Friday, August 30, 2013

Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii)



24th July. Spicer Islands to Queen Charlotte City 71 miles


 
We departed at 6am with calm seas and drizzle and light fog. As we passed Banks Island the winds picked up from the north and were on our beam. We motor sailed then killed the engine and had a wonderful sail doing 8 knots over 2 foot seas. The skies cleared and the sun appeared as we crossed the bar entrance to Skidegate Inlet. It was a long day but we were pleased to be sailing in wonderful conditions.

The small harbor looked full so we dropped the anchor a short distance to the west of the harbor and dinghied into town to stretch our legs and buy a few provisions.

We were pleasantly surprised by the town, it was clean, tidy, had a few good looking caf├ęs and a Japanese restaurant where we had some good sushi, and Katya tempura prawns – her favorite.

We checked out the information center and found some information on what was required to enter the Haida Gwaii national Park. 

The Parks office is about 7kms or a $15 taxi ride from Queen Charlotte city and there are no buses. We were told that it was possible to hitchhike around the island so we thought we would give it a try. Its has been a long time since I last hitchhiked. I used to do it a lot when I was younger and supposedly safer to do. Sure enough ten minutes after sticking our collective, self conscious thumbs in the air a pick up van stopped. The gentleman very kindly gave us a lift to the parks office and confirmed that it is quite common to hitch-hike.

Adjacent to the parks office is a museum on the Haida culture so we spent a couple of hours touring the museum and listening to lectures by some local Haida Indians.
I went to check out the requirements to enter the park and found that a per person permit is required and to enter the park and an orientation course is required to obtain one. This involves a 1 hour video and lecture session with the parks service. We booked ourselves in for the orientation course the following morning at 9am. We still had to get back to Queen Charlotte city so we stuck out or thumbs again and we picked up pretty soon by the very nice lady from the Parks office who knew we were looking for a lift back into town. We spent the rest of the day looking around town, which did not take long, and had a surprisingly good Chinese meal. After dinner we sat and watched a few locals playing music and telling jokes on an outdoor stage. It was a lovely fun evening.

The next morning we awoke early to give us enough time to dinghy into town and hitch-hike back to the parks office. We managed to get a lift after about ten minutes and met up with the lady who would be presenting the orientation course, who happened to be the lady who gave us the lift yesterday.  
All of the main land based sites of interest in the park have resident Haida watchmen. These watchmen look after the sacred Haida sites to ensure that they are not vandalized and also provide small group tours (up to 12 I believe).
To visit a specific site you have to make a booking with the parks service for a specific date and call up the watchmen on VHF channel 6 on arrival to obtain instructions. I get the impression that most sites are not that busy and the booking dates are relatively flexible so that if we miss our date due to bad weather the watchmen would be flexible in rearranging our booking.
Saturday 27th July. Queen Charlotte City to Gordon Cove. 50 miles

With the prospect of a long passage ahead we departed at 6:15am with the ebb tide heading out into Hecate strait and south towards Gordon Cove. It was a quiet passage and the 15-20 knot winds not materialize. The parks office had advised us that the waters around Haida Gwaii are on a constant small craft advisory alert, so far we had seen only light winds.

Gordon Cove promised mooring buoys but when we arrived in the cove they were all washed up on the beach, presumably their ground tackle still on the sea bed to trap us. There was one other boat in the cove: Morning Kiss.

Sunday 28th July. Gordon Cove to Thurston Harbour. 22 miles
 We departed Gordon cove at around 2pm to catch the rising tide through Louise narrows. We raised the anchor and found a prestigious amount of logging debris on the anchor, better than old mooring tackle I suppose.  We picked up our prawn trap on the way to the narrows and were pleased to find over 40 prawns, enough for lunch.
 Louise narrows is a short dredged channel about 40ft wide and about 7 foot deep and should be transited on a rising tide and near high. We could see he bottom the whole way through. Once through we raised the sails with 15kts behind us for a leisurely sail towards Thurston Harbour. Morning kiss followed us in shortly after and I kayaked over to introduce us. We had a lovely sunny evening, again.








 Thurston Harbour to Echo Bay. 18 miles
We dropped the prawn trap in the waters off dog island which we would collect when we came out of Echo bay in a couple of days. Echo bay is a very secluded bay, that does echo, and has a very warm water and a lagoon to explore.
 We met up with Kim and Kelly, a lovely couple who were touring Haida Gwaii on their 42ft Nordic tug. We invited them for tea and drinks and the following day they invited us over for supper on their boat. Kelly played the guitar and Kim played the harmonica. It was a great evening.
We stayed another day and enjoyed the warm water, swimming around the boat and diving in.

31st July. Echo Bay to Kostan. 32 miles
We picked up our prawn trap and found over 60 large prawns in the trap. More than enough for supper. We headed on to Windy Bay, an old Haida village, picked up one of the two mooring buoys in the light swell. The kind watchmen gave us the guided tour through the forest and showed us the amazing 1,000 year old tree, a Sitka Spruce. It was huge and awe inspiring.

Windy Bay is going to be the site of the first raising of a totem pole in the islands in over 120 years, we understand it will be a very special occasion with media from all over the world attending. We had seen the totem pole being taken out of Queen Charlotte on our arrival and now we saw it in place, on the ground here.

Kim and Kelly arrived a couple of hours after us and we agreed to meet up in Kostan in the evening and have supper – prawns.

The entrance to Kostan harbor is VERY narrow and has some rather nasty looking rocks on either side, there is however plenty of water through the channel so we took it very slowly and were glad once we were through. Kim and Kelly came in a couple of hour later and came over for supper.















1st August. Kostan Harbour to Collison. 32 miles
Another sunny day as we motored down the turquoise waters of Juan Perez sound, spotting whales as we went. We rounded Burnaby Island in slight fog and arrived in Collison at around 4pm. Katya and I took the kayaks out to explore the beaches. Collison is a very large bay and we were the only boat there. It feels quite wild!

2nd August. Kostan to Rose Harbour. 18 miles
 Another sunny day for our passage but with little wind. We arrived in old Whaling station of Rose Harbour which had a few cabins on shore supporting kayaking tour groups. We were lucky enough to pick up one of the two mooring buoys. Katya and I went kayaking out to one of the outlying islands where we combed the beach for rocks and shells. We slipped through the kelp along the way looking at the abundant sea life.   Morning kiss arrived along with Carpe Dieum.

3rd August. Rose Harbour to Sgang Gwaii and back. 14 miles

 We followed Carpe Dieum out of Rose harbor towards the Haida Village of Sgang Gwaii which is on the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. We spotted some whales and even saw a small group bubble feeding, rising out of the water in unison with their large mouths extended. It was quite a sight.  The anchorage close to Sgang Gwaii is temporary. It is exposed to most winds other than those coming from the west. There is a swell and a rock / gravel bottom, so the holding is not great. If it was blowing or the swell any greater then I would have skipped the experience. As our luck had it the weather was great and the conditions OK to drop anchor. We called up the watchmen and they gave us clearance to go ashore in the dinghy. We were met by James who took us to a cabin to check in and meet  with another small party for the tour of the ancient site.










James, a Haida native, gave an excellent tour of the site, showing us House totems, mortuary totems and old long house sites. Jude has been reading a few books on the Haida natives and this visit helped bring some of the facts to life.

I was thinking about the safety of the boat, the winds had picked up and probably the swell and I was hoping that it had not drifted back onto the rocks 300feet behind us. Thanks goodness it had not. We sailed back to Rose Harbour and picked up one of the mooring buoys again in preparation for our early departure the following morning across Hecate Strait to Pruth Harbour.


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