Even Our Best Plans Can Go Awry: My Reflections on our 2017 Graham Island Adventures

This is not a recounting of a perfect trip but rather a reminder that anything can happen when we set out to challenge the elements. Our trip was filled with incredibly beautiful moments. It was also a journey filled with many unexpected events. In sharing this adventure, I am reminded that every voyage is an opportunity to learn more about how our choices, as insignificant as they may seem at the time, can build on each other and lead to unexpected outcomes. Our trip along the north and west coast of Graham Island in 2017 was a humbling reminder that mishaps do happen, even to experienced kayakers who have paddled for years. If there is one lesson that stands out for me, it is this: ALL paddlers, before embarking on this type of excursion, need to honestly question whether they are familiar enough with the proposed float plan, marine charts, satellite images, and other resources to take on a leadership role within the group if suddenly that became necessary – because it can happen!

Wikipedia image of Haida Gwaii.
BC Marine Trails map: the green flags are our camping locations; the blue markers are BCMT launch sites.

Comment on using the BC Marine Trails Map: For this entire journey, only the launch sites are shown on the BC Marine Trails map. All sites must go through a site assessment and permissions process before they can be added to the BC Marine Trails map. When paddlers go to remote sites, the information they share with BC Marine Trails through Site Conditions and Site Assessment reports contributes to the discussion process that BC Marine Trails uses to gain permission to post additional sites.

July 21-23 – Traveling from Nanaimo to Masset

Our group of eleven experienced paddlers arrived at Graham Island via different routes, eager to begin our planned adventure. Eight of our group drove to Prince Rupert in four vehicles with kayaks and gear while the last three of us flew to Sandspit and crossed by ferry. It was a joyous reunion of excited paddlers in Skidegate! From there, the kayak-laden vehicles traveled on to Masset while the rest of us jumped in a taxi van for a leisurely ride and much more dinner chatter in the local restaurant. 

We can question trip choices in hindsight and our perspectives will differ. I have chosen to flag an observation about each day. In the past, we have traveled together. This time, some flew and others drove. Dense forest fire smoke on the route to Prince Rupert made driving less pleasant. Should we have elected instead to travel together by ferry from Port Hardy to Skidegate?

Day 1, July 24 – Masset Harbour to Christie River, 13 nm 

Excited to be on the water, we got up early to offload gear and kayaks from the trucks at the boat ramp in Masset before returning to our motel for breakfast. Two of us volunteered to drive the trucks to Tlell, where they would stay for the duration of our kayak journey. Our local friend had graciously offered to store them and drive us back to Masset. When we arrived, our fellow paddlers were already in their boats and on the water, eager to take advantage of the ebbing current leaving Masset Harbour. We said a quick good-bye to our friend, jumped into our kayaks and we were off! It was an easy 6.5 nm trek to Refuge Island where we stopped for a quick lunch before paddling on around Cape Edenshaw and on to our camping destination at Christie River. 

Flag #1: Our original float plan suggested either a rest or a stay at Refuge Island. With the weather in our favour, we chose to take advantage of the calm seas and push on to Christie River, 6.5 nm further and an easy group choice.

Day 2, July 25 – Christie River to Yatza, just east of Klashwun Point, 14 nm

We were up at 6:00. Looking at the cobble beach stretching out on both sides of the shallow riverbed, it was obvious we would not be on our way before the tide came back in. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs, explore, relax, watch the sandhill cranes on the beach, and admire the Minke whale with her calf feeding in the bay. One member of our party returned from his walk with a great video of a bear he had encountered further along the beach. Even waiting until 2:00 pm to leave, we still had to walk our fully-loaded kayaks through the slippery cobble. Each time we thought we were far enough out to start paddling, a new gravel bed or hidden boulder waited to scrape our keels.

