Fish wafts up to the passenger deck

An hour after a 7 a.m. sailing, passengers get a reminder this is no luxury cruise liner that plies the saltwater inlets of Vancouver Island.

The first stop for the M.V. Uchuck III is one of British Columbia's many fish farms, in the waters of Muchalat Inlet out of Gold River, a 500-mile drive north of Portland.

The day's delivery? Eight pallets of fish food, each weighing 1 metric ton or about 2,200 pounds.

As soon as the crew opens the freight hatch, the overpowering smell of fish wafts up to the passenger deck. Phewww! Across the way, Atlantic salmon swim and jump like crazy in the nearest fenced enclosure, as though they know dinner has arrived.

That's how it goes for two days aboard the venerable freighter as it makes its rounds of the island's rugged west shore, where roads are rare.

The reconditioned ship, built in an Oregon shipyard as a World War II minesweeper, is one of three B.C. freighters that carry passengers. This particular run is an overnight lodge trip to the boardwalk village of Kyuquot, about two-thirds up the Pacific Ocean side of Vancouver Island.

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