Reports from the Ships 2016

Vancouver Island to Great Bear Rainforest, SV Maple Leaf – May 6-13 (updated)

May 7:
Just got the anchor down behind the Walkem Isles in Johnstone Strait.
It’s been an epic day, with 3 great shore trips, including an exploration of Vondonop Inlet, a hike up to a favourite hidden lake, and then two hours of a low-tide, intertidal float through, with naturalist Barb in a wetsuit and snorkel, in a high current pass / beach area.
The afternoon’s highlight was a pod of 4 transient / Bigg’s orcas, that seemed to be headed for Hole in the Wall at the same slack tide we were heading for.

[editor's note: The Orca Navigators & Hole in the Wall

On the BC and Alaska coast, huge surges of water through narrow passageways, as the tide rises and falls each day, create very strong currents, and sometimes whirlpools.

These currents are dangerous to navigation and some of them should only be transited when the current is 'slack'. Slack is the small time between the ebb (when the tide goes out) and flood (when the tide comes in). The water is not really moving at slack, so there is no current. This is a safe time to transit. There are usually 4 slacks a day.

All competent navigators keep track of these moments of slack, and plan their trips to go through passes at slack tide. The time of these moments of slack changes every day by about half an hour.

When I said all competent navigators above, I mean all competent navigators ...whether they are human or another species! People on the coast have observed for a long time that the orcas also know when slack tide will be at these passes. One of coastal boating life's great joys is to transit a pass in the company of a family of orcas -- who are so clearly seeming to be doing the same thing you are, for the same reason.]

May 8:

Today, we accomplished a big travelling day, with stops, the entire length of Johnstone Strait and out to Queen Charlotte Strait.

We had great Pacific White-sided Dolphins with us for a long ride today up Johnstone Strait.

Then a great hike in the Broughton Archipelago, from a place called Pig’s Ranch (no pigs or ranch now just rainforest) up to spectacular views at Eagle Eye, on on a hot afternoon.

Naturalist Barb was great with entertaining info and I even got our chef out for the hike, complete with an epic picnic lunch we provided for everyone at the look-out on top.

Tonight, en route to our anchorage, we spent time with a lovely humpback whale. Anchoring in Sunday Anchorage tonight.

- report from Capt. Kevin

May 9:

A morning spent with charismatic sea lions. Then some fishing en route to a beautiful cove on Northern Vancouver Island. Here’s a photo of one of our guest’s catches: a ling cod.

Photo by Kevin Smith

May 10:

An epic day as we left the islands of southern BC and in flat calm weather crossed to the mainland and rounded Cape Caution. Heading to the Hakai Recreation area and a great beach.

- Reports from Capt. Kevin

May 13:

The last couple of days have included exploring an offshore island group we rarely get to – always exciting to see who and what is living in these rugged and remote places that nonetheless have plenty of food for marine life due to strong currents bringing lots of nutrients through.

On our last morning, a gift from the Great Bear Rainforest: One of the elusive coastal wolves allowed us to see her or him, and to spend time together in the estuary.

- Reports from Capt. Kevin

Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), MV Swell – May 5-13 (updated)

Weather is absolutely GORGEOUS in Haida Gwaii, yesterday, today, and in the forecast for a few more days at least. Pinching ourselves and enjoying the moment!

After the land day exploring northern Haida Gwaii and the Masset and Skidegate areas, last night was spent at anchor in Thurston Hbr.

Today we did a skiff tour around the Tar Islands – very impressive intertidal life.

Enjoyed 4 hours ashore at Windy Bay – beautiful new Legacy pole, friendly watchmen, very informative, plus a forest hike with the watchmen through old growth and the old village site.

Several breaching humpbacks (including a mother that seemed to be teaching her calf how to breach) on the way to Ikeada Cove.

Anchored here overnight for early departure to SGaang Gwaay tomorrow morning.

- Report from Capt. Alex

May 8:

Another epic day!
Whales at Garcin Rock. Puffins at Flat Rock.
Great low tide beach exploration. Skiff tour up Louscoone Inlet. A real paradise cove found at North end of Skindaskun Island.

SGang Gwaay in the evening. Brilliant day!

- Report from Capt. Alex

May 12:

The anchor is down Carmichale Pass, and we’re putting on a last night wine and cheese party (and smoked sablefish), with a slideshow.