Finally at sea, we paddled across Virago Sound, past the Mazarredo Islands, rounding Cape Naden, and on to Yatza with the ebbing tide and current pulling us along quite comfortably. After our boulder-filled morning launch, we approached Yatza with caution and immense gratitude for the kelp’s ability to knock down the surf and allowing us to land safely in the bay. Following dinner with our planned discussion about weather, tides, and destination, we agreed to be on the water at 6:30 am.

Flag #2: Relaxing in the morning is lovely, but winds are often stronger in the afternoon and arriving at the next camp later leaves less time to appreciate, explore, and relax at the new site. 

Day 3, July 26 – Yatza to Kiusta-Yaku, 16-18 nm

Up at 4:30, with gear slipping more easily into our boats, we were almost on the water as planned. As the last paddlers finished packing their boats, three orcas entered the bay and we followed them westward through amazing patches of light and cloud reflected in the dark shimmer of the water. Plenty of fishing boats gathered near Klashwun Point and some fishermen waved as we glided past. Our trip was smooth, with a brief rest at Jalun River, before paddling on to Sheath Point and the spectacular Pillar Rock. The 40 minutes rounding Gunia Point into Parry Passage was much more challenging as we had a 4-knot current running against us. I was making a mental note why it was important to leave on time, when suddenly everything was fine again. A sea lion seemed curious as to why we were out here in its territory.

No one was around when we stopped at the Haida Watchmen’s cabin at Kiusta on the east side of Marchand Reef, so we proceeded to the sandy beach at Yaku to the west of the reef, just before Meare’s Point.  We had just enough time to set up our tents and the kitchen tarp before it started to rain. Some passing hikers kindly showed us an old welcome pole or house post lying on the ground, one side completely eroded, the other still nearly intact. It was lovely to take an evening walk over to Kiusta to see the triple mortuary pole, as well as the poles and beams from former big houses. We tried again to check in with the Watchmen. Unfortunately for us, they were not at their cabin. During our evening talk, it was clear the weather was going to turn nasty within the next few days so our plan was to leave camp at 8:30 and paddle into Lepas Bay to rest for a night or two while the storm passed.

Flag #3: To avoid carrying fully-loaded boats, everyone first needs to help get all the  kayaks to the water so paddlers each have time for morning routines and packing without feeling rushed. Discussing this expectation as a group makes it easier to work together.

Trees with First Nations carvings

Day 4, July 27 – Yaku to Lepas Bay, 5 to 9 nm depending on whether we were fishing or exploring

We had our first leisurely launch of the trip, departing only slightly later than planned. The sea conditions were comfortable and, as we approached Cape Knox, we began to feel the west coast swell. I could smell fish, my usual signal to look for whales, and my nose did not disappoint. We were treated to a humpback whale gliding beside us as we rounded Cape Knox. I was grateful it stayed in its own lane as this passage is not very wide. Out in the open, the swell was stronger and we were happy to pull into a protected cove at the north-west edge of Lepas Bay for a quick pit stop with time to clean two freshly caught fish. Part of our group paddled on to the Rediscovery Camp to request permission to stay at the south end of the beach. A few headed back out to try to catch more fish for dinner.

At the Rediscovery Cabin, the two group leaders came to the beach to greet us. They asked that we not camp in the bay because their youth group was using the entire beach. We agreed to stop for a lunch break on the opposite side of the bay and then be on our way. However, when we couldn’t reach those out fishing by radio and the wind and swell had gotten uncomfortably stronger, we returned to the cabin to explain our dilemma and request permission to stay the night. Hearing the group would be jogging out to our end of the beach at 8:30, we assured the group leaders we would be on our way before then.

Flag #4: When paddling in traditional territories, paddlers need to make every effort to receive permission from First Nations communities before travelling. BC Marine Trails has a handy BC First Nations Resource Page that makes it easier to know where to begin. Also, during the journey, whenever members split up for different purposes like fishing and setting up camp, it’s important that each group keep at least one radio on or that the groups arrange clear radio check-in times.

