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 →
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 →
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. Continue reading →
After moving to Alaska in 1975 to begin my job as a seabird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), my summer field work included running Zodiac inflatable skiffs with a field partner to get around to various study sites along the coast from our shore camp or chartered live-aboard support boat. The first of these was along Kodiak Island’s east coast during my first three summers in Alaska (1976, ‘77, ‘78), then again at Kodiak during a study of puffin food habits in 1986, and finally on a beached-bird Exxon Valdez oil spill survey cruise, fall 1989. Before I began the water taxi business in 1987, and during the “break” in the business 1990-1992, I resumed work as a USFWS biologist on Exxon Valdez oil spill studies in Prince William Sound. Those included temporary stints during the month of March in 1991 and 1993 helping with winter seabird boat surveys, and then full time again from 1992-1994.