Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Nuchatlitz 2015 - Part 1 The Voyage Out

In early September of this year myself, Robyn, Kari Challenger, Gary Jacek, Lynn Bair and Morley Eldridge headed out on a 10 day west coast trip to an area known as the Nuchatlitz. Located off the northwest tip of Nootka Island is it made up of a large number of small islands and miles and miles of coastline that is exposed to the Pacific Ocean.

During our trip planning early in the year Lynn suggested that we look into taking the MV Uchuck III. Originally built in Oregon as an American Yard Minesweeper in 1942, the MV Uchuck III has been totally refit to accommodate 100 passengers and up to 100 tons of freight (cargo) and is based in Gold River. This would save two days of paddling and also we would get to do something really cool ... allow us to enjoy a leisurely cruise and then get wet launched right at our destination. Robyn went to work booking the trip through Get West Adventure Cruises which operates the Uchuck primarily as a cargo service and offers paying passengers overnight cruises to Kyuquot and twice a year a 3 day 2 night Esperanza Adventure Cruise with an additional overnight in Tahsis.

Our kayaks outside the office ready to be loaded onto the Uchuck by the crew
As it turns out the dates that we planned fell on the return portion of an Esperanza Adventure Cruise so after checking with our group Robyn booked the Uchuck for our trip. Our departure date was set for Thursday Sept. 10th and the ship would be leaving at 7:00am sharp. This meant that we had to travel to Gold River the day before and have our fully packed kayaks sitting on the dock ready to be loaded onto the Uchuck by 4:00pm

Gary relaxes on one of the wood sculptures near the hotel
Gold River is not a bustling tourist destination like it used to be long ago when salmon fishing was at it's peak and logging was the primary industry. The town has struggled to survive since its mill closed in 1998 but even so Gold River has attempted to capitalize on its idealistic setting among picturesque mountains, lakes, rivers and ocean. So after leaving our kayaks at the Uchuck dock we checked into the Gold River Chalet along with other obvious Uchuck passengers who would be boarding the next morning.

The answer .... "The Bay City Rollers"
We decided to have dinner within walking distance from the hotel and selected the Manila Gourmet Restaurant. Once again it seemed that all of the Uchuck passengers found the same establishment being so close to the hotel. After dinner we ended the night playing Trivial Pursuit in the common area and once again we were joined by the other Uchuck passengers who were clearly excited about going on an overnight cruise to Kyuquot. They didn't know that they were in for a treat the next day when our little group of kayakers would be hoisted over the side and left to fend for themselves for 10 days. LOL

6:45am and our trusty rides have been loaded and are ready for the voyage to the Nuchatlitz

We were up bright and early the next morning to ensure that we didn't miss our 7:00am departure of the Uchuck III. I was interested to see where the crew loaded our kayaks and to my surprise I found them racked along the walkway on the lower deck. Considering how heavy the fully loaded kayaks were I was amazed that they were stored in this location. I thought maybe they would be just loaded on top of the cargo hold but we would find out soon enough why they were strategically placed here.

Most of the passengers assembled on the top deck in anticipation of casting off from the dock at 7:00am sharp. The crew went about their business securing the ship while making us feel right at home.

The dining area, spotlessly clean  
I headed below deck before most of the passengers were aboard and checked out the dining and kitchen areas where Elaine was busy preparing breakfast for the crew and passengers.

I could write a whole blog about the history of the Uchuck III but the best thing to do is direct you to the Get West Adventures Cruises website. If you are ever thinking about visiting the Nuchatlitz consider contacting the folks at Get West Adventures. You won't regret it.

Elaine getting ready to open the kitchen for breakfast.
Once we were underway heading up Muchalat Inlet towards Thasis Inlet Elaine started taking breakfast orders. For $9.00 each we got a full breakfast which included beverages and an assortment of pastries and Elaine simply created a tab for the passengers as lunch would be served later around noon. Great food and service! Thanks Elaine!!

Steaming up Muchalat Inlet towards our first cargo stop. The weather wouldn't be any better to view the scenery.

Our first cargo stop was at one of the many fish farms in protected waters of the Nootka Sound inlets. Delivering cargo to the fish farms and logging operations while on route to and from Kyuquot keep many of these operations in business supplying fuel, fish food pellets and heavy equipment. Having the ability to transport passengers along this section of west coast keeps many of the isolated communities connected to the bigger cities.

