early to take advantage of low tides to explore the intertidal zones that were exposed. We learned how the Haida lived, living off the abundance of food available, both in the forests and from the sea. We saw ancient fish weirs that were used to trap the salmon during their runs up the rivers feeding the bays. Kyle snorkeled in the freezing water, showing us examples of the sea life that thrives in the area. All sorts of creatures like sea cucumbers, bat stars, moon snails and hermit crabs. It amazed me, seeing the variety of creatures that I usually picture in the tropics.

Some days we’d sail, others motor, depending on the wind. Usually twice a day, we’d put our boots and life preservers on, climb the ladder down to the Zodiac and head to shore. As there are no docks to land at, we waded ashore, hence the knee-high gum boots. We visited ancient Haida villages, some with lots of (totem) poles still standing. Everything seems to have a significant meaning, from the way a figure is represented on a pole (upright or upside down) to which crest is higher on the pole than the other. We learned the different types of poles; memorial poles, frontal house poles and mortuary poles where the chief is enshrined in a bentwood box at the top of the pole, becoming the grave.

I was lucky to sit with a man on the flight to Sandspit who it turned out, is Guujaaw, the newest Raven chief, now known as Gidansda. Not knowing the significance at the time, I didn’t grill him to find out more. But he showed me pictures from his recent potlatch, which was his inauguration. When I mentioned this to James, he was very impressed!

James lead us on tours of the villages, explaining the significance of all the carvings, expounding on how the Haida lived and to some extent still do, with the Raven and Eagle moieties predominant in the islands. We visited five Haida village sites including SGang Gwaay, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site and where James, as a Haida Watchman, has spent the past several summers.

Archeological explorations have discovered that the Haida people have lived on these islands for 14,000+ years and as artifact dating technology improves, it’s expected to prove they were there significantly earlier than that.

And the Food!

One of the many highlights of the trip was, of course, the food. OMG, we were so spoiled! Food, five times a day! It went like this: coffee first thing, breakfast either before or after a morning excursion, then a snack and I don’t mean chips and dip! Then came a full lunch, a mid-afternoon snack and a full three course dinner.

 Natasha's version of a poke bowl, with crab salad, prawns and ling cod

Natasha's version of a poke bowl, with crab salad, prawns and ling cod

Natasha is an amazing chef and uses not only what seem to be endless stores on board, but also locally-sourced ingredients. Fish (ling cod), shell fish (crab and spotted prawns) and various sea weeds and vegetation like sea asparagus. Dishes were always plated beautifully and I don’t think there was a single meal that wasn’t amazing. The good thing was, that even with all that food, she makes it all so nutritionally correct, that nobody put on weight!

And then the wildlife! Orcas, humpback whales, Risso dolphins, black bear and Stellar sea lions along with hundreds of birds. Bald eagles seemed to be everywhere and pelagic sea birds (which Kyle identified!) skimming the surface. The big bird highlight was seeing flocks of puffins that nest on the southernmost islands. Getting photos of them was a challenge from the boat, so even if they aren’t terribly good, they are a wonderful memory!

So, for anyone who loves an adventure on the sea, this is one I can wholeheartedly recommend.