This morning we visited K’uuna (Skedans), and as we approached we had another humpback whale on the starboard side.

We counted 100 bald eagles at Skedans Islands.

Another great day today!

- Report from Capt. Alex

Vancouver Island’s Inside Passage (south), SV Maple Leaf – Apr 22-29

Captain Tavish reported it was a beautiful trip, starting in the very south of the southern Gulf Islands National Park reserve and finishing at Campbell River.

The trip started with a humpback whale feeding in Boundary Pass (the boundary referred to is the Canada – USA boundary), and abundant marine birds and mammals in the outer Gulf Islands.

Days of beach-combing, some epic sailing, rainforest walks and hikes, waterfalls, porpoises, beach bonfires, island explorations and 4 cool transient orcas (killer whales) rounded out the trip.

Photo of the Maple Leaf on this trip sailing in Georgia Strait with all five sails up is by Tavish Campbell.

- Report from Capt. Tavish.

Posted in Trip Insights & Experiences | Leave a comment

Sustainable Bear Viewing Wins Over Trophy Hunting Every Time

by Maureen Gordon, Maple Leaf Adventures

Photography guests 'shooting' bears with their camera and showing support for the ban on trophy hunting. Taken on a Maple Leaf Adventures trip in 2014 by Kevin Smith.

Here we are, April 1, 2015, and unbelievably it is the opening of another season in which people are permitted to enter our protected areas and kill grizzly bears just for fun.

But April 1 is also about the time that adventure tourism starts to pick up in British Columbia – and another, much more lucrative industry involving bears is starting up: sustainable bear viewing.

In fact, we think bear viewing wins against the trophy hunt no matter which way you view it:

  • Ethics: Providing delightful, educational experiences in proximity to bears without harassing them (bear viewing) versus frightening, injuring, stressing or killing them to get some paws, pelt or head to mount on one’s wall (trophy hunting). For us, sustainable bear viewing is clearly more ethical. Coastal first nations in the Great Bear Rainforest think so too. We respect and support their ban on trophy hunting.
  • Economics: Sustainable bear viewing right now provides 12 times the revenues as trophy hunting and there is lots more growth possible. Furthermore, bear viewing employs far more people in the province.
  • Conservation: Bear viewing ‘uses’ the resource (bears in their natural habitat behaving naturally) without reducing their population or giving a negative impact. In fact, the more people who view these bears in a sustainable manner and within the carrying capacity of the habitat, the more support there is for conservation of our natural areas. This is particularly important when the province does not have confirmed population numbers for grizzly bears in BC.
  • Popular support: Almost 90% of British Columbians support ending the trophy hunt in BC. (Note that the trophy hunt is about killing animals for fun. This is very different from food hunting, which typically targets prey species like deer rather than top predators (wolves, bears) like trophy hunting.

We’ve written about this for decades.

This year, we’re just going to provide links to what you can do: (1) action, (2) getting educated, and (3) supporting the sustainable bear viewing industry in BC with your dollars.

Write to the BC Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, Shirley Bond,
PO BOX 9071
V8W 9E2

Wanted Alive, Not Dead: The Case for Thriving Bears in BC by Kevin Smith, president, Maple Leaf Adventures

Economic Impact of Bear Viewing and Bear Hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, Centre for Responsible Travel and Stanford University

The need for proper bear population statistics, bears and salmon, and the purchase of trophy hunt licences by a conservation organization, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

Articles and videos from Pacific Wild.

The Coastal First Nations ban on trophy hunting.

Film about the issue, set in the very same estuary that the photo above was taken in, on

Supporting Sustainable Bear Viewing Businesses
One of the most powerful ways we vote is by deciding how we spend our money and where it goes. Come out with one of the many sustainable bear viewing organizations (see the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC for members) in BC. The more we are all successful together, the clearer the economic argument becomes.

By taking bear viewing trip (or a trip with bear viewing as one part of it) you’ll delight yourself, while also supporting a sustainable future.

If you’re interested in Maple Leaf Adventures trips, we have a few trips with availability for 2015 in BC or Alaska:

  • Great Bear Rainforest Spring, May 15-22
  • Great Bear Rainforest and Kitlope, May 23-30
  • Alaska Adventure, July 8-17, July 19-28
  • Great Bear Rainforest, Aug 17-25, Aug 26-Sep 3, Oct 2-10

For itineraries and details, visit or contact us.

