Bright sunlight streamed through our hatch covers and wisps of white cloud waved from the surrounding peaks as we got underway today and steamed south along the east coast of Princess Royal Island. The island is huge and nearly uninhabited, with the exception of a single old caretaker at the hard-luck ghost town of Butedale and hundreds of Spirit Bears, the famed white furred black bears of British Colombia’s coastal rainforest. Despite keeping a close lookout along the whole coast we weren’t lucky enough on this occasion to spot one of these fantastic creatures. We were rewarded for our vigilance, however, by the sight of eagles and great blue herons feeding on the shore and along the many banks of the many cascades which tumble out of the forest and across the rocky shore. Cassin’s Auklets fed in the swirling waters above Hiekish Narrows. As we lined up to leave to well port the infamous Hewitt Rock which lurks just under the surface in midchannel, great columns of spray announced the presence of Humpback Whales, who dove and rolled close to shore, gorging on the bounty of these productive waters. Soon enough, the current had pulled us through and the spouting whales and the roiling narrows faded astern.
The glint of sunlight off of a steel roof ahead gave us our first view of the floating salmon farms which dot BC’s inner waterways. Atlantic salmon are raised here in huge net-pens suspended in the open channels, a controversial industry that has led to its being banned in Alaska and Washington State, over concerns of threats to valuable native salmon stocks.
A hard left put us into Sheep Passage, followed by a hard right into the almost invisible entrance to Fiordlan Recreation Area and Mathieson Channel, which opens into a breathtaking vista of sheer granite walls thousands of feet tall, flecked with bands of small trees and uncountable waterfalls pour off of the half-mile-tall cliffs. The largest of them all sits inside the mouth of Kynoch Inlet. The falls is a thundering cataract several hundred feet tall which shoots from the forest and off of a cliff, hurtling into the water with tremendous noise and great clouds of spray. One by one, we approach the falls to examine them more closely, the cool spray a welcome refreshment on what has become a wonderfully warm day.
All around us the cliffs grow higher as we penetrate into the mountains, finally crossing the tidal rapids at Culpepper Lagoon at high slack. Even at slack, we are washed through by a 5 knot current, which provides for an exhilarating entrance to the tranquil cathedral beyond. We drop anchor and raft together in the shadow of massive granite monoliths. Sheets of water draining over the bare surfaces glitter high on the shoulders of the peaks, and in the distance small glaciers cling to the northern faces. Down at sea level we launch our dinghies and set off to take advantage of the high tide, motoring slowly up the lower reaches of Lard Creek through gallery forests of Alder, Devils Club, and Elderberry. We reach the confluence of Levi Creek before the current and rocks turn us back. With the motors off we drift with the current, watching salmon dart through the clear water below and small songbirds sing from berry bushes which hang over the water.
A potluck was planned for the evening, and as usual, the menu did not disappoint. Wine and appetizers were served in Ajax’s salon, followed by a meal of superb pastas, pork, breads, cheeses, and even a fruit salad served inside a watermelon carved artfully into a shark by Todd aboard Eldean.
Two dinghies set out after dinner, and we sat in stunned silence, drifting in and out of glacial carved alcoves in the rock of the massive fjord walls. It is nigh on impossible not to be touched by the profound power of these wild places.
The day’s warmth radiated from the rock and a solitary loon called from across the lagoon.