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Cruise aboard the MV Uchuck III
The Uchuck III derives her name from the West Coast First Nations Nootkan word for “healing waters” and has been serving the Vancouver Island area for over 50 years. Originally built in Oregon as an American Yard Minesweeper in 1942, the MV Uchuck III has been totally refitted to accommodate 100 passengers and up to 100 tons of freight (cargo). Stops are made along her route (as required) at camps and settlements in the area to deliver supplies and passengers or in a sheltered inlet to drop off kayaks, which are hoisted out over open water and then lowered with the kayaker inside – referred to as a wet launch.
This historic vessel has been carefully reconditioned with a comfortable wood-finished lounge, a coffee shop, and spacious seating on the open-air upper deck – the perfect front-row seats to Vancouver Island’s rugged West Coast. For more information about the rich history of the Uchuck III and her predecessors, Get Nautical.
Experience a working marine vessel in action. Originally built in Oregon as an American Yard Minesweeper in 1942, the Uchuck III has been ferrying people and supplies to the remote villages on the far West Coast of Canada since she was refitted as a passenger and freight vessel in the 1950s.
Get West Adventure Cruises offers the ideal vacation for the nautical buff; even allowing you up front in the wheelhouse with the crew, right in the middle of the action during an exhilarating cruise on the open ocean.
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Uchuck III Specs
Length: 136 feet
Beam: 24 feet
Draught: 7 feet forward; 9 feet aft
Power: Two 8-268A Cleveland Diesels driving 2 shafts through Joe’s gears
Speed: Cruising 12 knots
Fuel consumption: 25 gallons per hour
Construction: Double planked wooden hull of fir 3” thick
Frames: Laminated oak 3.5” on 15” centers
On February 6, 1946, Esson Young and George McCandless bought the MV Uchuck I from Richard Porritt and formed the Barkley Sound Transportation Co. Ltd. to replace an existing shipping service started in the 1930s. The Uchuck I – built in 1941 in Coal Harbour, Vancouver (British Columbia) – had replaced the original Uchuck and in those days the second vessel in a line was given the #1 designation.
Four-cylinder Caterpillar diesels powered the 70-foot-long vessel, carrying 64 passengers and about nine tons of cargo at a speed of ten knots. In 1946 three scheduled trips left Port Alberni for Bamfield each week, stopping at Franklin River, Kildonan, and the south shore of Barkley Sound before crossing the twenty miles of open water at its mouth to Ucluelet, and returning home along the north side of Alberni Inlet.
Traffic increased so that in 1948 the company purchased a second vessel, the Uchuck II, which allowed for separate schedules to Bamfield and Ucluelet and serving each with a different vessel on alternate days. The second vessel had been built by Vancouver’s Wallace Yard in 1925 for the Municipality of West Vancouver as the West Vancouver #6 of the ferry fleet used to transport foot passengers between 14th Street in West Vancouver across to Vancouver before the Lion’s Gate Bridge’s completion in 1938.
The company hired Port Alberni Shipyard, Alberni Engineering, Bailey Electric, as well as Ormand Plumbing to convert the West Vancouver #6 from a ferry to a small coaster. When completed the 109-foot vessel could carry 100 passengers and 21 tons of cargo: an Atlas Imperial 200 hp direct reversing diesel, developed a service speed of 10 knots. Later a Union Diesel of 300 hp – the same type that powered the historic RCMP vessel St. Roch – replaced the smaller Atlas Imperial 200 hp and increased the speed to 11 knots.
Amid the general growth of the region, the Federal Government began building a radar station at Tofino Airport and the two vessels were stretched to their limit transporting people and supplies. It soon became evident that more ships would be needed; therefore, in late 1951 the company bought the hull of a Yard Minesweeper, now theUchuck III.
A Vancouver dockyard had stripped the vessel of its minesweeping equipment after it had arrived in 1948 and in 1951 the Uchuck I went to Vancouver to tow the hull and superstructure of the latest minesweeper to Port Alberni.
The conversion mirrored that done on the Uchuck II but grew complicated when finding parts became more and more difficult; but luckily, Victoria’s Capital Iron Works broke up old ships and sold off parts.
