Northern Vancouver Island Sailing Adventure

About the Experience

At the verdant northern end of Vancouver Island lies a protected cluster of islands and deep passages vibrating with coastal wildlife, birds and the deep history and traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw people (Kwakiutl).

Here, the Pacific Ocean (the largest and deepest ocean on Earth) funnels into the glacier-carved Johnstone Strait creating strong tidal currents and incredibly nutrient-rich waters. This vital passage extends from Telegraph Cove in the north to Rock Bay in the south.

Millions of salmon, returning to spawn in the mainland rivers, must converge to pass through this 110km channel. Johnstone Strait is home to the largest resident pod of killer whales (orcas) in the world with a population of nearly 200. Orcas are big fans of salmon–they make up 80% of their diet. They skip the fussiness of the cedar plank and honey garlic glaze, consuming 18-25 Chinook salmon a day to meet their energy requirements.

The Strait (and salmon) also attracts convocations of bald eagles, minke, humpback and grey whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbour porpoises, Dall’s porpoises, harbour seals and Steller’s sea lions.  

We’ll be on high alert for all of them as we navigate the islands. We will also visit a few tiny coastal towns and villages to explore and experience the art and culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations who have lived here for thousands of years.

The Island Odyssey is a 68 ketch , originally built as a luxurious private yacht in 1984. She completed a major renovation in 2003 to update the cabins and all safety systems and features 8 private cabins (double occupancy), 3 hot showers and a comfortable salon with a natural history library. On deck, the large deckhouse offers the perfect spot to scan for whales and other wildlife.

Come, sail away with us! Do you have that Enya song in your head now too?

 

Did you know we’re a global leader in women’s adventure travel? Check out our destinations around the world!
Click here to see the full itinerary!
Northern Vancouver Island Sailing Adventure

About the Experience

At the verdant northern end of Vancouver Island lies a protected cluster of islands and deep passages vibrating with coastal wildlife, birds and the deep history and traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw people (Kwakiutl).

Here, the Pacific Ocean (the largest and deepest ocean on Earth) funnels into the glacier-carved Johnstone Strait creating strong tidal currents and incredibly nutrient-rich waters. This vital passage extends from Telegraph Cove in the north to Rock Bay in the south.

Millions of salmon, returning to spawn in the mainland rivers, must converge to pass through this 110km channel. Johnstone Strait is home to the largest resident pod of killer whales (orcas) in the world with a population of nearly 200. Orcas are big fans of salmon–they make up 80% of their diet. They skip the fussiness of the cedar plank and honey garlic glaze, consuming 18-25 Chinook salmon a day to meet their energy requirements.

The Strait (and salmon) also attracts convocations of bald eagles, minke, humpback and grey whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, harbour porpoises, Dall’s porpoises, harbour seals and Steller’s sea lions.  

We’ll be on high alert for all of them as we navigate the islands. We will also visit a few tiny coastal towns and villages to explore and experience the art and culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations who have lived here for thousands of years.

The Island Odyssey is a 68 ketch , originally built as a luxurious private yacht in 1984. She completed a major renovation in 2003 to update the cabins and all safety systems and features 8 private cabins (double occupancy), 3 hot showers and a comfortable salon with a natural history library. On deck, the large deckhouse offers the perfect spot to scan for whales and other wildlife.

Come, sail away with us! Do you have that Enya song in your head now too?

 

Did you know we’re a global leader in women’s adventure travel? Check out our destinations around the world!

 

An important note about your arrival day: Weather delays can occur when travelling in coastal regions, most commonly due to fog. To ensure that the Wild Women can collectively set sail on time, we advise you to arrive the day before the trip and spend the night at an accommodation of your choice (not included). From the Port Hardy Airport, it’s a 35-minute taxi ride to Port McNeill.

DAY ONE: ARRIVAL

This trip starts and finishes in Port McNeill, B.C., a former basecamp for loggers. Port McNeill is the famed gateway to the legendary islands and Vancouver Island North’s second-largest community (population: 2,064).

We’ll meet our mighty sailing crew in the morning at the North Island dock of the marina on the Port McNeill waterfront. Upon boarding the vessel, cabins will be assigned and we’ll have an introductory safety briefing with the captain. Have you mastered your clove hitch and rat tail stopper knot? No sweat–this is your opportunity to learn!

Port McNeill is the ideal launchpad for this voyage because it is the closest port to a popular foraging area for the resident killer whales. We hope to discover our first group of whales in the afternoon!

