Fun on a freighter
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The cruise was billed as an “adventure.”
By the time the hawser wrapped around the propeller and everything had come to a stop, we had sailed on the motor vessel Uchuck III for two glorious days along Vancouver Island’s west coast. It had looked like we would arrive back at Gold River on schedule.
We passengers had seen sea otters, spouting whales, harbor seals, sea lions, eagles and high, snow-capped peaks above narrow fjords, which rival anything in New Zealand or Norway.
Gold River is the departure for several cruises offered by Get West Adventures, operating out of the tiny port of Gold River, British Columbia. You reach the wharf by driving north on Vancouver Island to Campbell River, where you take Highway 28 west through Strathcona Park to the sea.
The Uchuck III is the only one of its kind plying the waters of Nootka Sound, Esperanza Inlet, and Kyuquot Sound: a 136-foot, wooden-hulled converted World War II minesweeper retrofitted with engines, winches, steering and other hardware from some 20 older vessels dating back to 1904.
The cabin was comfortably furnished with wooden benches and solid tables and our favorite crew member, the hard-working lady cook, offered up tasty breakfasts and sandwiches at reasonable prices. The fine viewing area on the top deck was a favorite place from which to enjoy the sights, although plagued by the noise and smoke of the twin 500 horsepower diesel engines, salvaged from a U.S. Navy sub chaser.
The three dozen or so passengers are icing on the cake for the Uchuck III, essentially a freighter, delivering supplies—from fish and food to automobiles—to logging camps, salmon farms, First Nation villages, sport fishing resorts and the Catholic mission at Esperanza.
Gradually, we became acquainted with our fellow passengers, all Canadians save for one retired Boeing engineer. By the end of the two-day cruise, they treated us like family. Two or three had worked full lives logging and fishing and were squiring wives or lady friends to see their favorite sights. (They also raised eyebrows at the captain’s inefficiency in getting the ship off a lee shore and away from a sport fishing camp, as the Uchuck III scraped and bumped along a floating boom of enormous logs.)
After “wet launching” several kayakers at Rugged Point, we entered the open ocean and the fearsome Pacific. Passengers with queasy stomachs disappeared below to swallow Dramamine or chew on ginger. Our ship proved to have a fine, elegant motion in the modest swell kicked up by an onshore breeze and we sailed between jagged reefs to the remarkable settlement of Kyuquot.
Kyuquot has been the home of indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Some 300 now live on its mainland shore, and 100 or so summer residents visit the nine small islands sheltering the bay. Every home has boats instead of automobiles, and wooden catwalks connect the buildings along the shore.
Passengers gathered for dinner around two long tables in a building on stilts above the tide—the former schoolhouse. We had watched hordes of boats fishing all day and our mouths watered for salmon. But fish did not appear. Instead, we dined family-style on lentils, green salad, roast potatoes and pork.
Afterward, we split up for the night among a scattering of fishing lodges: clean and modest, with plenty of hot water, as electricity has recently arrived in Kyuquot. Our host, no descendant of the Norwegian whalers who settled these islands in the 19th century, but a fishing guide from West Vancouver with a degree in marine biology, filled us in on the local society over breakfast the next morning.
We had almost made it back to Gold River when our propeller snagged a two-inch poly hawser securing a floating lodge.
The old salts among the passengers grumbled, but the captain remained cheerful and energetic. We were not to be abandoned to an uncomfortable night on the narrow benches of the passenger cabin. A timely call summoned a pair of enthusiastic divers who were working nearby, mending nets at a salmon farm. They pulled on dive suits and cut away the offending cable, leaving a square knot floating on the surface of the sound. Soon enough, we were on our way back to Gold River.
Get West Adventure Cruises operates year-round cruises to Kyuquot, Nootka Sound, Tahsis, and Friendly Cove. Find out more at 1-877-UCHUCK3 or http://www.getwest.ca
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