Guide to Skidegate Inlet, Haida Gwaii

After our overnight passage across Hecate Strait we were very grateful to be in Haida Gwaii, but dead tired. We spent the first day just sleeping and recuperating. The next morning dawned sunny and windless in Skedans Bay, so we set up the dinghy and motored over to the Haida heritage site at Skedans point.

The Skedans site is where a settlement of Haida people originally lived, and a number of totem poles still remain, slowly being reabsorbed into the earth. We were fascinated by how spruce trees used the cedar longhouse posts as nurse logs – you could see a huge healthy spruce tree enveloping the remains of a cedar log.

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The two caretakers (watchmen/women) gave us an hour-long tour of the site, telling us of Haida history and traditions. It felt special seeing history in person rather than in a museum. It was clear they continue to treasure their cultural history. It would’ve been great to stay longer, but we had plans to move to Skidegate inlet that afternoon.

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A ceremonial pole – each notch indicates a potlatch that took place.

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Stuck in Skidegate Inlet – Bad Conditions on the Sandspit Bar

We’ve been in Skidegate Inlet for a week and a half now – some of that intentional, but for the last 5 days we’ve been waiting for a weather window to get out.

It’s difficult having the patience to wait for the right weather conditions. The hardest part is not knowing when we’ll be going. Conditions and forecasts are changing daily, and each time we get optimistic by a good forecast, our hopes are dashed when a new southerly gale moves in.

The challenge to getting out of Skidegate Inlet is that it has a long shallow bar and it’s near the shallow portion of Hecate Strait, which kicks up very steep waves with only a moderate amount of wind. It has no anchorages of refuge to the north (nowhere to run downwind if we get stuck in a southerly that is too strong), and the closest anchorage to the south is about 50-60 miles – a long run if you’re going upwind.

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Month 2 Cruising Summary: Sailing from the Octopus Islands to Haida Gwaii

When cruising for a long time, there’s a risk of becoming jaded – after countless beautiful anchorages and waterways ringed by snow capped mountains, eagles calling overhead, it can start to feel the same. When this starts to happen I remind myself how lucky we are to be cruising in one of the best areas of the world, and any jaded feelings quickly fall away.

Even though we sail through a seemingly repetitive slideshow of evergreen forests, panoramic vistas, sea life, mountains, and pristine water, there’s always something new happening to break you out of any affectation of beautiful monotony. Perhaps a rare clear night where you see more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life. A humpback quietly surfacing near your boat, or a riveting downwind sail.

The cruising life has its hard moments, but it’s rarely boring. While cruising we’re more connected with nature than we ever were in the city. It feels like long ago that we cast off the lines from our live-aboard community at Shilshole, but it’s only been two months.

In month one, we traveled from Seattle to the Octopus Islands near Campbell River, BC. In the last month, we’ve come a long way: from the Octopus Islands to Haida Gwaii.

We relaxed in the Octopus Islands, got lucky with a fantastic quick passage of Johnstone Strait, hung out in the Broughtons for a bit, and then rounded Cape Caution. Going around Cape Caution was hard, but then we had awesome, easy sunny days on the Central Coast.

From Shearwater we headed up the North Coast of BC, and had a very rainy 3 days stay at Clark Cove waiting out a gale. Our luck with wind ran out and we had a slow, frustrating crossing of Hecate Strait to Haida Gwaii.

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Approximate route (follow the blue line).

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Overnight Passage to Haida Gwaii

Sailing to Haida Gwaii from the north coast of BC has involved a lot of planning. In many ways it’s the most challenging passage we’ve undertaken, so we had a good deal of anxiety over it. It’s about 80-100 nautical miles – not much at all to ocean sailors, but a lot for us in the Pacific Northwest where we can generally go just 20-40 miles between anchorages.

Most boaters consider it merely a long day of motoring, so our anxiety may seem silly, but we didn’t want to motor across, we wanted to sail. 80 miles of motoring is nothing to a motorboat, but to us it’s a ton – more than we’ve motored this entire month. And Hecate Strait isn’t a simple body of water – it’s a large strait with complex currents, shallow areas, shoals and differing weather conditions from one side to the other.

So the hope was to sail, but in the end that goal was mostly a failure.

[This post covers May 30-31, 2018]

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View of Campania Island from Hecate Strait.

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Exploring the North Coast of BC

The North Coast of BC roughly encompasses the area from McInnes Island to Prince Rupert. McInnes Island is the northernmost point of the Central Coast, where we cruised last week. Before embarking this April, I hadn’t realized how large the north coast is, and how remote and unpopulated it is. It includes the Inside Passage, the “outer passage”, and many long inlets going inland.

Another thing we hadn’t realized is the Inside Passage is the motorboat route to Alaska, but the “outer passage” – the outer waterways around Price Island and Banks Island – are the sailable route. Many sailboats still travel on the motorboat route, but they generally don’t sail much. The good news is there are several points to switch between the two, and we’ve been sailing mostly on the outer passage part of the north coast.

[This post covers May 20-27, 2018. Technically Shearwater, where we start it, is part of the Central Coast – but it was our jumping off point to the North Coast.]

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Underwater sea life at Kayak Cove in Cultus Sound (Central Coast).

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Spiny sea cucumbers

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Shelter from the Storm in Clark Cove, Princess Royal Island

“Central Coast from McInnes Island to Pine Island: Gale warning in effect. Southeast 10 to 20, rising to southeast 30 to 40” spoke the Canadian lady’s recorded voice on the VHF marine broadcast. “Hecate Strait: Gale warning in effect. Southeast 15 to 25, rising to southeast 30 to 40.”

We’d been following the changing forecast for a couple days now and knew there was a big southerly system coming for Friday (today), Saturday and Sunday (May 25-27). The forecast was for a 30-40 knot gale in Hecate Strait and the Central Coast (roughly where we are). So we knew we’d need what the cruising guides call a “bombproof anchorage.” We chose Clark Cove, a bit north of Laredo Channel, for this.

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Exploring the Central Coast of BC

After rounding Cape Caution and enduring a mix of challenging conditions, we’ve found our reward in the peaceful tranquility and easy sailing of the Central BC Coast, from Fitz Hugh Sound to the tiny towns of Bella Bella and Shearwater.

The Central Coast usually refers roughly to the BC coast between Cape Caution and McInnes Island lighthouse. It’s quite a large area, with hundreds of good anchorages. Many boats only stop at the 3 or 4 most popular ones though. A couple of those popular ones are justifiably spectacular (Pruth Bay), but it’s also easy to get off the beaten track and find amazing anchorages that no other boats visit regularly.

It’s a remote, magical place that is hard to describe if you haven’t been here. I struggle to find anything to compare it to – it’s not quite like Barkley Sound, Clayoquot Sound, Desolation Sound, or any number of other great BC destinations.

[This post covers May 15-19, 2018]

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The Central Coast is probably also the most navigationally challenging place we’ve sailed. Entry to the numerous sounds is often littered with rocks and reefs. We’ve sailed through rock gardens not much differently from being in a sailboat race – except the rocks are always the stand-on vessel and we must always give-way.

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