Owner John Turpin aboard MV Gikumi, B.C.’s first whale watching boat, in Prince Rupert. (Keili Bartlett / The Northern View)

B.C.’s first whale watching boat now calls Prince Rupert home

MV Gikumi pioneered the whale watching industry in B.C. and has been upgraded for 2019

Climbing aboard MV Gikumi is like stepping back in time, her new owner John Turpin said while docked in Cow Bay Marina.

“There’s not many of them around,” he said in the wheelhouse. “Wooden boats are warm and quiet. When you sit up here while it’s running, it’s so quiet and it’s so zen.”

Turpin, who also owns Prince Rupert-based Inlet Express Services, bought MV Gikumi in February 2017 and pulled her out of the water for an 11-month rebuild. He was drawn to the boat for her historic value as B.C.’s first whale watching boat.

Gikumi was the pioneer of whale watching. There was no whale watching that was done up until this boat started doing it,” Turpin said.

Built in 1954 and launched that Labour Day, MV Gikumi was originally destined to work towing logs, bringing lumber to the Telegraph Cove sawmill and occasionally delivering to Prince Rupert. Then the sawmill closed, and MV Gikumi set course for a new gig and, it turns out, a new industry. In 1983, Stubbs Island Charters began offering whale watching tours, showing orcas in their natural habitat off the famous Robson Bight.

READ MORE: Humpback rubs against whale watching boat

Throughout the years, many have climbed aboard the Gikumi including then-U.S. president George Bush Sr. and First Lady Barbara Bush, British Prime Minister Sir John Major, and Jim Robson, the voice of the Canucks, who worked on the boat during his summers as a kid.

MV Gikumi worked continuously for 63 years until Turpin started refitting her last February. What began as a two-month project went on for closer to a year as Turpin invested the time and materials — lots of old growth Douglas fir that came with the vessel — to upgrade her properly. Now, with mechanical and electrical upgrades, MV Gikumi can take 40 people out for a day and sleep eight passengers at night in three queen-size and two single berths. She’s complete with a deep freeze, washer and dryer and shower to make extended voyages comfortable. For Turpin, it was important to get it right.

“It’s just the fact that when you have a boat like this, you’re really just it’s keeper. You’re not really the owner — it owns you,” he said with a laugh. “It’ll out live me.”

Authentic touches, such as a custom-order brass dome compass, keeps the vessel traditional and easy on the eyes.

“When you go on a ride on this boat, it’s partly just the experience of riding on the boat as much as what you see,” Turpin said.

After a year-long break from working, Turpin plans to have the Gikumi host eco-tours between Prince Rupert and Victoria for the 2019 season. Day trips and longer excursions will be offered and, of course, there will be whales to watch.

“I know for myself I just can’t wait to get back out there,” Turpin said from the wheelhouse. “Having spent the last almost year and a half working on it, I kind of want to enjoy it for a couple months and then we’re going to get back to work seriously next summer.”

READ MORE: Whale festival makes a splash



keili.bartlett@thenorthernview.com

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