Maple Leaf Adventures

June-July 2003

This is an article from WaveLength Magazine, available in print in North America and globally on the web.
To download a pdf copy of the magazine click here: > DOWNLOAD

by Alan Wilson

Orcas play about the Maple Leaf.

Many who travel the coast will have seen the 92 foot Maple Leaf, BC's oldest tall ship, built in 1904 - sometimes called the 'Bluenose of the Pacific' after Canada's famous east coast schooner.

Originally the Maple Leaf was a private yacht, beautifully built from BC yellow cedar and Douglas fir, then for years she served as a halibut longliner fishing the Bering Sea. In the 1980s she was totally rebuilt for ecotourism trips up the coast, and now travels from the Gulf Islands up the central coast to Haida Gwaii and Alaska.

"We think of ourselves as a mothership, even though we don't yet have our own kayaks", says owner Kevin Smith. "We're a base of operations for explorations of isolated coastal areas using our two zodiacs (with quiet, low emission, Honda 4-stroke engines) for wildlife viewing and to access areas rarely visited."

"Of course, if paddlers want to put together a group and bring their kayaks for a private charter, that's great... although you do need to book a year in advance."

"The advantages of a mothership such as ours include getting further afield than you otherwise can, accessing more pristine backcountry, relieving the pressure somewhat on more popular paddling locales."

Their trips are accompanied by expert naturalists and a gourmet chef, and they focus on peak times for natural events like whale feeding, bird migrations, and grizzly salmon fishing. They also visit Northwest coast cultures including the Haida, Haisla, Kitasoo and Kwakwaka'wakw.

Maple Leaf Adventures also does school groups, and for the past 14 years has provided training to the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets. Kevin was a Marine Park ranger for over a decade and then embarked on training others for ecotourism, to help in the transition from resource extractive industries to nature-based tourism. At some point it dawned on him that this was exactly what he wanted to do. And when he had the opportunity to buy the Maple Leaf, his path was clear.

Since taking over the Maple Leaf, Kevin has signed protocol agreements with First Nations up the coast, involving their young people as guides where possible, attempting to faithfully interpret the culture to his guests.

"Through our protocol agreements, we charge guests a 'sustainability fee', with 100% of the proceeds to First Nations."

Kevin is committed to conservation on the coast. "The more I travel the world, the more fortunate I realize we are to live here. It needs our protection, and it's worth the struggle. We can't just take and take and not give back."

"I spent a good part of four years in meetings to help protect the coast", he says. "Now, when I pass newly protected Hanson Island, I feel proud tohave played a role in it."

"BC's coast is a world-class environmental gem and we've got to protect it. We're blessed with numerous protected areas compared to many other countries, but we've got to do more."

Maple Leaf Adventures: toll free in North America: 1-888-599-5323. Outside North America: 250-386-7245 (386-SAIL). .