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Haida Gwaii with the Grandkids? It's All in the Planning

Mary Anne Unrau

Traversay III
Waterline 43', Cutter-rigged steel hull
January 27th, 2021

As Larry and I contemplated our third trip to Haida Gwaii in August 2019, we decided it was important to bring our family too as the oldest grandchildren were at a good age to learn about indigenous culture and how to respect the ocean environment.

Our daughter, Hope, immersed in sailing as a youngster (but now living in the wilderness in Ontario), has been able to instill that love in her family. She, Darin and the three oldest kids (Ainsley now 14, Brynn 11 and Seven 10) had already joined us on two Gulf Island boating trips. And seven years ago, when the children were just 7, 4 and 3, we’d taken the boat to Kingston, Ontario, and from there travelled down the St. Lawrence to Upper Canada Village.

Seven, Brynn, Ainsley and Wolfgang

Even little Wolfgang, the fourth grandchild, who was 17 months old for the Haida Gwaii trip, had spent 10 happy days aboard when he was just 3 months old.  Time was passing, and Ainsley already had a part-time summer job. So we started to plan for what would become our longest and best family trip ever.  This article shares some of what we did to ensure the trip was a success for everyone.

Logistics

The first planning challenges were simple.  How would we get everyone to the mandatory Gwaii Haanas Orientation Session when the family was flying in to Sandspit, on Moresby Island, the orientation would be in Skidegate, on Graham Island, and we wouldn’t have a car?

Sandspit, Skidegate and Moresby Landing

Not only that, but how could we avoid taking them all through the potentially rough seas on our way around to Moresby Landing, the starting point of our holiday? The sea conditions could actually delay getting to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site (which extends south from Moresby Landing), thus wasting several precious days.

The solution to both these dilemmas was actually quite easy.  Larry attended the Urban Orientation Session in Sidney in March. We booked the tickets for the family to fly to Sandspit. On the first night, we all stayed aboard Traversay III at Sandspit Marina. We booked Eagle Transit Ltd to pick the seven of us up in the morning, drop us at the Alliford Bay ferry terminal, and pick us up again by 1600h. That morning and as soon as our taxi appeared, Larry motored Traversay III away and made a solo trip around the NE coast of Malcolm Island. Meanwhile, the rest of us took the ferry to Skidegate. We attended the orientation, had lunch and learned more about the Haida Nation and culture at the Museum; even Wolfgang had a fine time amidst the colourful exhibits.

Afterwards, we walked back onto the ferry, our driver met us at the Alliford Bay dock and then drove us on the bumpy gravel logging road to Moresby Landing, where Larry met and dinghied us out to the boat.

Provisioning

We planned for a 12-day trip. There are no grocery stores in the Park itself, but provisioning for eight was not difficult, especially with no allergies in our family, and as the baby was still nursing. Larry and I had bought a mighty load of provisions in Ganges and in Queen Charlotte City. We were lucky because even in tiny Sandspit a wonderful, small grocery carried a variety of fresh supplies. I had provisioned enough fresh foods to include some vegetables, but we also had to rely on frozen and tinned goods.

Breakfasts were hearty – we had pancakes, bacon (dried type), eggs, or French toast. For lunches, wraps with sliced meat, tuna or salmon or peanut butter and honey were popular. We tried to introduce a variety of typical BC seafood with salmon, fish and scallops as appetizers. Darin helped with cooking by barbecuing sausages and hamburgers. For desserts, the kids shared an entire bag of cookies (with an emphasis on chocolate) out on deck after dinner. Adults had the customary Traversay III dessert: mandarin oranges mixed with frozen blueberries and a tablespoon of orange liqueur. We ate out twice: on Day 1 and Day 12 at the excellent Lunch Bar at Sandspit Airport.

The kids were incredibly hungry all the time. Whenever the kids felt starved, they were able to make their own honey and peanut butter wraps. Needless to say, we did run out of tortilla wraps and they had to use Ryvita crackers.

