Recapping Our Journey Through Gwaii Haanas with Outer Shores Expeditions

It's been quite an adventure sailing aboard Outer Shores Expeditions' Passing Cloud through Gwaii Haanas. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

It’s been quite an adventure sailing aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud through Gwaii Haanas. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

I have been back from my trip aboard Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud through Haida Gwaii’s Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Sitefor over a week now. I’ve had friends and family call me up and ask how it was. I’ve had people emailing in. Yet when I explain the trip to them in detail, I feel as though I am still left hanging for words.

On August 11, we arrived in Moresby Camp and officially concluded our journey aboard the Passing Cloud. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

On August 11, we arrived in Moresby Camp and officially concluded our journey aboard the Passing Cloud. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

On Monday, August 11, I disembarked Passing Cloud along with my fellow guests. We enjoyed a morning of scenic cruising up to Moresby Camp, just south of Sandspit. When we’d dropped anchor, each of us took some time to say what the trip had meant to each of us. No one was bawling, but there was a substantial amount emotional tension in the air as each person – guest and crew alike – said there bit. The truth is, it’s impossible to take a cruise that’s this intimate and not form a bond with the destination, the ship, and the people.

Before I knew it, we were in the back of our taxi van – all of us – driving down a dirt logging road that would last for the next 90 minutes until we hit Aliford Bay where our journey began exactly one week prior. Captain Russ took us on one last hike before we did this, walking us to a place where we had seen bears on a previous journey.

We didn’t find bears. We found CAT’s.

Spotting a new - and disturbing - kind of animal near Moresby Camp. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Spotting a new – and disturbing – kind of animal near Moresby Camp. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Two enormous Caterpillar excavators were making their way across a narrow bridge perhaps 500 feet from us, heading up a narrow logging road to clear-cut more trees. A week ago, this sight wouldn’t have phased me at all. After being in the pristine, untouched and protected wilderness of Gwaii Haanas, it was horrifying. If there were birds, we didn’t hear them. If there was wildlife, it cowered deep in the shadows. Only the growl of the powerful diesel engines and the squealing of the metal tacks on each vehicle as they dug into the earth could be heard. It was loud, oppressive, and horrible.

In the van, more shocking sights: entire swaths of forest, much like we’d been exploring all week, entirely knocked down. This forest was not alive; this forest was dead and decaying, waiting to be turned into paper and cardboard coffee cups.

I didn’t realize it when I was on the Passing Cloud; it took driving down that dirt road to see that the week I’d spent with Russ and the Outer Shores crew had changed the entire way I view the world.

This morning, we enjoyed a few hours of scenic cruising before having to step off Passing Cloud for the last time. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This morning, we enjoyed a few hours of scenic cruising before having to step off Passing Cloud for the last time. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In Sandspit, I re-integrated with society with an overnight stay at the Inn at Sandspit. It has a website, but it no longer works, even though the hotel is open. That’s just the quirky way things work here. The town enjoys a large tourist influx of kayakers and backpackers during the summer months, but the local industry here – traditionally, forestry – has been decimated. Therein lies the great balance: we want to protect the environment, but stay employed. In Haida Gwaii, it’s tough to have your cake and eat it, too.

Back to "civilization" in Sandspit. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Back to “civilization” in Sandspit. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I have to say that I loved Sandspit for its friendliness and outright quirks. For example, I joined two of my fellow Passing Cloud guests for dinner at the second-best rated restaurant in all of Sandspit: a Chinese food establishment called –I am not kidding – Dicks’ Wok Inn. How was it? The most expensive Chinese food I’ve had in my life. But hey, you’re in a small town on an island – where are you going to go?

The Inn at Sandspit - conveniently located about 500 feet from Sandspit Airport. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Inn at Sandspit – conveniently located about 500 feet from Sandspit Airport. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Despite the fact that I kind of wondered aloud – as I struggled to get Wi-Fi internet for the first time in a week at 10pm in a darkened hotel lobby – why I was there, I am very glad my travels took me to Sandspit. It was nice to re-integrate to society again after a week of near-solitude.

Another quirky word to the wise: tip your taxi driver. Ours also did double-duty as one of the security agents at Sandspit Airport.

So what did I think of Outer Shores? Here’s the rundown, followed by some reader questions:

Passing Cloud, as seen from one of her two kayaks near the Gordon Islands. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Passing Cloud, as seen from one of her two kayaks near the Gordon Islands. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sail With Outer Shores If:

  • You’re looking for a truly original experience.
  • You love history, are keen to learn about other cultures, and can appreciate wildlife in all its various forms.
  • You love the idea of sailing aboard a classically-styled schooner.
  • The thought of big cruise ships makes your stomach churn.

Avoid Outer Shores If:

  • You suffer from claustrophobia or seasickness. Small ships can cause both.
  • You want a mindless vacation. This is an educational experience.
  • You aren’t a social, outgoing person. The atmosphere onboard is social and convivial.
  • The thought of small ships makes your stomach churn.

Final Verdict: Outer Shores’ Passing Cloud is among the top five cruise experiences I’ve ever taken.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Some readers (and, well, some family and friends) had some excellent questions for me:

Do you have to know a lot about Haida Gwaii and nature to enjoy yourself?

No! It helps to do a bit of research, like any place, but there’s absolutely no requirement to come onboard with a University degree in this stuff. That’s why Russ and his crew are there – to teach you about why this is so cool, and why you should care.

Do you have to know about Haida culture before visiting Gwaii Haanas? No - that's why Russ and his crew, and the Haida Watchmen, are there. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Do you have to know about Haida culture before visiting Gwaii Haanas? No – that’s why Russ and his crew, and the Haida Watchmen, are there. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Did you ever feel confined?

Truthfully – yes – but just once, one afternoon, when the weather was miserable and we were all confined to the lounge. I read a book I’d brought along, but sometimes you just want a bit of quiet time. Still, the feeling passed after about an hour – and an hour out of a solid week isn’t bad.

Was it cold?

No – in fact, the first few days were quite warm, with temperatures hovering around 25°C (77F). The remainder of the days were slightly cooler. You definitely needed a coat, but bundled with a coat and a rain jacket, it’s easy to warm up – particularly as you’re always walking or hiking on-shore.

Was the floatplane flight extra?

Nope – the flight was included in the cost of the cruise. For 2015, Outer Shores will even be including a pre-cruise stay in Sandspit.

You never know when you'll spot wildlife. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

You never know when you’ll spot wildlife. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Where else does Outer Shores sail to?

Outer Shores sails to Haida Gwaii; Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island; Johnstone Strait & Blackfish Sound; and the Great Bear Rainforest that extends from Southeast Alaska to Vancouver Island on the mainland British Columbia coast. Interestingly, these sailings are already nearly sold out for 2015.

In the end, Haida Gwaii – and Gwaii Haanas – is nothing like I have ever seen before. I’m glad Outer Shores and the Passing Cloud took me there; I wouldn’t have wanted to have experienced this wonderful region of the world any other way.

The fantastic crew of the Passing Cloud, from left to right: Captain and Owner Russ; Cate; Joel; and Kai. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The fantastic crew of the Passing Cloud, from left to right: Captain and Owner Russ; Cate; Joel; and Kai. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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