I’d heard of the Queen Charlotte Islands, but until my solo RV journey took me to Prince Rupert, I was oblivious to Haida Gwaii. Same place, but the original name was given back to this beautiful, and to some… especially the Haida people… sacred place, in 2009. Gwaii Haanas, the southern portion of Haida Gwaii, occupying 138 islands, is a National Park Reserve, a National Marine Conservation Area, and a Haida Heritage Site.
I’d added it to my bucket list while in Prince Rupert, and as it turned out it was on John’s bucket list as well. Most people travel to Haida Gwaii by small plane, or by ferry, and then hop on a tour boat for a quick excursion to a few of the heritage sites. The lucky ones… the ones who can take their time and absorb the place… come by boat. Their own boat. But getting there is the rub, especially on a sailboat that cruises best at about 6-7 knots. (By land that would be about 7mph!) Keep in mind, this is across the open waters of Hecate Strait, which can be incredibly rough in normal conditions. We were hoping for a comfortable crossing, and there’s no one I trusted more than my skipper (John) to plan that. Wind and sea state are crucial. He opted to set out for our 85 mile crossing from Aristizabal Island to Rose Harbor, Gwaii Haanas at midnight when wind and weather looked right. I did my best to sleep underway, and then spelled him around 5am, while he did his best to sleep through the unavoidable swells. With nothing but deep water in between, the only thing to watch out for is boat traffic (ferries, cruise ships and fishing vessels). We made the crossing in 16 LONG hours. (And Sadie is such an incredible boat dog she didn’t even need the pee-pad I put out for her!)
A bit more on the place… Geographically Haida Gwaii is an archipelago of over 200 islands located 65-80+ miles (depending on your points of reference) off the northern coast of British Columbia. Historically it has been the home to the Haida People for more than 14,000 years. It is remote and pristine, and the only way to see most of it is by boat. A permit is required to go ashore on any of the islands of Gwaii Haanas, and several of the islands are sacred heritage sites that are looked after by the Haida Watchmen. With permission to come ashore, the Watchman are there to greet you, walk you through the historical villages, and share with you the history, traditions and customs of the Haida people who once lived there.
Wikipedia on Haida Gwaii
When we arrived Gwaii Haanas, we anchored in the protective cove of Rose Harbor (and immediately took Sadie ashore). After a good night’s rest we set out for SGang Gwaay (Anthony Island) and hailed the Watchman for permission to come ashore. We were met by two very friendly Haida Watchman (one a young lady) and proceeded to walk and learn. SGang Gwaay Linagaay was once the site of a village occupied by Haida people. What remains is moss covered long houses and house pits, some standing corner posts, and several standing mortuary and longhouse frontal poles. This village has been uninhabited since smallpox wiped out a high percentage of the Haida Nation in the late 1800s.
Instead of burying their dead in the ground, the Haida People placed them in “mortuaries” behind the village, or in sacred caves. Important people in the village… chiefs and elders… were placed in boxes which were raised atop poles carved in their honor. Several of these poles are still standing in SGang Gwaay Linaggay.
At the Watchman cabin I was able to copy a few images from a book, some from the actual village, and some artists renderings showing what the village would have looked like…
The remainder of our time was spent walking the trail (mostly boardwalk) around part of the island, which is lush and dense with vegetation. Sadly, a recent storm fell a number of big trees, and damaged a part of the SGang Gwaay Linagaay village site.
After our stroll around the island we walked around the tide pools and rocky shoreline before rowing Zephyr back to the “mother ship”. While on a bluff above where Summer Breeze waited at anchor we noticed a Humpback Whale heading right for her! Wouldn’t you know… a whale comes a calling, and we weren’t home! All I could do was utter a few choice words and shoot the proof from afar.
Once back onboard we pulled up the anchor and headed back the way we came, this time farther up
Rose Inlet, where we hoped for protected anchorage. While underway, John spotted a black bear on shore, so we throttled back and swung closer to the island. We read that numerous species of animals here are unique to these islands, including the black bear. It is said that Grizzlies once lived here, but have been gone for a number of years. To me, this “black bear” almost looks like a cross between Grizzly and Black Bear. His coloring is unique, but his face is slightly “dished in” like a Grizzly, and his claws are incredibly large like a Grizzly.
I found it interesting that he preferred to “walk the logs” rather than the rocky shore the entire way. And I had to whistle at him before he even noticed us. “Silly ol’ Bear”. (Anyone know where that quote came from?)
As mentioned, we headed up Rose Inlet in hopes of protected anchorage, but as the wind came up during the night we felt a lot of things, but protected was definitely NOT one of them. The rain pounded, and wind howled… and swung us back and forth… and around and around. From the berth in the bow I listened to the anchor line stretching until I was sure it would break. Thankfully, it held, but at first light we fought that anchor off the bottom and headed back into Rose Harbor where it was indeed protected, AND there was a mooring buoy waiting for us. There we waited out the weather for another 24 hours before moving on.
From there we would set out again to Collison Bay, Bag Harbor, and ultimately up the infamous (shallow, narrow, and winding) Dolomite Narrows. I’ll save all that fun for the next post, but I will say this… more wildlife! Come on back y’all!