Whale watching in Tofino, BC (Part 2: Boats)

Whenever there are boats around, I just can't resist firing away with the camera, analyzing various design details, and generally wishing I had hundreds of thousands of dollars to build up a fleet of my own.

We recently took a whale-watch cruise with Weigh West Marine Resort in Tofino, BC. A moment ago, I posted about the animals; now, here are the boats.

Let's start with Close Encounters II, Weigh West's newest and largest tourist ship. LOA is, I believe, 10 or 12 m (it's slipping my mind at the moment).

Enclosed aluminum RIB tour boat at Weigh West, Tofino

CE2 was custom designed and built for Weigh West about five years ago. Although she looks a bit like a RIB, that's just style- her tube is actually aluminum, as solid as the rest of the boat. The hefty aluminum pilothouse can comfortably handle a dozen guests (probably even more if they're friendly), and is rimmed with thick glass set at glare-reducing angles. Sturdy aluminum handrails rim the cockpit. Anything on this boat that can be grabbed is strong enough to take your weight, just as it ought to be.

The captains are essentially single-handing these boats, so a self-stowing anchor on a decent power windlass is essential. The foredeck isn't hard to reach, but the captain generally won't have the option of leaving the helm for long; the ground tackle simply has to work on its own with just a flip of a switch. (We didn't use it on this trip, so I can't testify to the speed or reliability of this setup.)

Ground tackle of CE2, Bruce anchor on bow roller

The moderately fine V of the entry is carried relatively far aft on these hulls. They have a comfortable ride at 28 knots in a two- to four-foot swell, with zero pounding and no seasickness. The construction is ridiculously solid, as one would expect for a thirty-knot vessel in an area known for its floating debris.

Bow of whale watching boat Close Encounters II

The wake at 28-30 knots is mostly foam and spray; the diverging system about fifty metres back is about 40-50 cm high. Not bad for a heavy, fast boat.

Katy in front of the engines and wake of CE2

Captain Ike has a fairly typical modern helm, with DSC VHF, radar, chartplotter and SmartCraft engine monitor. (There's also a compact helm station in the cockpit for use around the docks.) Instead of fancy trim, the designer elected to conceal all that aluminum with a durable and surprisingly elegant speckled gray paint job. It sounds industrial, but does a great job of showing off the beefy structure and impeccable craftsmanship of the welded aluminum work.

Interior of whale watch boat

Overall, she's a comfortable and confidence-inspiring vessel, solidly built and meticulously maintained. If you can find someone to build you a similar vessel, expect to part with $200k to $250k.

Bow of aluminum RIB with pilothouse and antennae

Weigh West also has a smaller, older boat that shares essentially the same hull design as this one, in an open configuration. Like CE2, the RIB-like tube is actually aluminum. Both boats carry a pair of Verado 225 powerplants.

Open aluminum RIB

Some competitors' boats are similar in configuration, including plenty of true RIBs. All share essentially the same electronics (a 24" radome, twin VHFs and some form of chartplotter). Almost all of them carry twin Mercury Verado engines. This is due, in no small part, to the fact that there's a large Merc dealer and repair shop in Tofino, while the nearest Yamaha and Evinrude dealers are on the other side of the island.

Whale watching RIB on the ocean

There are, of course, a few boats that are... ahem, loaded down with tourists.

Boston Whaler full of tourists

And the commercial fishery, while weak, is not yet gone for good. There are a few boats like this around, some apparently fishing commercially and a few that might be in charter service. The wake says she's pushing hard and is a bit on the heavy side for her length.

Fishing vessel near Tofino




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