Quick Mussels on a Monday Night

Small Ship Cruise | Alaska | Inside Passage | San Juan Islands - Dinner
The David B's Dining Table in the Summer

The David B doesn’t run in the winter months and it’s the time of year when Jeffrey and I work on maintenance, marketing, and side jobs. Like most people, I find very little time for cooking. A typical winter meal for the crew of the David B is often ramen or mac and cheese with a salad. Fast, easy, done. After several weeks of winter eating I realize how much I miss the meals I cook on the David B.

The other day while I was out delivering copies of More Faster Backwards and I stopped off at Vis Seafoods. It was really busy. UPS trucks and FedEx trucks were picking up and dropping off deliveries and lots of customers were lined up for check out. I realized I would have to come back the next day to drop off books, but in the meantime, there were delicious mussels and clams in the cooler case. I knew I couldn’t leave without a couple of pounds of mussels. I hopped in line.

Back at home, I put the mussels in the fridge and sat down at the computer to send out more press releases about the book and post something interesting about our cruises, all the while, thinking about how how I was going to make a delicious dinner. While I emailed, wrote, and posted I also thought about garlic, butter, wine, and what neglected vegetables we had in the fridge. I remembered that we had some red peppers and a zucchini. I also remember that I had some bean threads that I like to use when I get tired of pasta, rice or ramen.

The afternoon turned to evening and Jeffrey returned from a job he was working down the street. We put aside out work and stepped into the kitchen. While Jeffrey chatted about the steps he was replacing, I got out a pot and melted a little butter. While the butter melted I chopped some garlic, the peppers and zucchini then tossed them in the pot to cook on medium. Jeffrey changed the subject to a project for the website he’s working on. He’s been making a computer model of the David B’s interior so that it will be easier for people to see what the interior of the boat looks like. While he talked, I cleaned the mussels and asked questions. When I finished cleaning the mussels, I got out an open bottle of white wine I’d had in the fridge for a while and dumped its contents into the pot, then I took out some clam base and stirred in a glop. Jeffrey then asked, “so, where did you take books today?”

“Oh, I took five over to Village Books. It might take a while before they are on the shelf, and I took five over to the Pacific Marine Exchange. I’ll stop back by Vis tomorrow,” I said while stirring in a little Tabasco, salt and pepper.

San Juan Islands Cruise - Shopping
Vis Seafoods

Soon the pot of broth and veggies began to boil. I got out the bean threads and dropped them in. On top of the bean threads I dumped in the mussels and cooked them until they opened. Jeffrey went to clean off the dining table which doubles as our work desk. I got a bowl for shells, some forks and spoons and a couple of paper towels  napkins. He filled our water glasses and got a beer for himself and poured me a glass of wine. I divided up the mussels, noodles and broth into deep bowls -leaving a little for eggs for breakfast.

We sat down and enjoyed a lovely dinner together, my only complaint being that I didn’t have enough time to make bread.


The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

I saw this posted on a tugboat friend’s web page yesterday and it really struck a chord with me. The full blog in it’s original form is at Inspiration and Chai — Regrets of the Dying. It hit home not just because I work way too much (#2 on the list) but because what I do for a living is provide people with the chance to undo three of the five on the list.
I facilitate a setting where people can not-work, be with their friends, and be happy (or happier). We do a lot of laughing too.

Alaska and Inside Passage Small Ship Cruise | Peace and Tranquility
One of the many relaxing, peaceful and tranquil coves where we anchor

I once tried to convince my parents to go on a trip with us — 12 days/11 nights up the Inside Passage to Alaska and they claimed they couldn’t make it because they had appointments that conflicted with the days of the journey. I was offering it to them for free, they are my parents, after all, but the mundane still seemed more important than an amazing experience. I finally convinced them with “Are you really going to remember some dumb doctor’s appointment or the majesty of 680 miles of wilderness British Columbia when you’re 100?”

On the boat, we got to spend time together in the way that lots of friends and families do on our boat (See number 4) and had a great adventure. Every trip of that distance has a few exciting moments and lots of laughter.

Now, with Christine’s book More Faster Backwards out I think we’ve really started to focus on #1: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I’m already doing this, or at least I’m trying (tourism economy willing). The book is about how we got to this moment and our struggle with everything in “the System” that tries to pull us all off the path. Our path. True to us. I really hope that her book dislodges just one person from the grind and helps him or her try to do what is true.

And laugh more.

On Being a Small Independent Cruise Line

Small Cruise Ship vs. Large Cruise Ship in Alaska
The David B in Juneau docked behind the Sea Princess

I just read an article this morning from Travel Trade Magazine that states that the major cruise lines are forecasting a huge year in 2012 – “a 5.6% increase from this year’s headcount…” to quote the article. That’s great for them and I’m happy to see that people are getting out and traveling. What’s not great, is that this $15.5 billion is only going to the major cruise lines while small local independent boat operators continue to struggle. I hope I’m wrong in my observations, but at a meeting last week, one of my colleagues hinted that she knew of three local independently owned boats were contemplating getting out of the business because there just were not enough people signing up for their cruises. So why are small independents (operators that carry fewer than 20 passengers,) or boutique cruise lines as I’ve heard us described, having such a hard time, while the giants continue to have great years?