Day 5, July 28 – Lepas Bay to Haines Creek, 14 nm

On the water by 8:00, we attempted a radio thank you call to the cabin. No answer. Our paddle down the coast was quiet with only a quick rest stop 6.5 nm later at what was once Kesa Village to the south of Fleurieu Point. With westerly winds and waves, the narrow entrance to this lovely bay behind a long reef can be challenging to enter, though the kelp does help knock the strength from the rollers. Next, we glided past Caswell Point to Beresford Creek and then past Hana Koot Creek. It was not until White Point that we encountered challenges. First, three paddlers chose to go through a channel that looked safe enough, but as they passed, a trough opened up revealing a rock below. Phew! Then, after safely rounding the point, we were hit with 15 knot south-west headwinds and a mid-tide flood against us. Paddling was slow and exhausting.

Though we had planned to camp at the Beehive in Peril Bay, we aborted this idea to take refuge instead at Haines Creek. The landing was easy and by now our team had mastered the etiquette of getting all boats above the high tide line before breaking into our individual routines. Haines Creek was a welcome bonus for bathing and washing clothes, especially since the rains held off until we were done. After dinner, with the heavy rain, there was no arguing about heading to bed early. The forecast was calling for gale force winds gusting up to 40 knots and we were glad to be off the water and knowing in advance that the following day would be a rest day.

Flag #5: At Kesa, we made the decision to push on, knowing the winds would increase. We were fortunate to be able to land at Haines Creek and to be able to make the safe choice not to push onward.  

Day 6, July 29 – A Rainy Rest Day

What luxury to be able to sleep in and savour a hearty breakfast! The harsh rains slowed to a drizzle allowing us mid-day explorations of the brackish lagoon. Some of us bush-whacked higher up the creek to where the barnacles and kelp disappeared and the eel grasses gave way to fresh water flowing over the rocks. More rain, more hot drinks, more food, and more time to laugh and share memories. We knew there would be no early start the next day as the winds were expected to still be up in the morning. It was time to appreciate the place where we were and not rush on. 

Flag #6: This kind of a trip requires good rain gear. Our group tarp, charts, and VHF radios were essential pieces of equipment. Our evening planning discussions based on what we knew about tides, currents, weather reports and the area were vital. Sending out daily InReach communications helped our emergency contacts follow our route and gave them peace of mind knowing we were safe.

Day 7, July 30 – Haines Creek to Kennecott Point in Peril Bay, 2.5 nm 

With the winds at 18 knots and expected to die down later, we agreed to leave at 11:30. Launching everyone safely in the surf took a little longer as the winds were still strong. As we rounded the Beehive Point, our paddle across the headwinds of Peril Bay became slow and grueling. We were glad to abort our trip at Kennecott Point and everyone worked to bring the boats up high to our campsite less than 3 nm from where we had started. Frustrating, yes, but what a beautiful place to be! The rocks at this beach are amazing! Agates, sandstone, marble, quartzite all rolled by surf into smooth pebbles. The Beehive at the far end of the beach must have been a volcano at one time. Our hot fire helped dry out whatever might have gotten soaked during our earlier surf launch from Haines Creek.

Flag #7: Packing up in poor weather always takes a little longer. Launching in surf also has its perils. The more able paddlers were the last to launch and the others waited. As paddlers, we always have a choice, do we stay put or do we go? If we decide to go, we also have a choice, do we keep going ahead or do we turn back? Deciding together and really listening to the options in not such a simple skill. In group discussions, sometimes it’s hard for a lone paddler to veto a decision or to feel truly heard. 

Day 8, July 31 – Kennecott Point to Breton Bay at Chanal Point, Port Louis, 14-15 nm

Our teamwork is getting better! All boats were at the water in good time for leisurely loading and we were off by 7:30 am. The paddle down the coast was easier and we spread out more, with some ahead, some fishing, and some chatting at the back of the pack watching the humpbacks and minke whales going by. Most of us gathered at Tian Bay for a quick lunch and then continued on to the entrance to Port Louis. The rock formation at Chanal Point is like a fistful of ladyfingers held up for all to admire and is remarkable for its surf even in calm waters. More importantly, the pocket beach tucked in just before reaching this point is a true west coast gem with something for everyone – whales, mussels, kelp, swimming, and a giant spruce tree in the clearing reminiscent of Harry Potter’s thumping tree or the tree people in the Lord of the Rings.

