May 13th, 2016 | By: Gregory Smart | Leg 1: Inside Passage
There was no rumble of diesel engines this morning as we awoke to our first lay day of the trip. Yet another bright day of sun shone down on the North Island Marina and we dug shorts and short sleeves out of the bottom of our drawers- the weather is unseasonably sunny and warm, but there are no complaints from us!
In the morning many of us walked down the waterfront to catch the public ferry over to Alert Bay, the capital of the ‘Namgis first nation, a band of the Kwakwaka’wakw people which inhabit much of the region. The town sits mostly strung along the southeastern shoreline of Cormorant Island, a crescent shaped island about four miles south east of Port McNeill.
Alert Bay was once the hub of the entire Broughton Island region, at times hosting hundreds of fishing boats and their rowdy crews. Today, it is a quieter place, but the town center exudes a rustic charm that hints at its rollicking past. As is common all over the world, island life is lived at a slower pace, and the local café is full of old timers swapping gossip and lying about fish they’ve caught. Everyone greets us as we stroll along the boardwalk, and many offer tips on what to see or where to find interesting sites.
In twos and threes, we all eventually found our way to the U’mista Cultural Centre, which displays both contemporary and historical cultural artifacts for the benefit of visitors and residents alike. It is all housed in a wonderfully designed facility modeled after the traditional cedar big houses. Massive cedar trunks support the ridgepole of the main hall and the exterior is painted with distinctive form-line representations of eagle, salmon, and more. The gift shop is pretty fabulous as well!
The ferry brought us back into Port McNeill to enjoy the afternoon heat and prepare ourselves and our boats for tomorrow’s early morning crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait. Onwards!