Sunday, July 31, 2016

Crossing Hecate Strait to Haida Gwaii

June 29 – Spicer Islands to Queen Charlotte City Small Boat Harbor
The birds were still sleeping when we got up at 0315. We quickly made coffee, dressed for the dark, cold morning, and left the Spicer Islands. The forecast looked good: 5 to 15 kts, .4 meter seas at 12 seconds. The early morning departure was spectacular with a silver sliver of a moon shining over the tree tops and on through the water.
Early departure for Haida Gwaii
We sailed some of the time but mostly motored in calm seas with not another boat in sight until the last few miles. We were grateful for an easy crossing of what can be a stretch of wrathful fury under other conditions.
Smooth seas early in the trip
Landfall on Haida Gwaii was unusually striking with the very greenest of trees lining the shore as backdrop to a village of Haida style longhouses and totems that we later learned make up the Haida Heritage Center.
Haida Heritage Center
We passed by the more exposed Sandspit Marina, opting instead for the Small Boat Harbor in Queen Charlotte City, deep in the inlet, for the forecast the following night was for a big blow of 35-40 kts.. Just as we got close to the marina a steady, cold rain began which lasted until shortly after we were tied at the dock, enough to soak everything!

True North in Queen Charlotte City
First morning on Haida Gwaii: how exciting it was to be here, so far from everywhere! After checking in with the harbormaster, Gregg returned with a couple of peach-blueberry muffins from Queen Bee's near the head of the dock. Nice find! We were to find other good eateries during our stay, a welcome break from our more limited galley fare. For a morning stretch, we began walking the main road towards the ferry dock when an older Haida resident stopped to see if we wanted a ride to the Heritage Center, a couple of miles away. Sure! Along the way, Dick explained that he was starting a tour guiding business and asked if he might take us for a trial run so he could get a little feedback. We took him up on his offer the next day. In the meantime, we visited the museum with its huge collection of Haida artifacts and history, and tours of the totems and cedar weavings.
The Bill Reid totem pole, Haida Heritage Center
 A highlight of the day was meeting up with Mary and Lucy, friends from home who were finishing a road trip around north Haida Gwaii. They took us to Roberta's for a most unique dining experience, where her welcoming home overlooks Hecate Strait. Her Haida family prepares a beautiful meal with local seafood and as each course is served by her grand-daughters, Roberta describes the local delicacies: octopus, herring roe on seaweed, halibut soup, 3 kinds of salmon, and local strawberries with cream and cake. It was a great way for Mary and Lucy to end their time on Haida Gwaii and for us to begin ours.
Mary, Lucy, Gregg, Anne
We had a couple of days in QCC before picking up our rental car to tour Graham Island in the north. There were plenty of cruisers coming and going, a small but healthy farmers' market, a couple of grocery stores to visit and the Visitor's Center.
Absolutely exquisite giant tomatoes from the Farmer's Market
There were eagles everywhere in that harbor...lots of fish guts at the cleaning stations, too!
Eagle on mast, Queen Charlotte City
July 1: It was Canada Day but not much was happening in small QCC. We spent a couple of enjoyable hours touring with Dick Bellis, the Haida local who had volunteered to show us around. He introduced us to his nephew, an argillite carver of some renown living in a beach house nearby, and pointed out his own wood carvings which stand prominently around town.
Michael Brown and one of his argillite carvings
We stopped by Dick's home in Skidegate to see his small collection of old cedar woven hats, real beauties with an ermine skin attached at the tops.
Dick and one of his cedar hats
And he gave us a tour of the town, pointing out the totems and who lives here and there. Very interesting couple of hours!

