Kayaks and Sails in Gwaii Haanas

A Pycnopodia helianthoides, or Sunflower Seastar, as seen off Gwaii Haanas and the Gordon Islands in British Columbia, Canada. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A Pycnopodia helianthoides, or Sunflower Seastar, as seen off Gwaii Haanas and the Gordon Islands in British Columbia, Canada. There are 15,000 little tube feet on their undersides. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

As we began our third day aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud, my fellow guests and I had settled comfortably into our shipboard routines as we entered into our third full day spent exploring one of the most remote places in British Columbia, Canada: Haida Gwaii’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site.

Not a bad view to wake up to! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Not a bad view to wake up to! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Most of us awake between 6:30 and 7:30, dress, and then gather up on the fantail for coffee and tea, preparatory to enjoying another delicious breakfast created by the always-smiling Cate. On this morning’s menu: plenty of handmade cinnamon oatmeal with pieces of fresh fruit, complemented by yogurt, fresh slices of orange, and chipotle egg tortillas served with guacamole.

Fresh orange slices served on Passing Cloud's aft deck complemented breakfast this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Fresh orange slices served on Passing Cloud’s aft deck complemented breakfast this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

By the time breakfast was served, Passing Cloud was already motoring along at seven knots, bound for Anthony Island and the former village of Ninstints, better known as SGang Gwaay (skung-why). In order to get there in decent time, a morning of scenic cruising was in order; a necessity that no one objected to.

Just prior to reaching SGang Gwaay, Captain Russ turned off Passing Cloud’s Volvo Penta engine and raised her sails with the help of Kai and Joel.

Kai helps to raise Passing Cloud's sail...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Kai helps to raise Passing Cloud’s sail…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...as Captain Russ moves from the weelhouse to the stern helm. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…as Captain Russ moves from the weelhouse to the stern helm. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Up she goes! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Up she goes! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

At 70 feet in length, Passing Cloud is a decent-sized schooner. She’s big, heavy, and surprisingly nimble. With all three sails up, she was soon making an easy five knots over the water with only a light breeze to fill her sails.

To give guests a different perspective of their ship, Passing Cloud’s zodiac raft was brought alongside and guests could join this newly-minted “chase boat” for the chance to view Passing Cloud underway with all of her sails up.

You can see our route on the digital track plotter; the zig-zag motion is called a "tack" and was needed to successfully get the sails up and in the wind. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

You can see our route on the digital track plotter; the zig-zag motion is called a “tack” and was needed to successfully get the sails up and in the wind. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, guests onboard Passing Cloud boarded the ship's Zodiac in groups of three or four for a unique look at the ship under sail. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, guests onboard Passing Cloud boarded the ship’s Zodiac in groups of three or four for a unique look at the ship under sail. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Passing Cloud at sea off SGang Gwaay. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Passing Cloud at sea off SGang Gwaay. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Looking westward out at the open Pacific. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Guests boarded the zodiac in groups of three or four, thereby ensuring that each guest had the chance to snap some unobstructed views of their ship at sea. The benefits of small-ship cruising! I doubt they’ll let me run alongside in a chase boat on my next cruise…but I can always hope.

After lunch, it became clear that visiting SGang Gwaay today wasn’t looking terribly promising. Visits to the site require pre-clearance with the Haida Watchmen that protect and monitor these sacred sites, and a surprising stream of visitors coming aboard vessels of all shapes and sizes could be heard on the VHF radio requesting clearance.

Back onboard and sailing to our lunchtime anchorage off the Gordon Islands - and an afternoon of exploration. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Back onboard and sailing to our lunchtime anchorage off the Gordon Islands – and an afternoon of exploration. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Russ has a neat approach to working with the local Haida Watchmen: rather than insisting (as some boaters do) on visiting SGang Gwaay at a set time, he prefers to go when demand is low. This creates a more intimate experience for his guests, and does much to foster good relations between Outer Shores and the local Haida Watchmen.

Because SGang Gwaay was absolutely slammed with visit requests today (they would eventually top out at 90 visitors for the day), we decided to delay our visit until first thing tomorrow, which the Watchmen agreed to. Though judging by the radio calls, I think the Haida Watchmen might have been eager to get an additional ten people on-shore today. I don’t know what their record visitor number is, but we seemed close to breaking it.