Mast derricks and life boats came from the CPR Princess Mary, engine room telegraph and steering came from the Princess Victoria (a River Clyde vessel) that had sailed around Cape Horn in 1904, cargo winches from the Princess of Alberni, and other bits and pieces from twenty or so other ships. The main engines, two 500 hp 8-268A Cleveland Diesels came from a US Navy Sub Chaser.
Upon completion, the Uchuck III could move along at twelve knots and carry up to 100 day passengers and 100 tons of general cargo, in addition to three or four cars depending on their size and the amount of cargo space.
On August 1, 1955 the MV Uchuck III went into service on the Ucluelet run, the Uchuck II moved to the Bamfield run, and the Uchuck I was laid up and sold the following year.
By the 1950s, roads were built into some West Coast communities and when logging roads on either side of the Island Mountains connected such coastal communities as Ucluelet and Tofino with Port Alberni, Uchuck traffic dropped dramatically.
The Uchuck II moved to Nootka Sound in March 1960 to begin the first scheduled run made possible by a three-mile, government-built link which joined the roads of two forest company systems and thus provided access to the head of Muchalat Arm from Campbell River.
At this time Nootka Sound and adjoining arms and inlets had the Tahsis Sawmill (founded by the Gibson Brothers in the late 1930s), an old shut-down mine at Zeballos, a Mission Hospital at Esperanza, here and there a few small logging operations, and a larger one at Gold River.
At first traffic remained predictably light but slowly the new service caught hold and traffic increased.
Though the Uchuck III finished her last run in Barkley Sound on June 10, 1960, the service did not end. Two former employees of the company, Dick McMinn and John Monrufet, continued by chartering the Uchuck I for a time and then chartering and later buying the MV Lady Rose. They operated for the next 25 years before selling out to one of their employees.
Murray Marine Services of Alert Bay chartered the underused Uchuck II to run from Kelsey Bay to Port McNeill, Beaver Cove, Alert Bay, and Sointula, replacing the Lady Rose which moved down to Barkley Sound.
In 1961 the Uchuck II returned to Port Alberni and for the next four years the two vessels alternated in Nootka Sound – the Uchuck III in summer when traffic was heavy and the Uchuck II in winter when traffic was lighter.
The Provincial Government bought the Uchuck II in 1966, converted it, and ran it as the Sointula Queen to ferry school children from Sointula and Alert Bay to Port McNeill until July 1973.
Changes were coming though and in 1979 the shipping company itself changed hands when Dave Young and Walt Winkler bought the shares of George McCandless, the survivor of the original partnership. In 1980 the Senior Surveyor of Canadian Steamship Inspection advised that he would soon have difficulty certifying the Uchuck III to carry passengers and that thought should be given to acquiring another vessel.
With nothing available in North America that could be dropped into place, the cost of refitting an older vessel too great, and the cost of a new vessel out of the question, the company decided to go with the “devil it knew” and embarked on a twelve-year rebuilding program. In consultation with Canadian Steamship Inspection, the upgrading of the Uchuck III took place at her annual refits and inspection periods so as not to interfere with scheduling.
The vessel received new engines, hull planking above the waterline and on the main deck, winches, wiring, and electronics. Very modern castings effectively stopped water leakage – the killer of wooden vessels. All interior spaces were refurbished and refinished. Today, the Uchuck III is in better condition than ever.
In 1982 the service expanded to include Kyuquot Sound. The BC Ferry Corporation, a new charterer, wanted to combine two subsidized runs by eliminating the Fair Harbour to Kyuquot service. This arrangement worked out well: the chartering corporation paid less in total but more to Get West Adventure Cruises and thus eased the strain of the early ‘80s recession that coincided with the rebuilding.
In 1994 the company changed hands again. Dave Young and Walt Winkler stepped out and Fred and Sean Mather and Alberto Girotto stepped in and today the Uchuck III loads cargo for logging camps, fish farms, and communities in Nootka and Kyuquot Sounds and provides a year-round passenger service which accommodates any traveling tourists wishing to explore this historic area.