For the next three days, we toured Graham Island by car. First stop was Tlell where we had reserved a cabin in a grassy clearing in the woods, not far from the more notable Haida House.
Our cabin in Tlell
Sweet! We lucked out there. It was spotless, cozy, and within walking distance to the beach on one side and just down the road to the best dinner ever at the Haida House.
Dinner at the Haida House
We hated to leave but did go on to Port Clements the following day. There used to be two big hallmarks there, both included in the town logo and both now gone: the legendary golden spruce, a 300-year-old Sitka spruce 50 meters tall and covered with brilliant golden needles, and which was felled one night by a conservation-minded logger, activist.
The fallen snag is the remains of the Golden Spruce
The other was the extremely rare albino raven that made an ill-fated landing on a live wire. There is a hike to the site where the golden spruce once stood, and the raven's remains live on in the logging museum.
Albino Raven, dead but not gone!
We hiked the trail, took in the logging museum, drove on to Massett, and then the Haida village of Old Massett where we found our B&B, located right on Massett Inlet. A walk through the old village, which was not full of historic native longhouses and totems as we had expected, brought us through the few streets of mossy covered wood houses and more modern totems standing. We found an “open” sign for an argillite carver and knocked on the door to find Myles Edgars, exquisite Haida argillite carver. He showed us a finely carved 15” totem. He would make us a deal...$7,000 instead of $10,000! We settled on a small raven instead, which he carved for us that evening and gave to us when we returned the following day.
Gregg with Myles Edgars and the raven he carved for us
A few miles down the North Beach road, we walked the well-maintained boardwalk to the top of Tow Hill, a prominent landmark with steep basalt cliffs overlooking Agate Beach and the ocean beyond.
Tow Hill, North Beach, Graham Island
Our brief road trip ended where it began in QCC on a cold, rainy day with a high wind forecast. There were at least a half dozen other boats waiting in the marina for a fair weather break before setting out south to Gwaii Haanas National Park where the anchorages at the Haida cultural sites have sketchy holding with lots of rocks! There are a few mooring buoys but none of us knew if they were secure. We passed some of the extra time at the visitors center watching a very moving film about the repatriation of Haida ancestral remains from a Chicago Museum.

Balance Rock, Skidegate

Eagle, Skidegate
Two main islands plus 150 islets make up the Haida Gwaii archipelago. It lies on the western edge of the North American continent with a deep trench just off the coast. There have been two major earthquakes on Haida Gwaii, the most recent a 7.7 mag in 2012. Definitely not the place to be in a small boat during a tsunami! Haida Watchmen conduct tours at the five abandoned Haida cultural sites, with no more than 12 visitors touring at a time, keeping it serene. There are no roads within the National Park. Each visiting boat calls the watchman cabin, waits for permission to come ashore, then is typically greeted at the beach by a watchman for about a 1-1/2 hour guided tour in an enchanting environment that holds a very strong sense of its ancient spirit.
Hoisting our Haida Nation courtesy flag below the Canadian flag.  Note ski hat, woolen hoodie in July!
Finally, July 9th as the weather cleared for leaving, the marina cleared out! The first black bear sighting motivated us to reach for the binoculars at every passing beach.
Black bear looking for seafood treats
Over the next two weeks we found a few other bears, whale sightings almost daily, and tons of seabirds. Don't ask! It wasn't easy to match them with the bird pictures! Our first destination was Skedans, aka K'uuna Llangaay, located on the NE end of Louise Island. We anchored securely in a pretty, open cove with low rocky islands nearby.
