Cruising Haida Gwaii

Positioned off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, Haida Gwaii proves to be an intoxicating waypoint.
yachts at Daajing Giids
The funky little yacht basin at Daajing Giids includes a salty mix of salmon trawlers, cruising sailboats and liveaboard mariners. Herb McCormick

After a fortnight underway and with 500 rugged nautical miles in our wake, in late June, our Cal 40, Dancing Bear, nudged up to the dock in the little British Columbian burg of Daajing Giids, formerly known as Queen Charlotte City. I tossed our dock lines to a helpful young man named Max, who’d scrambled over from his little cruising sailboat to help us tie up. On the pier, Max was boiling up a potful of crab. He even had some butter, garlic and saffron sauteing alongside. The aroma was mesmerizing.

We’d just completed a winding cruise from Anacortes, Washington, through the remote archipelago of Haida Gwaii (the former Queen Charlotte Islands), the last week of which was in true wilderness, where we’d shared the protected cruising grounds and nature preserve with whales, eagles, bears, sea otters, Sitka deer, elk, racoons and assorted other creatures, none of whom were humans. In fact, we hadn’t encountered a single other soul the entire week. Daajing Giids, the one-time queen of this region, has a population of around a mere 1,000 folks, but it somehow seemed more frantic than Manhattan. I was scheduled to fly out of the nearby airfield in Skidegate the next afternoon, so I would basically be in “the queen” for a day.

During my years of cruising and racing sailboats offshore, I’ve wrapped up many a voyage in countless exotic ports of call, but I’m not sure any were quite as fetching as funky Daajing Giids. It had me from the get-go. Moments after docking, a huge roar emanated from up the hill, where the crowd at a kids baseball game apparently had much to cheer about. I’ve been in Boston’s Fenway Park for a Red Sox game with less-enthusiastic fans.

Haida Gwaii is an overnight hop from the British Columbia coastline, just far enough to deter many cruising boats from visiting, as most opt to continue up the Inside Passage to Alaska. But it’s definitely worth the effort. And the half-dozen yachts in the anchorage were surely a salty mix, consisting of a handful of expedition-style metal boats and a ketch-rigged Amel Super Maramu flying a French flag.

Read More from Herb McCormick: Silent Running

Likewise, in the little yacht basin, there was a mix of well-used fishing craft and an equal number of well-traveled cruising boats, including a couple of full-keeled Bristol Channel Cutters and even a replica of French solo sailor Bernard Moitessier’s famous Joshua. Plenty of folks were living aboard.

Over in the nearby shallows, a tidal grid had been erected so boats could come alongside and complete a quick bottom job on the deep ebb. It had been quite a while since I’d seen one of those. And, I have to say, the fresh salmon and black cod fillets at the little waterfront pub were perhaps the tastiest I’d ever had.

Fortuitously, we’d arrived the day before the national celebration of Canada Day on July 1, and it was a pleasure to be in such a friendly place. As we were walking up the dock, a passing mariner asked how I was doing. “Great,” I said. “I mean, I’m in one of the greatest countries in the world.”

“I agree,” he replied. “And we’re privileged to have you guys as our neighbor.” Heavens, if only the entire world were so pleasant and agreeable.

The next day, I hopped a ferry over to Skidegate and caught my hourlong flight to Vancouver, then my connection home. As we lifted off and wheeled overhead, I got one final glimpse of the old Queen City. It had been a quick visit but a splendid place to wrap up an adventure. I hope to make it back sometime.