Flag #8: Again, maintaining radio contact between groups is crucial! Two paddlers out fishing had understood our camp would be south of Port Louis, so they were not even looking for us when they paddled by. Our efforts to wave, call out, whistle, and make radio contact all failed, so I jumped in my empty boat to go after them. I was halfway across the bay before they could hear my whistle.

Day 9, August 1 – Breton Bay to Buck Tombolo, near Nesto Inlet, 10-11 nm

What a great day to be on the water early! The west coast does not get better than this! We had a bit of a flood crossing the wide bay to Louis Point on the south side, but then benefited from the ebbing tide for the 4 nm crossing of Athlow Bay to Selveson Point. We took a short break behind Selveson Island where a tombolo separates the high, steep east beach from the west entry through the kelp beds. We would have liked to stay longer to beachcomb, but with the possibility of afternoon winds, we continued on to Marchand Point and the entrance to Hippa Passage. Following the shores of Graham Island, with Hippa Island to our west and high mountains ahead, it was easy to distinguish both the island and Buck Tombolo in the distance. We headed straight across Nesto Inlet to our destination in the sun. Rounding the small island from the south, we first stopped at a creek and then at the beach. It was wonderful to arrive early with time to relax, swim, and celebrate a birthday over appetizers.

I have often heard that when people gather for a common purpose, the group first goes through stages of warming, norming, and storming, before really performing. Well, our evening trip discussion unexpectedly hit the storming stage when one of our lead paddlers offered three proposals: we complete the trip earlier than planned by doing 15nm/day for four days; we go out by Rennell Sound; or, we carry on without him. These unexpected suggestions were met with resistance and emotional discussions. Once it was clear that everyone else wanted to continue as planned, the paddler announced he would be leaving early the next morning to paddle out solo via Rennell Sound.

Flag #9: Every member of a group brings different skills, knowledge, and expertise to a trip. Each is also responsible for personal and collective safety and trip awareness. Having a key individual make the choice to abandon a trip has an emotional and a psychological impact on everyone. It is not easy to set aside our emotions and to examine instead what knowledge each can bring to the discussion to problem solve and revise travel plans. At the most basic level, there are logistical considerations of shared equipment, transportation, and continued communication to ensure everyone returns safely.


Day 10, August 2- Buck Tombolo to Lauder Island in Seal Inlet, 8-9 nm

At 6:30 am, we sadly said our goodbyes to our friend, wishing him safe travels, and then we prepared for our own departure. The winds were light heading out of Hippa Passage with more swell as we rounded Skelu Point. Crossing Skelu Bay was made more interesting by the fog bank hanging onto Kunakun Point to the south, but we had the mountain above the point in sight and visibility improved once we arrived at Kunakun Point. It was clear enough that we could see the swell and the boomers warning us where not to paddle. As soon as we turned into Rennell Sound, we had the swell at our backs and the ride to Skwakadanee Point was relatively easy. We continued to our destination behind Lauder Island, but another couple had already set up camp there!

Although we would have liked to leave them alone, we also needed a break and, with expected rising winds, we were reluctant to keep moving. Two members of our group went off to explore three other nearby options that might accommodate our group but none were large enough and one paddler admitted to getting knocked over doing a surf landing at one of the other sites. Thankfully, our camping neighbours were gracious about sharing the beach and even offered us a few rock scallops and sea urchins from their afternoon snorkeling explorations. In the evening, we had our debrief talk and agreed we needed to take a day to regroup, recharge, and review our plans before heading on. Thank heavens for the sunny weather!

