Sailing through Haida Gwaii with Outer Shores Expeditions
Monday, August 4, 2014
There was silence. The sea was an inky-grey colour, nearly motionless. Not even the sound of the wind could be heard whistling through our rigging as we came to a stop in Hecate Strait. To look out over the rail of Outer Shores Expeditions’ Passing Cloud was to be an active participant in a silent film. Whales had been sighted, and Captain and Outer Shores owner and founder Russell Markel had brought the 70-foot Passing Cloud to a standstill.
That silence ended abruptly. A fin whale emerged off our starboard side, not 20 feet from us, with a massive burst of water and air. In seconds, silence was replaced with a cacophony of sounds as the whale rose up out if the water, blew out a thick spray of water, and headed for the depths below again.
The time was four in the afternoon. Just mere hours into our adventure, our Outer Shores Expedition to Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, Canada, was already paying off.
My journey to the Passing Cloud was a veritable adventure in its own right. After staying overnight at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, I boarded a 7:30am Air Canada Express flight to Sandspit; a small, unassuming town on Haida Gwaii.
Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is an archipelago of islands on the northwestern coast of British Columbia. It’s situated farther north than Vancouver Island, and is not far from Prince Rupert on the British Columbia mainland, which itself is not far from Ketchikan, Alaska.
Haida Gwaii, though, is perhaps most notable for the stunning Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site. It’s a real mouthful, but a purposeful one. Occupying the entire southern half of Haida Gwaii, Gwaii Haanas is literally three protected ecological and historical sites rolled into one. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of SGang Gwaay (pronounced skung-why) is located at its southwestern tip, along with numerous other traditional Haida outposts; villages that were abandoned in the last 1800’s due to the outbreak of European diseases that wiped out entire populations of Haida First Nations peoples. Today they still exist, reclaimed by the land and watched over by the Haida Watchmen that are there to protect their ancestral lan