Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii

When the tides out…  

Our ferry pulled into Prince Rupert late and we were starving.  We had had our fill of the cafeterias options aboard and decided to go into town for some real food.  Turns out we got in pretty late, were bordering on hanger, and the options for food in town were pretty slim.  A couple places we tried had already closed the kitchen and when asking for recommendations it was pretty much the strip club or Don Cherry’s bar and casino.  Somewhat surprisingly, we opted for the casino.

Got some food in our bellies and then decided (despite the lack of craps or any real table games) to try our luck at the casino.  Can’t say we’ve ever sat in front of a digital/looping video of a dealer handing us pixelated cards on a digital blackjack table before, but we had a fun time with it and even walked out with more than we started before sleeping in the parking lot.

In the morning we woke early and headed back to the ferry terminal to hop yet another boat over to Haida Gwaii.  We weren’t sure this would be a portion of our trip when we started, but we’ve been excited to visit Haida Gwaii ever since we lived in Vancouver and it seemed a real pity to be this far north without making it happen.  Another 7-8 hours ferry ride over and we drove off the boat onto these magical islands.

Our first evening we simply drove a few miles off the boat, found a pullout next to the ocean to enjoy dinner with the sunset and then.  We really wanted to simply sleep next to the water at our dinner spot… but a quick walk/look around gave us the suspicion that this entire spit would be underwater long before high tide and we (wisely) moved on and stealth camped in town to get our bearings before setting out to explore further afield in the morning.

In the morning we drove all the way to the northern end of the island.  Figure if you’re own an island you know nothing about with a lot of time to spend you might as well start all the way at one end and work your way to the other.  What we found at the north end as a wide open expanse of beach with almost nobody on it.  We saw trans and the occasional other vehicle driving on the sand, so we made our way way out the beach toward the end of the land/island and were stoked when (despite being on an island we had been told had limited or no cell service even in its biggest towns) we somehow saw a bar or two pop up on the phone.

We explored the beach, picked up agates and took in the almost impossible quiet and remoteness of this place (which is really saying something given where we’ve been the last few months).

We had been told by other travelers that on the this beach you could catch dungeness crab by simply wading into the ocean and with no more than a dipnet.  We didn’t have a dipnet, it was pretty windy and the waves made it hard to see…but didn’t stop me from wading in as long as I could stand the cold to see if i could spot a crab in the surf. 

Don’t get me wrong… i didn’t have a clue what i would do if i actually spotted one, though did have flashes of me diving beneath a wave to try and grab a crab in my bare hands and drag it back to the beach feeding the family and leading to cheers from the nonexistent other campers on the beach. 😉

We stayed on the beach all day, slowly moving the van further and further back as the tide came in and trying to determine whether we would be safe sleeping on the beach.  We finally determined we would be safely above the water (assuming no rough waves came along and drug us out to sea) and slept inside the van.

In the morning the wind was picking up and we decided to go explore.  We checked out the Town of Massett, grabbed some groceries and dropped off some laundry before realizing we could rent waders and a dipnet from the local surf shop (how very convenient!).  We rushed back to the beach trying to catch low tide.  The winds had picked up even since our departure, the water was frigid and visibility almost nonexistent between the waves churning up the sandy bottom…but every now and again i would get a glimpse of a crab drifting in with a big wave or nesting itself down into the sand in shallow waters- just enough to keep me committed and somewhat convinced we might actually be able to eat crab this night.

About an hour after high tide, just as Im about to throw in the towel it finally happened.  I spotted a small red disk, just the top of a crab’s shell sticking out above the sand where he (turns out they) had nestled down into the sand for protection.  I swept in with my net and pulled a giant crab out of the water.  Jen squealed from shore and ran up the beach to grab the bucket.  I turned the crab over to ensure it was a male (no question it was plenty large enough to keep, but if it were a female we’d have to throw it back) and i’m somewhat surprised to see that he’s clutching onto a much smaller female as well.  As I turn him over he releases her from their embrace i feel a bit bad as I realize i interrupted their “alone time”.

Not bad enough to not keep our harvest and grill up some crab for dinner by the ocean, but i made sure to apologize to them both and we (as always) gave proper respect to the animal who fed us that evening.  The wind was really ripping up the beach by now and i was chilled to the bone from spending the last few hours in the water, so we setup camp with a makeshift windbreak high on the beach beside the driftwood and cooked our bounty on the grill. 

If we could spend every day or night like this you’d never hear us complain.  Days spent walking/exploring the beach, evenings spent watching the sun set and eating fresh crab we just pulled fro the ocean.  The only way we can even imagine this day being any better would be a campfire to warm ourselves by or the addition of friends to spend/share it with.

I set an alarm and awoke at 2:30am to try my hand at an even lower tide, but with far less light… but with no luck.  I saw a few crabs, faintly peaking out as the water receded between waves or glaring up at me between silty passes of water, but eventually had to admit that my headlamp was far too weak and I wasn’t about to realistically win this battle.  I returned ridiculously cold and wet to the van and spent the rest of the night warming up again before sunrise.

We tried hard to rip ourselves away from this spot… but it was just too good.  We used the unexpected cell signal to try and make some calls about the boat (we still don’t have a place to store the boat after buying it…which would be bad enough if it weren’t going to be the middle of hurricane season in southern florida, and we haven’t yet secured insurance… together those two things do not seem to be a plan for success), and by the time we finished our calls it was just about low tide again- I simply couldn’t resist trying again now that i knew more of what to look for.

I got geared up- no dry/warm clothed left to put on now, and set out again into the surf determined to enjoy one more crab before we set out to explore the remainder of the island.  SO glad we stuck around.  It again took a long while… i wandered the shore back and forth and back and forth spotting absolutely nothing.  Time and time again i considered stopping but then would get a glimpse of something i thought might be a crab and it would keep going.  The wind and waves were even larger and visibility was poor and i started to think we had eaten our last crab, but then suddenly the winds shifted and as i waded out to higher water i saw a crab floating in the face of a wave.  I stepped forward into the wave, reached out with the net and scooped.  As the wave passed me into shore i lifted the net out of the water and could feel that i had been successful!  Another huge crab and a quick inspection showed it was a male!!

Jen once again sprinted up the beach and i joined her on shore to drop him in the bucket before retuning to the water.  The next few minutes i caught another crab every time i returned to the water.  A few females, one just under the limit to keep and another huge male.  I imagine this is more what the locals had described when they talked about the calm lake-like waters that are typical here, and grabbing as many crab as you could eat.  For us it lasted only about 5-7 minutes before things shifted again and visibility plummeted.  Didn’t stop me from wandering the waters for another hour as tide rose, occasionally spotting a giant crab just out of reach but luring me into deeper water and continuing my quest.

By the time I finally surrendered and walked back onto the beach i was freezing and exhausted.  I had no idea how many waves had broken over the top of my waders and jen was laughing hysterically as i pulled the waders off and water literally poured out of both legs… i had been carrying around as much water inside the waders as i was keeping out of them.  We regressed once again to our windbreak lined camp, poured a celebratory drink to toast to the crab that would feed us and used the surprisingly good cell coverage to FaceTime with some friends back home.  It was nothing short of blissful, and we were ecstatic as we notice the winds begin to die down, and and an absolutely spectacular sunset filled the sky to end our day.

The Haida people have a saying “when the tides out, the table is set”.  Our time on north beach seemed to proved that statement is very much true on these magical islands.

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