A Trip Report, June 2013, by Naturalist Andy MacKinnon, aboard the SV Maple Leaf


Friday June 7

It appears as if the capricious Haida Gwaii weather isn’t going to allow us to go with “Plan A”, that is sail up to Sandspit to end our Voyage. As the winds and seas build Captain Greg makes the call to head into Cumshewa Inlet. Serendipitously, this change in plans gives us a chance to visit the village of Cumshewa on a shore excursion. I think that everyone’s deeply moved by our stroll through the site, with its many poles and house posts gradually returning to the earth

Back on the Maple Leaf we enjoy yet another excellent repast from Chef James, as we’re off to Louise Narrows. Our evening anchorage, for some, brings a zodiac exploration of the Narrows, while others enjoy decadent wine-and-cheese in the wheelhouse. The Captain’s slide show of the trip’s photographs caps off a wonderful and full day aboard the Maple Leaf.

Andy MacKinnon shares forest ecology with guest. Photo: Greg Shea

Saturday June 8

We began the day with a special West Coast Bennie. Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, to fuel everyone for their travels today. The Maple Leaf makes her way to Moresby Camp, where we climb into the zodiac one more time to begin our journeys home. I join the guests in the Sandspit Taxi for the logging road back to Sandspit, and onto our flights home from our Haida Gwaii adventure.


Saturday June 1.

The Maple Leaf is out once again with her intrepid crew on another grand adventure. Our ever friendly guests have already sampled a bit of what Haida Gwaii has to offer, after spending our trip’s first couple of days on Graham Island with guide Andrew Merilees.  Our sailing has only begun and already our guests are beaming from the past days’ experiences, exploring Haida Gwaii’s large northern island and touring the Kaay Llnagaay cultural center in the village of Skidegate, staying at a local inn, and exploring northern beaches, forest and villages. Now it’s time to head for South Moresby.

Not an opportunity is lost along our way and we are delighted to encounter almost immediately two smooth-skinned octopuses.  After a gentle viewing of our eight legged friends we put the smooth-skins back into the water and turn our focus to our captain for a briefing on ship safety.  After anchoring just before 9 p. at Thurston Harbour (Talunkwen Island), James, our chef, delights us in the evening with fresh prawns on a bed of avocado and grapefruit salad accompanied by a delicate pistachio-encrusted salmon with pomegranate molasses, lemon asparagus. As if we weren’t treated enough, Chef James closes our first evening aboard the Maple Leaf with a raspberry coulis and lemon curd pistachio cake. A most pleasant end to a magnificent first day.

Maple Leaf at anchor in Haida Gwaii, with a group having fun in the zodiac. Photo: Greg Shea

Sunday June 2

8:00 a.m. we weigh anchor on our way to Windy Bay, an important site in the campaign to protect Gwaii Haanas in the 1980s. En route, Ashley gives an orientation to Gwaii Haanas National Park and Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. We anchor at Windy Bay around 10:00 a.m., and go ashore for a hike along the river, an excellent introduction to the coastal temperate rainforest. A little before 1:00 pm we return to Maple Leaf for lunch, and head for the village of T’aanuu. We are shown around T’aanuu that afternoon by Haida Watchmen Walter and Mary (and the darling Raven), visiting the ancient village site. They share with us significant cultural heritage, inviting us to imagine the days when these homes were inhabited by hundreds of Haida people.

We then continue south, picking up water about 6-7 p.m. at Shuttle Island. Here we explore the sub tidal life, including tubeworms, anemones, jingle shells and nudibranchs under the dock. We anchor at Echo Harbour later that evening.

Chef James’ culinary skills wow us once again with halibut in scallion sauce, bacon and leek risotto, and a hazelnut short crust tartlet with lemon curd and blueberry coulis. Exhausted and well-fed, we are all soon in the arms of Morpheus.

Monday June 3

Our trip south brings the Maple Leaf and her guests humpback whales (including one leaping and tail-lobbing acrobat) and northern (Steller’s) sea lions at Garcin Rocks. Later, Susan and Goetz welcome us to the village of Rose Harbour, where we tour Susan’s exceptional garden in what might be the most remote community in BC.

The garden tour fills our early evening during an excursion on shore before we cap off another full day with another legendary meal: a salad of roasted pear, candied pecans, blue cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette; rack of lamb rubbed with mustard and rosemary; and chocolate lava cake. With full bellies after a full day our guests retire to bed while Andy reads aloud a coastal bedtime tale of when “Raven Steals the Light”.

Tuesday June 4

SGang Gwaay ("Nintints") the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Gwaii Haanas

We weigh anchor on a misty morning and are en route to the famed S’Gang Gwaay. We dally at Flat Rock Island to view seabirds, including tufted puffins. ‘Duck’ and Jordan are our exceptional Watchmen hosts at SGang Gwaay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a a Haida village site. In total we spend nearly 4 hours here, much in silent contemplation. In addition to the old village site, we visit a previously inhabited cave.

We leave S’Gang Gwaay and soon encounter a pod of 11 orcas steaming up Looscoone Inlet. All previous plans are abandoned as we, rather naturally, choose to view the pod for as long as possible. Our captain navigates safely, all the while respecting the distance that this gentle family deserves, as the rest of us soak up as much of these long magical moments as possible.

Click for larger view.

We anchor this evening at Heater Harbour, Kunghit Island. At dinner, crab cakes are an appetizer, along with prosciutto-wrapped halibut, fennel gratin, and a lemon cloud cake. Guests and crew all turn in early, exhausted from a huge and wondrous day.

… to be continued

– Report by Andy MacKinnon, naturalist aboard the Maple Leaf, with edits by Robyn Hutchings

For more information about our expeditions aboard the SV Maple Leaf, visit the page for our Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) tours.