Going Gingerly down Hecate Strait – Help, Help, It’s Kelp!

IMG_4819OMG, what a day…..! We experienced the high of visiting the ancient Haida site of K’uuna Linagaay (Skedans) and the low of losing our reading on the depth finder to some kelp stipes and then our 2 hp dinghy motor to the deep blue sea. Our summer of contrasts continues…..

We got up early on the 23rd and were motoring out of Beattie Anchorage by 6:30 am. Strong southerlies were forecast and we hoped to beat them but we did not. So, we motored into the increasing chop and swell as the wind picked up against us and, to add in more misery, we found a 2 knot adverse current.
IMG_4883We recorded a maximum of 24 knots true wind and 29 knots apparent – i.e. the motor was adding 5 kts to the true wind. This wasn’t fun at all!

We dodged floating kelp strands quite often and sometimes these would get caught on our rudders or on our propeller. This isn’t really a problem, as we can easily clear this by stopping and pulling or chopping the annoying kelp off with a knife. Unfortunately one of those 10 meter long kelp stipes decided to get caught on the wire that goes to our transom-mounted depth sounder. We pulled that long thing for some distance and did not notice it until we saw that our depth recorder was not reporting the depth. Upon examination, we found that the kelp pressure had stretched the cable and, most likely, the little wires inside that make everything work had broken.

IMG_4834IMG_4843We arrived at the Haida site and found a place to anchor about ½ mile south off the beach. Without our depth sounder, we were quite cautious in choosing where to anchor but we found a place right next to some kelp beds (the water is usually shallower near the kelp) where Cat’s Cradle would likely be safe. That south wind was still blowing about 20 knots and the anchorage, with reported fair holding, was a bit bouncy. We put our dinghy, Pacifico, in the water and Val put our little 2 hp motor on the dinghy and off we went to meet the watchmen at K’uuna Linagaay. We coasted over a kelp bed, pulled the dinghy up on the beach, and tied a long rope to a rock. In this photo, Cat’s Cradle is ½ mile behind Pacifico and out of sight around to the right in the image. We think that all is well…..

K’uuna Linagaay (Skedans), on the northeast tip of Louise Island, was once quite a large Haida settlement. Early photos and more recent archaeological studies note that there once were at least 50 monumental sculptures and 25 to 30 longhouses here. Prior to the mid 1980’s, the site was unguarded and museum collectors and random passersby came and took anything they could. Such pillaging stopped when the Haida asserted there historic rights and now these village sites are well protected – but their best artifacts are often in the great museums of the world.

In order to visit such a site, one needs to attend an orientation meeting (1 ½ hrs), pay for a permit to visit this ‘place of beauty’, Guaii Haana National Park Reserve, and agree to follow all their procedures. Then you have to get to the site (there are no roads and basically no permanent residents in this southern half of Haida Qwaii!) and ask via VHF radio for permission to come ashore. No more than 12 visitors are permitted to visit at any one time and no vessels are permitted to anchor or come to shore on the beaches directly in front of the villages which insures that each visitor will have a chance to feel that they have been dropped back in time to a place so different from our normal lives.

IMG_4845IMG_4844What remains at K’uuna Linagaay include mortuary poles which would once have had an important man’s body curled up in a bentwood box at the top of the pole and memorial poles which are similar but don’t have the place for a body, for these poles remember individuals who died at sea or who died or were killed somewhere far away. In addition to the standing and leaning and fallen poles, there are several notable longhouse depressions showing the construction techniques and the large scale of these extended family dwellings. We were the only two visitors that morning and our guide, Shyah, gave us an excellent tour, complete with some images from early photos and Emily Carr paintings to compare with the current scene. Historically, the Haida did not do much repair of their totem poles. They let nature take its course and one guide mentioned that this gave work to successive generations of carvers. The current management philosophy is more museum-like as they are stabilizing tilting poles and doing some things to slow their degradation in this wet and windy place, so future visitors can experience something similar to what we are seeing.

We returned to our beach, pulled Pacifico into the water, and used the oars to pull us south through the nearby kelp bed against that old south wind. Once through, Val had trouble staring the little outboard, and by the time he had is started, Pacifico had turned around and was pointing back at the kelp and the beach.  The wind was rapidly pushing us back to the kelp. So, Val put the engine in reverse and backed away from the kelp with the motor now pulling us south (instead of its normal pushing from the rear). Just as he started to turn the motor back so we could spin around and go back to Cat’s Cradle, the little Honda just leaped off the transom and disappeared into the surging gray waves.

This trip in Pacifico was the first, and necessarily the last, wherein Val has not tied a safety line to the little motor. This habit had been ignored in our confused anchoring and leaving for K’uuna Linagaay. He has many red marks on his metaphorical backside where he has been kicking himself – over and over again these past days.

Rowing back to Cat’s Cradle stretched us to our very limits. With the wind and current against us, it was all we could do to hold position, and making southern progress was so, so slow and so, so hard. In retrospect, we likely should have waited until another boat came and then sought assistance. But, we forged onward, and with Val pulling with all his might sitting backward, and Leslie sitting forward in the stern and pushing on the oars as hard as she could, we eventually made it back to Cat’s Cradle. That ½ mile took us a full hour of absolutely our maximum effort.

IMG_4899IMG_4909After our traumatic day, we sought refuge nearby in a very protected bay where we could wrap our minds around what had just happened and get to work trying to fix the depth sounder. It turns out there are 8 tiny wires that had broken and it took most of the day to figure this out and then solder and waterproof the repaired cable. One of our two disasters – fixed!


This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. How you did the fix on the depth sounder in such a remote place is astounding, you guys are just too much!
    You are true explorer’s.

    1. Well Norris, we are always ready to repair any old (and they are old) hydrophone that needs help and so always have a butane soldering iron and 3M waterproofing tape and ‘goop’. All it takes is a steady hand and a bit of perserverance. What else could I be doing stuck out here in some lovely, quiet bay?


  2. I think I must be reading these from last to first…oh well they are enjoyable. Hope you guys had time to rest after your row and that you had some arnica or at least some good whiskey to ease your sore joints!!!

  3. You two must be feeling pretty good about your ability to make do under tough circumstances-congratulations! Your stories help us imagine how tough life must have been in earlier times up north. Will you ever be able to settle down again to a more ordinary life? And many, many thanks for your vivid blogs.

  4. Oh my, I am glad you came safely out of the scary rowing episode. I hope the rest of the trip is smooth sailing, ha ha.


  5. Hello friends,
    I was on the edge of my seat reading this. Talk about ups and downs. You two can really persevere!

  6. Val,
    I have a 3.5 Nissan that needs a new gas (integrated) tank, if interested when back you can try to get it going again.


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