2022 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 1A, Day 11 – Echo Bay – Port McNeill | NW Explorations

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2022 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 1A, Day 11 – Echo Bay – Port McNeill

Echo Bay was a sweet place to spend our morning, sipping on hot coffee and preparing for the final traverse of our trip. Violet-green Swallows were taking advantage of the rising sun and greeting us into our morning with graceful glides and playful chirps. Our 30 nautical mile cruise will have the fleet arriving in Port McNeill with enough time to settle in and prepare for tomorrow’s travels home.

But! Before we think too much about being sent on our way and into our next adventures, the fleet says good morning across the docks and expresses gratitude for all the experiences we’ve collected along this trip. Tossing lines and getting off the dock around 9am set us up for an ideal crossing entering the Broughton Archipelago. Soaking up our final stretch made for a very fun final cruise as we all spent time basking in the final wonders.

Making our way along Retreat Passage before reaching the Broughtons, we cruised by the Health Bay Gwayasdums village of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation community. A stunningly vivid restored longhouse immediately caught our eye. In 2014, the community completely restored their Bighouse as part of their Gwayasdums Bighouse Restoration Project. With the structural renovations and intricate works of artistry in honour for their village’s traditional design, they aimed to capture the attention of passing boaters and provide a welcome stopping point for tour operators and visitors. Their hard work did just that.

The Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation community here on Gilford Island is one of the few communities built on the original village site. People have lived for thousands of years and it’s a very important part of First Nation’s cultural preservation to support and sustain current members of their community. However, due to lack of jobs, a fair amount of the community has moved away. In attempts to support their people in being able to return home, leaders developed the “Come Back Home Initiative”. They then embarked on an award-winning five-year plan to create a tourism-based economy centered on their unique cultural heritage.

Cruising into the boundaries of the Broughton Archipelagos, we were all captivated by the maze-like islands on either side of our vessels. These islands create such an astounding marine ecosystem with a flurry of inlets, coves, beaches, and bays that make for one of the most untouched and preserved exploration destinations in the pacific northwest.

These cherished coves were intimately used by First Nation communities for thousands of years and visitors can still come across ancient shell middens and modified trees. The sheltered waters and rich ocean life was harnessed in traditional constructions of clam terraces and coastal village sites, with intact petroglyphs found by archeologists offering profound evidence of these settlements. Today the Broughton Archipelago is a protected Provincial Park, full of rich cultural and natural history.

Before we rounded the corner into Port McNeill, we took a quick detour into Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Cormorant Island has been grounds of First Nations people for thousands of years. Traditionally, totem poles are visual statements about the ceremonial privileges and identity of those who rose them. The Kwakkwaka’wakw First Nation believes that nothing lasts forever, and when a totem falls to the earth it has served its purpose and it is time to let go. With 42 totems stood and a few having fallen over with time, Alert Bay is known for not only the displayed totems along the water, but their world’s tallest totem pole. This totem was stood at 173 feet tall but a lost its top 10 feet to high winds. Yet, it still stands as the tallest in the world at 163 feet. This pole represents different factions of the Kwakkwaka’wakw First Nations people stood by the ‘Namgis traditional Bighouse.

As we made our way into Port McNeill the crew aboard Deception tied everyone up to the dock and made sure that they all had what the needed to begin settling in for the evening, feeling comfortable and ready to take off tomorrow afternoon. It has been such an incredible journey, and it’s going to be hard to send off our fleet, but we all feel so thankful to have shared such an experience alongside each other. 350 nautical miles from Bellingham, we not only grew as mariners, but we grew significantly closer to the people we shared this journey with. Believe it or not, most of us are already planning our next explorations alongside one another.

P.S. Is Alaska on your bucket list? We can take you there! Email us to reserve your spot on our 2023 Mother Goose AK Flotilla. charters@nwexplorations.com 

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