Trip Number: 13024A
Staff: Elisha Shephard
- Experience the world’s best spot for watching orcas
- Observe humpbacks, bald eagles, dolphins, and bears
- Learn about totem poles and native villages
- Enjoy hiking and sea kayaking opportunities
- Yacht lodging
- All meals, professionally cooked
- Insights from the trip naturalist
Photo: Bluewater Adventures
Please note that the leader has changed from what was originally published. If you
have questions, please
Our seven-day sailing voyage will take us through the maze of islands and waterways
at the northern end of Vancouver Island. This archipelago is a showcase for
wildlife, beautiful scenery, and the history and traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw
Here the Pacific Ocean funnels into the protected waters of Johnstone Strait,
creating strong tidal currents and incredibly nutrient-rich waters. Millions
of salmon, returning to spawn in the mainland rivers, must converge to pass
through the Strait. Groups of orcas (or killer whales) wait to hunt the salmon
in the passages. Gray whales feed in the shallow bays, while humpback whales
are found just offshore. Along the shore, black bears roam, feeding in the intertidal
zone. The wealth of life and food attracts a variety of marine mammals, seabirds,
eagles, and anyone interested in spectacular natural history.
The waters of Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait are considered the
best place in the world to observe Orcinus orca (killer whales). For a few months
of the year, these beautiful marine mammals are present on a daily basis. Guided
by the naturalist accompanying us, we should have excellent opportunities for
observing and photographing whales. Johnstone Strait is considered the core
killer whale area. However, we could encounter orcas at any point during the
voyage as they travel miles every day. Some of our anchorages are chosen so
that we may hear orcas swim past. This is truly a unique opportunity to see
whales in the wild.
We will also have the opportunity to see grizzly bears feeding on spawning
salmon, a classic wildlife experience that makes this trip unique. There are
few places in the world that can provide consistent, safe, and incredible grizzly
bear viewing. Glendale Cove up Knight Inlet is one of them, and has now become
one of British Columbia's premier wildlife viewing sites.
This remote location is up a coastal fjord that extends deep into the coastal
mountains. Forty-seven individual bears have been identified here, all of them
attracted by a run of pink salmon that averages 500,000 fish. They often feed
along the shores of the estuary where we can watch from our small boats.
Humpback whales are also usually in the area, and Dalls’ porpoises often
come over to the boat to play on the bow wave. If we have a good wind, we will
raise the sails and enjoy the silence and beauty of sailing. Our vessel, an
elegant 68-foot ketch, is also equipped with engines to allow us to move freely
and take maximum advantage of wildlife sightings, weather and tides, and the
interests of the group.
The amount of actual sailing will be based upon the winds and the interest
of the group. For wildlife viewing, it is necessary to be quickly maneuverable,
which is easier while motoring. Our main goal is wildlife viewing; sailing is
We will be going ashore at least once a day to explore the tide pools and rocky
beaches and observe brightly colored sea stars, anemone, and intertidal invertebrates
such as crabs and mollusks. There will also be time to explore the protected
waters from sea kayaks carried on board.
Photo: Bluewater Adventures
The trip starts and finishes in Port McNeill, British Columbia. Port McNeill
is situated on Queen Charlotte Sound, a beautiful area studded with islands
and mountains. Participants will meet at the Municipal Dock on the Port McNeill
waterfront. After a brief orientation, we will begin our journey. We will keep
our specific itinerary flexible to maximize our wildlife viewing. Wildlife is,
by definition, wild and seldom conforms to a fixed schedule!
We will spend each night at anchor in a secluded anchorage.
Homeland Security regulations require a valid passport to enter/exit Canada.
You will need to have a passport that will be valid for at least six months
after your scheduled departure date from Canada.
Options for getting to Port McNeill include flying into the Port Hardy Airport
from Vancouver, British Columbia and taking a shuttle for the 30-minute drive
to Port McNeill. Some people prefer to see more of Vancouver Island by flying
to Victoria and renting a car for the drive north to Port McNeill.
