The Journey to Bella Bella and the Passing Cloud

Going sailing! Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud docked alongside in Shearwater, BC, on May 29, 2017. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Monday, May 29, 2017

There is a crow flying above me as I write this, perched upon the rigging of Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud.

It’s actually kind of unnerving – the crow – which is just staring at me with its black, beady little eyes. But, here in the Heiltsuk First Nation community of Bella Bella, British Columbia, nature is everywhere – even up in the rigging of the elegant Passing Cloud.

Welcome to the remote Heiltsuk First Nations community of Bella Bella, British Columbia. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Located west of the similarly-named town of Bella Coola and just north of Port Hardy, at the northern end of Vancouver Island, Bella Bella is located on Campbell Island and is home to roughly 1450 residents, 90 percent of which are Heiltsuk.

I’ve come here to join Outer Shores Expeditions’ on a journey through British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest; a spectacular part of the West Coast of Canada that recently moved from conflict to collaboration with an agreement that protected some 3.1 million hectares of the forest (about eighty-five percent) from industrial logging. It was a hard-won battle that involved the First Nations and British Columbia governments, corporations, and environmental stakeholders. Now, this crown jewel is protected for future generations to enjoy.

Arriving at Vancouver’s South Terminal for my Pacific Coastal Airlines flight north. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Famed for its natural beauty and rich First Nations heritage, the Great Bear Rainforest is also known as one of the only places in the world to view the Kermode, or Spirit Bear; an all-white subspecies of the American Black Bear that inhabits this region.

So how do you get to Bella Bella? You can take a BC Ferry here, or you can fly.

I chose the latter, flying here with Pacific Coastal Airlines from Vancouver International Airport’s (YVR)’s South Terminal. Yes, YVR has a South terminal that handles regional departures on smaller aircraft – and despite having called British Columbia home for nearly 14 years before relocating to Alberta, I’d never had the opportunity to fly out of the South Terminal – until now.

With the exception of the large fishing charter lined up, the South Terminal is positively quiet and serene. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

My ticket. It’s like stepping back in time, to a simpler, kinder form of air travel. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

A complimentary shuttle service runs from the Domestic and International Arrivals section of YVR over to the South Terminal, which is about a five minute drive away. Check-in was a breeze; almost a throwback to the old days of air travel, when you could roll up 30 minutes before your flight and still make it onboard with time to spare. I turned up an hour before my 8:40am departure and spent a decent amount of time reading the newspaper, drinking coffee and twiddling my fingers.

My flight, Pacific Coastal 801, departed from Vancouver’s South Terminal at 8:40am aboard a 30-seater Saab 340A turboprop. It’s a touch smaller than a Dash-8 300, but similarly sized. The flight involved a short stop at Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island, before continuing on to Bella Bella, where we touched down at 10:51am.

The inside of Pacific Coastal Air 801, a Saab 340A turboprop, seen during our stop in Port Hardy, British Columbia. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Bella Bella “airport” consists of a single building that most closely resembles a house. It’s charming in its simplicity. So too is the baggage system: a wooden ledge in the parking lot where checked baggage from arriving flights is placed for passengers to collect. It’s perfectly safe; unlike the big city, your baggage could sit here all day and no one would take it. The community is honest, friendly and welcoming.

Arriving into Bella Bella…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and stepping onto solid ground…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…at Bella Bella Airport (ZEL). Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

From the airport, Outer Shores’ arriving guests board a taxi van. There are only two in the entire town, and they’ll take you down to the pier where the BC Ferries tie up for $12 per person, in cash. From there, a quick $5 gets you a water taxi over to Shearwater, where Passing Cloud is tied up tonight as guests spend a pre-cruise evening in the local Shearwater Lodge.

This is my third trip aboard Passing Cloud, having sailed with Outer Shores in 2014 to Haida Gwaii and last fall to the Gulf Islands. There is something very special about both ship and company.

Welcome to Shearwater – a $5 water-taxi ride away from Bella Bella…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and Passing Cloud’s overnight berth. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Founded in 2012 by Russell Markel, Outer Shores specializes in educational, ecologically-minded expeditions through the heart of British Columbia’s coastal areas. Typically between April and October, you can find the Passing Cloud sailing in Pacific Rim National Park; Haida Gwaii; the Great Bear Rainforest; or the Gulf Islands.

In keeping with Outer Shores’ conservationist attitude, my weeklong Springtime in the Great Bear Rainforest sailing is the first to feature a partnership with Sierra Club BC, an organization that works to promote conservation and protection of British Columbia’s wilderness. Joining us onboard for this exciting partnership is Sierra Club BC’s Forests & Climate Campaigner, Jens Wieting, who will provide insight into the recently-signed agreements to protect the Great Bear Rainforest, and who will shed light on the work that still needs to be done in ecologically-threatened areas of the Province.

Shearwater is very picturesque, particularly on a nice day like this. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

It’s a very small community, but it has everything you’d need in one place. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This sailing is the first such partnership between Outer Shores Expeditions and Sierra Club BC, and from all indications, I suspect it will be a successful one. My fellow guests are six well-educated, well-informed individuals who are equally interested in exploring this amazing part of Canada. All six hail from British Columbia, which is quite interesting. My past two voyages have had an eclectic mix of Canadian, British, Australian and American guests, so it will be interesting to see the opinions of six “locals” as we take this cruise through a region of British Columbia that’s so remote, few will ever get here.

Tomorrow, our expedition begins in earnest as we depart Shearwater for the mysteries that await us. It promises to be an interesting adventure.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud in the Great Bear Rainforest continues tomorrow, as our sailing expedition begins in earnest. You can learn more about travel in British Columbia by visiting the HelloBC website.  Follow along on twitter with @deckchairblog.

Springtime in the Great Bear Rainforest

May 29Arrival in Bella Bella
May 30Our Expedition Sets Out
May 31Beaches and Excavations
June 1A Day at the Hakai Institute
June 2The Abandoned Town of Ocean Falls
June 3Adventures on King Island
June 4Bears and Dolphins: a Wildlife Paradise in the Great Bear Rainforest
June 5One Last Day; Recapping our Voyage

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