The boat I first started Sound Water Taxi with (original business name) was a 21-foot, fiberglass Lavro Sea Dory. I picked the name Sound Runner because I liked its double-meaning — the boat was to run people around the Sound, and do it in a sound manner. With my first two boats being an 8-foot plywood pram (small rowboat), followed by a 14-foot inflatable Zodiac skiff, I finally had enough of a boat to easily carry small parties of adventurers and all their gear. I liked Sound Runner in herself, but the greater meaning to me is what she represented – the first step in the realization of an adventurous dream.
A few years earlier a friend and I had just returned to Whittier from a camping trip in the Sound, with my outboard-powered Zodiak skiff and her inflatable kayak. We were discussing how hard it must be for folks with hardshell kayaks and limited time to see much of the Sound. My friend idly asked, “Gee, Gerry, why couldn’t you hire out to transport kayakers with your Zodiak?” The idea instantly clicked with me, but I knew it wasn’t too feasible with a 14-foot Zodiak. Plus, there were important considerations like a Coast Guard license that is needed to transport passengers for hire. The idea simmered for a few years, and then really took off when I read an article that described the Lavro Sea Dory. This boat was seaworthy, covered, beachable, not too big, relatively inexpensive, and with a big enough outboard, capable of carrying moderate loads of people and gear; I knew instantly that this was my dream boat.
I bought Sound Runner in May 1984, with the idea of logging the necessary boat operating time needed to apply for a Coast Guard license. I planned on starting a charter business part time in 1986, and then going full time in 1989, the earliest date I then thought I could retire from my job as a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service. I had logged the necessary boat operating time by summer 1986, but after failing the Coast Guard license exam twice and needing to spend the rest of the summer in the field with my job, I again had to put the project on hold.
I was elated when I finally passed the exam the following spring. And I also learned that I couldn’t officially retire from my job with the Feds and get a retirement pension for another 7 years. Plus, my boss was totally against my idea to take a leave of absence from my job during the summer. For two weeks I agonized over what to do. I was making a good salary and I had a lot of freedom, but I was also becoming burned out. I really wanted to spend more time on the Sound, and to work directly with people more.
On a leap of faith, I decided to quit my job and do what I really wanted to do while I was still able. For the next five summers, I operated a transportation and sightseeing charter boat business out of Whittier. I had a lot of fun, I met lots of interesting people and learned a lot about the Sound and running a business. I loved being on the water almost daily, and I never grew tired of exploring the Sound. I thrived on the hard work and being my own boss, but reality finally caught up with me. A business must start turning a profit at some point, and I was just barely hanging on, despite a steadily increasing gross income. It was clear after my 1991 season that I could no longer continue the business with the 4-passenger Sound Runner and survive.
Along the way, the next steps in this adventure began to unfold. I had spent the winter of 1990-91 in Whittier writing a business expansion plan that was to include a unique new, wheelchair-accessible, welded-aluminum boat. Meanwhile, an opportunity to return to work at a normal job in Anchorage came along January 1992. That job continued for just a year, but I saw that too as part of the adventure, since working as a wildlife planner for the U. S. Forest Service, the main land manager for Prince William Sound, gave me an inside track to learning even more. When I returned to chartering a few years later, it was with a much-expanded knowledge of the Sound and its wildlife.
I sold Sound Runner soon after the bigger boat was built, but I will always remember her as the first step in the realization of this adventurous dream.
First written as a writing class assignment, about 1990. Minor edits, November 6, 2015; March 4, 2016; February 9 and March 17, & April 19-20, 2017 (v.1.7)