Watching the spy hopping antics and breaching of orcas is an unmatched moment. Not familiar with spy hopping? It’s the cetacean’s way of treading water. They pop their heads out of the ocean and take a look around, like giant periscopes or gophers. 

Speaking of spy activity, we’ll be able to eavesdrop on the pod using the ship’s underwater microphone and learn to identify the individuals by their distinct markings and behavior.

Keep watch for the larger spout of a humpback whale too–they are known to feed well into fall on the B.C. coast before their southern migration. We’ll also be on the lookout for moon jellies and sea otters!

After a mind-blowing day that’s hopefully full of whale antics and birdwatching, we will anchor in a secluded anchorage with front row seats to the neon constellations above. 

 

Image credit: Sharon Kay, sharonkayphotography.com

Image credit: Sharon Kay, sharonkayphotography.com

DAY TWO-FOUR: EXPLORING THE WATERS

Our uninterrupted focus over the next few days will be exploring the seemingly bottomless waters of Johnstone Strait and nearby Queen Charlotte Strait. The Queen Charlotte waterway is located at the northern tip of Vancouver Island and separates Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. It connects Queen Charlotte Sound to the north with Blackfish Sound, Johnstone Strait, Discovery Passage and the Strait of Georgia to the south. These equally nutrient-rich dense waters also attract orcas, humpback whales, seals, sea lions, and Dall’s porpoise. If they’re feeling playful, the porpoises may approach the boat to race us on the bow wave. 

We’ll spend time among the panoramic islands of the Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial, B.C.’s largest marine park. We’ll poke around remote bays, clam shell midden beaches, train our binoculars on marine mammals and observe eagles cruising the thermals above. Nearby Pine Island has one of the largest seabird nesting colonies on the coast and it can be a deafening rumpus room when active. We hope to count several species such as oystercatchers, pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets. Phalaropes, a smaller water bird, are also very common.

A meandering walk through the magical coastal woods will allow us to witness the magnificence of the old-growth Western red cedar and Sitka spruce forest and unique biome of plants found on the temperate rainforest floor like skunk cabbage and false lily of the valley. Watch your step for the monster-sized banana slugs underfoot! If a low tide permits, we will comb the shore for different species of colourful sea stars, butter clams, cockles, anemone and lacy kelp. If the wind cooperates, we expect to raise the spinnaker and enjoy the silence and serenity of being under the full power of sail.

We’ll also visit the modern Kwakwaka’wakw community of Alert Bay and the U’Mista Cultural Centre’s impressive collection of potlatch masks. In 1921, police arrested elders holding a “potlatch” ceremony here, and confiscated their prized ceremonial masks. The potlatch is a community celebration that commemorates changes in status like a wedding or death. The government outlawed the ceremony believing it would help indigenous people develop a strong work ethic and speed their conversion to Christianity. Many of the masks and original pieces of art were secretly sold to museum collections across North America. If the weather is favourable, we will also visit the cemetery and sacred memorial totem poles and respectfully reflect on the past.

If time allows, we may explore the abandoned Kwakwaka’wakw village of Mimquimlees and the remains of its rich and dynamic heritage at the entrance to Knight Inlet. 

During our daily shore or Zodiac excursions, our onboard naturalist will introduce us to the several extraordinary coastal plants, birds and marine life. If interested, you can help curate a species list for the trip. Fun fact: a group of bald eagles is called an aerie, convocation, jubilee, soar or tower! We’ll look for harbour seals along the rocky shoals and black bears scavenging for mussels in the intertidal waters.

There will be plenty of time to paddle the protected waters by sea kayak and really soak up the west coast vibe. This supernatural landscape was the one that completely consumed Canadian artist Emily Carr. It’s easy to fall under the spell of these beguiling islands and on your last night, under the shimmer of Cassiopeia there’s a 100% chance that you’ll promise to return.


“There is something bigger than fact: the underlying spirit, all it stands for, the mood, the vastness, the wildness.” ~Emily Carr

Image credit: Sharon Kay, sharonkayphotography.com

Image credit: Sharon Kay, sharonkayphotography.com


DAY FIVE: ONWARDS

We will return to Port McNeill to complete our sail by late morning with the indelible memory of our time spent immersed and engaged in the coastal wilds and spirit of Northern Vancouver Island. Your crew can catch afternoon flights back to Vancouver from Port Hardy’s airport.

 

 

Click here to see upcoming trip dates to book your spot!