It’s all in a day’s work for the crew of the MV Uchuck III, but for us an overnight trip from Gold River up the northwest coast of Vancouver Island to the tiny settlement of Kyuquot was nothing less than magical.
The Uchuck III is a packet freighter (formerly a mine sweeper) that services the northern part of the Island through Nootka Sound and Esperanza Inlet on a regular basis, as well as running Get West Adventure Cruises. Passengers can choose a variety of expeditions to areas crammed with history including Friendly Cove, where in 1778 Captain James Cook was the first to record a cultural exchange with First Nations people in the area. But the very best part of being a passenger on this venerable old lady (now in her 65th year as a freight boat) is the stunning scenery combined with the opportunity to meet folks from all over the world, from all walks of life.
We were blessed with exceptionally fine weather during our recent voyage – sunshine, warm winds and sparkling water all the way. The day gets under way early when you travel with the Uchuck III – at 6:40 am 16 of us straggled onto the wharf at Gold River, checked in and made ourselves comfortable in the lower indoor lounge, which also features a full-service kitchen. From then on, it was nothing short of spectacular all the way to Kyuquot.
Our various freight drop-off points included fish farms, a logging camp, fishing lodges and remote marine communities. The skill of the crew became very evident every time we pulled up to a wharf to off-load – the Uchuck III measures 136 feet, but a gentle nudge and soft landings were the order of the day at every dock we stopped at.
Aside from the glorious scenery and pristine waters in every imaginable hue of blue and green we were fortunate to see plenty of wildife during the trip – black bears, a whale, bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, seals, otters and, surprisingly during one of the stops, hummingbirds.
It’s not difficult on this trip to come away with hundreds and hundreds of photos – pretty protected coves and inlets combine with commercial activity and wildlife to make it a photographer’s dream. We carried two cameras and ended up downloading a treasure trove of images on our arrival home.
The first several hours of the journey were smooth sailing, with plenty of opportunity to while away the time on the top deck in the sunshine, enjoying the scenery and the company of our fellow travellers. We met folks from England, New York, Seattle, France and many Island locations – mostly retired but with lives as diverse and interesting as the ever-changing view.
Just after 3 pm we hit open water for the final leg of the journey. While the weather was fine high winds were whipping up 3 metre (10 foot) swells that had the Uchuck III rocking and rolling to the point where a few of our fellow passengers got sea sick. Gravol seems to be the order of the day for this portion of the trip, but the friendly crew on the ship is good about forewarning rough sailing conditions so most of us survived without mishap.
Just before 5:30 pm we pulled into tiny, lovely Kyuquot and disembarked, were greeted by our respective hosts and were shuttled off (some by small boat) to our various accommodations for the night. At 6:30 we all congregated at the old school house, now a restaurant, where we enjoyed an exceptionally fine dinner served family-style – big bowls and platters of amazing food passed up and down the length of the tables. One of the things we have learned during our many travels to isolated locations is not to expect much in the way of great food, but the evening fare was above and beyond many meals we have consumed in more populous places.
The remainder of the evening was ours to enjoy and, thanks to the long day and late sunset we had time to amble along the pretty trail that hugs the waterfront of the village, exploring beaches and viewpoints. We wandered down to the government wharf just past 9 pm and ended up talking at great length to Eric, the amazing chef who had fed us dinner just hours earlier. As dusk finally settled on the village we meandered back up the hill to our comfy bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
We woke the next morning to complete, serene silence, punctuated only by the cry of eagles and ravens. We had coffee on the deck with our congenial hosts, Judy and Mike Sharpe, and enjoyed a quiet start to the day watching the sun rise over Walters Cove. Judy laid out a generous breakfast and we headed back to the wharf and the ship for our 8 am departure. At that point we had gone more than 24 hours without internet or cell phone service – a pleasant respite from the everyday world of the 21st century and a great reminder of what life is really all about.
The winds had calmed from the previous day and, while the open water portion of the trip first thing in the morning was a little rough in spots it was much smoother sailing than the experience of the day before.
There were more interesting experiences on the trip back, including watching the Uchuck III crew pick up kayakers (and their kayaks) with a most unique method. The crew lowers a pallet into the water, the kayaker paddles on to the pallet and is lifted, smoothly and safely, up and on to the boat.
As the day wore on during the trip back to Gold River we made more stops to pick up additional kayakers and passengers from a logging camp, as well as making more freight deliveries.
And, a lovely touch toward the end of the journey, just as we were starting to feel a little peckish – Elaine, the cheerful queen of the kitchen, laid out a spread of snacks that included smoked salmon, fresh fruit, canapés and cupcakes. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettable trip into some of the most wildly beautiful territory imaginable.
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