Sailing to Woodruff Bay and Cape St. James
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
The important thing to remember when you are onboard a sailing schooner like Outer Shores Expeditions‘ beautiful Passing Cloud is to not sit upright when you awake in the morning. Doing so will likely cause you to smack your head into the bunk or ceiling above you.
That’s not to say the accommodations aren’t comfortable; far from it. In fact, my berth in the aft cabin has a mattress that is more comfortable than some hotels I have stayed in. Plus, let’s not forget: we’re on a schooner, and this entire week is designed to provide an authentic sailing expedition experience, which Passing Cloud does in spades.
That level if authenticity applies to the daily excursions ashore that are offered to guests on the Passing Cloud. Following a hearty breakfast consisting of homemade oatmeal with mango and cinnamon; fresh fruits, and a homemade omelette-style-dish called “Sex In A Pan” thanks to its easy overnight preparation (I’ll leave you to work out the details as to why that is), we went ashore near our overnight anchorage in Heater Harbour for a walk through the old growth forest that is part-and-parcel in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. Yes, I am required to list the name of the park reserve in full. No, I don’t have to do it again. For the rest of this article, let’s just say “Gwaii Haanas.”
Now, when I say we took a “walk” through the forest, I really mean exploration. There are no established pathways or trails here at all; it’s just you and Mother Nature. Walks aren’t overly strenuous, but you’ll want to have decent mobility, as walking over uneven terrain is commonplace.
On our morning ramble, Russ led us over the rocky beach to the moss-coated floor of the forest. From there, we clambered over fallen trees and rocky outcrops in our exploration of the shoreline and the surrounding beach. Landings are very much wet, but Passing Cloud has an assortment of rubber boots onboard for guests to use. My Size 10 loaner boots come up to my knees, and our first shore landing very nearly made use of the entire height of the boot!
What’s truly remarkable about our first morning of exploration is how much Russ, Kai and Joel know about Gwaii Haanas and the unique ecosystem present here. Numerous types of species, from bears to birds to marine life, are found only in Gwaii Haanas. It’s becoming very clear to me why Haida Gwaii is often called, “The Galapagos of the North.”
Russ and his crew cannot be stumped; they seemingly know everything. What did surprise me, however, was how much my fellow passengers already know. They have come on this trip with a breadth of knowledge that is truly advanced and I find I am deriving as much interest from my fellow guests as I am from Russ and his crew. If you love biology, botany, or history, this is the cruise for you. It’s a feat opportunity for you to “geek out” and enjoy the company of like-minded people as you sail ’round Haida Gwaii.
After the morning’s explorations, we enjoyed two things we did yesterday: another delicious lunch outdoors on the fantail, and another up-close and personal encounter with some whales. Once again, we kept our distance. Regulations in Gwaii Haanas state that you shouldn’t be closer than 100 metres to a whale, and we were already drifting with the current with our engine off when one whale breached not 30 metres from us.
With the wind picking up from the northeast, lunch – consisting of sandwiches, wraps, and kale soup – was served on the aft deck as Passing Cloud held her position in a protected corner of Treat Bay.
Dessert – consisting of homemade brownies and cookies, was served after, along with tea, coffee or water. The tea drawer aboard Passing Cloud is worth mentioning, if only because it features over two dozen kinds if herbal and black teas. Stay thirsty, my friends.
This afternoon was full of adventure. Just after 3pm, we dropped anchor off Woodruff Bay, near the southern tip of Haida Gwaii. Because we’re nearing the southern extremes of Haida Gwaii, anchoring here is impossible if conditions outside are less than ideal. With blue skies and sunshine, however, we didn’t have any problems at all. Soon, we were in our zodiac, zipping ashore.
The beach, which stretches for kilometres, is nothing short of pristine. To fully take advantage of its soft, warm surface, we all removed our rubber boots and went barefoot across the powdery sand. With the exception of the fallen trees and thick bands of forest (not to mention the wild deer), walking across this sand feels decidedly like strolling along the beaches in St. Thomas or St. Maarten in the Caribbean.
It is illegal to remove many of the shells and other sea creatures from the beach, especially the endangered abalone. Because Outer Shores believes in the concept of “bring only cameras, leave only footprints” -and because they are incredibly mindful of the rules here in Gwaii Haanas – we went on a hunt for shells and whatnot that we would display on the beach for all to see, then leave behind.
We also took the opportunity to help clean up and preserve this amazing place. Despite its remoteness, an astonishing number of detritus like marine floats used in commercial fishing had washed ashore. Although we can’t take them back on the ship with us, we can help to ensure they don’t drift back out into the ocean. Picking up one or two at a time, we walked along to the end of the beach and flung them above the high tide line. Most of these are made of light plastic, but a few – mainly from Japan – are made of glass.
Our beachside ramble lasted for well over two hours, and it is here that we encountered our first “outsiders” – that is, people who aren’t with us onboard the Passing Cloud. An Alberta man and his wife, along with their dog, sailed their small sailboat into the harbour and tendered ashore.
The woman continued her stroll along the beach, but the man stopped with his dog to chat with Russ.
Despite being from one of Canada’s land-locked provinces, “the stranger” looked every bit the part of a weathered sea captain. In the Caribbean, he could have passed for a privateer. But, as mariners have done for hundreds of years, the discussion between the two men had centred around the weather and the sea conditions. High winds and heavy swells had been present before our turn into the bay, and the decision to seek an overnight anchorage no doubt increases as vessel size decreases.
Satisfied with our explorations, we rejoined the Passing Cloud and set a southerly course for Cape St. James – the southernmost point of Haida Gwaii and Gwaii Haanas.
At the cape, one of only two sea lion rookeries in Gwaii Haanas can be seen, situated next to a lonely weather station perched high atop a nearby cliff. The winds and swells were fiercer here, and waves and surf pounded the shoreline exposed to the open expanse of the Pacific Ocean to the west.
What is interesting is that the landscape here is unlike anything I have ever seen before in British Columbia. It reminds me more of being in Iceland, where sparse vegetation takes the place of trees that have literally been snubbed out by the island’s proximity to the Arctic Circle. There’s no such situation here, but it remains unique all the same.
As we made our way back up the coast this evening to our overnight anchorage, it is interesting to consider just how much we have seen and done in a single day. Passing Cloud is a very educational experience; it’s almost like a floating mini university at sea.
Once again tonight, we had another excellent dinner served in the soft, inviting glow of the Main Lounge. Over dessert, we talked about the history of the Haida people, their stories, and their thoughts on the world – not to mention, how those thoughts related to the world we know today.
By 10pm, most of us went straight from dessert to bed, full with good food, good wine, and good conversation. I lingered for another 15 minutes or so to snap some photos up on deck.
As quickly as it began, our second say aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud has come to a close. It’s a good thing there are still five days left!
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|