Sailing in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest
British Columbia’s spectacular Pacific Coast is a maze of islands, inlets and fjords, covered in great swathes of temperate rainforest and home to an abundance of wildlife. Perhaps the best way to explore this area is from the water, and so I joined a 5-day sailing trip aboard the beautiful Island Odyssey, a 68ft ketch that carries a maximum of 16 passengers.
From Prince Rupert we sailed north via Kwinamass Bay and into the grizzly bear sanctuary at Khutzeymateen Inlet (known as K’tzim-a-deen by local Tsimshian First Nation communities). With the sun shining and our sails billowing overhead we stopped to explore untouched islands, learning about the strange and colourful invertebrates that can be found along the intertidal zones here – rockpools inhabited by seastars, urchins, anemones and more, all explained with great enthusiasm by our fantastic onboard naturalist guide, Lindsay.
Crossing the open waters of Chatham Sound we encountered Dall’s porpoise (one of the fastest marine mammals) and a pod of orcas, before sighting our first grizzly bear at Kwinamass Bay. A shore landing at the estuary the following morning allowed us to see a bear’s scratching tree, stomp trail, footprints and scat, offering a greater understanding of how bears live in the wild. And so we were fully prepared as we entered the protected waters of Khutzeymateen…
“This region is home to Canada’s highest concentration of grizzly bears…”
Part of the Great Bear Rainforest, this region is home to Canada’s highest concentration of grizzly bears and we certainly weren’t disappointed. We saw around 20 bears in total – from solitary females, a mother with cubs and most exciting of all, two males battling it out for the affections of one poor female, chasing around the hillside and leaving us in no doubt as to just how powerful these mighty creatures are.
Leaving the Inlet we were treated to the sight of another pod of orcas, three small ones learning from a much bigger one how to follow the steep shoreline, rolling and tail-flicking as they hunted coho salmon. Witnessing an orca breaching in this incredible setting was every bit as thrilling as our close encounters with grizzlies, and as the sun set over the water we sat on the deck with a glass of wine, soaked up the views and wondered what the next day would bring…