Hecate Strait is the infamous body of water the separates Haida Gwaii from the mainland. Its shallow confines are perfectly positioned to catch the howling south winds that can rage up the coastline at any time of year. The big ocean swells brought in by the wind feel the bottom as they move into the strait and can steepen and break, and the potential for deadly dangerous conditions can occur at any time of year.
You would never know that today, though. The burgee flying off the jackstaff at our bow barely moves at all as the sun rises behind us and casts light across the broad sea, mirroring the sky above. Humpback whales, porpoises, and thousands and thousands of seabirds dot the water’s surface as we make our transit. Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters swoop across the surface in search of squid and small fish, another day in their lives of ceaseless wandering over the wide pacific, stopping only to nest on south pacific islands far over the horizon.
The Coast of Haida Gwaii appears at last on the western horizon, growing slowly until we can make out the immense forested slopes of the western mountains and the old-growth swamps of the northeast, where lazy streams flow sluggishly down to rivers where great masses of salmon have come to spawn and die for thousands, perhaps millions, of years. This is also the ancestral home of the Haida people, proud seafarers, artisans, hunters, warriors, and brilliant carvers, working towering cedar trees into fantastic longhouses, intricate totem poles, and massive seaworthy dugout canoes that took them on voyages to as far away as California or Mexico.
In time, we turn inside the shallow sandbar that separates Skidegate Inlet from Hecate Strait and pass the Haida town of Skidegate (pronounced Skidi-git), where tall totem poles stand guard along the beach, the carved eyes of Bear, Raven, Eagle, Killer Whale, and many more staring out to sea. A few miles beyond Skidegate, the town of Queen Charlotte City sits along the shore of Bearskin Bay. We tie up to the narrow docks in the modest harbor. It has turned into a warm and sunny day, and we set out to walk through town, where a lovely visitor center furnishes us with a wealth of local information, and friendly locals stop constantly to say hello and offer us a ride wherever we may need to go. Island life all over the world has a uniquely friendly and slow atmosphere, and Haida Gwaii is proving to be no different! What’s the hurry? We are a day ahead of schedule, giving us two nearly uninterrupted days in port, which provides for a great opportunity to explore Graham Island.
The sun sets in a burst of color behind a long ridge which, as several residents proudly pointed out, closely resembles a sleeping woman in profile.