Flag #10: When a beach is already occupied, if possible, arriving paddlers will often move on to another. However, when traveling the rugged west coast, safety and paddler fatigue are also important considerations and kayakers are well aware of the need to share scarce beaches and resources. 

Day 11, August 3 – An Exploration Day in Seal Inlet

Our day started out beautifully with coffee, pancakes, blueberries, eggs, and maple syrup! Sadly, our beach neighbours left early and we were not able to invite them to breakfast. Yesterday, one of our hikers found a waterfall and another person hoped to see it today. After the past days of rainy weather, we all needed a good wash and so did our clothes, so we headed out in small groups for the creek, either clambering over the boulders in the next bay or following the bear trail just inside the woods. Our waterfall seeker called down from higher up the trail to say she had found a cave and was going to hike a little further. While we were washing, we heard a shout and assumed our friend had found the waterfall, though we couldn’t hear her words above the sound of the gurgling creek.

We returned to camp to hang our laundry and make coffee, not at all worried about our capable hiker. That is, not at all worried until she reappeared later, ashen-faced and stammering to tell her story. She had found the waterfall, but then suddenly the ground gave way beneath her and she fell several feet, hitting a snag or tree with her chest and then rolling down the hill. She thought she might have passed out briefly. Shaken, she clambered back up the hill to find her glasses (successful) and her camera (not so lucky). Only then did she realize she was really injured. Her wrist was obviously broken, and her ribs, sternum, and lower back were so painful she was having trouble breathing. Walking out was torture and she was grateful to collapse into a chair, sip water, and put her wrist in a bucket of cold ocean water. Our most experienced VHF operator contacted the Coast Guard to report we had someone requiring medical assistance.

Someone monitoring from the Hippa Fishing Lodge offered to send out their first aid attendant to assess our friend. While we waited, we sorted her personal belongings while she gave us directions, including using her food to make dinner. We admired her ability to focus through the pain!

Within the hour, a Zodiac roared in and it didn’t take long for the Hippa Lodge attendant to report to the Coast Guard that our patient would need to be transported to a hospital. We heard the attendant mention there was room to land a helicopter. Even though the Coast Guard ship was already headed in our direction, it would take at least another two hours to get through the rough seas. With concerns about transporting someone with a back injury in this rough water, the Coast Guard worked with the helicopter pilot at Langara Fishing Lodge. The pilot flew first to Sandspit to pick up two paramedics and then to pick up our injured hiker. We watched in amazement as the Coast Guard ship arrived and shortly after the helicopter hovered overhead and dropped to the beach. The two medics reassessed our patient’s injuries, and adjusted her splinted wrist before transferring her to a stretcher and loading her into the helicopter. We handed over her belongings and watched the helicopter whir away. How quickly a beautiful, relaxing day changed to unexpected drama!

Flag #11: We know there is safety in numbers, yet it’s not uncommon for paddlers to go off on their own for a walk along the beach or in the woods. Accidents do happen both at sea and, more often, at camp. This day was proof of that and, once again, our group needed to reassess and make new plans. We were fortunate to have two fishing lodges offer support along with the Coast Guard. A lot of resources were deployed and as experienced and responsible paddlers, we need to consider how to manage our safety and avoid risks.

Day 12, August 4 – Lauder Island to Bonanza Beach near Gospel Point, 12 nm

We woke up early to high winds that had blown all night and we expected to have time to discuss our options while we waited for any news from our friends. However, as the sun came up, the winds died right down, propelling us into action so that by 9:15 we were on the water. We expected it was going to be a slog taking turns towing the extra kayak. While the first leg to Seal Point was easy-going, the flooding tide and following seas entering Rennell Sound were another story. We paddled close together to support whoever was taking their turn at towing the kayak. I was comforted to have others close by between Tartu Point and Clonard Point where the waters from Tartu Inlet swirled and clashed with those of Rennell Sound.