And, happy International Bear Day, April 1st!

Posted in Conservation, Ecotourism | Leave a comment

Spirit bear mum & cubs on CBC Nature of Things Tonight

Mum and cub.

Spirit bears are the focus of a nature television show this evening on CBC’s long-running Nature of Things, at 8 pm.

Those who travelled with us in the Great Bear Rainforest in 2014 will see a mum you may remember: the spirit bear mum with black cubs we visited on Gribbell Island last fall with Maple Leaf and Marven. She’s the star of the show.

Although her focus is looking after her little cubs, she’s a poster child for the genetics of spirit bears. She’s white, her cubs are black. All of them carry the spirit bear genes and could have spirit bear children. The white bears are protected from hunting. The black ones are not. And yet if the goal is to protect spirit bears, the black ones should be protected too.

And for those of us that appreciate bears for their bear-ness and not for the colour of their fur, we believe that all bears, which are not a prey species in nature, are deserving of life unthreatened by hunting.

Here are a few amazing photos taken by Phil Stone on one of Maple Leaf’s Great Bear Rainforest trips to this mum’s territory last fall.

Spirit bear mum with one of her black-furred cubs, taken at Gribbell Island with Maple Leaf Adventures' guides and Marven Robinson, 2014

Fishing (mum) and sort-of fishing (cub).

One theory about why spirit bears occur in such a concentration in the Great Bear Rainforest / Nass Valley area of British Columbia, on Canada’s west coast, is that they have a fishing advantage over a black-furred bear during the day. Why? Because to a salmon looking up from a riverbed, a white bear looks more like the sky. That’s thanks to Dr. Tom Reimchen, at the University of Victoria and his research in the area.

Viewing the bears fishing on a Maple Leaf Adventures expedition cruise with our expert bear guides and Marven Robinson of the Gitga'at nation.

Mum and both her cubs.

Posted in Animals, Wildlife Research | Leave a comment


Is there something in the water in Victoria, BC? It’s a hotspot for eco-tourism, says independent third-party evaluator Green Tourism Canada.

At Maple Leaf Adventures, we are proud to have our office in a city and on a coast that places huge value on conservation based business. Hooray to all of our colleagues here and all along the coast who are making the world a better place, and proving that business and conservation can go hand in hand!

Below is the news story from Green Tourism Canada:

Maple Leaf Adventures was first certified by Green Tourism Canada since the program's start in 2011, and has been certified at the top level - Gold - ever since.


For Immediate Release                                                                      March 25, 2015


Four Victoria-based businesses have achieved Gold Certification by the internationally recognized Green Tourism program, for outstanding leadership in sustainability.

Victoria BC – Based on the world’s most credible sustainable tourism program[1], Green Tourism has certified over 2300 businesses in the UK, Ireland and Canada, and is the only 100% third-party verified sustainability certification program for tourism businesses.

Sustainability is a top priority in Victoria. “We view our destination and the landscape as a natural advantage and have written the concept of sustainability into our organization’s constitution and bylaws,” says Paul Nursey, President & CEO of Tourism Victoria.

Carbon measurement, supporting conservation education and offering local and organic food options are just some of the extras the Victoria-based Gold rated tour companies are being recognized for.

Kevin Smith of Maple Leaf Adventures, an advocate for ecotourism and conservation travel.

“We’re thrilled to be part of the program, and I encourage all other companies that value sustainability to participate,” says Kevin Smith, president of Maple Leaf Adventures. Maple Leaf offers boutique expedition cruises to pristine fjords and archipelagos of BC and Alaska, and have always operated with eco-tourism principles in mind.

Another Gold member, Brett Soberg from Eagle Wing Tours Ltd. states, “Being able to show the industry our Gold certification with Green Tourism was a very important factor in Eagle Wing Tours being recognized by it’s peers at the TIAC 2014 Canadian Tourism awards. We were presented with the Sustainable Tourism Award for making an outstanding contribution to the practice and promotion of sustainable tourism in Canada”. Eagle Wing Tours is a carbon neutral whale watching company who also contribute to 1% for the Planet and wildlife research, among their long list of environmental initiatives and awards.

