Bookmark and Share
Voyages North
2009: Departure for Haida Gwaii

Photo: Map of Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)

Our 2009 journey north is to the Queen Charlotte Islands, an archipelago located on the very edge of the continental shelf, north of Vancouver Island.

Tell an American that you're sailing to the Queen Charlotte Islands and we often hear, "Where are they?" Tell a Canadian, and they'll look wistful and say, "I've always wanted to go there."

Although the name on the chart is the Queen Charlotte Islands, Canadians now call the islands Haida Gwaii, land of the Haida in Haida, (the once warlike and still very artistic tribe that lives there.) The site of the Gwaii Haanas National Park and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sgun Gwaii, people go there to see old totem poles, wildlife, sea life, and moss-draped forests of cedar and spruce. The islands' distance from civilization and the permit that's required by the Canadian Park Service ensures deserted anchorages and a true wilderness experience.

We plan to go north up east side of Vancouver Island, then around Cape Caution to the Inside Passage. Somewhere north of Bella Bella, depending on the weather, we'll turn west and head across Hecate Strait, approximately 60 miles, to reach the islands.

Seattle to Port McNeill (June 17- June 26)

Photo: Sailing into Vancouver Harbour.

We left Seattle's Shilshole Marina at 4 pm Wednesday, June 17, motoring north in light winds, finally anchoring off the Port Townsend Waterfront at about 10:00 that night. The town's Victorian brick buildings were just visible in the failing light. The next morning we motored across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in a glassy calm and into the San Juan Islands to Sucia Island, a state park just south of the border between the U.S. and Canada. There I enjoyed a row along sandstone cliff shores.

Friday we left U.S. waters, still heading north. We enjoyed a day-long spinnaker ride up the Strait of Georgia and into Vancouver Harbor where we went through customs and tied up at Fishermen's Terminal in False Creek. Because of the decline in the fishing industry, Fishermen's Terminal is now 60% pleasure craft but it still exudes a pleasant funkiness.

Rain drumming on our cabin roof woke us the next morning. But by mid-morning the rain had stopped and we walked along a landscaped pedestrian pathway to the Granville Public Market where we stocked up on the fresh fruits and vegetables the Canadians won't let us bring into their country. We found a colorful scene with tourists and locals crowding the narrow aisles of displays of peppers, cherries and local strawberries.

Our friends Miles and Susie from West Vancouver joined us on Osprey for a takeout dinner from Vancouver's best fish-and-chips joint, "Go Fish" at Fishermen's Terminal. "We have 30 days without rain," Susie told us. "And you get here the day it rains. Are you jinxes?"

We would have liked to stay longer at Vancouver, but I had an appointment on Monday at Pender Harbour, 50 miles north, with the publisher of my book, Voyages to Windward. We left Vancouver at 7 am Sunday morning, sailing upwind in 25 knot winds and six foot seas. Osprey pitched and rolled, dousing us in seawater when we changed sails. Now I know why the Strait of Georgia has such a bad reputation. But once north of Howe Sound, the waves flattened and we sailed into Pender Harbour in a pleasant breeze, anchoring off the Madeira Park Marina.

We continued north two days later, on Tuesday. We planned a short sail, just 25 miles to Sturt Bay near the north end of Texada Island. As we flew up Malaspina Strait with the wind behind Steve said, "Let's go on to Stag Bay on Hernando Island. That will make an easy sail across Georgia Strait to Cape Mudge tomorrow." Approaching Hernando Island, the wind was still good and he said, "Let's cross tonight. We can anchor in Gowland Harbour and go through Seymour Narrows first thing tomorrow morning." By then the wind had died so we started motoring. We motored across Georgia Strait, past Cape Mudge and up Discovery Passage towards Gowland Harbour. Before we got to Gowland Harbour, Steve looked at the current tables and said, "If we keep on going, we can go through Seymour Narrows tonight." We motored on, whisking through the Narrows at 10 knots. A gentle rain was falling.

As we approached Kanish Bay, Steve asked, "How about going on the Helmcken tonight?"

"I've had enough," I said. We turned into Kanish as the light faded and the rain stippled the quiet water. As we entered the narrow channel, I smelled evergreen trees and kelp. We dropped anchor in a perfectly little protected bay: Small Inlet Provincial Park. We turned on the weather radio to learn Environment Canada had posted Gale Warnings for the next morning. It was good to know we were in a safe anchorage. Seventy-two miles, the longest day yet.

Since we were a day ahead of schedule, we stayed put the next day while rain drummed on our cabin roof and gusts swirled around the anchorage. By Thursday morning the seas were a flat calm. We left at 6 am to catch the ebb and motored north through Johnstone Strait with the ebb tide, finally pulling into Port Harvey around noon as the ebb turned to flood. We'd never been to Port Harvey before and discovered it to be a somewhat junky looking little bay full of old fish pens, derelict barges and the Port Harvey Marine Resort: a brand new little marina with a general store. We met the owners, George and Gail, who told us they'd worked all winter to get it ready. They were still working on the restaurant that will be opening in two days.

We left the next morning at 7 am, passing a pod of white sided dolphins on the way out and stopping briefly at Mist Isle to see a native pictograph George had told us about. We motored to Port McNeill against a light northerly. We're here to provision for the trip north. This is the last real supermarket we'll see September.

07/05/2009 | Gail
The derelict barge is gone. The restaurant is now open along with the bakery. The fridge has been bought and will be brought over. Soon will have fresh produce and dairy products. Some meats will be available as well.
Pictograph, Port Harvey

A pictograph on the rocks of Mist Isle in Port Harvey. Pictographs are rock paintings in ochre done by northwest natives. To see a picture taken at a distance, clilck older.

Newer ]  |  [ Older ]


Voyages North on SV Osprey
Who: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windward)
Port: Seattle
View Complete Profile »
SailBlogs Friends
Celestial Sirena