‘Last man standing’ tells his tales

A couple of weeks ago I escaped my day-to-day life to cruise from Gold River to Friendly Cove aboard the Uchuck III.

THE UCHUCK YEARS

THE UCHUCK YEARS

A couple of weeks ago I escaped my day-to-day life to cruise from Gold River to Friendly Cove aboard the Uchuck III.

The scenery was incredible, the crew friendly and the food tasty and filling. The Uchuck is a working vessel so I, along with the other passengers, also got to watch the crew loading and unloading freight and even dropping off a couple of kayakers via a sling.

But I wasn’t along just for the ride. I was meeting David Esson Young, former owner and captain of the Uchuck. He’s the author of The Uchuck Years, a West Coast Shipping Saga.

The book is a valuable history of marine transportation to remote areas on and near Vancouver Island.

It’s the story of a small company making a go of it in good years and bad and moving ahead with the times. It’s about a close-knit crew working together in an unpredictable environment. And it’s full of funny anecdotes about quirky coastal characters.

Based on more than half a century of personal experience, as well as a family scrapbook and company records and journals, Young has told the Uchuck story in a way no other writer could.

“The idea was in the back of my mind for a long time,” says the 74-year-old. “I’m just about the last man standing as far as the early days of the company. Initially I thought it would be something my grandkids would like to read.

“But then I thought about the tens of thousands of people who have travelled on the Uchucks and thought they might be interested too. Seven years ago I realized I was well past my ‘best before date’ so better get at it.”

Habour Publishing was interested in the project as soon as Young approached them. But when the book was released this spring, everyone was surprised.

It was so popular, Harbour had to fly books in for one event and order a second printing. The Uchuck Years is also making itself right at home on the Vancouver Sun BC Bestseller list.

“I had a lot of help,” says Young. “Harbour sent the manuscript to Betty Keller and she took the rough draft and got it in shape. As for the popularity of the book, it is a huge surprise to me.”

It all started in 1946 when Young’s dad, Henry Esson Young and a friend sold their homes to purchase a marine freight company and the Uchuck I operating out of Port Alberni to the Barkley Sound area. Eight-year-old Young almost drowned on his first trip on the vessel but two years later he was working on the boat weekends and holidays for 25 cents a day.

Young recounts stories about the company’s 1960 move to Gold River and traveling the waters of Nootka Sound. And how everyone — even the owner — did everything and anything that needed to be done.

In the old days in particular, the crew had an intimate knowledge of and relationships with customers. Taking a cocker spaniel back home or visiting someone in the hospital was all in a day’s work.

For many years after the company moved, two crews worked alternating shifts with workers eating and sleeping onboard during their week on.

Young points out that the owners soon realized the wisdom of hiring an older female cook. Some held the position long term and others came and went. On occasion there was no cook, so the crew would set the sandwich stuff out and passengers fended for themselves.

Today, two women in the kitchen produce vats of chili and clam chowder, as well as fresh-made sandwiches, cookies and muffins. Folks are welcome to bring their own snacks too. And the wheelhouse is open to all — I heard one youngster bragging, “…and I even got to touch the wheel!”

As well as hauling freight, the Uchuck has established a reputation as great transportation for wilderness kayakers and backpackers and as a tourist draw all on its own.

Young, who has lived in Royston with his family since 65, sold his share in the business in 1994 and continued to do relief work until two years ago.

“I miss it a lot, especially the camaraderie,” he says. “Aside from a few short-term things, it’s pretty well the only job I had. I must have travelled a million miles in one Uchuck or another.” (There have been three Uchucks.)

“I really enjoyed the writing process,” he adds. “I’d like to carry on; I have a series of stories about animals that shared the landscape with us while out on the Uchuck. You know, bears, cougars, dogs, cats and raccoons. And of course there are more stories about events and people.”

If the success of The Uchuck Years is any indication, Young has transitioned nicely into a new career.

The Uchuck Years includes 70 black and white photographs as well as maps. It is available at local bookstores and retails for $24.95. For more information about voyages on the Uchuck III, visit www.getwest.ca.

 

Just Posted

Charles Hawkswell, Commander, of the Cape Lazo Power and Sail Squadron, presents a $1,000 cheque to the Comox Valley Marine Rescue Society. File photo
Comox removing moorage fees, hydro for Comox Valley Marine Rescue Society

Last year, the unit and society responded to more than 50 rescue missions in the past year

A Saanich man received almost 10 years in Supreme Court in Courtenay for a shooting incident from 2018. Record file photo
Shooting incident north of Courtenay nets almost 10-year sentence

Richard Daniel Vigneault was arrested without incident and faced 16 counts

Danielle Egilson has been awarded a $40,000 post-secondary scholarship with The Cmolik Foundation. Photo supplied
Student from Courtenay’s Vanier Secondary lands prestigious scholarship

Cmolik Foundation provides opportunities for youth who’ve experienced adversity

Poverty is a sad reality for some people in the Comox Valley. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Project takes a hard look at poverty in the Comox Valley

Objective is to reduce poverty in the Comox Valley by 25 per cent over four years

Dr. Aref Tabarsi, a general pathologist at the North Island Hospital Campbell River Hospital Medical Laboratory, spoke about the issue of service in the region at a meeting in February 2020. Black Press file photo
Comox Strathcona hospital board wants pathology service back

Board supports move for chair, vice-chair to engage with Island Health on issue

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

The only access to 5th Street bridge heading east (toward Lewis Park) is via Anderton Avenue. Photo by Terry Farrell.
Single lane alternating traffic controls on Courtenay bridge now in effect

Single lane alternating traffic on the 5th Street Bridge is now in… Continue reading

Chilliwack’s Kile Brown, performing as drag queen Hailey Adler, dances and lip syncs in front of hundreds of people during the inaugural Chilliwack Pride Barbecue at the Neighbourhood Learning Centre on Aug. 24, 2019. Monday, May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of May 16 to 22

International Day Against Homophobia, Talk Like Yoda Day, Sea Monkey Day all coming up this week

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
MISSING: Salt Spring RCMP find woman’s car, still seek Island resident

Sinikka Gay Elliott is 5’3” with a slim build and dark brown short hair

Bradley Priestap in an undated photo provided to the media some time in 2012 by the London Police Service.
Serial sex-offender acquitted of duct tape possession in B.C. provincial court

Ontario sex offender on long-term supervision order was found with one of many ‘rape kit’ items

Rich Coleman, who was responsible for the gaming file off and on from 2001 to 2013, was recalled after his initial testimony to the Cullen Commission last month. (Screenshot)
Coleman questioned over $460K transaction at River Rock during B.C. casinos inquiry

The longtime former Langley MLA was asked about 2011 interview on BC Almanac program

Most Read