As for beverages, all of us are used to drinking lots of water (we have a water-maker onboard). We also carried almond milk and apple juice; tea, coffee, beer and wine were reserved for the adults.

Sleeping Arrangements

We had solved the space problems on our earlier trips. Traversay III has two cabins – the forward cabin was allocated to Hope, Darin and baby Wolfgang – Larry and I took the aft cabin with its proximity to the ‘heads’. The kids occupied the main saloon at night – using their sleeping bags and some air mattresses or the saloon benches as they saw fit. Most days everyone was tired enough to sleep through the night without disturbing anyone.

Safety

We have a set arrangement of rules with guests aboard. On our boat, the Captain is ALWAYS right! This works really well within our family. The kids know not to touch the stove or fridge, not to touch anything on the instrument panel or furnace, to close all doors and taps after they use them, to call one of us if the toilet fails; they know that no-one sleeps on the deck and they have also learned to closely watch little Wolfgang. Speaking of whom, we baby-proofed Traversay III by enclosing the entire deck with fishnet before the family came aboard. Everyone over the age of two is a good swimmer but, naturally, we have all the mandatory life-jackets that we need as well as safety equipment, as regulated.

Medical

We have a well-stocked emergency kit and also have a satellite phone aboard for emergencies, but had only one small accident – solved with a colourful bandaid. We had Gravol, but didn’t have to use any on this trip.

On-Board Activities

While cellphones and tablets were used to take photographs, we did not have internet and so it was important to have a variety of other items onboard for the grandkids’ entertainment.

We had lots of funny and kid-friendly movies plus the BBC series Blue Planet and Planet Earth. We also had games such as Clue, Monopoly, Bang, Spot It!, and art supplies, including face paint and beads for jewellery making. I recommend the children’s book Art Lab for Kids by Susan Schwake; we managed to get nearly all the suggested supplies at a second-hand art supply outlet.

Art supplies and books

There were many favourite books on board, but, alas, we didn’t have much time for reading! A junior microscope kit and bubbles (welcome amusement but potentially dangerous after use due to slippery and unsafe residue on the deck) rounded out our entertainment “kit”.

And, of course, there was my piano. However, getting the piano out only happened once (it is under the berth in the forward cabin); Wolfgang loved watching the kids play it.

We also enjoyed the Royalty for a Day rota system: Each day a name was drawn in sequence and that person was King or Queen for that day. On the first day Darin was King and he chose to have beef stroganoff for dinner and to play Monopoly. Most nights we watched movies – on the day I was Queen, my dinner was ratatouille, linked (predictably) with the kids’ movie of that name.

End Results

Our travel plan was to take the boat and anchor at each of the five primary Cultural Sites. Larry and I stayed on the boat to prepare meals, check weather forecasts and (when possible) rest up while the family took the dinghy ashore to visit each location. We were very lucky … we did get to visit every Cultural destination, plus Burnaby Narrows. We saw whales, deer and even three mola-molas (sunfish). We had mostly beautiful weather. We even experienced one very rough night – essential for a well-rounded BC trip. The children were all awake for this, but no one was greatly disturbed, except for little Brynn who wakened while Larry was out tending the anchor, and came to me at 3 a.m. to say: “Granny … did you know that there’s a man outside!” (Larry later wrote about this experience in Pacific Yachting: see ‘Safety in a Storm’ by Laurence Roberts – January 2020 issue.)

Sgang Gwaii

Visits to the various Cultural sites, the talks with the Watchpeople and the travel between sites were the main focus of this holiday. The Watchpeople treated our grandchildren wonderfully, and they always came back to report what a great time they had. They even described being given home-made brownies by Dee-Dee in Skedans and popsicles on the hot day at Hotspring Island. We sent them off in the dinghy and this gave the family – and us – valuable time to be alone.  Swimming was possible, but we only managed this once!

And there was one final highlight:  we had a show of everyone’s best photos after dinner on the last night. I recommend this; it was a great way to bond once again, to appreciate everyone’s photos and to save a memento of the trip.

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  1. Rita Balaam says:

    Sounbds like a lovely trip! Thanks for sharing.