Summer Cruising Through Sidney, Vancouver Island, & Prince Rupert - Part 2

Eagle in trees at Welcome Harbour
Balance rock. Skidegate.
It rains a lot in Haida Gwaii!
Old growth forest at Port Clements
Bald eagle on piling Queen Charlotte marina
Totem at end of Tow Hill Road
Loon with fish
Funky moss on trees along Two Hill Road
Queen Charlotte Hospital

Part 2 - Summer Cruising Through Sidney, Vancouver Island, and Prince Rupert

June 7 Friday

We call first at the fuel dock and take on 2,880 litres (760 US gal) of diesel before heading south from Prince Rupert harbour past the container docks and the grain terminal where a cloud of dust hovers over a freighter being filled from massive silos. As we thread our way through craggy islands we see numerous freighters at anchor awaiting their turn. They are all high in the water and have the appearance of timber carriers.

Venture begins to lift to the swell from Hecate Strait just before we divert into Welcome Harbour on Porcher Island at 1208. The anchorage is named a “harbour” but there is nothing here but rocks and trees. The tide is low when we drop the hook and our surroundings quickly alter appearance as the incoming tide swallows and conceals the gnarly rocks.

It is here that I first begin to feel the onset of the lassitude which is to affect our cruising plans. I only mention it because it is it is such a classic example of the sort of thing that can so easily toss well laid plans over the side. Tracing back the timing it seems most likely that I picked up an infection from the jovial handshaking that occurred at an earlier stop - possibly Shearwater. I
retreat early to my bunk and, the following day, sleep most of the way across the 75 mile crossing of the notorious Hecate Strait which fortunately is blissfully flat.

June 8 Saturday

We depart Welcome Harbour at 0642 and tie up in Sandspit marina on Moresby Island at 1420.
The marina is quite isolated and the nearest town of Sandspit - also the location of Haida Gwaii’s main airport - is a 3.5 mile hike down the road. Chris and Christine heroically make the round trip to look for some cough and similar medicine for me.

We spend two more days here before being able to rent a car from the airport and drive to the Kwuna ferry - 10 km away - to take us across Skidegate Inlet - the body of water dividing Graham Island to the north from Moresby Island to the south During this interval we have plenty of time to observe the goings on of a pair of Pigeon Guillemots in which one of the pair seem to be trying to persuade the other that the exhaust pipes protruding from the hull of the Coastguard Cutter “Cape Mudge” would make an ideal spot for a nest. We mentioned this to one of the vessels crew which resulted us in getting a tour of their rugged boat.

June 11th Tuesday

We drive the 10 km to the ferry terminal at Alliford Bay and take the 20 minute ride across the water to Skidegate. There was no charge for this run because they get you on the return journey! We then drive the short distance to the Haida Heritage Centre for the mandatory orientation required by every person who wishes to visit the Gwaii Haanas, the National Park Reserve which encompasses the lower half of Moresby Island from the tops of the mountains to 10 km offshore. The briefing is very thorough and accompanied by slide shows. It includes ecology as well as a brief history of the islands. The first Haida people arrived here around 12,500 years ago and thrived pretty-well in their island home until the arrival of outsiders in 1787. Amongst other things, these outsiders brought with them foreign diseases such as measles, TB and smallpox against which the Haida had no resistance. This reduced their population from around 20,000 to less than 600 over a period of just two years! The arrival of the foreigners, in the 17 and 1800’s - also precipitated the local extinction of otters to meet the demand for their pelts in China. Sea otters feed on sea urchins whose population then exploded so they, in turn, devastated the kelp forests with resulting loss in habitat for many species of fish and crustacea. Later, foreign logging companies moved in and started clear cutting the forests of their original old growth forests. In 1985, a small group of the remaining Haida decided to take a stand and mounted a protest against rampant logging which drew international attention and led to an agreement to protect Gwaii Haanas as a place of international value. Traditionally the Haida have based their culture on harmony and balance between themselves and the natural environment.

Following the 90 minute briefing we make a brief tour of the museum at the same location and take a quick look at Balance Rock just up the coast before returning to Moresby island across the ferry.

June 12th Wednesday

During our visit to Skidegate yesterday we noticed the modern hospital in Queen Charlotte Village and, still feeling rather more under the weather than I would consider normal for a simple cold, I decide it might be prudent to have a doctor check me out at the hospital before we depart for the remote parts of Haida Gwaii where there are no facilities or communication of any sort.

We return across the ferry and I enter the modern hospital which was officially opened in September 2016. There is no reason to go into details here but suffice to say that I finished up spending the whole day in the hospital undergoing a procedure and being congratulated for having come in for a checkup. Everyone was exceptionally nice and helpful and, in all areas, it was abundantly evident that the hospital is extremely well run. Being a non-Canadian, naturally I need to pay for service but, had I been a Canadian, this would not be the case. It is a clear example of how far the US trails behind other countries when it comes to providing universal health care for its citizens.

While all this is going on, we decide it would be more convenient to have Venture moored in the marina in downtown Queen Charlotte Village where space is allocated on a basis of first come, first served. Chris checks and finds they have space for Venture so Chris, Christine and Louisa take the ferry back across the Channel, return the car to the airport and move the boat to Queen Charlotte Village marina while I am in the hospital.

It is the recommendation of the doctor that we remain for a few days in town to check out test results. We are able to rent another car and on June 14th, Friday, we drive north up the, basically, only road up Graham Island to Port Clements situated on the large inland body of water named Masset Inlet. While there we take a short hike along the Golden Spruce Trail through a small remnant of old growth forest.

On Sunday. June 16th, we drive to Masset and follow Tow Hill Road running along the northeast coast of the island bordering on Dixon Entrance. Most of Tow Hill Road is unsurfaced and runs through dense forest with many trees dripping with funky moss. We return to Old Masset for lunch and are surprised to see a Fleming 75 tied up at the fuel dock. We make ourselves known to the Captain who is awaiting the owners arrival from Seattle.This is one of the earlier boats and it is a long time since I have been aboard. Such a surprise to encounter her here at the back of beyond.

I am writing this while we are still awaiting the results of further tests tomorrow June 19th. This extended stay here was certainly not part of our plans but the best laid plans are always subject to circumstance and, although in ways we did not anticipate, our extended stay has been an enriching experience. We have met many interesting people - both fellow boaters as well as local towns people. Everyone has been exceptionally nice and friendly. There is a good choice of restaurants - the Pub, Japanese and Chinese. It rains a lot here. As much as 168” per year on the West Coast with rain likely on more than 230 days per year. The tidal range can be as much as 24’ so the marina ramp can appear intimidating at low tide. For a population of just 4,500, Haida Gwaii offers a lot.

All being well. We hope to continue our cruise to Gwaii Haanas on June 20th. Communications will be spotty to non-existent so I cannot forecast when the next blog may be.


To continue reading to Part 3, please follow this link.

If you would like to read Part 1 of the Summer Cruising blog post, please follow this link.