Departing from the Muchalat Inlet, 12 km south of the Central Vancouver Island community of Gold River, the MV Uchuck lll provides a year-round freight and passenger service for remote west coast communities located in Nootka Sound, Yuquot (Friendly Cove), Tahsis and Kyuquot.
The route takes you down Muchalat Inlet, through Nootka Sound, up Tahsis Inlet and out Esperanza Inlet to the Pacific Ocean. From here you travel northwards along the west coast of Vancouver Island to Kyuquot Sound where the trip ends at the settlement of Kyuquot.
Click on the map to view a large scale map of the North and Central Vancouver Island Ferry Routes. The ferry service to Tahsis, Nootka Sound, Yuquot and Kyuquot is a private service. B.C Ferries therefore provides no information for this route. Nootka Sound Service Ltd can be contacted for current schedules, fares and information.
Many visitors to the west coast of Vancouver Island may never have had the chance to boat in the wind, the rain, and the ever-rolling seas that characterize the world of the ‘outside’ waters, as the open ocean here is often called. Exploring the outside waters aboard the MV Uchuck lll, a former World War II minesweeper, which makes a weekly two-way round-trip voyage to the fishing hamlet on Kyuquot, can be quite an adventure. For many passengers, particularly in storm season, the high (or low) point of the journey is the two-hour stretch each way spent tossing about on the open ocean waters between Port Eliza and Kyuquot. From the moment the freighter leaves the dock in Gold River and begins its 10-hour journey the big question is whether your constitution can handle the rise-and-fall motion of the ship in high seas. (At such times it helps to remember that the world uchuck translates as ‘healing waters”)
On a typical voyage, ocean swells can run in the 2 to 3 metre range: plenty chaotic for most voyagers, though the skipper will go out in anything short of 8 m to make his rounds. Although the MV Uchuck lll has sometimes had to wait out a blow in Kyuquot or Port Eliza, she’s never foregone a regularly scheduled trip since 1982, when she was assigned to the Kyuquot run.
If you’re inclined to be right in on the action during a bout on the high seas, the wheelhouse is the place to be. Although not the roomiest place aboard, there is space for several passengers to stand inside with the skipper and first mate. When ocean waters are too rough north of Port Eliza to negotiate a tricky inside passage called the Rolling Roadstead north towards Kyuquot, the MV Uchuck lll heads west of Vancouver Island into the vastness of the open water.
In storm season, winds often blow at 30 to 50 knots from the southeast, while ocean swells run from the west; large breakers roll in from all directions. The slender nose of the MV Uchuck lll is the thin edge of the proverbial wedge – a wave cutter par excellence.
The nose of the MV Uchuck lll rises as the horizon line falls, then slams down on a cresting wave. The horizon rises as the MV Uchuck lll drops into a trough, then rises again. The skipper looks like a defensive lineman on a football team, braced for the onrush of yet another surge. The mate scans the radar, recording the ship’s position in a logbook.
After two hours of this, it’s a relief to suddenly see the Mission Islands and the narrow entrance of Nicolaye Channel, beyond which lies Kyuquot. As the vessel passes Aktis Island, there are signs of a clearing and several homes. This is the original village site where more than 2,000 Natives lived in the years before contact with the Europeans. Today there are fewer than 30 full-time residents here, who, by choice, shun such conveniences as telephone and electricity, except that provided by a limited-use generator.
The village of Kyuquot is home to 300 Natives, and others, whose homes are built into the forest above the tideline. To turn into a small bay and find civilization after rocking and rolling for several hours in open water heightens Kyuquot’s value. Much of the architecture here is identifiably Canadian West Coast style: modern and well kept, a testimony to good years in the fishing industry. Despite the overwhelming sense a visitor feels that the logging industry is the only employer around, brought on by endless patches of clear-cut on all sides coupled with an absence of other marine traffic, fishing is the predominant vocation in Kyuquot. Here, on Walters Island, in a series of small bays just beyond reach of the spirits of wind and water, people have sheltered and drawn in living from the ocean for generations. In recent years, with the fishing season becoming more limited, tourism is seen by some residents as a viable alternative profession.
In winter months, cargo aboard the MV Uchuck lll consists of goods destined for a dozen or more logging camps. Come warmer weather, when logging shuts down due to the threat of fires, ferrying passengers is the staple business of the MV Uchuck lll. Instead of offloading heavy equipment in summer, the ship’s deck is lined with kayaks, and its towering Union rigging is busy wet-launching ocean-going adventurers. Although much of the coastline is rocky and rugged, there are choice campsites on beaches near Kyuquot, including Rugged Point Provincial Marine Park. Not everyone comes this far. At other times of the week, the MV Uchuck lll makes day trips in the sheltered waters of Nootka Sound to Tahsis or Friendly Cove, the site of Captain James Cook’s first contact with the Native people of Vancouver Island in 1778. Today, only one family remains in the settlement of Yuquot at Friendly Cove on Nootka Island.