Sailing through BC's Great Bear Rainforest

  • 833 kilometres travelled
  • 08 bears, Grizzlies and Black
  • 06 whale sightings

Disconnecting from the outside world and immersing into nature was our mission on a cruise through the Great Bear Rainforest’s misty, mossy wilderness. We communed with whales and spied on salmon-gorging bears. Slipping into a blissful routine of kayaking, hiking and sailing in luxury along a remote coast, the only folks we encountered were First Nations who stoked the experience with their knowledge and tales of a life among the wild things. While we chased a dream of spotting a rare white Spirit Bear, the forest, sea and roll call of other creatures were more than enough to move our own spirits.

Day 1
Running away to sea
Serenity had to wait a bit since our trip started with a frenzied late-flight airport scramble to get by prop plane to the outpost of Bella Bella, halfway up the BC coast. But when we finally met up with our boat, Rachel, the first mate, quickly got us sorted into our tidy cabins which we immediately messed up with our gear. Then she introduced us to the crew and the M/V Island Roamer over a hot brew in the map-filled wheelhouse. By the time Captain Xander started the engines and civilization vanished in our wake we were already in a relaxed groove anticipating the homemade dinner aromas perking up from the galley below.
Day 2
Otters and bears and whales
We woke up to warm blueberry muffins and brilliant sunshine that had hundreds of seals in tanning mode on rocky outcrops. After slipping into raingear to keep us warm on Zodiac jaunts, our rock-star naturalist, Ron, quickly spotted a mama Grizzly and her cub munching salmon. An otter drifting on his back coolly watched us head back to the boat for lunch which was interrupted by yet another critter call - “Whales!” Dropping forks we flew to the decks and looked down on Whale Soup – there were even Humpbacks and Minkes under the boat. We didn’t even mind being misted by clouds of whale “blow”, though the smell was well… disgusting. There was a lot of ticking off the wildlife wish-list that day, and as the crew did their nightly Chart Talk about tomorrow’s route I had to wonder - is it me or was it our pasta dinner that makes the scribble of estuaries and fjords on the skipper’s map look like spaghetti?
Day 3
Back to nature
Up before breakfast, a couple of us started the day kayaking along the shore - rainforests above water, kelp forests below. Later, when we cruised along sheer cliff walls to a waterfall tumbling straight into the ocean, Xander upped the thrill factor by aiming the bow right into the spray – which Marilyn used as a shower au naturel to shampoo her hair! After lunch we hiked through a seriously mossy forest and came to a stream choked with thousands of spawning salmon – bear-bait – struggling to get upstream and looking half dead. “Zombie salmon?” we wondered, musing over possible zombie bears. But the Grizzly mum we spotted feeding ripped-up salmon to her two energetic little cubs on the beach looked very alive and healthy.
Day 4
The spirit of bears
Sails up! A breeze and binoculars were all we needed for a day-long sail along Spirit Bear Central - Princess Royal Island. But as the hours passed without a trace of the shy white black bears, the skipper lured us away with the promise of natural hot springs at the head of Bishop Bay. The warm waters were just what we needed until Ron hit us with a bolt of adrenalin - a bald eagle making sashimi out of a hefty salmon 5 metres away. It seemed everyone in these parts was dining on salmon including us, so we all pitched in to slice and dice in the tiny galley to help our chef Janelle create a baked salmon extravaganza. I took my apple crumble topped with pecans up to the wheelhouse to accompany a 360 degree view of the sunset. Not Glenna. She was in the lounge as usual watching Hubert the Photographer sort through the day’s images, reliving the dream.
Day 5
Bliss afloat
Waffles with warm maple syrup and coffee, gumboots on, into the Zodiac. We were settled into a such a blissful and relaxing routine that none of us could imagine life before boarding the boat. We stole naps in our cabins and just sat and stared out at the scenery. And for entertainment we had regular doses of wildlife wowing us - a breaching Humpback, stellar sea lions barking from their rookery, a solo black bear splashing among mossy rocks ignoring voyeurs with long lenses. He was sniffing for lunch and, frankly, we could relate. I learned I wasn’t the only one obsessed all morning with Janelle’s upcoming gourmet lunches. That was followed by slipping into warm camp booties and curling up in the library… thinking about dinner. Then it was cocktails under the stars on the rear deck with a view that changed with every night’s anchoring.
Day 6
First Nations know-how
We picked up a “bear whisperer” this morning, a local First Nations guide. On a cliff walk he pointed out wild foods eaten by his people and a “bear stomp” where the big fellas deliberately walked in one another’s steps to mark a trail. Back on board, George pointed out the remnants of abandoned ancient village sites and petroglyphs of boats and animals. That night we finally convinced Hubert to do a slide show and already there was a sense of nostalgia as we watched our week flicker past.
Day 7
Culture and cod
Civilization appeared off our bow in the form of the remote Aboriginal community of Klemtu where George toured us through the Big House, a lavishly decorated longhouse with huge totem poles inside and out. We tried on heavy traditional masks in a small museum and heard tales and legends from town elders. George was especially excited about an upcoming tournament of the wildly popular Great Bear Rainforest coast sport of… basketball. Inspired by a visit onto a commercial fishing boat in harbour for the night, we jigged for cod over the side of our own boat and pulled in enough for Janelle to make a fresh feast for us all.
Day 8
Roaming home
Sunshine pierced a low fog creating a mysterious rainbow glow as we gathered on the deck on our last morning. We passed a feathered “talking stick” around, each of us voicing what we were grateful for. We laughed and reminisced and the general consensus was that no one cared that, in the end, Spirit Bears had eluded us. With the Island Roamer tied up at the Bella Bella dock once again, there were hugs all around as we re-entered the real world. Then I spotted a distant kayaker paddle off into the mist. I was jealous.