Though we looked for places to land after Clonard Point, the surf was too rough and the beaches too rocky to land with a kayak in tow. Bonanza Beach looked inviting beyond the roiling surf! Both the north and south extremities seemed to have landing potential. We took a chance on the south where the river flows out. With the tide high, we were able to tuck in behind the berm and land in the estuary, happy to stretch, eat lunch, and plan our next steps.

One option was to leave the extra kayak either here or in Shields Bay. We received news of the coordinates for where the truck was now parked in Charlotte and our injured paddler let us know she would be headed to Prince Rupert the next day for surgery. With this news, two of our group of now 9 paddlers made the decision to  hitchhike into Charlotte, pick up the truck, return to Bonanza the next day for the kayaks, and then return home on an earlier ferry. We were sorry to lose them, even though their proposal made logistical sense. They also hoped to check in on our patient at the hospital in Charlotte. The decision was made quickly when someone offered to take them if they could be ready to leave in 20 minutes! Wow! So many events, changes, and decisions in such a short time! We were thankful for Bonanza Beach as a beautiful place to rest, think, and regroup once again. From 11 to 10, then 9, and now only 7, we committed to continue and give the remainder of the trip our best effort.

Flag #12: Taking the time to have honest, frank, open team communication to reassess options and risks before heading out on the water is an essential rule of engagement. Traveling the west coast requires the ability to paddle in rough waters and do surf landings. Making the decision to tow an extra kayak elevated the skills level. As well, it’s important to acknowledge that the unplanned loss of one-third of our group took an emotional toll!

Day 13, August 5 – Bonanza Beach to Cone Head, 7-8 nm

Seven of us paddled away from Bonanza Beach early the next morning confident our friends would find their kayaks well stowed when they returned. Our first hour paddling toward the islets north of Gospel Island was calm. Then gap winds from Seal Inlet and Tartu Inlet whipped Rennell Sound’s flooding tide into two and three metre swells with breaking crests and clashing waves. We didn’t feel we were in danger as long as we could see the waves coming at us, but we certainly couldn’t take a break or shoot any photos! In the lee of Cone Head, the waters calmed once again. We gathered our courage and glided past a sea lion haul-out with the bulls bellowing their warnings that we were in their territory. Though a few of them took to the water, none approached. Two eagles flew overhead as we neared the west-facing cove of Cone Head. Even though the swells were strong, the kelp beds helped knock down the surf and our satellite pictures of an L-shaped passage around the higher rocks in the cove helped guide us in to the steep cobble beach. We were happy to arrive in camp early and sit and watch the whitecaps from shore. As we set up camp, the fog bank burned away leaving us drenched in sun and enjoying a light sea breeze.

Flag #13: Had we not consulted Google Earth and brought along pictures of possible landing areas, we probably could not have attempted landing on this side of Cone Head. There is no time to consult photos in swell and waves, so it’s essential to have a good knowledge of the destination before leaving shore!

BCMT members rolling a kayak on the beach

Day 14, August 6 – Cone Head to Hunter Point, 8 nm

Team-launching the kayaks from our handmade log ramp, we pulled away from Cone Head with the kelp glimmering in the sun and eagles and ravens raucously greeting us. Gradually, the sea state became more agitated with whitecaps building atop the one to three metre swells. It was a slow 90-minute slog before we slid through the massive kelp bed between Kindakun Point and the automated weather station at Kindakun Rock. Once through, we regrouped in the light swell of the kelp to make our next plans. To the west, we could see a fog bank rolling in, with Hunter Point still visible. The original plan had been to camp at Carew Bay, but our new proposal was to continue on to Gudal Bay. Wanting to get in the lee away from expected winds, we forged ahead. The following seas to Hunter Point felt manageable compared with what we had just paddled through and we felt confident.

Approaching Hunter Point, we could see a long line of boomers extending far out from the point with a break in the rocks closer to shore. We headed for the break. This was a huge miscalculation. Getting through the break in the rocks was easy, but what awaited on the other side of the kelp was a shallow rock shelf and huge west coast surf. As wave upon wave crashed over our hulls, there was no time to look back until we were safely through the surf. What three of us saw when we turned to look back made our hearts stop.

