The crew of Ajax cruised the inside passage forty years ago as part of a multi-year round-the-world sailing adventure, so this trip has been in part a retracing of steps taken long ago. Out of a desire to revisit some of their previous stops on the mainland BC coast, they have made the choice to cross back across Hecate Strait and visit the small communities of Shearwater, Klemtu, Bella Bella, and others. As we leave the mirror-flat waters of Matheison Inlet behind, their course and ours diverge, as they strike out east and we turn to the south.
A gentle following sea propelled us smoothly through the waters of Hecate Strait as we cruised southwards towards Cape St. James and the wild southern tip of the Haida Gwaii Archipelago.
Although a side trip into the curiously named Skincuttle Inlet to search for the Orca that frequent its waters yielded no results, it did provide a great look at some of the ancient Old Growth forest that make the unlogged southern end of the islands so special. It is not uncommon to see trees 200’ in height, reaching slowly skyward over untold centuries. Their soaring branches creating a nearly seamless canopy the disguises a silent and mysterious moss-covered world within.
The blows of humpback whales draw us offshore, towards a series of raw, naked rocky islets, where we soon spot hundreds of Steller’s Sea Lions lounging in the midday sunshine. Although the whales soon depart, we make a slow circumnavigation of the islands, watching with fascination the behavior of the massive Sea Lions. The males reach 1500 pounds, more than twice the size of the females, and carry themselves with the unhurried disinterest that only huge predators seem to possess, lording lazily over the colony with rumbling growls and roars. Downwind, we detect the distinctive aroma that can only be the result of hundreds of large animals that subsist on fish and squid living in close proximity to one another, motivating us to press on towards our destination.
Khungit Island is the last large island in the Haida Gwaii chain, and we slip into the channel between it and Moresby Island to the north, passing rocky points and sandy beaches that once doubtless hosted the bare feet of Haida children as they played along the shoreline. In Rose Harbour, population three, the last vestiges of a once highly productive whaling station are being consumed by the forest. Only a few houses remain standing, a couple of them serving as rustic bed and breakfasts on the edge of world for intrepid travelers visiting this windswept cape. We pass through and turn into the rose inlet, where we anchor in forty feet of water at the inlet’s north end. The weather report has been calling for increasing wind from the NE for the next several days, so we let out plenty of chain and settle in, as this may be our home for a while. For now, at least, the weather is clear and hot.
The wind increased a bit in the afternoon as we set out for the beach in the afternoon. The tide rose over the hot sand and warmed the water nicely, enticing a few of us to kick off our shoes and wade in the shallows. With the dinghies secured, we pushed inland into the primeval forest. As soon as you pass the layer of foliage that guards the fringe of the forest it opens up, the great trunks rising into the high canopy like the fluted columns of a gothic cathedral. We pad through ankle deep moss and cross muddy sections on game trails running across the broad surfaces of fallen logs. This is an ancient, reverent place, an important place. We are lucky to visit it.