The 2000 season was a major turning point that finally brought these recurring rattle problems to a head. I had discovered a hairline crack in the transom (the stern end of the boat) the prior summer, and had closed it off with marine sealant. The crack was just beneath the bottom of the outboard support pod, but I had not considered the possibility that the crack might extend past the bottom of the pod, from where it could allow any water inside the pod to drain into the boat’s bilge.
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.
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
As I have grown older, I have become increasingly aware that my interest in nature is a big part of who I am. At age 81, I’m inspired to continue writing, including finishing projects that I planned for and started years ago, culminating for now with this blog. A big advantage in writing at this age is that I’ve been able to slow down enough to get a clearer view of how the different events and phases of my life have played out. It’s easier to see how they all reinforced and rounded out who I am now. Continue reading
Here’s another breaching whale to pique your curiosity — and to hint at more to come. But this one is special, because it’s the very last breaching whale shot I captured on a Sound Eco Adventures trip, on August 28, 2013. The boat and business were sold the following April.
I had been especially looking forward to this wildlife photography trip, which had been booked the prior January by two couples from Sweden. 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
In my 24 years running a water taxi and nature tour boat in Prince William Sound, my favorite wildlife experiences were, without a doubt, with whales — especially humpbacks. We often saw orcas too, occasionally minkes, and rarely, grays and fin whales. But humpbacks were the stars because they were the most dependable. Continue reading
Below is the early working version of an invited “Stakeholder Essay” in a collection of studies that summarize the affects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on Prince William Sound’s communities and resources. Several years in the making, the collection was recently published as a 355-page hardcover book, Sustaining Wildlands: Integrating Science and Community in Prince William Sound, Aaron Poe and Randy Gimblett (Eds.). 2017, The University of Arizona Press
Is it possible to love a place so much that what you do there imperils the very values that brought you there in the first place? What if there are so many like-minded people using the same place, that together you do just that, even if unawares? These are questions I pondered for many years, as a working biologist, as a parent exploring the Sound by inflatable in the 1980s with my three young sons, and most recently, as a nature tour guide in Prince William Sound.