Temporary anchorage at Skedans
The boat Coast Pilot, friends of Seattle friends, gave us a lift to shore in their skiff where a young Watchman Nick met us at the beach and showed us around.
Watchman Nick telling us the history of Skedans
What remains today are a few standing carved memorial and mortuary poles and the mossy covered logs and depressions where several longhouses had been. The tidal range is huge throughout the islands meaning that during the tour, Ian made his way back to the beach to move his heavy skiff a little higher ashore!
Gregg, Ian, Linda, Watchman Nick at Skedans
We sailed a few hours after leaving before heading to the secure anchorage in Thurston Harbor. Eight other boats came into the harbor that night, and Coast Pilot joined us for happy hour, a very fun evening with Ian and Linda.
Coast Pilot and Raven at Thurston Harbor.  Note logging scars - still outside the Park.
The next morning we motored over to Tanu (T'aanuu Llnagaay). Again, we hitched a ride to shore with Coast Pilot. True Dink was still tied down on deck. Our Watchman Walter met us along the beach to show us a map posted to a tree with a sketch of the village the way it once was, circling the beach with 25 to 40 longhouses in a village, many mortuary poles and houses.
Watchman Walter with cedar map of Tanu
Today there are mostly the abandoned remains of moss covered house posts.
Remains of longhouse, Tanu
It is a very spiritual place for the Haida as there are burial sites along the hills. Walter brought us to his cabin where his wife Mary and their young daughter graciously served up a batch of hot fry bread they had just prepared. Such a warm welcome!
Walter and his daughter
Mary's fry bread at Tanu
Walter, Ian, Linda, Anne at Tanu
Windy Bay (Hlk'yag GawGa), the next Haida site we visited was just 1-1/2 hours south so we motored on while the good weather continued. We tried to catch a mooring ball but seeing a 12' depth with a rocky shoreline nearby, backed off. Scarily shallow! We tried 3 times to set the anchor in the rocky bottom to no avail; same for Coast Pilot so they decided to move on. As the tide was rising, we checked the mooring ball again to find it acceptable at 17' and rising. Fine for the 1-2 hours we would be there! We dinghied to a rocky beach shore and wheeled True Dink high onto shore. We had to cross a couple of rising streams to get to the Watchman Vince and we did get wet! A jovial group of five kayakers from Calgary touring with the charter boat Island Bay waited for us to join them.
Watchman Vince at Windy Bay
Windy Bay is located on the east side of Lyell Island, one of the sites where Haida protested logging in a stand-off against loggers in the 80s. It led to the creation of Gwaii Haanas National Park and Heritage Site and the end of rampant logging within the park. There is a Legacy Pole on the beach, the first monumental pole raised in Gwaii Haanas in 130 years, which commemorates the 20th anniversary of the cooperative management between Canada and the Haida. The main attraction at Windy Bay is a hike through old growth western hemlock, western red cedar and Sitka spruce, with one giant 800-900 year old Sitka spruce.
Hiking at Windy Bay
Anne and giant Sitka spruce, Windy Bay
There are a few mossy logs near pits remaining but no vintage totems here. As the wind picked up in the late afternoon we took refuge in Haswell Harbor, an anchorage described as bombproof. We stayed for two nights, soaking in a little R&R – no tides to concern us from the center of the anchorage, well-protected, and with two streams of cascading water. A resident eagle perched high above scanned the outflow for an easy meal. Meanwhile, we dinghied around the bay at low tide to walk the rocky shoreline and while in this pretty little harbor, celebrated our anniversary, #24!