The double was drawn into the breakers, scaling the huge foam of a breaking wave. The bow was five feet higher than the stern before the wave rolled the kayak onto its side, dumping both paddlers into the water. Another paddler trying to help them also tipped. Further off, our final kayaker was also in the water, attempting to attach her paddle float when a wave ripped away both her paddle and float. I said I would paddle in to help. Quickly hooking her heel into the cockpit while I held her boat, my companion suddenly yelled to me to watch out as a wave crashed over us. Now I too was in the water! When I resurfaced, I couldn’t my friend or her boat anywhere!

The green flag marks the approximate location of the capsized kayaks at Hunter Point.

Thankfully, the other two had stayed safe out of the surf. One looked at the other and yelled, “CALL A MAYDAY!”  Without hesitation, the radio call was made. “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday – a group of 7 kayakers off Hunter Point. We have 5 paddlers in the water.” “Which Hunter Point?” “West Coast Haida Gwaii.” A recreational fishing boat responded, “We are 5 minutes away and we have just finished fishing for the day.  We can assist.” Soon after, this fishing boat came racing toward us. The three fishermen plucked me out of the water and then turned their boat to bring in the couple with their water-logged kayak while I looked for the others. I was hugely relieved to see one friend safely making his way into his kayak from a rocky channel while the friend I had helped had unbelievably managed to join the other two beyond the surf. The fishermen rescued my drifting kayak and, to keep it from continuing to crash against their boat, hoisted it aboard. To our dismay, we heard a loud crack and watched as the double kayak’s rudder broke away after its collision with the fishing boat. Kayaks are not designed for impacts with the hulls of fishing boats. This was the end of the journey for us three!

Relieved everyone was accounted for, our friends still in their kayaks were finally able to communicate with us by radio, indicating they would head to the next beach at Van Point to dry up, warm up, and plan how to continue the journey. They were exhausted and had to continue on to Gudal Bay which looked like paradise with its long sandy, peaceful beach!

The Coast Guard Zodiak met up with the fishing boat at Marble Island. The medic and pilot took our kayaks aboard the Zodiak while the fishermen brought us to Dawson Inlet to meet up with the Coast Guard vessel, the Cape St. James. Once on board, the captain, engineer, and medic did their best to make us feel less ashamed about being rescued by sharing their own stories and joking that they could have been at the base doing Sunday inventory. Their efforts were greatly appreciated, but we were still extremely embarrassed to find ourselves on their ship. Once we docked in Charlotte, the driver of the Zodiak pulled up to unload our kayaks. To our dismay, we heard a loud pop as the sharp edge of the broken rudder pin punctured a hole in the Zodiak as it was being unloaded! An emergency plug was quickly inserted and the compartment inflated, but we were horrified that they now had repairs to do.

Of course, the seafaring part of my story ended as we left the Coast Guard ship. Fortunately, our four companions persevered and finished the journey without further incident while we awaited their return from shore. We had plenty of work to keep us busy for a few days getting the trucks and drying out our gear.

Flag #14: There were so many different decisions we could have made on this fateful day:

  • We could have stayed at Cone Head and waited for a calmer day.
  • After rounding Kindakun Point just after 9:00 am, we could have listened to the suggestion to go into Carew Bay to rest or to camp; we could have changed our charts to get a closer view of Hunter Point; we could have reviewed our tide charts in relation to the rock shelf at Hunter Point.
  • Before rounding Hunter Point, we could have regrouped to reassess and make a decision together. Still on adrenalin from rounding Kindakun Point, sitting in the calm of the kelp looking at calmer seas, with the early morning fog rolling in, and knowing more winds were on the way, we forged ahead based on what we could see, without taking the time to reexamine the other chart of the area or the tide charts. Nearing Hunter Point, with a kelp bed and rocks ahead, we just kept paddling through the break in the rocks. As so often happens with a group of capable paddlers, those who follow trust those leading the way. Those leading may feel unsure, but don’t stop to check in with those behind. So it was that we paddled into chaos. What was around the corner was not what we expected. But by then it was too late.

