Impressions of Haida Gwaii (Part 2)
By Fred Kaufhold
Note: This is a continuation of a previously published article.
The next day we boarded our kayaks and dinghy and, joined by the crews from the other two boats in the harbor, explored the Narrows at low water. What an abundance of marine life is concentrated here. Reading about it in the books still does not do this profusion of color and variety of sea life justice when seen through our own eyes. We spent a thrilling morning drifting among the rocks and kelp as we floated over hundreds of sea urchins, anemones, mating rock crabs, bat starfish, sea cucumbers, small fish and several kinds of sea weed.
Happy hour on the Lido deck of Dream Weaver and dinner topped off a perfect day. Unfortunately, Rob and Barb received news on the satellite phone that Barb’s mom had taken a turn for the worse so plans needed to be adjusted and Harmony Bay made preparations to head home from our next anchorage.
Another windless, offshore passage (aren’t we lucky!) and we anchored off Susan’s place in Rose Harbour. Susan is in the process of retiring after 35 years at Rose Harbour, but we talked to Frances who is now doing most of the cooking, about our chances of joining them for dinner. They had a full house that night (28 for dinner) so we reserved space for two nights later when we planned to return from a visit to the west coast to see SGang Gwaay (Anthony Island). Walking the beach at Rose Harbour brought constant reminders of the thriving whale processing operation that developed here in the last century. Large rusty boilers dot the landscape and copious slag deposits on the beach give testimony to the poor quality coal that was used to keep them hot. It was interesting to see a lone humpback transit the channel in front of Rose Harbour seeming to thumb its nose at the old whale killing ground as if to say: “I’m still here and you’re not!”
Independence Day! We are off to explore the village site on SGang Gwaay. As we approached the anchorage a large humpback surfaced immediately in front of our boat and dove with a dramatic flip of his huge tail. The image filled the windshield view and alarmed the normally unflappable skipper. Later we saw him cruising close in to shore in front of the watchman’s cabin. Apparently, the evening before, two Orcas had prowled the same area searching for lone seals from the nearby rookery. Vince met us at the anchorage and took us on a walk of discovery through the historic village site.
Our anchorage for the night was in Louscoone Inlet, just north of Etches Point. It was protected from the ocean swells with good holding and easy doggy beach. Evening called for a celebratory dinghy parade. We were dressed in our July 4th finery, waving sparklers and flying a red, white and blue windsock, tied to a boat hook. We belted out our favorite George M Cohen patriotic songs with lusty, off key gusto. We did the day proud! (in our own humble opinion).
Next morning, we did a trash burn below the high tide line while walking the dog. The resident raccoons relinquished the premises for our benefit. This is turn around day. It was a short trip in a light drizzle, not an unusual weather phenomenon around these parts, back to Rose Harbour. The anchorage was busy with kayak and charter guest turnover. Some arrived and departed by float plane and others braved the offshore run from the north in Zodiacs wearing full wet gear. Dinner at Susan’s began with a selection of sushi rolls and ginger with wasabi followed by freshly cooked salmon and veggies. All of this was topped off with special chocolate cupcakes. It was a magical evening as we sat outside the cottage in the waning light talking with our fellow cruisers, kayakers and the local denizens of Rose Harbour. Shinya from Japan created origami figures for the ladies and told us how he built his kayak in Anacortes and is now paddling around Haida Gwaii. Frances took a break from cooking on the venerable wood burning cook stove to relate to us how she ended up here from central Canada. Ginny, one of the helper cooks, showed us around the cookhouse with all of its treasures and Susan seemed relaxed as she quietly presided over the whole event. It was another mystical moment in time, one of so many on this trip.
At first light the next day, we headed back north again with no wind and a favorable current most of the morning. Our destination was Hoya Passage and Freshwater Cove where a float with running fresh water from a lake above was positioned as advertised. Upon arrival, we did find the float, but not much anchoring room for two boats our size. There was one buoy, but it was too close to shore for our liking so we moved on the Echo Harbour. This proved to be an ample anchorage with one other sailboat already there, but plenty of room for everyone. Evening high water called for a kayak trip up the river at the head of the bay to observe the deer feeding in the meadow, the colorful marine life among the rocks and the understated, low waterfall at the end.
The next morning we anchored off Skedans to experience the last of the watchman villages that we were unable to visit on our outward bound trip due to weather. After a brief tour and fortified by the knowledge gained from visiting the other villages and the uncertainty of the weather, we decided to move on. It was going to be a long day around Cumshewa Point to Sandspit.
We closed the loop on our Gwaii Haanas experience by arriving in Sandspit Marina and our old slip on F dock. Kelly welcomed us and rented us his car for the weekend so we could explore the area. Dinner that evening was at The Inn at Sandspit across from the airport. Next day was chores day with laundry, enjoying the visitor center gift shop and the exhibits at the airport and, of course, grocery shopping. Dinner was at Dick’s Wok Inn. Great Chinese food enjoyed by all – the place was very busy. It is billed as “the best chinese restaurant in Sandspit” We tried to put gas in Kelly’s car, but the gas pump computer did not work. Later we found out that both Jim’s and Fred’s credit cards were charged hundreds of dollars just by inserting them in the machine and removing them again!