Haswell Bay
July 12: Haswell Bay to Hotsprings Island to Bag Harbor – 0700 departure for Hotsprings Island (Gandll K'in Gwaay.yaay), the 4th cultural stop for us. An early arrival might increase our chances of securing the only buoy. There wasn't a single other boat around! We took the dinghy to shore and met our watchman David for a walk around the natural hot springs.
Gregg and Watchman David with a (former) hotspring tub, now cold
Mostly they are the former hotsprings. This used to be one of the most popular stops for cruisers, kayakers, tours and seaplanes stopping by for a soak but the earthquake in 2012 changed the landscape so there isn't much water filling them now. The tide was ebbing and the shallow water where our dinghy was anchored was drying quickly so we left after a brief tour.

A bumpy 3' chop was coming from the SE. The forecast wasn't expected to be good for the next few days. We were working our way around to Rose Inlet, and Anthony Island (SGang Gwaay), a small island off the southwest coast of Moresby, the last stop on the cultural tour and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it looked like it would be another 5 days before we could safely anchor there because of a the high wind. Anticipating the worst we tucked into Bag Harbor, a wide, almost lake-like anchorage at the south end of Dolomite Narrows. It was completely calm with the added serenity of a mountain view at the end of the harbor.
Bag Harbor, very protected
Two other sailboats arrived for the night. It had been a great day for wildlife sightings! Along the way we spotted a large black bear on the rocky point at the south end of Burnaby Island turning over rocks scavenging for food, and earlier in the day we encountered dolphins, a humpy, and a single seal though we didn't see a single boat.
Humpback showing flukes
July 13: We got a lucky break in the weather the following day so proceeded to Rose Harbor, also well protected. We found Coast Pilot already there. They had been to SGang Gwaay earlier that day and, as it was getting late with a forecast for foul weather the following day, we pulled our anchor to make a run for it then.
Leaving Rose Harbor for SGang Gwaay, Coast Pilot at anchor
It was easy going. We anchored in the north anchorage where the holding can be just fair, but the weather was calm and our anchor took hold.
True North in the Northwest temporary anchorage at SGang Gwaay
A few kayak groups were leaving as we arrived and were greeted at the Watchmen cabin by Donna, our guide. She took us to see a few standing totems first.
Watchman Donna discussing the poles at SGang Gwaay
They were carved before the village was abandoned in the late 1800s. Most of them had fallen over with age but these had been carefully placed upright again in 1975. The moss covered signs of abandoned longhouses remain overlooking the bay, and the beyond them stand another dozen totems.
Gregg and Anne with SSPS burgee, SGang Gwaay
This was the last village to have been occupied on a full-time basis. A hill at the far end of the old village marks the burial ground where thousands of Haida ancestors who died from smallpox are buried. For this reason, it is a sacred site. This splendid site holds a certain mystique and was our last stop on the cultural route.
Totem Park at SGang Gwaay
Abandoned longhouse behind the totems, SGang Gwaay
There are other abandoned Haida sites but sailing along the perilous western rocky shore to access them in fair holding held no appeal! The watchmen were awesome with their friendly hospitality, and keeping their cultural history alive was much appreciated.

We remained in Rose Harbor three days longer than planned because we were both feeling a bit under the weather, trading turns at needing another day to recover. It gave us a lot more time to explore the remains of an old whaling station and talk with the locals, as well as other cruisers coming and going – Relentless, Great Bear, Good Fortune, and tiny, 24' SoSo.
Haida canoe in forest, builders died of smallpox before they finished it
Gregg with whale bone relic at old whaling station

Rose Harbor has rocky outcrops and islets which harbor an abundance of seabirds. If we were to guess which birds we saw after carefully comparing with a guidebook, our list would now include many noisy oystercatchers, majestic eagles, squawky ravens, a blue heron, glaucous-winged gulls, marbled murrelets, and many other little grey or black or white birds we couldn't identify.
Anne at the helm of True Dink
July 18: Nice as Rose Harbor was, we were ready to move on. The day came with a NW wind on the bow of about 4 to 8 kts so was an easy bash. As we approached NE corner of Burnaby Island, a yacht coming our way called to advise us of the rip tides ahead which were barely visible to us, but as we altered our course away from land another two miles we could see we avoided 6' waves. We anchored in Hutton Cove at the mouth of the inlet. It is beautiful! We set the crab trap and settled in to soak up the sunlight. Then the wind picked up..... Because this was an anchorage of only fair to good holding, we decided to test the anchor again, pulling it hard. It held, then slipped, held, slipped. We left and went to the more secure head of the inlet for a peaceful night.

After a refreshing three hour sail through Darwin Inlet in full sun we arrived at Echo Bay, a beautiful setting with many birds, a waterfall and places to walk. Not another boat in sight all day!

Gregg heard the hwoosh of a whale and after a quick scan a humpy surfaced about 100' off our port side...that's close! We sailed to more scenic anchorages on the way north, Anna Inlet, McEchran Cove, and finally Crescent Inlet where we spotted three bears in the grassy area at its head. Plenty of bears and eagles but no crabs in our pot! Sandspit Marina was the final stop for this part of the passage where we docked True North among a crowd of small fishing boats to prepare for a weather break and our return to the B.C. mainland. Next leg: crossing Hecate Strait east to get back to the B.C. mainland.
Gregg and Anne do a selfie in Anna Inlet


  1. Allyson told me about the picture of myelf on your blog. I got a big laugh out of it. I hope you both are doing well. Allyson and I along with Charlie and Elly are planning on being back in Jennis Bay this summer. Dan

    1. Dan! We had such a good time at Jennis Bay! Your friendly welcome, along with Allyson's salmon BBQ, added to the special events of last summer. We're staying closer to the San Juan this time around, having been away the last several summers, but will surely be back to Jennis another year. Have fun! Anne & Gregg