Monday, 14 November 2011

FLASHBACK: Pelagia cruises to Haida Gwaii (Summer 2011)

new content added January 29, 2012...
See also photo set on Flickr

May - August, 2011
Our third trip north of Cape Caution and second to Haida Gwaii, this was our first major trip on Pelagia.

Some stats:
# days: 94                   Nautical miles: 1545 (244 sailed)
Furthest north: Kitkatla (approx 54 deg 48 min N; 130 deg 26 min W),  386 nm NW of Vancouver
Longest leg: 158 nm (Heater Hbr, Haida Gwaii to Clam Bay, Nigei Island)
Best sail: off Banks Island (mainland) to Skidegate Inlet (Haida Gwaii);   sailed 38 of 61 nm
Pelagia's route north and back

Weather: June/July: often cloudy; occasional rain (in Haida Gwaii, we had relatively good weather, often with sun, but cool temps); August: mostly sunny. Given Pelagia’s great setup, we expected a far more comfortable trip than our previous trips – it was! Friends downcoast in southern B.C. complained of the cold and rainy weather in June and July 2011 – well it was like this up north too (but this is the norm up north). The multiple heating systems on Pelagia sure helped!

Other boats? We’ve been up north before; nevertheless, we were still surprised at how few other pleasure boats go north of Cape Caution. For the most part, the anchorages were empty (or nearly empty) – except perhaps for those on the main inside route to Alaska (which we tended to avoid).  We were alone for approximately 50% of our nights up North; the other nights there were usually only 1-3 other boats. One could almost get lonely!

Anchorages? We’d forgotten how beautiful, how well-protected, and how plentiful are the anchorages up north. They were great! Favourite? Really hard to say as we enjoyed almost all.

Haida Gwaii? Our visit seemed better this year than it was back in 2002. Similar to 2002, we sailed across Hecate Strait to Skidegate Inlet (visiting Sandspit, but mostly staying at Queen Charlotte City -- a favourite). We shared a rental van (with Jay and Tony from SV Sapphire), and toured Graham Island, including Port Clements, Masset, North Beach (wow!) and the "blowhole" at Tow Hill in Naikoon Park.

Entering Gwaii Hanaas National Park was made easier by the new reservation system, as well as the Park staff providing an orientation session in Vancouver in May. The water buoys are still there (we again did not treat the water and had no issues) and most of the mooring buoys were still there (except those in Rose Harbour where they actually are most needed but where only one remains).  Dinner at Susan's in Rose Harbour was great. (To arrange dinner, call  "Old Squaw" on VHF Channel 6 -- note: Summer only) 

Compared to 2002, we noticed (and interacted with) many more officials in the Park, including Parks Canada, RCMP, Canadian Coast Guard and, of course, Haida Watchmen. All interactions were friendly and welcome -- it is great to see Gwaii Hanaas protected. 

[Although we do wish Parks Canada would "curtail" those private “Gwaii Hanaas-in-a-day” zodiac tours (Moresby Explorers), which roar in then out of anchorages. Kinda takes away from the wilderness feeling. Luckily, we only saw them in two anchorages.]  

Relaxing in pools on Hotsprings Island 

Haida mortuary poles at SGang Gwaay

A new experience: the anchor-engulfing kelp in Heater Harbour (Kunghit Island). We has read about "kelp machetes" carried by boats when cruising Chile –  now we know why! Three times we up-anchored/re-anchored in Heater Harbour and three times the anchor was loaded with (seemingly) hundreds of pounds of kelp (one time so much, the windlass struggled). Using a knife on the end of a pole, cutting it was simple – like cutting butter with a hot knife.

Heater Harbour: Kelp lurks below...

Animals? So many animals! Highlights were clearly: (i) many humpback whale sightings, including one where one surfaced 100 metres away, both of us heading for the same narrow passage between Orion Point (Kunghit Island, near Heater Hbr) and High Island  – although we quickly slowed to a near stop, happily “he” (?) turned around; (ii) Haida Gwaii black bears (very dark shiny black); (iii) marine life (plus deer and bear) in Dolomite (Burnaby) Narrows at very low tide (we went 2X, returning in order to be there at a +1’ low tide – well worth it and far better than in 2002). Of course, we saw a couple hundred bald eagles and, true to David’s fishing history, caught no salmon.

Haida Gwaii Black Bear in Dolomite Narrows

Conclusion: We loved our return visit to British Columbia's Mainland North Coast and the Haida Gwaii archipelago. First Nations' cultures, wilderness, safe anchorages, mountains, open ocean, and wildlife made for a great cruise. Too bad we didn't get a lot of actual sailing in.

Sailing south; last view of Haida Gwaii (Cape St. James on far left)

Black-footed Albatross

FYI: A map of our 2002 cruise to Haida Gwaii...

Our first trip north: 2002 cruise to Haida Gwaii


  1. Was the crossing of Hecate Strait rough? I've heard it can be.

  2. Not on the day we crossed. It started very calm and the winds picked up to 10-15kn from the NW. This gave a great sail across -- seas only go to about 1-2 meters. A very pleasant day!