MBI's Moving Stories


The Frances Barkley

2019 Volume I, Issue I

MBI Media has a long relationship with the Southern California maritime industry. Our projects have taken us on tall cranes towering above massive container ships, on the bridge of tankers as port pilots guide them to their berth, and various other projects, massive in scope, involving the intermodal world at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles

As we ponder the scope and importance of the world maritime industry, let us recommend a “back to basics” trip to put ocean shipping into perspective.

For MBI’s Mary McCormick and David Busse, getting to a place is sometimes just as much fun as “the place.”

Motor Vessel Frances Barkley, one of the last coastal mailboats in North America, sails triweekly from Port Alberni, BC, to Sechart Lodge on the west coaster of Vancouver Island. The Barkley was a 1958 product of Norway, and sailed across the Atlantic thru the Panama Canal when purchased by her current owners in 1990. She can carry up to 200 passengers and 100 tons of cargo, and includes a small cafe on the lower deck. David R. Busse photo.

In our case, the destination was Sechart Lodge, a back-to-basics isolated spot on the west coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island, on the edge of the Broken Group of Islands, where world-class sea kayaking, wilderness camping, bear and whale watching and attaining a deep state of relaxation are the main attractions. Add terrific meals and friendly travelers to the equation, a favorable exchange rate with the US dollar, and comfortable-but-spartan accommodations, and you have a great vacation destination.

Ship’s engineer Ken Napier operates deck crane loading containerized freight onto the deck of the MV Frances Barkley at Port Alberni, BC.
Fresh produce is delivered via MV Frances Barkley to isolated communities in Barkley Sound and along the Alberni Inlet.

Just don’t plan on driving there.

To get there, you need to show up in Port Alberni, BC, a picturesque lumber town smack dab in the center of the island, on the east side of a unique ocean passage called Alberni Inlet, where you’ll need to book passage on the MV Frances Barkley, one of the last passenger-carrying coastal freighters plying the waters of British Columbia.

Show up on the dock at Lady Rose Marine an hour before the 8am sailing, and you’ll observe a flurry of activity, with a deck crane lifting palletized freight, drums of gasoline and diesel fuel, boxes from a local grocery store, kayaks, canoes and whatever else has been ordered by inhabitants of Sechart and the other coastal outposts where the Barkley will make “flag stops.” Most passengers barely stop to notice, but this is a scene that harkens back to ocean commerce a hundred years ago…or earlier.

The three-times-weekly trip to Sechart makes an additional scheduled call at Uclulet, BC, and the day-long round trip is a popular mini cruise. Other days, the Barkley calls at Bamfield, BC and a host of “flag stops” for freight and passengers.

Lady Rose Marine Services dock at Port Alberni, BC.
Best views of the Broken Chain of Islands are from the deck of the MV Frances Barkley.
Captain John Smith of MV Frances Barkley.
Uninvited guests. We saw them every morning.
Returning to dock
Outdoor bonfire area

For more information on the MV Frances Barkley and Sechart Lodge, contact owner www.ladyrosemarine.com

The Frances Barkley is one of three passenger and freight-carrying coastal mailboats on Canada’s Vancouver Island.

The MV Uchuck II is a classic mailboat based north of Port Alberni at Gold River, BC, and serves isolated fishing villages and logging camps with freight and passenger service. See www.getwest.ca

The MV Aurora Explorer is a large landing-craft based at Campbell River, BC, carrying passengers and freight on overnight and daylong-trips to isolated communities of the Gulf Of Georgia, the Johnstone-Queen Charlotte straits and the many inlets of the north east coast of Vancouver Island and the west coast of mainland BC. Their schedule and port calls are entirely dependent on freight traffic.

Contact www.marinelinktours.com

We loved our voyages on the Frances Barkley and have the “Uchuck II” and “Aurora Explorer” high on our “must do” list.