On day two of my swim in Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) territory in the Great Bear Rainforest this year I continued my journey down Fisher Channel to Kvai (Koeye).
We started in the spot where I had landed the day prior. It was 9:42 AM, the air temperature 15C and the wind calm in the small cove. There were several humpbacks in the area. I knew they were present; but I didn’t realize how close they where.
My escort boats with Don, Colette and Ray and Kevin and MJ went ahead and Pam and Corey guided me out of the cove from their kayaks. At 10:00 AM my crew spotted the first humpback just off shore as I departed.
I swam around the corner of the island I departed from on the shores of the Burke. At 10:19 AM my crew spotted two more humpbacks feeding near the shore. I stopped, unaware of their presence. Pam and Corey worked to keep me distracted hoping I would not see them.
I was keen to move quickly past Namu. I remembered the metallic taste in the water from my previous years swim in the area. The years of toxic waste falling into the water off the dock at Namu have polluted this beautiful shoreline.
At 10:36 my crew sighted another humpback, this one directly in my path. Corey in his kayak and Kevin in his power boat moved ahead to try and encourage it along the way. My crew are often called upon to do many things; whale whispering was not something I had ever considered.
I was enjoying the swim. The conditions were pleasant and the scenery stunning. I have seen the shoreline from the ferry many times as I traveled through the area. I had never seen it this close though. The small pockets of islands and rock formations were beautiful.
At 10:51 another humpback made its presence known. My crew later told me that when they talked to each other about them on the radios they referred to them as friendlies in case I overheard them chatting. They were also protecting my partner Ray. They did not want him to become alarmed by the number whales I was swimming with.
At 11:10 AM the Northern Expedition BC Ferry passed by on the other side of the channel. I asked Don if he could radio the crew to thank them for their help. On our journey from Port Hardy to Bella Bella a few of the crew members met with us to discuss our swim route and provide us with information on the waterway. I always like to speak to people who live in the area or travel through to help me better understand where I am swimming. There is only so much you can learn from the charts. The crew of the Northern Expedition responded wishing us well.
I continued to swim down the channel to Kavi enjoying both the water and time spent with crew on breaks.
At about 2:00 PM the water began to change, and my speed slowed. When I am shoreline swimming I like watching the landscape to see how quickly I am going. My crew also watches closely and was aware of my lack of speed.
I found on this expedition Pam was always beside me and Corey often paddled ahead or off to the side to observe the water or maybe whale whisper. When I stopped, Corey was there and said “OK, I want you to swim to that point as quickly as you can”. I replied, “For you Corey, OK,” and did. But it was too late, the tide and changed and I was now swimming directly against the current.
The lesson of patience was being delivered directly to me again. I could see Kvai ahead but was making little gain. I continued on, determined to make it.
The water conditions continued to deteriorate with the waves picking up swiping me from the side. I had gone from point-to-point swimming to tree-to-tree swimming. I started by sighting a few trees ahead and focusing on that tree until I passed it. The water became so difficult that I had to change my strategy and focus on the tree directly beside me and swim to pass it. It seemed to take hours.
Pam and Corey worked with me encouraging me along the way the entire time. At one point when I paused for a break and Corey said “oh, did we tell you about the whale?” This was the first time I had heard anything about whales during the swim, so he definitely had my attention. Pam encouraged me along and said we would have to talk about it when I was done. I don’t know if this was a strategic move on the part of my crew, but it kept me going and had me moving faster as I wanted to hear what had happened.
As I pressed on I reminded myself to be patient. My crew would guide me, and I would arrive at Kvai when the ocean was finished delivering the lesson. Each time I stopped I asked where the entrance to the bay was. Each time I was told it was ahead. At some point I decided to keep my head down and stop asking.
At 4:03 PM my crew spotted a mom and baby orca off to the right. Soon after I paused for a break, pointed ahead to a piece of land, and Pam said, “Kavi is closer than you think”.
At 4:29 PM Colette radioed ahead to Kvai requesting permission to land on the beach in front of the lodge in Haíɫzaqv territory. We soon entered the bay. The water was calm but the current still strong. Corey and Pam guided me to the shore directly in front of the lodge. I exited the water at 4:42 PM.
The exit was emotionally overwhelming. Not just from the swim but also from knowing where I had received permission to land. I stood in front of the lodge for quite some time thinking about the history of the Haíɫzaqv and how they have been mistreated by my country and I apologized for what my ancestors, who are part of me, did to theirs.
Please consider a donation to the QQS Project Society which offers a youth camp at Kavi.