After lunch, guests could take in some kayaking before meeting on Gordon Island for some hiking. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After lunch, guests could take in some kayaking before meeting on Gordon Island for some hiking. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Instead, we spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the surrounding area, anchoring just off the Gordon Islands south of SGang Gwaay. When the kayaks hit the water for the first time this trip, I jumped at the chance to take one for a spin.

The kayaks, which are brand-new to the Passing Cloud, come complete with a clear window inset into the bottom of the hull. They are fantastically easy to handle, even for beginners. On my hour-long paddle, I was able to enjoy a journey along the various kelp forests that grow along the shoreline, passing jellyfish and other creatures along the way. There were also some signs of debris: a Japanese water bottle sat floating in and amongst the kelp, trapped by the buoyancy created by whomever drank the liquid inside.

Kayak and Gordon Islands. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Kayak and Gordon Islands. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The waters here were crystal-clear. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The waters here were crystal-clear. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Even here, the odd debris from the Japanese Earthquake and resulting Tsunami in 2011 can still be seen slowly washing ashore. This bottle looks like a Japanese juice or energy drink; there's not a piece of English on the label. We eventually fetched it from the water and disposed of it. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Even here, the odd debris from the Japanese Earthquake and resulting Tsunami in 2011 can still be seen slowly washing ashore. This bottle looks like a Japanese juice or energy drink; there’s not a piece of English on the label. We eventually fetched it from the water and disposed of it. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Up-close and personal with a jellyfish. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Up-close and personal with a jellyfish. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

More Japanese relics were found during our two-hour beach combing adventure: a Nissan tire bearing Japanese markings, and an enormous red light covered in living barnacles, that bore a Japanese make and character set.

Our hike was a proper hike, too. Nothing too long or too strenuous, but certainly an activity you’d want to be reasonably nimble to participate in. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, including yours truly – even when I slid down that small embankment and into a crab apple tree, proving that Mother Nature is still somewhat out to get me. Which, to my mind, just made tonight’s glass(es) of Okanagan Valley Merlot that much more deserved!

Hiking the Gordon Islands in the afternoon. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Hiking the Gordon Islands in the afternoon. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Much of our hike involved literally blazing new trails. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Much of our hike involved literally blazing new trails. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our reward: a magnificent tidal pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our reward: a magnificent tidal pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Before arriving at our overnight anchorage, we stopped first at the Louscone Inlet Fresh Water Source to refill Passing Cloud’s four freshwater water tanks. There are two freshwater refill points in all of Gwaii Haanas, and Passing Cloud has an onboard filtration system to turn it into drinking water. There is also a desalination plant onboard to make drinking water from seawater if necessary, though there is little need to use it in Haida Gwaii.

Tanks refilled, we motored over to our overnight anchorage at Louscone Inlet near Tucker Island, only to be greeted by two deer, a full moon, and one of the most gorgeous evenings we’ve had onboard so far.

An old red light, likely from the deck or engine room of a ship. It also has a Japanese brand and Japanese markings on it. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

An old red light, likely from the deck or engine room of a ship. It also has a Japanese brand and Japanese markings on it. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

As dusk falls, we stopped to take on fresh water at one of two sources available in Gwaii Haanas. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

As dusk falls, we stopped to take on fresh water at one of two sources available in Gwaii Haanas. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, we ate dinner outside on Passing Cloud’s aft deck instead of inside the Lounge, in order to take advantage of the last rays of sunlight and the unusually warm temperatures. We lingered long enough for Russ to read a few passages on Haida history to us as the sun fell behind the hills; the perfect prelude to our visit to SGang Gwaay early tomorrow morning.

I’m looking forward to it already.

Cate serves up dinner...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Cate serves up dinner…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...and wine sparkles in the setting sun. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…and wine sparkles in the setting sun. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Captain and Outer Shores Owner Russell Markel reads some Haida history to us...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Captain and Outer Shores Owner Russell Markel reads some Haida history to us…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...after a fantastic feast. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…after a fantastic feast. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of Passing Cloud's deck prisms that provides light to staterooms below decks, looking rather starfish-like in the evening light. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of Passing Cloud’s deck prisms that provides light to staterooms below decks, looking rather starfish-like in the evening light. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

 

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