Hawk Friday Harbour
25 August 2005 | Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington, USA
We're back in mainland US waters after spending the last eight weeks cruising the more remote parts of the British Columbian coast. We left Prince Rupert on July 1 bound for the isolated Queen Charlotte islands. The islands are located sixty miles off the mainland and stretch for over 120 miles from north to south. The southern half has been declared a national park and consists of an archipelago of dozens of small islands, with many long, fjord-like inlets and twisting channels. The national park is called Gwai Haanas (Gwie Hahnus) which means Islands of Wonder or Place of Wonder. Throughout this area, there are abandoned longhouses, totem poles, and other relics from the Haida people, the First Nations tribe that have lived on the Queen Charlottes (known to them as the Haida Gwaii or Islands of the People) for 10,000 years. The islands are referred to as the "Canadian Galapagos" and boast the largest black bears in North America, quite a few unique bird and mammal species, and unique flora that managed to escape glaciation during the last Ice Age.
The islands are covered with old growth forest - ancient Sitka spruce and cedar trees 15 feet and more in diameter. If you've ever heard of the Queen Charlottes, it would probably be in that context. About 15 years ago, the southern islands were under threat of logging by Weyerhauser after it purchased a Canadian company with logging rights to the islands. The Haida protested by chaining themselves to bulldozers and trucks, tying themselves to trees, and doing all sorts of other things to gain publicity. Some 79 people were arrested, but finally the parliament voted to make the entire park a logging free zone.
We had to wait a week before crossing Hecate Strait when a series of low pressure systems swept in from Alaska bringing gale-force southeast winds. But the wait was well worth it. We spent three weeks in the islands, exploring the narrow channels that twist into the mountainous interior, watching bears dine on shellfish on the beach, counting a dozen bald eagles in sight at one time and visiting the Haida sites where Haida watchmen led us through the ruins and described the ancient history of a mighty civilization that is finding its pride and its voice once again.
From the Queen Charlottes, we sailed 150 miles to the northwest corner of Vancouver Island and then down the island's west coast. Very few roads cross the spine of mountains that run down the center of Vancouver Island, so many tiny communities on the west coast are connected only by boat or float plane with the outside world. Six large inlets run up to thirty miles inland, right to the base of mountains some of which reach 14,000 feet in height. We've never sailed an area with so much wildlife both on land and in the sea: Sea otters, fur seals, sea lions and whales in the water; auks, puffins, phalaropes and murres on the water; bears, bald eagles and blue herons along the shore. Our route down the outside of the islands meant we had more wind than we would have had in the Inside Passage, and we were able to sail most of the 800 miles from Prince Rupert.
We came through Juan de Fuca Strait under Vancouver Island a week ago and found ourselves back in civilization. We're now anchored in busy Friday Harbor in the San Juans, the group of islands lying between northern Washington and Vancouver Island at the conjunction of Juan de Fuca Strait and the Strait of Georgia. We're a bit shell-shocked by the hundreds of boats in the marina and anchorage, the five-story high ferries that depart and arrive every couple of hours and the quaint town that feels like a major city after weeks spent in tiny outports of a couple dozen families.
We've made arrangements to leave HAWK in a boatyard here from mid-October to mid-January while we spend some time with our families in the northeast. After 50,000 miles, she needs a bit of attention, and we're having a couple of major projects undertaken over the winter. Until then, we'll be cruising the many islands in this area, content to float from anchorage to anchorage in the light winds with no pressing need to make it over the next horizon.
If you've sent us an e-mail and we haven't responded, that's because this is the first internet café we've seen since leaving Prince Rupert. We appreciate all your notes and will get back to you soon.
Beth and Evans