Maple Leaf Adventures and Eagle Wing Tours were the first tour operators to become certified in Victoria, but others are quickly following suit. A 3-Hour Sail and Outer Shores Expeditions have recently become Gold members as well. “Conservation and the well-being of the ecosystems, cultures and communities of coastal British Columbia has always been at the very heart of the Outer Shores mission,” says Russell Markel, Outer Shores Expeditions President and Captain. “We felt it important to apply for the Green Tourism Canada rating because we wanted to be able to assure our guests and ourselves that we are doing all we can to ensure this beautiful region remains beautiful forever.

Rob McCallum, owner of A 3-Hour Sail adds, “We are committed to working in a sustainable way and the Green Tourism program provides mentorship and guidance in order to continually improve our sustainability practices”.

Next to be certified in Victoria is Victoria Harbour Ferry Co. who decided to join Green Tourism to become both more conscious and actionable around their environmental impact.

“To get certified, members must have sufficient scoring in each category. They could be amazing at recycling, but if they aren’t doing anything to promote active transportation or using energy efficient lighting, they may not receive their grading,” explains Lindsay Eason, Program Manager. “And that is why we are so proud of all the Gold Certified members around Victoria”, adds Eason. “The tour companies really know what it takes to operate in a sustainable way, not just in their operations but in the way they communicate with their guests and community.

With over 70 businesses certified or awaiting grading in BC, the program will begin expanding into other Canadian provinces in 2015. Green Tourism is the largest certification program of its kind in the world, helping members minimize waste, promoting the use of local suppliers, and advising on how to use water and energy efficiently, among several other areas related to green business. The program allocates Bronze, Silver and Gold awards to members who are assessed by independent auditors on more than 140 measures in eleven categories.

Tourism businesses and travelers interested in learning more about the program can visit or contact Romina Rooney at 1-800-469-7830 or email



Green Tourism Canada

Lindsay Eason, Green Tourism Program Manager

250-862-8941 ext 102

A 3-Hour Sail

Rob McCallum


Outer Shores Expeditions

Taya McAstocker

1-855-714-7233 (toll free)

Maple Leaf Adventures

Kevin Smith


Eagle Wing Tours

Brett Soberg


Victoria Harbour Ferry Co.

Sandy Ibrahim


Tourism Victoria

Tessa Humphries


About Green Tourism in Canada

By choosing a Green Tourism business in Canada, travellers are guaranteed:

That the business:

§  Is committed to sustainable tourism and minimizing its damage to the environment

§  Is operating in accordance with the relevant environmental regulations

That the site:

§  Meets minimum standards of good practice across a range of sustainable development indicators.

§  Has been audited by a qualified professional to ensure standards are maintained.

That we will:

§  Reassess the site every two years based upon a set of regularly updated sustainable development standards

§  Investigate any complaints received about the environmental performance or commitment of the business.

For tourism industry operators the Green Tourism criteria offers guidelines to tourism businesses on how to make their operations more sustainable while still delivering a high quality service. When developing the criteria consideration has been given to a wide range of social and environmental factors, as well as up-to-date technological developments. There are over 150 individual measures in the criteria, which focus on 10 different areas. Each business is scored on up to 60 measures and the results will establish what award level they have achieved, i.e. Going Green, Bronze, Silver, or Gold.

About Green Tourism in the UK

The Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) was originally developed by Shetland Environmental Agency Ltd (SEA Ltd) in the UK, and this company holds the primary copyright and intellectual property rights to all program material, criteria, workbooks, audit & report forms etc.

GTBS is the only sustainable tourism certification program in the UK endorsed by VisitEngland, VisitScotland, VisitWales and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.  The program has been validated by the International Centre for Responsible Tourism and there are over 2,400 GTBS certified members throughout the UK and Ireland.  Businesses are graded Bronze, Silver or Gold by qualified environmental assessors and can benefit from a significant marketing advantage and reduced running costs of up to 20%.

Green Tourism members are promoted through numerous websites including Expedia, Travelocity,, Sustrans, Booking Services International, Inntel and TripSketch iphone App.  Other benefits include discounts and offers with green suppliers, monthly e-newsletters and technical support through the members area.