A massive fish farm is our first stop before breakfast

Remember when I mentioned that I was surprised where our kayaks were placed on the ship? Well it was because the hold and front deck were loaded with items for delivery on the way to Kyuquot.

I'm pretty sure they had everything including the kitchen sink stuffed into every nook and cranny. In the picture on the left you can see 1000 lb bags of fish food, heavy duty logging equipment tires, a very large pallet of what looked liked aluminum siding and roofing materials destined for Kyuquot.

Down in the hold there was even a small forklift that was used to move cargo buried deep in the hull so that it could be hoisted out of the cargo bay.

The tourists on board gathered in front of the wheelhouse to get a good view of the perfectly orchestrated dismantling of the cargo area. Watching the deckhands work it gave me a good feeling that our kayaks were handled very well the night before.

The only cargo being delivered at this fish farm looked to be fuel for the generator that you can see on the dock.

It wasn't long before the ship was back on course which meant ... breakfast time for everyone!!

Kari checking out the personals in the Nootka Sounder (LOL)
They'll let anyone on board the Uchuck even the odd stowaway that managed to sneak onto the ship.

No, I'm not talking about our logistics expert Kari (LOL), but a little mug known as the the PPS Travel Mug just happened to be one of the paying passengers on this leg of the journey. Funny how it seems to follow us around. :-)

After breakfast we had lots of time to explore the ship which included visiting the wheelhouse and talking to Captain Spencer. When first seeing the Uchuck at the dock earlier in the morning one would think that this time honoured vessel would be captained by a bearded, almost senior veteran of many years on the high seas. I think many on board were surprised to find that Captain Spencer was a young man looking fresh out of college who you might think was just a deckhand. One thing for sure, the crew including Spencer work together very well and made all the passengers feel at home.

Who "looks" to fit the stereotype of a captain of a ship? Morley on the left or Spencer holding the wheel?

Our next stop was at the Kendrick Camp log sort located at the head of Kendrick Inlet. Not only was it an active log sort but the dock also was home to a fishing lodge and probably the source of the several fishing boats that passed us on the way up Tahsis Inlet.

How to get logs into the water. Stack them in a cradle like the one at the right of the picture. Wrap the stack with a couple loops of cable and then push the whole stack down the ramp to the waiting log tugs.

The floating logging camp crew house on the left and the fishing lodge on the right. If memory serves me right heavy duty tires were offloaded at this location.

After the Kendrick Camp cargo stop the Uchuck made it's way up Tahsis Inlet, through Tahsis Narrows, Hecate Channel and into Esperanza Inlet. After breakfast was served earlier in the morning Elaine went to work getting lunch ready which consisted of chili and made-to-order sandwiches which we enjoyed on the top deck.

Heading up Tahsis Inlet. Tahsis can be seen in the distance but we would be making a left turn soon into Tahsis Narrows.

The middle of September and look at the weather the west coast is treating us to! One last cargo stop to swap out garbage dumpsters. It was nice to see that garbage is handled properly in these remote camp and fish farm operations.

Our drop location at Rosa Island was coming up soon so we went to work suiting up and getting our kayaks ready for wet launching. One by one, two crew members easily picked up our fully loaded kayaks and moved them to the covered cargo hold and placed them onto a specially rigged pallet.

Kari loaded and ready to be hoisted overboard. This is what we came for .... to heck with the paddling!! LOL

I think every one of the tourist passengers were watching us from the wheelhouse viewing area. We had many discussions with them on the way out from Gold River and they seemed amazed that we were going to be disappearing in our trusty rides for the next 10 days. I checked the time (2:15pm) we launched and began our adventure in the Nuchatlitz.

Kari going over the side

Here's a short video of Gary's ride

Lynn followed by Morley and Robyn

And finally I'm hoisted overboard while the tourists watch.

No sooner than I was clear of the Uchuck she continued on her way towards Kyuquot.

Our original plan was to head west towards Catala Island Marine Park about 2nm in the distance and set up our first base camp. However with the conditions being so perfect and the long range forecast in our favor we decided to paddle southeast to Benson Point about 8nm's away instead. 

Lynn checking her chart as we make the decision to head to Benson Point

And so our paddling adventure in the Nuchatlitz begins here but it will continue on another blog post coming shortly. If you have any questions about the MV Uchuck III or Get West Adventure Cruises please comment or email them to me at geckopaddler@gmail.com.   

Our track from Gold River to Rosa Island on the Uchuck III

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