Alert Bay and Port Hardy

We spent a couple of nights in Alert Bay, which gave us a chance to visit the U’Mista Cultural Society’s collection of Potlatch masks. The Potlatch was an enduring native ceremony wherein individuals would give away or even destroy a lot of their possessions. To the white man, this was such an alien custom that it threatened the assimilation of the natives. From Wikipedia – “a worse than useless custom” that was seen as wasteful, unproductive, and contrary to ‘civilized values’ of accumulation. Something had to be done, so in the late 1800’s the practice was outlawed. But the practice persisted. Finally in 1921, the Potlatch masks that were an integral part of the ceremony were confiscated in a raid and were sent to various museums and collections in Canada and the USA. Thereafter Potlatches were driven underground. Finally in the 1980’s, a more enlightened government funded the construction of the museum and returned most of the masks. The masks are on display, but are not just museum pieces. They are still used periodically in Potlatches held in the facility.


It’s a fascinating history and a fascinating collection. It’s well worth the $10 admission fee.

On the way back from the museum we saw a few guys working on what looked like an old wooden canoe. We walked over and struck up a conversation.


They were good guys! The one in the red t-shirt seemed to be the one in charge. They had paddled this boat for hundreds if not thousands of miles over the years. It was indeed hand-hewn in the traditional fashion.


We even ended up giving them a hand with their project of the day.


Rainer helped them hoist the pole structure that I think was to be used as supports for a tarp cover so they could work on the boat in crappy weather. I did my bit by snapping a few photos to preserve the moment for prosterity.

The next day we set off for Port Hardy, about 30 nautical miles away. We ended up motoring all the way there because the favorable forecast winds didn’t arrive until we were a couple of miles from our destination. We didn’t realize it then, but this was becoming the modus operandi of the trip.

We spent a couple of nights at the dock in Port Hardy, replenishing our food and beer supplies. We had a good evening swapping lies with a couple of well-traveled dock-mates. One was a guy from New Zealand who looked a bit like Richard Branson. He was a relatively young (younger than me) guy, but had sailed all over the world and had a bunch of stories to tell. One of the things I liked about both these guys was that they didn’t embellish their stories with their vast knowledge of sailing, even though they had that in abundance. The stories were mostly about how badly they’d screwed up at times.

We were having a good time until the scariest incident of the whole trip happened. I went down below to get my camera, and going down the companion way stairs backwards (the way you’re supposed to, like climbing down a ladder), I thought I was on the cabin floor and let go of the handrails. Unfortunately I was on the last step, but soon was on the floor after falling straight back striking the settee bench with the left side of my back. It knocked the wind out of me, and paralyzed me for a few seconds. I thought I had really done myself some serious damage. I managed to get my breath back, and struggled to get to my feet. Since I was moving and talking, I knew I hadn’t severed my spinal chord, but the pain was excruciating. As the evening progressed, the pain lessened a bit, but when I went to turn in for the night, it must have taken me a half hour to get into bed. The next day I was still in a lot of pain, but fortunately had a supply of Percocet that I got from my doctor before I left in case I had a kidney stone attack. I didn’t need them for kidney stones, but they helped me through a couple of really rough days with my back. The only problem was the most common side effect of opioids. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up. I won’t bore you with the gruesome details.

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