I credit the difficulty that a lot of independents have to three main problems:
1- Public is Unaware of Independent Options
2- Cost of Advertising
3- Perceived Cost of Cruises

1 – Public is Unaware of Independent Options

The biggest reason I see that people don’t sign up for small independently owned cruises is that most potential passengers, even people who seek out unique travel opportunities, don’t know that the independents exist. Most tour operators that I know, including ourselves have a limited marketing department. For my company, besides being the marketing, sales and PR departments, I’m also the boat’s chef, naturalist, deckhand, and co-engineer. Since a small operation is limited in time and money to spend on marketing, potential passengers either accidentally find us, or have to be in “the know” that our kind of cruise is available.

Cost of Advertising

The cost of advertising and the ability to get wide-spread PR is very expensive. Even Google’s AdWords has become much more expensive from the five cent clicks we enjoyed in 2005. Some of the larger independents have deeper pockets and have the ability to connect better than others. That’s natural, but the small independents still must rely on word-of-mouth, inexpensive social networks, and local media. Unlike Princess, Carnival or Holland America, independent cruise operators cannot simply spray-and-pray the public with huge ads in every magazine, newspaper and website. The independent has to seek out passengers in unique places.

I feel lucky that we are running our business in an age where we have access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks to spread the word about our cruises in Alaska, the Inside Passage and San Juan Islands. Because of these social networking outlets, we’ve been able to deepen our friendships with our past, present, and future passengers. Compared to the millions of dollars that the large companies can use to persuade us from every imaginable angle, the independent operator’s reach is shrinking with the the sustained economic downturn. The fewer passengers who choose independently owned tour operators, the fewer advertising dollars they have, which leads to fewer choices for the public when it comes to having a unique travel experience.

Perceived Cost is Too High

Whale Watching In Alaska on the M/V David B
Humpback Whale Watching from the deck of the David B

“Your cruises are so expensive,” is something that I hear regularly. I think the problem with the perception that independents have with pricing is one of value. From the prospective of the passenger it’s hard to image the cash value of solitude, small groups, and being cared for in the wilderness. The initial sticker shock comes from the fact that the cost of providing private and semi-private cruises is not split up between thousands of people, but instead, small groups.  The independent operators I’m talking about in this blog have boats with fewer than 20 passengers at a time. Many of the boats in this class are unique and are often historic. A prospective passenger that has been inundated with major cruise line specials and deals has been trained to believe that a cruise should be a cheap vacation. Many of these same people see the beauty in traveling on a historic boat, but that realization does not often translate into an understanding of the independent cruise operators pricing schedule.

It’s the job of independent cruise operators to educate their prospective clients as to why anyone would want to come on their boats. My common response to the notion that we are too expensive, is to acknowledge that we are expensive. (a 7-day cruise in Alaska on the M/V David B is $4200 per person), but there are reasons for the expense and I carefully guide my passengers through all the benefits that they receive. Once they understand that our pricing is honest and based on the actual cost of providing their adventure, they are more inclined to come with us. They can see that our price isn’t set to gouge them and we aren’t “making a killing” off them. Our passengers realize that the cruise they are going on is something that is unique and special and well worth the cost.

Looking to 2012

I’m not in the business to be able to forecast what 2012 will look like for small independents, but my feeling is that it will be a little better than 2011. My hope is that some of the hundreds of thousands of people who are forecast to cruise with the major cruise lines will stumble upon the small ships and decide that small ship is just what they are looking for.



New Book – More Faster Backwards: Rebuilding David B is Published!

We did it! More Faster Backwards: Rebuilding David B has been published and is now available at
MoreFasterBackwards.com and on Amazon.com.

Jeffrey and I are really excited about this project. In the book, I take you through the wilds of the Inside Passage on the David B’s maiden voyage to Alaska, while weaving in tales of our restoration.

Small Ship Adventure Cruises | Alaska | New Book Cover
Published on December 1, 2011

The encouragement I got to write the book originally came from two wonderful passengers and amazing business women, Marla and Pam. As I began to work with our story, I realized that our path with the David B could help people see how to work closely with others, clear obstacles, and meet goals. There were so many times we could have just walked away, but the reward of keeping our focus and working together really paid off. It’s been such a treasure for us to be able to share our passion and labor-of-love with so many great folks.

My hope for More Faster Backwards: Rebuilding David B is that the David B will be seen as more than an old boat restored to carry passengers on adventure cruises in Alaska, but rather as a vehicle for creating and meeting goals, forming community, and developing life-long relationships.

I hope you’ll have a chance to read an excerpt from the book and enjoy it enough to add to your library.

Happy Holidays!

PS – It makes a great holiday gift and it’s only $19.95