Obviously, every paddler on this trip could list other flags from a personal perspective. We have enjoyed so many paddling trips together and continue to enjoy new adventures. Why was this trip so different? How many of the flags along the way contributed to the outcome? What have we learned and most importantly, how might our experiences serve us and others on future trips?

For myself, I have learned to speak up when I am not feeling safe. On a trip to the Nuchatlitz in 2021, I suddenly felt my anxiety mounting, fearing we were headed once again into unknown waters. I wasn’t proud to say I was uncomfortable approaching the rocks and active waters ahead. However, my friends’ response was simple, we took a different route and I could breathe again. I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than silent!

Wondering about the remainder of the trip? When I put out the request to all members of this group to review my notes, one of the paddlers completing the trip graciously sent me her notes and two others offered their photos. Many thanks for filling in the missing pieces!

Day 15, August 7 – Gudal Bay to West Skidegate Creek, approximately 6 nm

We woke to a low tide; the entire bay seemed empty! The water’s edge felt like it was a kilometre from camp. The two sets of wheels, originally part of the group gear, were no longer with us so it took us a lot longer to launch. It was surreal paddling with just four of us remaining from the original group of eleven. The waters were calm as we rounded Tana Point and crossed the mouth of Tana Bay, becoming livelier as we entered Skidegate Channel. There we were flanked on both sides by a pod of 8 orcas. That evening, we camped on a small gravel bar at a creek by the west entrance to the narrows. With one final challenge ahead – navigating the currents of Skidegate – we used the inReach to contact the three paddlers now in Charlotte to get information about the how the water behaves so we could make our plans. We spent a lot of effort working out the timing and decided on a very early launch.

Day 16, August 8 – West Skidegate Creek to Sandilands Island, approximately 6 nm

The plan was to get on the water by 6:30. We packed as much gear as possible into the kayaks before heading to our tents for the night. The steep beach would make for an easier launch than the long carry at Gudal Bay. In anticipating the early wake up, most were ready an hour earlier and the lone paddler still expecting a 6:30 launch was gracious enough to shorten his sleep to allow for a 5:30 launch. As we got to the start of the narrow section of the channel, the current of the ebbing tide made the water both shallower and faster. The difference of five minutes from the first to the last paddler was so pronounced that those in front could paddle and the last paddler had to line his boat for 20 minutes! The channel opened up at Trounce Inlet and then we caught the current flowing the other way. This current spit us out the other side in hardly any time at all! We had done it! With one final night of camping at Sandilands Island, we enjoyed a lazy afternoon in the warm summer sun. 

Day 17, August 9 – Sandilands Island to Charlotte, 6 nm

Our final morning’s launch was sunny, calm and warm. We just took our time! Queen Charlotte City, or Charlotte as the locals know it, was on the other side of Maude Island only 6 nm away. It was a contemplative paddle, as the last day tends to be. At the beginning of the trip, we were 11 paddling the west coast of Graham Island; when we landed in Charlotte, we were only four to complete the route with three on shore waiting to greet us.


This trip was an adventure like no other trip experienced before! We owe our gratitude to the local people of Haida Gwaii, the fishing communities, and the Canadian Coast Guard for their support. As prepared as we thought we were, we know we need to be more prepared in the future!

Karina Younk

Karina has been paddling with friends along BC coastlines for over 20 years. Since retiring from her work as an administrator and teacher in 2020, she now has the pleasure of getting on and in the water more often as a paddler and a swimmer. Karina is excited to be working with the board and the stewardship committee toward the vision of BC Marine Trails: the entire B.C. coastline linked through marine routes and land sites for safe and sustainable water-based public recreation.

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