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Go Haida Gwaii


Rose Spit - where the Hecate Strait meets Dixon Entrance - Photo: Owen Perry

The rainforest experience - moss carpeted paths, a lingering scent of fresh cedar and the sounds of silence - Photo: Owen Perry

Step into another world as you tour ancient Haida village sites in Gwaii Haanas - Photo: Owen Perry


A visit to Haida Gwaii’s wild west coast

Linda Leitch / Blue Sky Charters

By Linda Leitch/Blue Sky Charters

For me the west coast of Haida Gwaii has always been fogged over by its reputation for being the wildest of wildernesses. It’s known for  its erratic winds that can switch direction in a heartbeat while not giving up any of their force and magnificent ocean swells that grow to epic sizes in storms that rage somewhere out in the Pacific. Experienced mariners warn others to stay away as there aren’t too many places to seek shelter along the weather worn shore and you’re very far from rescue should anything go wrong.

In contrast the west coast of Haida Gwaii also has the reputation for having spectacular beaches, breath taking scenery and the magic of a world steeped in Haida culture.

Linda Leitch / Blue Sky Charters

A few summers ago I finally had the opportunity to venture out in our 27' Catalina  'No Point' from our home port of Masset and explore this wonderful landscape; finding out for myself what lies beneath the fog of mystery that surrounds this rugged coast.  We travelled as far south as Port Louis stopping in as many places as we dared along the way.

As we cruised across the northern shores of Graham Island we watched a picturesque line of Salmon trawlers working along the horizon with the mountains of the Alaskan panhandle backing them, while tucked in closer to shore an army of lodge boats full of sports fisherman dangled their hooks in the water. Helicopters buzzed overhead flying guests to 5 star resorts located on Langara Island, the rock that locals jokingly call Shangri-La. Summer in Haida Gwaii is busy and the fishing is world class, it was as if war had been declared and all the boats were in place to perfectly ambush the unsuspecting salmon.

Leaving the fishing fleets behind us, we caught the tide that propelled us quickly through Parry Passage and gained our first glimpse of open ocean. Conditions were perfect, the water was topped like glass and a gentle swell barely pulsed beneath the surface. Gratefully we accepted our windless situation in trade for the calm seas and slowly began to putter our way south toward Fredrick Island.  We were now alone in the deep blue sea.

Curtis Guest

Our first days on the west coast were spent behind Fredrick Island in Peril Bay. Fog banks rolled across the water and steamed over the beach to swirl into the mossy branches of the ancient forest. Even with the fog we wore sunglasses to dim the obscenely bright light reflecting around in the mist, and later discovered we were badly sunburned. We played hard along the beach and entertained ourselves by sifting through sand, searching for treasure.

Linda Leitch / Blue Sky Charters

One night a gale blew up from the south east. I woke and looked out the window to a scene now filled with anchor lights. At least 20 Trawlers that had been working, invisible beyond the horizon had come in to anchor with us in the slight protection behind Fredrick Island and hide out the 40 knot winds. The sound screaming through the rigging made my chest tight and my hair crawl about on my head but with absolute certainty the anchor was holding I somehow willed myself back to sleep. In the morning, waves slapped at the sides of No Point, but the wind had left for the horizon and took with it the trawlers. What remained was a steady 15 Knot wind that had shifted to the northwest. In slightly confused seas we pulled anchor and rode the wind further south toward Port Louis.

Curtis Guest

The scenery in Haida Gwaii is always stunning but on the West Coast it’s miraculous. We cruised along weather worn cliffs with blank rock faces and perfect old growth rainforest while whales leapt next to the boat and sea lions came rushing to the surface fighting to swallow the flopping salmon they held in their jaws. On shore each beach was unique and even as we rounded each corner in a bay the landscape would change, introducing us to beauty we could never have imagined.

Linda Leitch / Blue Sky Charters

We discovered that the beach combing on the west coast of Haida Gwaii is incredible. There’s marine debris and unexplainable objects packed into every little crevice, extending sometimes shockingly deep into the forest edge.

The best treasure we found was a five inch glass rolling pin (fishing float) that I plucked right from the water. We were just inside Tian Bay and found it floating in a mat of kelp while we were out in the zodiac. It was covered in brown slime and fresh, tight gooseneck barnacles. It was even topped off with a dried Velella, a blue sailing jelly fish, it was a magnificent find.

Linda Leitch / Blue Sky Charters

Port Louis was our furthest destination that summer and it was like finding an oasis in a place that was already paradise. Opting to pass respectfully by Ridall Cove (which is home to another 5 star fishing resort) we went further into Port Louis and once tucked  inside found ourselves, for the first time in days; in blissfully still water.  We bombed around in the zodiac for day trips exploring old homesteads and cruising far up creeks thoroughly enjoying the knowledge that No Point was safe where we left her.

With a mixture of trepidation and excitement we eventually poked our nose back out into the open to sniff around and start our return trip north. It turned into our favorite day of sailing and rested on the edge of thrilling and terrifying. We were on the way back home in 25 knot winds, (gusting higher) that roared up the coast from the South West. With no other option, we flew fast back toward Langara Island with only the storm jib. We raced along at a steady 9 knots, sometimes surfing down the front of 3 meter waves; our destination actually seeming to speed toward us.

Curtis Guest

That may sound awesome or awful depending on your perspective but what we quickly discovered, and what I consider to be the very best kept secret of the West Coast of Haida Gwaii, is that most of the time sailing conditions are perfect. We never had to wait long for the wind to change and carry us where we wanted to go, often sailing in any direction right off the anchor in 15 knots of wind.

Our time on the west side of Haida Gwaii was wonderful and I now believe that everything we’d previously heard about this place was fully the truth.

The wind will suddenly switch direction and the waves are always bigger than predicted. Never have I listened so often and so attentively to the weather reports. I spent more time checking the face of the barometer then I did checking the clock. With the exception of very few places like Port Louis where you can float deep into its sanctum, the “anchorages” leave you utterly exposed to whatever the pacific feels like throwing at you, there is no place to hide.

Linda Leitch / Blue Sky Charters

These are all very good reasons to use extreme caution when you’re out on these remote shores, but it is worth the effort, not only is it a wonderland to discover it’s also an incredible school. We learned to be comfortable anchoring next to nothing and alone, and we also got to perfect our skills sailing in all kinds of interesting winds and sea conditions. But the best lesson we learned that summer, is that the places that are the most shrouded in mystery are the places most worthy of visiting.

Guy Kimola / Haida Gwaii Photos

Linda Leitch / Blue Sky Charters


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