Green Tourism was commissioned in 2007 by Qualmark, New Zealand to assist in the development of the Enviro-Mark program for New Zealand Tourism.  Green Tourism provided support and technical expertise for the Enviro-Mark program from 2007 – 2010. Green Tourism has also been working with the West Swedish Tourist Board since 2010 to help them develop a sustainability and quality tool for tourism businesses throughout Sweden.

About GreenStep Solutions Inc.

GreenStep Solutions Inc.  holds the exclusive license to deliver the Green Tourism program in Canada, and for seven years has worked with businesses and organizations to help them go green while providing a return on their investment, primarily through cost savings and marketing opportunities that attract new customers.

GreenStep provides facilitation services, sustainability education, and policy analysis in addition to conducting energy, waste, water and transportation assessments for businesses and making recommendations to reduce their costs and resource use.

[1] Totem Tourism Greenwash Report 2013

Posted in Green Business, News | Leave a comment

Replacing the Schooner Maple Leaf’s Bowsprit

In 2014, we replaced one of the Maple Leaf’s most recognizable attributes: her beautiful bowsprit.

What’s a Bowsprit?

The Maple Leaf's wooden bowsprit. Photo by Greg Shea.

The bowsprit (aka that long pointy bit on the bow of the ship) is like a third mast. It is made of strong, clear Douglas fir wood. The metal stays that help hold the foremast and main mast in place are attached to the bowsprit, and both the jib and the staysail are rigged to the bowsprit. That’s its technical purpose.

Fun: another, non-technical, use for the bowsprit. Photo by Mark Sissons.

But Maple Leaf’s guests also know the bowsprit as one of the most exciting parts of the ship to visit. Walking or sitting out on the bowsprit lets you ‘fly’ over the ocean in front of the ship – an incredibly stimulating experience. Sometimes thousands of tiny moon jellies pass under you in the water below. Sometimes there are porpoises or dolphins.

Every few decades, the bowsprit needs to be replaced. Replacing it is not just about calling up the hardware store and ordering one. As anything with classic wooden ships, it all starts with the tree — and a very skilled shipwright who has trained for years to turn the wood from that tree into a very specific shape for a bowsprit.

Here is the story of replacing Maple Leaf’s bowsprit, in photos.

The block of air-dried, clear, old-growth Douglas fir, sitting in the shipwright's shop. This is a section of a tree that is 13 inches x 13 inches x 27 feet in size, free of heartwood. Photo by Bo Spiller of Commodore's Boats. (Click to enlarge)

Working on the bowsprit in the winter of 2013-14. The Maple Leaf's bowsprit is a very unusual shape: a rectangle on deck, then switching to a tapered octagon to the tip. Photo by Bo Spiller.

Months after the work began, the finished bowsprit, with its unusual shape, weighed over 2000 pounds! The crew coated it with protective Cetol. With the Maple Leaf out of the water, her bow is 20 feet off the ground. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Captain Greg will guide the sprit under the cap rail and into place on the ship's foredeck. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Adjusting the angle.

James, on the line guiding the other end of the bowsprit. He looks a bit like he's flying the Maple Leaf like a kite! Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Ashley and Greg carefully slotting the bowsprit into its stainless steel fittings on the Maple Leaf's foredeck. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Nick looking over the new bowsprit, towards Commodore's Boats shed, where it was built. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Ashley fastening the staysail stay to the bowsprit. The forestay (tip of the bowsprit), whisker stays (just under) and bobstay (bottom), have already been attached. Photo by Bo Spiller.

The annual ritual of signing the bottom of Maple Leaf's keel at the completion of shipyard. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

The freshly painted Maple Leaf, her new bowsprit secure in place, heads back to the water for her new season. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

A satisfying shipyard. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Contact Maple Leaf Adventures

Posted in Neat Stuff | Leave a comment

Reports from Shipyard

Seemingly unending sunny skies and spring weather are giving the Maple Leaf Adventures crew a huge boost at our annual shipyard work this year.

Reports will come soon on what we’ve done to make the ships beautiful and ready to go for their expedition cruise season on the British Columbia and Alaska coast.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy these photos. We’ll update them periodically.

Liam and Grace painting the Swell's hull under blue spring skies. Photo by Jeff Reynolds Photography.

