A Captain and his ‘Family’ Crew

The M.V. Island Bay is a kayak “Mother Ship” that sleeps 5 – 6 guests, carries 6 kayaks, tows a dinghy and is equipped with various salmon and halibut fishing gear and traps for crabs and prawns.  This vessel explores the islands of Haida Gwaii offering its guests a unique outdoor tour adventure. And a tour is only as informative, knowledgeable and professional as its crew and captain.

Meet our most knowledgeable and professional captain – Barrett Johnson!

Captain Barrett Johnson

We were extremely fortunate that Barrett had arranged for us to travel on the Island Bay for 2 nights and give us our own personal tour of this area that he loves so much. We were also fortunate that son Bryan and Lisa were also here and able to stay on the coach with the pets. We likely would not have been able to make this adventure happen without family pitching in to help!

With our fishing licenses in hand, on Monday, June 11th we drove 90 minutes from Masset to the quaint dock and harbour in Queen Charlotte. We were scheduled to meet Barrett at noon. We transferred all our gear, cooler and some food to the dock, parked the truck and he picked us up. Barrett wanted to try to hunt deer so he picked up his hunting license and deer tags. After eating some lunch, unpacking our gear and filling the fresh water tank we were on our way!

Captain’s Planned Route

Queen Charlotte through the East and West Narrows to the Pacific Ocean. Our planned overnight spot at Dawson’s Inlet. Returned back through the Narrows to Queen Charlotte.

Our 1st task – drop the crab trap! Barrett marked the spot on his map so we would be sure to find it on our return.

The “Narrows”

To get to the west coast of Haida Gwaii we had to pass through Skidegate Channel, famous for its shallow waters, fast current and twisting channels. Skidegate Channel consists of the East Channel, the West Channel and the deep Trounce Inlet in between. The East Channel is the tricky one: 3 miles of narrow winding water marked with red and green beacons. At places it is only 60’ wide with recorded depths of less than 6 inches at low tide! And tidal currents are fast!

We had to pick our way around the beacons in a sea-going slalom course, putting the red beacons to starboard (the right side) and the greens to port (the left side). Sounds simple until you see that sometimes the next green is to the left of the last red and the next red to the left of the green. The tide current speed combined with the boat speed and we were moving – a speed that wouldn’t leave much time for making sure you had the right beacon – if you were an inexperienced boater!

The East Narrows

In what seemed like only a few minutes we were through and in the quiet waters of Trounce Inlet. Then we were entering West Narrows. With only 4 beacons and a wider channel the West Channel was easier.

We exited West Narrows into the mighty Pacific Ocean – just as the wind picked up and the rain started.


Captain Barrett had heard there was some good salmon fishing up the way so he turned the bridge over to me (we were on auto-pilot…) and he went out to set up the down riggers.  Chuck tried his hand at it but we were rocking and rolling pretty good and Captain Barrett thought it best to move to calmer waters.   Unfortunately, no salmon!

Moving to shallower waters out come the Halibut jigs. Just a big hook tied to some line wrapped around a board.  Jigging for halibut is all in the arm movement. Short and long bursts to keep the hook travelling through the water in an effort to lure in the fish.   Unfortunately, no halibut!

I’m helping!

Arrghhh – a measly little “Boccaccio”!

Captain and Crew Setting Prawn Traps

It was getting late and we headed to Dawson Inlet  –  our overnight anchoring spot. Before we get there it was time to bait and ready the prawn traps so we could set them out in the Inlet.  This was a lot of work  – attaching lines to a lead buoy, spacing out the traps along the line, attaching weights to sink the traps followed by a tail-end buoy. There were 8 traps that the guys prepared and sunk. I was manning the Bridge (again… on auto pilot)!

Readying the prawn traps

Captain’s Planned Overnite Spot – Dawson Inlet

Looking North – in Dawson Inlet
Looking South – in Dawson Inlet

Captain’s Dinner Table

Captain Barrett had caught some crabs earlier and he showed us how to clean and cook them.  Accompanied with rice and a salad, dinner was served – and it was delicious!

Change of Plans and our Prawn Haul!

While preparing dinner we received a call on the satellite phone.   We were going to have to get back earlier than originally planned.  After dinner we would head back to Queen Charlotte so as to arrive in the morning.  The challenge was not only going to be waiting out the low tide before entering the Narrows but, manoeuvring through the Narrows in the dark.

At about 10:30 p.m. we pulled up anchor and went back to collect the prawn traps. They had been in the water for nearly 4 hours so we were not sure what we’d catch, if anything. Woo-hoo!  An octopus! A star fish! And, a couple dozen good size prawns! We were all giddy!

Captain at Night

I went down to our cabin at about midnight.   At that point Barrett put down the anchor and he and Chuck sat to wait for the water to rise in the Narrows.

At 1:15 a.m. he started out through the Narrows with the rising tide.   The night was misty and rainy and the vessel’s spotlight illuminated the entire way.

We were through the Narrows just after 2:30 a.m. and Captain Barrett anchored us a couple of hours of sailing just outside of Queen Charlotte.  He and Chuck got some shut-eye and we awoke to the start of the engine and clanking sound of the anchor re-wind at 6:20 a.m.  We were off again!

Holy Craboly…

I came up around 7:00 a.m. Sipping on my cup of coffee – I asked Barrett:

Are we stopping to pick up the crab trap?
Oh my gosh, I forgot all about it! Good thing you came up when you did ‘cause the trap is just up ahead!

We stopped, pulled up the crab trap and squealed with delight! It was full!

Barrett emptied the trap and one-by-one he examined and measured the width of each shell, only keeping the males. Anything smaller than 7 inches had to be thrown back in. There were 18 crabs in the trap and we brought home 10 (that’s all we could fit in the bucket). Back overboard the others went! Talk about giddy – again!

Less than a day!

We arrived at the Queen Charlotte dock close to 8:00 a.m. After securing the boat, packing up our stuff and cleaning up the vessel Barrett was on his way back to Masset.

Our adventure was a short twenty hours – but felt a lot longer!  It was non-stop something to see and something to do. It was spending one-on-one time with a son we don’t get to see often and making some amazing memories. Captain Barrett and the M.V. Island Bay were a team – both working efficiently to keep us warm, safe and entertained.  We learned a lot and saw first hand his love and enthusiasm for what he does. There’s nothing better than family and adventure and, when combined together, spells PROUD!







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