Windy Bays and Rainy Days
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Saturday, August 9, 2014
It is about 20 minutes to noon on Day 6 of our Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud voyage through Haida Gwaii’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site as I write this. My iPhone tells me that today is Saturday, August 9, 2014, but it could be 1714 here for all I know: that’s how untouched most of Gwaii Haanas is.
Picture this, if you will: I am sitting outside on the fantail of Passing Cloud as we make our way across Juan Perez Strait. It’s a name that would sound at home in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, but the weather outside is decidedly un-tropical. We’re rolling gently from port to starboard, and it is raining sideways.
So why am I on deck instead of soaking in the warmth of Passing Cloud’s Sweatlodge, as the Main Lounge has been affectionately dubbed? The answer is simple: despite the fact that I am cold and the odd blast of spray cannot be good for my iPhone, I just can’t take my eyes off Haida Gwaii as the islands around me slip slowly and silently into the fog.
11:51am – ten minutes later: I have retreated to the warmth of the Passing Cloud’s Main Lounge. I am typing out this morning’s adventures, while the rest of my fellow guests are immersed in their books. Some are reading about the history of the Haida, while another guest gets huge brownie points from me for reading one of Phillip Kerr’s fabulous mystery novels with everyone’s favorite sarcastic Berlin detective, Bernie Gunther.
Just because we’re relaxing now, though, doesn’t mean we haven’t had an active morning. Far from it.
We all awoke between 06:00 and 06:30, had a light breakfast and slammed back a quick cup of coffee before donning our rain jackets, rain pants, and rubber boots for a morning of exploration along the northern end of Burnaby Narrows.
The reason for our early wake-up call: Burnaby Narrows is teeming with marine life underneath its crystal-clear waters, and low tide was scheduled this morning for 0730.
Disembarking the ship just before seven in the morning, guests had two choices: they could motor along the Narrows in Passing Cloud’s zodiac raft, or they could chose the “do-it-yourself” method of exploration by taking one of the ships Kayaks for a spin. When there were no other takers for the latter, I jumped at the chance. After all, how many opportunities do you get to explore Burnaby Narrows by kayak first thing on a Saturday morning?
So, for two and a half hours, I kayaked in the pouring rain while the rest of the guests rode the zodiac. Joel was deployed in a wetsuit and snorkel gear to fish out some interesting finds for us from the depths below, which was actually crystal-clear in most places.
Kayaking, if you’re not used to it, is a real upper-body workout – particularity when you’re fighting your way against an increasingly fast-moving current. I needed a bit if energetic motivation to clear one difficult stretch of water , so I fished my iPod out of my jacket two layers down and let Mr. David Gray tell me how he was “Back in the World Again”. It worked: having something to time my paddling to made all the difference in fighting the current.
Burnaby Narrows is essentially a living aquarium. There are crabs clinging to farms of kelp; sea stars of all shapes, sizes and colours latched to the ocean floor; giant sea cucumbers; clams; mussels; fish; birds, whales – you name it. Outside of an aquarium, I have never seen so many types of marine life in a single place in my life. Burnaby Narrows has ruined aquariums for me the same way that South Africa put me off zoos: there is just no substitute for the raw beauty of nature.
After two hours of sailing – or, in my case, paddling – around, we stepped back onboard the Passing Cloud to a hearty breakfast featuring yogurt, fresh fruit, savoury muffins with sausage and hard-boiled eggs. Not to mention, of course, plenty of hot coffee.
The rain refused to let go, even as we made our way into the open expanse of Hecate Strait and sailed for Windy Bay which was, with the exception of some light swell, rather wind-free.
Windy Bay is a very significant site for the Haida for several reasons. First, Windy Bay was the site of the protests against clearcut logging in the region in 1985. Perhaps just as significantly, Windy Bay has the first Haida totem pole to be raised in 130 years.
Raised on August 15, 2013, the Legacy Pole was just five days away from celebrating its first anniversary when we visited. Standing 13 metres (42 feet) in height, the pole commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement between the Haida Nation and the Federal Government of Canada. Jointly managed by the Haida Nation and Parks Canada, the Government of Canada committed $130,000 CAD to the project.
The pole was designed to evoke the themes of “Land, Sea and People” – the cornerstones of the Haida Nation, and the central themes of Gwaii Haanas. The Legacy Pole represents visitors, archaeologists, Haida Gwaii Watchmen, Haida Ravens and Eagles, along with those who participated in the protests at Athlii Gwaii.
Coming ashore, our friend “the rain” didn’t give an inch. Interestingly, none of us really seem to mind; kitted out in our rain gear and rubber pants the only real concern most of us have is for our various cameras and binoculars. Some of us – myself included – have learned through firsthand experience the difference between “waterproof” and “water-resistant.
On shore, we met Mary, Windy Bay’s relief Haida Watchman, and her 21-month old daughter, Raven. Despite the rain, Raven toddled over to us and shook each if our hands. At barely two years old, she’s already steadier on the slippery, algae-covered rocks than we are.
With Raven mounted snugly atop her shoulders, Mary led us on an hour-long walk through the forest, which is completely pristine and untouched except for a small “trail” that has really just been worn down over time. Even here, you still need to be quite agile: our route required stepping on slippery rocks, crossing a fallen tree trunk, and working our way across a rapidly-flowing river. It’s not strenuous, but reasonably good agility would be needed to complete this walk. Once again, Gwaii Haanas is not the place for those with mobility difficulties.
Following our walk, we got to dry out inside the original Long House that was created back in 1985 for Haida protesters to use. Then, we went out once again into the pouring rain to admire the intricate craftsmanship of the Legacy Pole. By this point, most of us had nearly destroyed our cameras. Mine still isn’t entirely “thawed out” as I write this. A trip to Gwaii Haanas might be a good reason to invest in a waterproof camera.
This evening, I have been thinking about our Gwaii Haanas experience. There are not a lot of other operators that offer cruises to this part of the world, but there are a few. What really sets Outer Shores apart, I think, is the Passing Cloud herself and the crew that Russ has onboard. It’s interesting to think that Lindblad Expeditions operates here in conjunction with National Geographic, yet even their small ships seem overly large for the intimate nature of Gwaii Haanas. That’s saying a lot, particularly when Lindblad is regarded as one of the premier small-ship expedition lines.
With a maximum of 12 people ashore at any given time at any Haida Watchman site, the Passing Cloud is suited to this region in a way that others are not; after all, her maximum entire complement is 12 people – passengers and crew combined.
It’s a very unique way to see an entirely unique destination.
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|