A Two-Day Cruise Along Vancouver Island’s Wild West Coast

On board the MV Uchuck III, the abundant wildlife and breathtaking scenery provide the entertainment.

Sea Otters - Vancouver Island West CoastPhoto: Mike Lane
A raft of sea otters that the boat passed by.

“Attention passengers,” a voice boomed out over the PA system. “In a few moments, we’ll be passing by a raft of sea otters on our port side.” I ran to the wrong side of the boat, but realizing my mistake, immediately joined the other 20 or so passengers already looking out at the sea otters. I was really excited because I had never seen a sea otter before. Once abundant all along Canada’s western coastline, sea otters were over-hunted by the fur trade starting in the early 1800s. They have since been reintroduced here and are making a remarkable comeback, although they are still listed as a “threatened” species.

Vancouver Island West Coast Cruise on Uchuck IIIPhoto: Mike Lane
The Uchuck III approaching the dock at Gold River, B.C.

Cruising Vancouver Island’s West Coast

I was on board the MV Uchuck III, a 136- foot converted American minesweeper. Built in 1942, with a wooden hull of double-planked, three-inch-thick fir, she is now based in Gold River, B.C., on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Totally refitted to take up to 70 tons of freight, she can also accommodate 100 passengers. The Uchuck III makes regularly scheduled runs to a variety of small ports, and delivers supplies to otherwise inaccessible settlements and camps along her route. As well, she will drop off kayakers as needed, by hoisting them out over open water and then gently lowering the kayak, with the kayaker inside, to the water below. A crew member explained to me that this was referred to as a wet launch. Several of the passengers disembarked this way when we stopped at a sheltered location for them. They were to be picked up in a week’s time when the boat did its next scheduled run.

Vancouver Island West Coast CruisePhoto: Mike Lane

Even though this part of our journey was on a boat, I was actually on a road trip with my buddy, Gar. He and I had left our homes in Saanichton on Vancouver Island the day before and driven north to Campbell River, and then west for a couple of hours, arriving at our motel in Gold River at dinnertime. The previous year, we had driven to Alaska on an epic three-week trip, but now wanted to stay closer to home and not have to drive too much. This short trip was perfect.

Fish Farm on Vancouver Island West CoastPhoto: Mike Lane
A fish farm, where salmon are raised in open net pens.

We boarded the Uchuck III at 7 a.m. at the dock, after having a quick breakfast in town. The other passengers were all hardy types with sturdy shoes, waterproof anoraks and binoculars. We then headed out on the Thursday morning excursion, motoring at a steady pace of about 12 knots. Our route was largely in the sheltered waters of Muchalat, Tahsis and Esperanza Inlets. We stopped at one then another of the fish farms that call these waters home. Logging camps and fishing lodges came and went, some we stopped at and others we saw from a distance. We dropped off food, commercial supplies and assorted heavy equipment. In exchange, we took aboard several bright-green garbage dumpsters to be later unloaded and disposed of in Gold River.

Vancouver Island West Coast - Boat RiggingPhoto: Mike Lane
A view of the open water while crossing the bay of Rolling Roadstead.

In the late afternoon we ventured onto the open waters that the nautical charts described as the Rolling Roadstead. I popped a pill to make sure that I wouldn’t suffer a bout of seasickness.

Vancouver Island West Coast Cruise - KyuquotPhoto: Mike Lane
Arriving at the small, isolated community of Kyuquot.

Arrival at Kyuquot

At around 6 p.m. we arrived at the little settlement of Kyuquot—pronounced ky-YOO-kit. A pair of eagles swooped overhead and this was taken as a good sign by the birdwatchers among us. Our arrival was met by the entire village standing on the little dock welcoming us. As there was no passenger accommodation aboard ship, we were all divided up and taken to small lodgings in the area. There is no hotel, so Gar and I were led to a fishing lodge where we were assigned to very basic camp-style accommodations, each room with a single bed and small adjacent washroom.

Eagle in FlightPhoto: Mike Lane
An eagle greeting the group upon arrival.

For dinner that night, the passengers walked along a shoreline trail to a wooden building that served as the community restaurant. There was a large trestle table set up for us, with bowls and plates of steaming roast pork, chicken and vegetables. It was all home-style, very informal and delicious.

The next morning, we reboarded the Uchuck III and were treated to breakfast aboard, prepared in the ship’s small galley. We took the same route back to Gold River, keeping a lookout for telltale signs of whales. With a few stops along the way, we docked at 6:30 p.m. What a fantastic couple of days it had been. I would take this trip again in a heartbeat!

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Originally Published in Our Canada