Sunday, June 11, 2017

Port McNeill -- Alert Bay -- Sointula

Written by: Kerry

 We arrived in Port McNeill on Wednesday, June 7th, after a long 42 mile trip up Johnstone Strait from Port Neville.  To date, this may have been one of our longest days on the water, but it was an excellent trip.  We started off early, just before dawn, to catch as much of the ebb current as possible. We weren't disappointed - we arrived in Port McNeill just before 11am with the wind at our back, having motored and motor sailed (rolled the genoa out for awhile) at 6.5-8 knots the whole way.

After settling in, we decided we'd stay a few days and explore the area a bit - two other nearby island harbours - Alert Bay and Sointula both had ferry service from Port McNeill and we thought that would make for a fun day of ferry travel and walking around a couple new towns.

Friday, June 9th we got up early enough to catch the 8:40am ferry to Alert Bay, paid our fares and walked on for the 30 minute trip.  Alert Bay has a well known and highly respected First Nations museum - The U'mista Cultural Centre and we headed straight there as we turned left off the ferry. On our way we caught a couple photos of local sites as we walked down the waterfront boardwalk:

The museum was fantastic, as promised, and also quite sobering.  The history we watched on video and read about was filled with both beautiful examples of Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture and history, as well as the devastating treatment they suffered under the white man's laws and influence.

From there we walked back into town, as it was, and visited the local grocery store and deli (definitely the social hub of town at lunchtime), got a snack and headed back to the ferry.  Now the ferry is based out of McNeill and there is just one - so it goes to Alert Bay and back to McNeill and then out to Sointula and back to McNeill, etc. - all day long.  So we asked if we could just stay on the ferry when it hit McNeill again and keep riding to Sointula.  Yes!  No problem!  And they only charge you when you get on in McNeill, so we rode all day for the initial fares paid.  :-)

We arrived in Sointula on Malcolm Island just after 1pm.  As we waited to disembark, we chatted up a local woman who encouraged us to enjoy the town and check out their museum too.  We wandered off the ferry and turned right, Donn leading the way, and almost immediately discovered the town Info Centre with a string of old beach cruisers in front with a sign saying "For Loan".  What's more fun then a free loaner bicycle for the afternoon to explore a seaside town?  At that moment, not much.  

We proceeded to ride back the other direction from the ferry and found the Sointula Community Library and Museum.  This was a whole different experience from Alert Bay.   Sointula is a town settled by a group of Finnish Socialists in 1901 with the hopes of creating a utopian community.  The museum was like walking into an antique store with a focus on a specific town.  Two large rooms and a basement held all kinds of photos, clothing, household goods, personal items, and industrial equipment from the past.  Stumbling across a large map of the Northwest, we got a photo opp of the distance we've traveled so far...

After departing the museum, we headed around the bay towards the marina and found the Burger Shack, where we enjoyed really good halibut and chips and shakes.

We then headed back towards town and returned the bikes.  We checked out their Co-op grocery store and then crossed the street to enjoy a treat at the local bakery, owned and run by a lovely Chilean man, right next to the ferry.  Donn enjoyed a cinnamon roll made with cardamom that was divine and my lime shortbread cookie wasn't too shabby either.  

Our ferry ride back to Port McNeill signaled the end of our day - we were home by 5pm, feeling tired but happy.  The best thing about both Alert Bay and Sointula?  Without fail, everyone we came across, waved or said hello as we went by.  This included people in cars, on foot, or on their bikes.  It felt amazing to visit these towns and be so welcomed by the locals.

The last few days have been full of chores - laundry, provisioning and getting the boat ready for our next big leg - across Queen Charlotte Strait, up and around Cape Caution, and further north on our journey.  We leave tomorrow morning.  More adventure awaits!


  1. Sounds lovely! Can't believe how far up there you are already!

    1. We're in Shearwater now. Amazing to be this far up!

  2. Too bad you missed staying a night or two (or more!) at Sointula docks; one of the best stops on the south coast (great hikes on Malcolm Island).

    Savour your time on this coast, you may find yourself missing it while in Mexico... ;-)


    1. The cruising grounds here are amazing.