Arts and Entertainment

Gwaii not?

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Special to the Sequim Gazette

In the summer of 2007 our team, Shawna Franklin, Leon Sommé and renowned cinematographer Justine Curgenven, circumnavigated Haida Gwaii — The Queen Charlotte Islands — by kayak.

Leon and I were drawn to Haida Gwaii since our shared days studying biology at the University of Minnesota. Ever since reading about this isolated and rugged archipelago in the book “The Hidden Coast” by Joel Rogers, we dreamed of someday doing a kayak journey there.

When Justine called us and asked us to go with her on this journey, we could not believe our luck.

Haida Gwaii promised everything that we seek in an expedition: challenging seas and an uninhabited coastline, bountiful natural history, and both a fascinating historical and modern culture.

High waters and winds
Haida Gwaii is perched at the edge of the continental shelf 50 nautical miles off the northwest coast of British Columbia. The seas surrounding these islands are some of the most challenging in North America.

The feared southern tip of the islands, Cape Saint James, is rated as the windiest place in North America. The islands constantly are buffeted by storms from the open Pacific bringing high winds and associated seas that challenge the skills of the best paddlers.

These islands were not glaciated in the latest ice age, thus producing a “Galapagos of the north,” a unique biological zone with many endemic animals and plants.

The indigenous Haida are world famous for their advanced culture and artwork. Haida Gwaii (“Land of the People”) is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites containing cultural artifacts of this advanced civilization.

During our journey, we were fortunate to be able to stop and explore these incredible historical village sites, which quickly are returning to nature.

30 days at sea
We left our home of Orcas Island in July 2007 and met Justine. Together we rolled our kayaks onto the B.C. ferry destined for the Queen Charlottes. We lived out of our kayaks for four weeks without logistical shore support, taking 11 days to circumnavigate Graham Island and then completing Moresby Island in 20 days, a combined 500-mile journey.

Traveling lightly and resupplying only once, we met the challenges presented both by the sea and unpredictable weather. Along the way we got to know the warm and gracious inhabitants of this remote outpost and we were fortunate to have met contemporary Haida artists who are keeping their heritage alive today through their art.

Justine filmed our entire adventure along the way and since has produced a documentary about our trip, which can be seen as part of her popular “This is the Sea 4,” a DVD series.
Please come join us to hear our stories of this magical land.

About the presenters:
Leon Sommé and Shawna Franklin are co-creators of Body Boat Blade International, a kayak school devoted to producing the safest, most skilled and fun paddlers and coaches in the world. They share a passion for paddle sports and the natural world.

In 1991, they met at a kayak rolling session at the University of Minnesota while working toward their biology degrees. In 1995, they moved to Orcas Island where they turned their passion into their livelihood.

Their many accomplishments include the successful circumnavigation of Iceland in 2003, with Chris Duff, a trip of more than 1,600 miles in 81 days. In 1998, Sommé circumnavigated Vancouver Island, a trip of more than 700 nautical miles in 28 days.

This Week's Presentation: Circumnavigation of the Queen Charlotte Islands by Sea Kayak
By: Shawna Franklin and Leon Somme
When: 7:00 PM Thursday, February 4, 2010
Where: Sequim High School Cafeteria, 601 N. Sequim Avenue, Sequim
Admission: $5 at the door  (kids 18 and under are free)
Traveler's Journal is presented by the Peninsula Trails Coalition as a fundraiser for the Olympic Discovery Trail. All the money raised is used to buy food and project materials for volunteers working on trail projects. For more information call Dave Shreffler at 683-1734.
Next Weeks Presentation:  World “Cash” Adventure: Exploring 9 Countries in 15 Months

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