SV Maple Leaf and MV Swell, out of the water at Maple Leaf Adventures' shipyard. Photo by Jeff Reynolds Photography.

The first evening at shipyard, after power washing the two ship's hulls. SV Maple Leaf on the left, MV Swell on the right. Photo by Kevin Smith.The MV Swell being lifted out of the water for her annual shipyard session. Photo by Kevin Smith.

Lifting MV Swell out of the water for her annual shipyard maintenance. Photo by Kevin Smith.

Ask about a trip on the Maple Leaf or the Swell in BC and Alaska.

Posted in Neat Stuff | Leave a comment

New Inside Passage Small Ship: Inaugural Voyages with a “Swell” Tugboat History, Inside Passage, Canada

Boutique expedition ship Swell at anchor. (c) Kevin J Smith/Maple Leaf Adventures

A new, boutique ship begins offering expedition cruises along the Inside Passage in 2015. The classic, restored tugboat Swell – owned by the award-winning Canadian company Maple Leaf Adventures – begins service with two inaugural voyages in April and May. She joins Maple Leaf’s other classic ships in the fleet.

The first, Swell’s Maiden Voyage, runs in the balmy Gulf Islands National Park in southern Canada, Apr 20-24, 2015. Guests on the maiden voyage will be part of the ship’s blessing ceremony with some very special guests, and will receive commemorative gifts including a special bottle of wine from the local Saanich wine-growing region. (Inquire)

The second trip is the Swell’s Inaugural Inside Passage Cruise, Apr 25-May 2, 2015. This 8-day journey covers the inside passage of Vancouver Island, a historic waterway that the Swell herself has plied for over 100 years as a working tugboat before her conversion to a passenger vessel. (Inquire)

With just 10 guests on each, the trips provide an experience of surprising exploration, accessing beautiful islands and islets that are not accessible by ferry, as well as coastal villages.

Shore destinations include wildlife colonies, remote beaches, historic farms, and other areas of natural and cultural significance.

Natural history highlights in late-April and early May include:

  • spring wildflowers (white fawn lilies, pink shooting stars, purple camas, blue-eyed Mary, brown chocolate lily)
  • congregations of seabirds around upwellings filled with krill and small fish
  • flowering heritage fruit trees on old, historic farmsteads
  • visits by transient (Biggs) orcas to the Salish sea
  • sea lions, seals, river otters, bald eagles, ravens, turkey vultures
  • forest songbirds
  • mild weather

The gourmet food, expert local naturalist and crew, and plenty of shore explorations that characterize Maple Leaf’s trips are also highlights of this trip on the Swell.

About the MV Swell

Swell's classic beauty. Photo (c) Kevin Smith / Maple Leaf Adventures

The Swell is an 80-foot, classic wooden tugboat, built in 1912. She has been lovingly restored with exquisite craftsmanship and is a Transport Canada certified passenger carrying vessel.

Swell is the first of her kind of the coast with all-private staterooms with full ensuites. She also has a main salon, an enclosed aft lounge and an open-air top-deck lounge with hot tub. Guests are invited to join the crew in the ship’s wheelhouse or paddle one of the ship’s kayaks. She features expert naturalists and local guides. (View more about the ship.)

Both trips are open for booking.

Swell Maiden Voyage, Gulf Islands, BC, Canada
Dates: Apr 20-24, 2015, 5 days / 4 nights
Depart: Sidney, BC (just outside Victoria, BC)
Return: Sidney, BC (just outside Victoria, BC)
All-inclusive fare: Category 1 stateroom Cdn $2600, Category 2 stateroom $2900 plus taxes

Swell Inaugural Inside Passage Voyage, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Dates: Apr 25-May 2, 2015, 8 days / 7 nights
Depart: Sidney, BC (just outside Victoria, BC)
Return: Port McNeill, BC (a 45-min flight from Vancouver, BC)
All-inclusive fare: Category 1 stateroom Cdn $2875, Category 2 stateroom Cdn $3190 plus taxes

Inquire about Swell’s inaugural voyages.

