History of the MV Uchuck III

The MV 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.

The M. V. Uchuck III is a converted WW2 Minesweeper that can carry up to 70 tons of freight and passengers on her route through Nootka Sound, Esperanza Inlet and Kyuquot Sound; dropping off supplies along her route.

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 70 tons of freight. Stops are made along her route (as required) at camps and settlements in the area to deliver supplies and passengers. As well, sheltered inlets offer drop off points for kayakers, 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 see Vancouver Island’s Wild West Coast.

On February 6, 1946, Esson Young and George McCandless bought the M.V. Uchuck I from Richard Porritt and formed the Barkley Sound Transportation Co. Ltd. to replace an existing shipping service started in the 1930s.

M.V. Uchuck 1 shown towing the hull of the future MV Uchuck III.

The Uchuck I, built in 1941 in Coal Harbour, Vancouver, 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 a week left Port Alberni for Bamfield, 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.

Due to increased traffic, in 1948 the company purchased a second vessel, the Uchuck II, which allowed for separate schedules to Bamfield and Ucluelet 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, transporting foot passengers between 14th Street in West Vancouver across to Vancouver before the Lion’s Gate Bridge’s completion in 1938.

Captain Spencer Larsen in the wheelhouse of the MV Uchuck III navigating the waterways of Nootka Sound.

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 h.p. direct reversing diesel, developed a service speed of 10 knots. Later a Union Diesel of 300 h.p. - the same type that powered the historic RCMP vessel St. Roch - replaced the smaller Atlas Imperial 200 h.p. 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. Therefor, in late 1951, the Company bought the hull of a Yard Mine Sweeper, now the Uchuck III.

A Vancouver dockyard had stripped the vessel of its mine sweeping equipment after it had arrived in 1948, and in 1951 the Uchuck 1 went to Vancouver to tow the hull and superstructure of the mine-sweeper to Port Alberni. The conversion mirrored that done on the Uchuck II but became complicated when finding parts became more and more difficult, but luckily, Victoria’s Capital Iron Works broke up old ships and sold off parts.

Passengers enjoy watching the first mate deftly manoeuver cargo from the hold onto shoreline docks using the union purchase winch and crane system.

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 h.p. 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 70 tons of general cargo including three or four cars.

On August 1, 1955 the M.V. 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 began to come 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 started by the Gibson Brothers in the late 1930s, an old shutdown 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.

Chief Engineer Frank Crowther in the engine room of the MV Uchuck III.

Two former employees of the Company, Dick McMinn and John Monrufet, continued it by chartering the Uchuck 1 for a time, and then chartering and later buying the M.V. Lady Rose. They operated it for the next 25 years before selling out to one of their employees, Brooke George, who operates the service today.

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 Barkely Sound. In 1961 the Uchuck II returned to Port Alberni and for the next four years the vessels alternated in Nootka Sound; the Uchuck III in the summer when traffic was heavy, and the Uchuck II in winter when traffic was lighter. In 1966 the Provincial Government bought the Uchuck II and converted it as the Sointula Queen which ran school children from Sointula and Alert Bay to Port McNeill until July, 1973.

Changes were coming. 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.

Passengers aboard the MV Uchuck III enjpy the stunning coastal scenery of Nootka Sound and Kyuquot Sound.

With nothing available in North America that could be dropped into place, with the cost of refitting an older vessel too great, and with 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 hull planking above the waterline and on the main deck, new engines, 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 B.C. 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 Nootka Sound Service, and thus eased the strain of the early ‘80s recession which 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 MV Uchuck III loads cargo for logging camps, fish farms and communities in Nootka and Kyuquot Sound, and provides a year-round passenger service, accommodating traveling tourists wishing to explore this historic area.

M.V. Uchuck III Specifications

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