M/V Uchuck III

Uchuck III pulls in behind sailboats at Kyuquot dock

Somewhere in the midst of our well-deserved post-prandial naps, we sense movement around us. Voices, outboards, legs of people and dogs on the dock on high side of our low tide portholes. Finally when I  rouse myself, I find the renowned Uchuck towering over us and the other little sailing circumnavigators lashed to the dock flats. M/V Uchuck III is the once-a-week supply boat that has nourished these villages for generations.

What a cool boat! She must be about 100 feet long and is made of wood. Her powerfully built black prow stands nearly 25 feet above the waterline. She’s got every manner of cranes and winches that can take stuff to into and out of her massive hold. There’s large spar from the base of which two great pole extend obliquely, giving her the look of an overgrown troller.

Floks arrive to pick up their supplies.

With the help of the operator standing on the bow, the cranes sway and lift cargo our of her gaping hold while workers down below call out instructions. Freezers, five ton bags of gravel, aluminum dock gangways dangle in the air before being lowered gently over the port side onto the dock. At the same time a succession of flat bottom aluminum boats pull up on starboard to receive shrink wrapped pallets of groceries, propane tanks, rolls of corrugated metal and packages of asphalt shingles. Meanwhile skiffs arrive from all corners of the island’s cove and the adjoining mainland and tie up all around Aurora. Whole families turn out, Native grandmothers under umbrellas, beautiful babies. It rains steadily but the kids play and neighbors catch up with on the news while waiting for their goods. All this takes a couple of hours. Two empty garbage dumpsters come off; two full ones are waiting to go on. The Uchuck has thirty stops on its weekly route and so cargo in the hold needs to be shifted and rearranged.

That’s what the bow end of the boat looks like. Midships she has a wonderful, high, semi-cylindrical pilot house, white with perfectly round windows. Behind it is a tall yellow smokestack, flanked by yellow dorades, one facing fore the other aft.

The stern end is something else altogether. Think Victorian day cruiser on a Swiss Lake. An upper deck with lovely teak benches. A main deck with a light wooden booths in front of fine windows and a outdoor walkabout roofed by the upper deck. Yes, the M/V Uchuck is also a passenger ship. There are no BC Ferries on the West Coast; this is it. Like the Alaska State Ferry, the Uchuck takes the adventurers with backpacks and kayaks. Unlike the Alaska State Ferry, there are no cars – what would a car do here? – and the Uchuck often eschews formal ports of call, dropping off kayakers in the middle of nowhere. And while the Uchuck overnights at a village dock passengers don’t sleep on board. No cabins and no tents pitched on deck. Nope. Passengers going on the next day are accommodated in village families.

Wow. There is hope for old mariners who have seen the West Coast and may very likely want to come back but not under their own sail. We loved our trip on the Alaska Marine Highway – and in fact plan to take it all the way to the Aleutians in 2013. But now we have another adventure to pencil into the future and to recommend to friends who may want to join us.

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