The Pacific Yellowfin

After the Mountain Surf Adventures GBR SUP Expedition, Jen and I drove back to Squamish and a day later i was on a Pacific Coastal flight back up to the central coast in Bella Bella to meet the boat Pacific Yellowfin and it’s captain and crew for back to back trips. I had last guided with for captain Colin Griffinson and the boat in 2009 for the boats inaugural trip to the Greatbear Rainforest. It was great getting back to Bella Bella a day before the trip. I had a chance to visit Chris Williamson who is a woodworking teacher at the high school and who spearheaded the Bella Bella Wooden SUP project(see previous blog post). He talked about his upcoming plan to build more standup paddleboards starting in January with his new woodworking class. We also had dinner with Ian and Karen McAllister at Shearwater and did a bit of shopping at Rosie’s, a cute little boutique shop that sells native jewellery, pottery and other unique coastal gifts.

Viewing from the bow of the Pacific Yellowfin

We woke that morning and picked up the 6 guests for our 5 day trip from Bella Bella to Hartley Bay. The Pacific Yellowfin is a magnificent boat. The boat was built as a coastal freighter for the US Army during World War 2. She was painstakingly refit in 2003 and now boasts all the amenities of a luxury charter yacht while retaining her unique character. The boat was built in 1943 and is 114′ long, has a 30′ beam, with a wood hull construction and is powered by twin Atlas Imperial(Direct Reversing) engines. It can travel from BC to Japan without filling up, a result of the 18000 gal fuel capacity. The crew is talented. The boat is lead by Captain Colin Griffinson, the entertaining Irishman with a love for boats and a very competent seaman. Jack, the engineer on the boat is a former SeaSpan Chief Engineer and at 74 years of age has been working on boats since he was 15. Brilliant and funny, Jack has been on the boat for 8 years and keeps this 70 year old boat in tip top condition. The crew is filled out by boat steward, Sebastian, Butterfield and Robinson guide Dominique and super talented chef Milan.

The Bridge of the 1943 Yellowfin complete with antique barber chair

With Canadian guests aboard we left Bella Bella and made out way around Driad Lighthouse and west through Seaforth Channel and out into a building swell in Milbanke Sound. It was good to be back on the boat. Our first night was spent anchored at the mouth of a mainland estuary and river. Hikes up the river revealed it choked with chum salmon with numerous Bald Eagles perched above eyeing the natural buffet. We were looking for bears but the evening hike did not reveal any of them although we did see numerous fish traps at low tide, obvious signs of traditional fall use by the Kitasoo people of Klemtu.

Mist shrouded rainforest

We woke after a restful sleep and hiked back up the river in a downpour but again, we were not successful in seeing any Grizzlies or Black Bears but just sitting quietly along a salmon stream in the fall is uplifting, reflective and meditative. We moved on and made out way into Fiordland Provincial Park. As the Yellowfin motored along we loaded the guests and got them into the tender to explore waterfalls and a stunning river system on Pooley Island. Floating up this salmon river on Pooley brought us an area where a wolf pack had pulled salmon out of the river at low tide and had fed for hours, most likely the previous night. It was an amazing site seeing all the salmon with just their heads eaten, the signature of a coastal wolf. A time lapse video would show the wolf pack eating just hours before our arrival. I counted at least 60 salmon that had been wolf killed. Seeing this made me want to spend a few days in this system looking and waiting for the pack to appear but with a dropping tide we had to make our way back out. Deep into Fiordland we went. Our path lead us to Kynoch Inlet where the Pacific Yellowfin was already anchored. I have to tell you that i have been to a lot of places on our beautiful coast and in the Greatbear Rainforest but Kynoch Inlet is the most spectacular place i have been to. The whole inlet is towered over by sheer granite monoliths that rise directly from the ocean with waterfalls, glaciers and mist draped rainforest’s. For my friends in Squamish, it was lined with “Chiefs” the world class climbing destination in my backyard. At the head of the inlet is a rich river and estuary with a nearby lagoon that also hosts it’s own river ecosystems. I was completely blown away by the beauty of the place. The rivers were choked with salmon and feeding birds. That evening in the fading light we saw our first Grizzly Bear, a young one, patrolling the low tide in search of salmon. When we awoke that morning we took the tender back out to look for more bears early in the morning and to explore the nearby lagoon. I could not stop looking at the incredible, steep terrain, wondering if anyone had ever been to the tops of these peaks

Coastal Wolf killed salmon site on Pooley
The incredible Kynoch Inlet
From there we headed north to the Khutze Inlet, another incredible fiordYellowfin past a resting group of harbour seals and under the watchful eyes of numerous Bald Eagles. Once on board our trip headed north to the protected anchorage and natural hotsprings of Bishop Bay.
Coho fishing remote rivers

We made one more stop at another grizzly river where we hiked through ancient forest along a well used bear trail. Being in grizzly territory certainly peaks all of your senses. My eyes were wide and hearing sharp as we followed grizzly tracks upriver that were made that morning before our arrival. One of the highlights for me was the deep impression of tracks we followed in the moss that had been made by the bears. Bears, in this case Grizzlies, will use the same trails year after year and will step in the exact same spot every time. The moss was depressed several inches and were at least 12 inches in length.

Year after year of Grizzly tracks in the moss.

The following day was spent exploring the north east corner of Princess Royal Island, an area i know very well. As we waited for the tidal rapids in Cornwall Inlet to subside we followed two Humpback whales for an hour as they made their way along shorelines, stopping occasionally to bubble net feed. They did not seem to enjoy our presence so we moved on into the inlet where I took the group to visit ancient burial sites and the Raven Longhouse that was built in 2000. The inlet was again stunning and beautiful.

Cornwall Inlet

After lunch we met Marven Robinson, the Gitga’at bear viewing star of the documentary SPOIL and good friend, for our afternoon of bear viewing. After a 15 minute hike into the stands we were rewarded with an incredible afternoon of viewing. In the matter of two hours our group saw two different Spirit Bears, a black mom with two black cubs and at least three other black bears. After 12 years of bear viewing in this river it was one of the most memorable afternoons i have ever had. The guests were really excited and moved by the sight of such incredible animals fishing comfortably only feet away in their natural environment. Stellar Jay’s and a frisky Marten made themselves known with the river as they also fed on the salmon, a keystone species which provides food for at least 200 species in the fall.

The Spirit Bear
The Rainforest Ghost searching for salmon

With a storm force wind forecasted for the next couple of days we made out way to the anchorage in Hartley Bay to wait out the storm. Over the next couple of days the Yellowfin was hit with 65 mile per hour gusts and the guests had to wait for an extra day to fly out. With our first set of guests safely on their way back to Vancouver we awaited our our next set of guests to come into Hartley Bay and to the Pacific Yellowfin. The following four days would be spent with these guests much like the first, exploring the Greatbear Rainforest.

Mamma bear with cubs
Mamma bear teaching the cubs to fish

The Pacific Yellowfin is an incredible platform to explore from and beautiful compliment to the Greatbear Rainforest. Thanks to Colin and the crew for two superb trips. I am already looking forward to more trips next season.


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