A Week of Sailing on Canada’s West Coast

Join us as we sail through British Columbia's remote Haida Gwaii region aboard Outer Shores Expeditions' Passing Cloud. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

Join us as we sail through British Columbia’s remote Haida Gwaii region aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

On Monday, I’ll be on 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.

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.

Is the sun setting on traditional, economy-class airfare? Some carriers, even regional ones like Air Canada Jazz, pictured here, still believe in service. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

Sandspit – and Outer Shores Passing Cloud – is a short two-hour flight on Air Canada from Vancouver. Photo © 2011 Aaron Saunders

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 Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site (or just Gwaii Haanas) 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.

Our journey aboard the Passing Cloud will take us through the heart of Gwaii Haanas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

Our journey aboard the Passing Cloud will take us through the heart of Gwaii Haanas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

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 northbound 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.

Gwaii Haanas 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.

Passing Cloud's Main Saloon is cozy and intimate. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

Passing Cloud’s Main Saloon is cozy and intimate. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

Passenger accommodations are in four, two-berth staterooms. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

Passenger accommodations are in four, two-berth staterooms. Photo courtesy of Outer Shores.

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 here an on our Live Voyage Reports site.

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.

Our Live Voyage Report onboard Outer Shores’ Passing Cloud begins on Tuesday, August 12, 2014! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport. You can learn more about Haida Gwaii and British Columbia by visiting the Hello BC website.

 

 

4 Responses to Sailing to Haida Gwaii with Outer Shores Expeditions

  1. Kalle Id says:

    This sounds utterly gorgenous, very much looking forward to it!

    • Aaron Saunders says:

      Thanks Kalle! I have high hopes for it…it’s an area of my own country (and province) that I have never been to. Very remote, and sailing seems to be the best way to explore it. Of course, I hope I see a few cruise ships and ferries along the way that I can snap some photos of 😉

      • Kalle Id says:

        While the local nature and culture is absolutely delightful and definately the primary focus, I would not say no to images of passing cruise ships and ferries… 😉

  2. […] at the moment, aboard Outer Shores Expeditions and their 70-foot schooner, the Passing Cloud. We’re spending a week exploring Haida Gwaii off the coast of mainland British Columbia and since internet access and small schooners don’t […]

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