About Maple Leaf Adventures
Selected for Canada’s “Signature Experiences Collection” by the Canadian Tourism Commission, Maple Leaf Adventures has provided conservation-focused, big adventures aboard small ships since 1986. With a reputation as one of Canada’s top sustainable tour operators, its multi-day excursions give guests one-of-a-kind experiences in some of the most beautiful and rare places in the world, often in areas that were once under threat of destruction or in dire need of protection. In 2012, Maple Leaf was awarded the Parks Canada Sustainable Tourism Award, for promoting the appreciation of Canada’s natural, cultural and aesthetic heritage, while also protecting them. As a long time practitioner of ecotourism, Maple Leaf Adventures pioneered travel in BC’s Great Bear Rainforest and northwestern Vancouver Island and has made significant contributions to conservation. National Geographic Adventure has rated Maple Leaf Adventures one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth”. For more information, visit

Photos: Gorgeous professional photos are available upon request.

Media Contact:
Maureen Gordon, Maple Leaf Adventures 250-386-7245 (o) or 250-881-6143 (m)

Posted in Gulf Islands (BC) National Park, News, Trip Insights & Experiences, Vancouver Island & Broughton Archipelago | Comments Off

Brown Bears of Pack Creek, Admiralty Island, Alaska

Wildlife photographer Phil Armitage shared our Pack Creek visit with Capt Kevin and our guests, in Alaska in 2013.  Pack Creek, on Admiralty Island, is one of the places we view brown bears on our boutique Alaska adventure cruises.

Phil made this lovely and informative short video about the first half of the day …on the mudflats where bears catch salmon, eat sedges and dig for clams. The second half of the day, at viewing stands in the forest over a creek, are not included in this video.

The Pack Creek area is a special haven for brown bears. The bears have been habituated to human presence for many decades and, since they haven’t been hunted in this area, they calmly accept our presence and go about their lives around us. This is not the case everywhere in Alaska for brown bears — nor even on the whole of Admiralty Island.

Visitation at Pack Creek is restricted to 12 people per day, and only to commercial operators with a very special permit. We are fortunate to have been awarded this permit, so that our guests can gain an understanding of the true nature of these fascinating, intelligent, and often subtle animals, each with a unique personality.

You’ll also see the SV Maple Leaf at anchor near the beginning of the video. Nice work, Phil! (You can see more of his work here.)

Learn more about Maple Leaf Adventures’ boutique Alaska expedition cruises.

Posted in Alaska, Animals, Wildlife Research, Expedition Notes, Trip Insights & Experiences, Video | Comments Off

MV Swell’s Maiden Voyage – Special Guests and Commemorative Gifts for Guests on This Special Trip

Photo by Jason Bradley

Guests on Swell’s maiden voyage with Maple Leaf Adventures, Apr 20-24, will be part of the ship’s blessing ceremony with some very special guests, and will receive commemorative gifts including a special bottle of wine from Saanich as we celebrate putting our new ship into service.

Photo by Kevin J. Smith

The MV Swell is Maple Leaf Adventures newest ship, a classic converted tugboat. After her decor and sustainability upgrade this winter, her maiden voyage takes place April 20-24, 2015 in remote parts of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.

The trip provides a trip of surprising exploration, accessing beautiful islands and islets that are not accessible by ferry. These include wildlife colonies, remote beaches, historic farms, and other areas of natural and cultural significance.

Natural history highlights in mid- to late- April include:

  • spring wildflowers (white fawn lilies, pink shooting stars, purple camas, brown chocolate lily)
  • congregations of seabirds around upwellings filled with krill and small fish
  • flowering heritage fruit trees on old, historic farmsteads
  • visits by transient (Biggs) orcas to the Salish sea
  • sea lions, seals, river otters, bald eagles, ravens, turkey vultures
  • forest songbirds
  • mild weather

    Photo by Kevin J. Smith

The gourmet food, expert local naturalist and crew, and plenty of shore explorations that characterize Maple Leaf’s trips are also highlights of this trip on the Swell.

The trip begins with a blessing ceremony and champagne toast by the ship’s new honorary godmothers. These are prominent British Columbians with a relationship to the vessel, and who represent the values of Maple Leaf Adventures: coastal conservation and wildlife, coastal cultures, education, and eco-adventure travel. Following the blessing, the ship will embark from the harbour and the godmothers will cruise with the Swell’s guests before returning to Sidney by zodiac, as the trip continues.

Photo by Jason Bradley

The maiden voyage is open for booking.

