I recently retired as a nature tour guide and boat captain, after 24 years showing people from all over the world the wonders of Prince William Sound. Before that, I enjoyed an even longer career as an oceanographer and wildlife biologist, working on projects as diverse as plankton ecology and fur seal food habits. It may seem odd that someone with such fascinating work would end it early at age 51 to start an uncertain career, but that’s exactly what happened. Finally selling the tour business (Sound Eco Adventures) after the 2013 season was a big life change. Being “retired” still seems strange.
With this blog, I aim to share many of the stories and adventures from those amazing years on the Sound. Continue reading →
Foreword: Today’s blog is a fun diversion into fiction — the result of the latest assignment to the Kenai Senior Center writers’ group. Our prompt was, “The phone rang. A glance at the clock showed 2:37. Your assignment: establish time, place, main character and beginning plot.”
Governor Mike Dunleavy slowly rolled over in his bed in the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau, Alaska. His bleary-eyed glance at the bedside clock showed it was 2:37 AM. Alaska’s tall Governor, the tallest in the nation, had just returned from a visit to Washington, DC the day before, where his meeting with President Donald Trump had made national headlines.
Things rarely happen in Alaska that require phoning the Guv in the middle of the night, so he was both curious and annoyed. “What’s important enough to wake me at this unholy hour?” the Governor mumbled to himself as he picked up the phone. “Hello . . . Governor Mike Dunleavy here.”
“Hello, Mike – and this is President Trump. Sorry to bother you at this terrible hour, but something has been bugging me ever since our tremendous meeting and I’ve got to get it off my chest.”
An inescapable part of life is that sometimes things don’t happen as planned. Using knowledge and experience, one may plan for the future, but sooner or later unexpected twists will thwart those plans. Such was the case that began in early August 1995, when I signed the contract with a small Alaskan boat-building company.
Thomas (not his real name) got his start building aluminum boats with Grayling Marine, a longtime Anchorage boat builder, but had been on his own for a couple of years. I saw his boats on the Sound and liked their clean, functional lines. I visited the Anchorage boat show that spring, and I was glad to see that Thomas was there with one of his boats. I talked to him about my dream of upgrading to a bigger boat from the four-passenger Lavro Sea Dory I was using. When I mentioned that the boat needed to be beachable and wheelchair-accessible, his eyes lit up with interest. The clincher for me that Thomas was to build Sound Eco Adventures’ (business name) new boat was that its cost would be quite a bit less than the figure Grayling Marine had quoted me.
Dee, with hubby Verne, was the first wheel-chaired tourist aboard the Sound Access. Jesse Owens and Challenge Alaska volunteer Julie re-board the Sound Access after a short demo trip after the boat was first launched.
By the end of my forth summer doing the water taxi thing in 1990, it was clear that the 21-foot Lavro Sea Dory I was using was not making a go of it business-wise. My Coast Guard “Motorboat Operator” license allowed carrying up to six passengers, but the boat’s carrying capacity usually limited the payload to four people and their gear. It was clear that a bigger boat was needed, but its details were quite unclear. Fortuitously, other things began happening that would influence the details of any boat that I might consider as a replacement.
I had been asked that summer by Challenge Alaska — an outdoor recreation organization for the handicapped in Girdwood — if one of their board members could ride along on my next trip to one of the two Chugach National Forest accessible public-use cabins in the Sound. Challenge was exploring adding sea kayaking to their offerings, and they wanted to visit an accessible cabin to see if it could fit their plans. I saw the chance for some positive publicity for my still-budding business, so I jumped at the chance. Plus, I remembered well my own mother’s trials of being in and out of a wheelchair the last ten years of her life, so I was glad to do this small thing for Challenge. Continue reading →
Foreword: This installment updates an earlier post (A Real-Life Spiritual Experience), and adds examples of Al’s intervention when the boat’s bow deck was under water.
My first experience of being vividly aware of being protected by an “unseen force” happened while transporting four hunters back to Whittier from Naked Island, where I had dropped them off a week earlier. Naked lies 40 miles from Whittier, about in the geographic center of the Sound. The morning weather forecast on the day of the pickup called for a small craft advisory, with northeasterly winds. I left Whittier mid morning, traveling close to land along the north side of Wells Passage as much as possible, which afforded some protection from the wind. Once past the protection of Axle Lind Island, the seas were running four to five feet in height, and were fairly far apart, so they were not especially steep. The seas came directly from the northeast as the forecast had predicted, putting them on the boat’s port beam, or left side. It was a fairly tolerable ride as the boat rose up over the crest of a swell, and then descended into the trough between the crests.
I have a guardian angel I named Al. I haven’t always been aware of Al, but he has definitely been there for me when I needed him the most. The name comes from my middle name “Albert,” after my Uncle Al, my Mom’s number two brother. I believe that Al has always been with me, but it was only after experiencing close calls while boating in big seas in Prince William Sound that I became more aware of him. With my being an adventurous sort, there have no doubt been times from childhood on when Al intervened on my behalf that I was totally unaware of. However, there were also times when I miraculously evaded calamity that I remember all too well. Continue reading →
We had quite a crop of spring dandelions at the Nikiski Senior Center, located in rural north Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. A couple days after I captured these shots, our extensive lawn got its first mowing.
Part of my adventurous second career operating a water taxi and tour business in Prince William Sound was running deer hunter transport charters out of Whittier in the fall. With challenging, potentially-dangerous fall weather always a threat, no two trips were alike. “Weather rules in Alaska,” as the saying goes, and hunters had to accept the possibility of being weathered in or weathered out. The shorter daylight hours of fall often complicated things as well. More often than not, this forced unplanned changes to the schedule. Most of my hunter clients were weather-savvy Alaskans, so that was rarely a problem. Thanksgiving weekend in 1997 proved to be a “good” example of how that scenario can play out. Continue reading →