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Voyages North
Kootenay Inlet to Sunday Inlet. July 30.
08/17/2009, Sunday: 52 38.75 N, 131 56.58W

Photo: Mountains in Sunday Inlet.

"Northwest Gales, 30-40 knots," said the radio once again. We decided to go anyway.

This time we were prepared: mainsail double reefed and up before we left the anchorage, small jib on the foredeck, dinghy deflated and stored on the cabin roof, and all hatches and portlights latched. Both of us wore full foul weather gear and boots.

Leaving Kootenay was scary: seas breaking over the rocks at the entrance and wind howling, but once we got beyond the near shore area, the seas turned from mountains to mere hills. We sailed south with the wind, 20 miles to Sunday Inlet, the autopilot working like a champ. A fog bank hovered off shore and at one point we saw the dim outline of a cruise ship going by and heard its horn. At Sunday Inlet we found rocks at the entrance, confused seas and calm water inside: the standard West Coast Charlottes entrance. Three thousand foot mountains towered above our anchorage with hanging valleys to tell us of past glaciation. Moon jellies and lions mane jellyfish drifted in the water. Eagles and ravens called from the shore. And we had it all to ourselves.

Sunday Inlet to Flamingo Inlet. July 31.
08/17/2009, Flamingo: 52 106.1N, 131 20.9W

Photo: Pinnacle rocks south of Sunday Inlet

"I just want to get off this coast," I told Steve the next morning when he asked me how far I wanted to go that day. "Northwest gales, 30-40 knots" was still the forecast for the West Coast Queen Charlottes. Was the record stuck at the weather office? We'd learned to sail in the wind and seas but it still made me feel uneasy. And I worried about getting trapped by heavy seas in one of the small inlets.

That day we sailed 40 miles, bypassing Gowgaia Inlet for Flamingo Inlet, 20 miles further. Named for a fishing boat named "Flamingo," rather than the bird, it has the dual advantage of being surveyed and easy to enter. Actual soundings on the chart instead of a blank! Nevermind that they were done with a lead line in 1931.

As we sailed south the mountains became lower, like stairsteps. We rounded the point at the inlet's entrance and sailed into a long narrow bay with rocky shores and green forested hills.

We had read that the beaches in Flamingo are great spots for beachcombing as southern storms blow flotsam and jetsam into the Inlet. We looked for glass balls but all we found was plastic: plastic net floats, nylon fish nets and hundreds of plastic water bottles -- all with their lids screwed on tight. Here on this coast where we hadn't seen another boat or a person for days, the discards of civilization had found us.

August 3. SGang Gway and Flamingo Inlet to Rose Harbour

Photo: Mortuary Poles at SGang Gway World Heritage Site.

From Flamingo Inlet we sailed ten miles south to Anthony Island, site of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of SGang Gway (formerly called Ninstints). The wind was blowing strong in the north anchorage so we anchored in Gray's Cove on the east side. Landing there has the advantage of giving a view of the entire collection of magnificent poles from the beach as you walk towards the site. Although we had been here ten years before, seeing the huge poles, standing proud more than 120 years after the village had been deserted, was still awe inspiring. I had remembered the poles but not their massiveness or the effect of seeing so many at one time among the trees. And realizing that these are only the mortuary poles -- most of the village's totem poles had been stolen or carted away to museums -- gives a glimmer of what the village once was. The immense sadness of the loss of this culture struck me. As the watchman guide told us, the Kunghit Haida, which included the Haida of Anthony Island, were almost totally wiped out by smallpox. Only these remnants of their monumental art remain.

SGang Gway was a good way to end our trip to the West Coast of the Queen Charlottes: with a reminder of the Haida who braved the seas, the wind, the rocks and the rain as part of their daily lives.

By the time we returned to our boat, a brisk breeze was blowing through the anchorage and white caps dotted the waters off shore. We had to scramble to raise the anchor without getting blown onto a rock or into a kelp bed. We raised sail and headed east towards Houston Stewart Channel and back towards Hecate Strait. As we entered the channel and turned north, the wind gradually died to a mere whisper. We'd left the gales of the West Coast of Queen Charlottes behind.

As we drifted up Houston Stewart Channel, we saw the white plumes of spouting humpback whales feeding in the shallows. A few minutes later a whale surfaced just off our starboard beam heading towards us. We watched amazed as it dove just a few feet away, then came up on our port side. It had swum under us!

We anchored off the old whaling station, reveling in the sunshine and quiet water. We planned to take a day off, relax and prepare for the crossing to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The West Coast of the Charlottes might be behind us, but the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound and the Pacific lay ahead of us.

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Voyages North on SV Osprey
Who: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windward)
Port: Seattle
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