Jim was intrigued by the description of the Dover Trail which started near the marina. Fred went along, huffing and puffing to keep up with Jim, The Agile Woodsman. They got off the trail at some point, but followed the bear tracks in the mud and found their way back. Stephanie went across the street from the marina to the Sandspit Harbour Inn and talked to Chad about us joining the Sandspit Adventures group for dinner. It turns out they had room so we joined all the talkative fishermen and guides for a delicious crab boil dinner and shared in their fish stories. They were a happy group and no wonder when we saw their loaded fish totes at the processing station on our way out.
Next morning we fueled up and were off to catch the last of the settled weather for a sampling of Haida Gwaii’s west coast. We timed our day around the high water prediction for the East Narrows of Skidegate Channel. We were pleasantly surprised to see the fruits of the Canadian Coast Guard’s efforts this past winter when they refurbished or replaced all the channel markers and ranges in the Channel. Now it is very straight forward. Just follow every marker, keeping the reds to the north and the greens to the south while aiming for about an hour before high water at McLellan Point. Since the high water in the West Narrows is about an hour earlier than East Narrows, we rode the flood through the East and the ebb through the West. We never saw less than 14.5 feet at the shallowest part of East Narrows with 11 feet on the tide chart. The favorable current ran about 0.5 knots most of the way except briefly at 4 knots in the narrowest part of East Narrows. As a result, we had to be alert and anticipate each of the zig zag turns around the markers. One major concern was that our earlier Simrad chart plotter showed the red and green marks on the wrong side of the channel. In talking with the local Coast Guardsmen, we learned that some Navionics charts on Simrad and other electronics show the colors of the markers in Skidegate Channel reversed. We felt really proud of our accomplishment when we cleared the west end of the channel.
Our goal on the west coast was to see the mosquito totem pole on Chaatl Island in Buck Channel. Anchoring locations in the uncharted Buck Channel are limited due to the absence of suitable coves and the generally deep water so we staged in Dawson Harbour, behind the island on the south side about half way up. The anchor set well and we had good protection from the omnipresent west coast swell, but still experienced the full force of the inflow winds. The next morning, we moved to the more sheltered anchorage at Armentieres Channel and waited for almost high tide for a dinghy transit of Chaatl Narrows into Buck Channel.
It was a rainy, overcast day with a westerly breeze of 10-15 knots. We were a little early in the Narrows so we drifted with the incoming tide until we could float through. Then it was a dash to the old village site, about 5 miles down the inlet, beach the dinghy and hike along the trail, well marked with white tape. It is a challenging trail, but well worth the experience. We found one of the two totems on the west trail, still recognizable, but partially rotted with a young sapling growing out of its side. The second pole has apparently fallen, but its stump is still visible near the water’s edge. We saw no sign of the cabin mentioned by Douglass as being on this trail. The mosquito totem was about a half mile east of the landing over strenuous terrain. The pole appears to be a frontal pole and stands proudly in the trees in front of the ruins of what must have been a 4-pole long house. After pictures, we hustled back to the dinghy and hurried back to Chaatl Narrows before the tide went out and stranded us. The sun came out and we luxuriated in a beautiful secure anchorage upon our return.
In all of our anchorages we were constantly surrounded by schools (hordes, gaggles?) of jelly fish. On the east coast, they were mostly lion’s mane and on the west side, they were mostly moon jellies. One had to be careful when running the generator or watermaker.
Our favorable weather window for cruising along the west coast was closing so the next day we headed back through Skidegate Channel. We tried to time our passage closer to high water slack in East Narrows in order to reduce the current flow at the narrowest point which would now be against us. It did not work! Two factors were not in our favor. First, there is always a westbound current due to the unequal tidal levels in Hecate Strait and the Pacific Ocean. Secondly, were now fully into spring tides so the current was much stronger. We ended up with almost 5 knots of contrary current, unexpected, but not unmanageable. We selected Christie Bay, near Queen Charlotte, as a protected anchorage to wait for settled weather to cross Hecate Strait, back to the coast.
Our month in Haida Gwaii was at the same time challenging and supremely rewarding. The weather was always the controlling factor in planning our itineraries and boat handling skills were key to our enjoyment. It was the people we met along the way in the context of the unique historical events that took place here that shaped our feeling of entering an enchanted world were we were privileged visitors and welcome friends. The Haida spirits enveloped us and led us on a true voyage of discovery. Ha’awa
We will pass the message along: “Come and visit Haida Gwaii on the edge of the world. Learn of our history and our culture. See our beautifully wooded hillsides and tall mountains. Respect our village sites and remains of a proud heritage. Be at one with us.”
M/V Dream Weaver