In either case, you are encouraged to stay the night before the start of the
trip in Port McNeill, because morning flights can be delayed by fog. We have
planned our final day so that you can fly back to Vancouver for your overnight
accommodation, if you wish. The leader will recommend hotels in Port McNeill
once you have signed up for the trip.
Accommodations and Food
Our vessel is an elegant 68-foot custom ketch that features eight private cabins
for two people each, three bathrooms with hot showers, a large comfortable lounge
with an extensive library, a well-equipped galley, and many features that make
her suited to this type of voyage. Above deck, a large covered cockpit provides
comfort in all types of weather. Our boat is spacious and comfortable, and affords
easy access to almost everyone. However, even on a spacious vessel quarters
are close, so patience, flexibility, and good humor are prerequisites for this
Our ketch also boasts a large motorized inflatable raft for shore excursions,
and two double inflatable kayaks for quietly exploring islands and shorelines.
The knowledgeable crew consists of a Coast Guard-licensed captain, professional
cook, and expert naturalist -- all of whom have spent years exploring the coast
and have studied marine biology, ornithology, or anthropology.
Photo: Dan Leighton
All meals from lunch on the first day through breakfast on the last day are
provided. A professional cook (who will also be one of our resource guides)
will be in charge of all meal preparation. Wholesome meals with ample quantities
of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products will be served family-
or buffet-style. Complimentary wine is served before and with dinner. Otherwise,
guests are responsible for bringing their own alcoholic beverages or soft drinks.
Coffee and tea are provided.
Please indicate any dietary issues on the participant approval questionnaire
for each member of your family. We'll try to accommodate most dietary requirements,
but you must notify the trip leader in advance.
This trip will include a certain amount of strength and agility to climb in
and out of small boats and walk over uneven terrain. You should be able to climb
a small stepladder with little assistance. There are usually options on the
walks and hikes to allow for varying degrees of difficulty. No previous sailing
or sea kayaking experience is necessary. The crew will be happy to give you
instruction if you are interested in participating in either activity.
Equipment and Clothing
A sleeping bag, rain gear, and knee-high rubber boots are needed for this
trip. Little else is needed beyond your clothing and personal items. An itemized
equipment list will be sent to you upon acceptance to the trip.
- Stewart, Hilary, Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians.
- Read, Bill and Robert Bringhurst, The Raven Steals the Light.
- Spradley, James, Guests Never Leave Hungry: The Autobiography
of James Sewid, a Kwakiutl Indian.
- Blancher, Wylie, The Curve of Time: The Classic Memoir of a Woman
and Her Children Who Explored the Coastal Waters of the Pacific Northwest.
- McAllister, Ian, The Great Bear Rainforest: Canada's Forgotten
- Suzuki, David, Orca: Visions of the Killer Whale.
- Nollman, Jim, Orca’s Greatest Hits; 1999. Orcas and humans
make music together, recorded underwater.
Photo: Dan Leighton
Extending north along British Columbia’s central coast lie the largest
remaining pristine old-growth coastal forests in North America. This area forms
the southern end of the Great Bear Rainforest. The timber industry wants to
log the old-growth areas to preserve present harvest rates and protect coastal
forestry jobs. We will discuss this, the over-harvesting of salmon and other
fish, and current orca research activities.
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Elisha Shephard is a Life Member of the Sierra Club, has been a river runner for more than 30 years, and led Sierra Club raft trips for over a decade on rivers such as the Dolores, Rogue, Green, San Juan, Owyhee, and Salmon. But the Orcas trip in British Columbia is one of her favorite water trips. Her passion is introducing people to adventure travel and sharing her love for wild places with others. When not playing on the water, she entertains herself with books, gardening, and taking photos in the outdoors. Feel free to contact Elisha if you are interested in this trip, have questions, or just want to talk adventure travel.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips