Haida Gwaii

Expedition Notes: Haida Gwaii Jul 5, 2018 aboard Swell

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It was a misty morning in Louscoone Inlet. We launched kayaks and explore the lagoon, intertidal shores and islets near the mouth of this long south-facing inlet. Sea anemones, red sea-urchins and fucus are prominent on the rocky shore and as the tide drops. we spot raccoons coming out to forage on the shore. The water is unusually calm so we venture out a little towards the open Pacific and can see the islets north of Anthony Island in the distance. Breakfast of poached eggs, roasted yam and sausages call, so kayakers re-board Swell and we enjoy a hearty meal. Soon after the anchor is weighed we spot Tufted Puffins on Adam Rocks. These beautiful seabirds with their vermilion feet, colourful bills and swooping eyebrow tufts are a real highlight for birders and non-birders alike!

Today, S’gang Gwaay (Red-cod Island) or Anthony Island sits like a tropical island open to the Pacific. The UNESCO World Heritage Site lies a couple of nautical miles west off the mouth of Houston Stewart channel on the south-west coast of Moresby Island. Its remoteness and proximity to rich resources made it a Haida Village site of note to the Kunghit Haidas, sea-otter traders and present day visitors. On approach from the east, the village is fortified by rocky islets on either side of a narrow opening to a wider bay and gravelly beach. It’s magnificent stand of mortuary and a few memorial poles peek out as we pass south. We land at the south “back-door beach” and are greeted by the Haida Watchman, David with his beautiful cedar hat and wide smile, guided us through Ninstints village, describing the poles and telling his version of the “Bear Mother story”. Each house had a chief; there was an Eagle clan chief and a Raven clan chief who was also the chief of the village (lots of chiefs!). One of the two-beam houses named “People think of this house even when they sleep because the Master feeds everyone who calls” was particularly impressive in size and depth. The poles bore the crests of chiefs and included bears, Killer Whales and even a supernatural snag. After the village tour we walked the trail through the forest to the Watchman’s cabin, signed the guestbook and then had more time in the village to photograph and contemplate this high point of the world’s culture.

Back aboard ship, Captain Steve weighed anchor and we enjoyed a lovely chicken Caesar salad lunch in the Pacific! Suddenly, Matt spotted humpbacks feeding. Obviously, there must have been a “feed ball” as hundreds of Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets joined the four humpback whales surfacing and feeding. It was quite a treat to watch the humpbacks while the sun glistened off their backs. These humpbacks were in the serious business of feeding, so we left them and headed south towards the Cape.

The Swell has only rounded Cape St. James a few times, so there was much excitement! Even though there was hardly a breath of wind, the currents and Pacific swell between the Kerouard Islets at the very southern tip of Haida Gwaii were wild! Essence of sea, hit our nostrils as we passed a large Northern Sea-lion colony on one of the many rocks that form a chain leading south east. The larger Kerouard Islands rise from the sea like giant rocky loaves , topped with lush green sea grass fertilized by the thousands of nesting seabirds . A weather station on St. James Island reports this as the windiest place in Canada, but today was amazingly calm and blue. The Swell rounded the Cape and around the corner we anchored in Woodruff Bay. On such a day, the fine white sands and azure waters make Woodruff seem like Hawaii, even though wind-throw and tossed logs gave away its true nature! The crew landed and we all dispersed to explore this rare treat! We had hardly finished a walk down the beach when the red boat zoomed in with chef Marylene, deckhand Justin and first mate Matt, loaded down with a wine and cheese party! We toasted the rounding of the Cape, sun and anniversaries! Wow!

With the long days in the north at this time of year, we boarded Swell, headed north to Carpenter Bay while dining on a lovely rack of lamb! I can’t imagine a more wonderful day in the paradise of Gwaii Haanas (Place of Wonder) National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Reserve and Haida Heritage Site!

Blog update by Naturalist Trudy Chatwin from Jun 29-Jul 6th

Photo by Jeff Reynolds


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