A Week of Sailing on Canada’s West Coast
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
On August 4th, I’ll make my way to Sandspit, British Columbia to board the Passing Cloud, a gorgeous 70-foot schooner operated by Outer Shores Expeditions, for a week of sailing through Haida Gwaii’s as part of the company’s Haida Gwaii: Islands at the Edge itinerary.
Our full Live Voyage Report:
Outer Shores Expeditions: Sailing on Canada’s West Coast
|DAY||PORT & ACTIVITY|
|August 4, 2014||Arrival in Sandspit and a float-plane journey to Passing Cloud|
|August 5||Whales in Woodruff Bay|
|August 6||Kayaking the Gordon Islands|
|August 7||Visiting the Haida Heritage Site of SGang Gwaay|
|August 8||Exploring South Burnaby Narrows|
|August 9||Windy Bay and the Legacy Pole|
|August 10||Tanu, Gwaii Haanas|
|August 11, 2014||Arrival in Moresby Camp & Recapping our journey|
You might know Haida Gwaii better as the Queen Charlotte Islands. It is situated just above Vancouver Island on the western coast of Canada, and is located 70 kilometres off the mainland. If you’ve ever sailed to Alaska, chances are you’ve glimpsed Haida Gwaii’s stunning shoreline off the port side of your ship as it sails north. To put it in perspective, Sandspit is about 200 kilometres (124 miles) south of Ketchikan, and 750 kilometres (466 miles) northwest of Vancouver, by air.
Sandspit is a very small, remote town in British Columbia: there’s a small civil aviation airport with twice-daily flights on Air Canada Express during the summer months; the usual small-town staples, and a statue of a giant fish called “The Spirit of Sandspit.” The real draw of this voyage, however, can be found in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Haida Gwaii and within the Passing Cloud herself.
Despite the fact that it exists just a two-hour flight from western Canada’s largest city, the islands that make up Haida Gwaii are seldom explored by most Canadians, and could be compared with Australia’s Kimberley region in terms of remoteness. That’s where Outer Shores and the Passing Cloud come in: they can traverse the entire Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve from the sea.
My particular voyage will involve getting off my Dash 8-300 at Sandspit Airport and boarding an even smaller aircraft: a float plane, which will take me on an inclusive, scenic 50-minute flight to the edge of Gwaii Haanas National Park to board Passing Cloud. From there, we’ll have a flexible itinerary for the next week as we sail southbound back towards Sandspit. We’ll take advantage of the weather and prevailing winds to chart our course, and it’s highly likely we’ll see populations of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and seabirds along the way.
Haida Gwaii itself is also special. Considered sacred land, we’ll have the chance to visit Haida villages to learn about the rich history of the land, the people, and the Haida Watchmen who protect them. Most famous is SGang Gwaay Llnagaay, a former settlement abandoned in the late 19th century and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Decayed by time and slowly being reclaimed back into the land, the remains of the settlement can be seen in the haunting mortuary poles and fragments of wooden structures that exist as a testament to the Haida way of life.
Of course, one of the joys of sailing aboard an eight-passenger sailing ship is unplugging from the digital world. You won’t find internet access onboard, and cellular service around Haida Gwaii tends to be spotty at best. On this voyage, I’ll be leaving my laptop and word processor at home in favor of writing my daily reports on pen and paper each evening.
Because of this, our “live” reports will commence one week later, running from Tuesday, August 12 to Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
Following our journey, we’ll linger in Sandspit for an overnight stay to collect our thoughts and to hopefully discover what makes this remote part of Canada so desirable – and mysterious.