Dates: Apr 20-24, 2015, 5 days / 4 nights
Depart: Sidney, BC (just outside Victoria, BC)
Return: Sidney, BC (just outside Victoria, BC)
All-inclusive fare: Category 1 stateroom $2600, Category 2 stateroom $2900
Inquire about the Swell maiden voyage

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

William Watts – The Maple Leaf’s Colourful Builder

This is the final piece in a series of articles celebrating the SV Maple Leaf’s 110th birthday, in 2014.

Capt. and Mrs William Watts ca 1912, courtesy Vancouver Archives

Strong, fast, and up for adventure: the SV Maple Leaf shares these three traits with William Watts, the man that made her.

While Alex Maclaren was the businessman that had her built, William Watts was the businessman that built her. He also built one of the most important entities in Vancouver, BC, one that still operates to this day: Vancouver Shipyard (now Vancouver Shipyards).

Here is a thumbnail sketch in tribute to William Watts, his vision, and his craftsmanship in constructing the famous Maple Leaf.

It is fair to say that boats were in William Watts’ blood. His father, also William Watts, arrived at Collingwood Ontario and began that town’s well-known tradition of boatbuilding in 1850.

Vancouver Shipyard and her staff, circa 1902, at Coal Harbour (Burrard Inlet), Vancouver, BC. William Watts is standing in the back row, centre, with arms folded. Courtesy Vancouver Archives.

William the younger moved to British Columbia in 1887. After ferrying miners up Harrison Lake for a couple of years, Capt. Watts and business partner Edward Trott opened a boat building business in 1889.

The Maple Leaf under construction at Vancouver Shipyard, Coal Harbour, in 1904. Courtesy Vancouver Archives.

In 1902 this business became Vancouver Shipyard. It was located at Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver, and this is where the Maple Leaf was built. Now, Coal Harbour is one of the city’s upscale neighbourhoods, filled with high-rise condominiums, parkland, marinas, rowing clubs, and restaurants between downtown and Stanley Park.

William Watts, BC Single Sculling Champion in 1890. Photo taken at Victoria, BC. Courtesy Vancouver Archives.

It’s fitting that rowing clubs are a part of the scene in this part of Burrard Inlet, because one of Capt. Watt’s notable achievements involved rowing. He broke records for speed and, in 1890, he won the BC rowing championships in a rowing shell he designed and built himself! Not a bad choice to design the fastest racing yacht on the coast in 1904.

(Coincidentally, Capt. Kevin Smith, who now runs Maple Leaf Adventures that owns the Maple Leaf, was also a BC single scull rowing champion, almost exactly 100 years later!)

Capt. Watts remained adventurous all of his life.

William Watts, driving, with Mrs Watts and friend in the back seat. Take a look at the condition of the roadside and imagine it in a rainstorm! At the start of a cross-continental road trip in 1922. Courtesy Vancouver Archives.

This photo, from 1922, marks the start of just one adventure: Capt. Watts and his wife DROVE from Vancouver to Boston! Although automobile use was skyrocketing in 1922 (by 1923 there were cars for 1 in 7 Americans), it was still early days for cars and roads. Driving Vancouver to Boston these days is a big trip. Imagine what it was like when you know you’d have to fix your own car multiple times during the trip. A great adventure!

In addition to rowing and driving, Capt. Watts was also an avid sailor and sports fisher. And, according to his family, he liked a bit of fun. He loved to visit Hawaii and while there he actually learned to hula the right way, in a grass skirt. One historian refers to Watts as “one of BC’s most colourful personalities since the turn of the [20th] century.”

The Maple Leaf under sail in the Salish Sea, with William Watts' descendents aboard, 2004 (the year of Maple Leaf's centennial). Photo (c) Kevin Smith / Maple Leaf Adventures

In 2004, the year of the SV Maple Leaf’s centennial, descendants of William Watts sailed aboard the ship on one of our Gulf Islands National Park Reserve trips.

They brought with them a treasured album, with photos and history of Capt. Watts. It’s kept aboard the Maple Leaf for our guests to peruse and get to know the man whose drive and vision created two of the most enduring pieces of boating history on the BC coast: Vancouver shipyard, and the schooner Maple Leaf.

Learn more about the SV Maple Leaf here.

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