Tracy Arm/Fords Terror Wilderness – A Magical Place in Southeast Alaska

Sawyer Glacier | David B Cruises | Alaska Yacht Charter
Visiting Tracy Arm/Fords Terror Wilderness

One of the best things about running the David B is getting to visit beautiful and wild places. One of our favorite places, Tracy Arm/Fords Terror Wilderness, has some of the best wildlife viewing and some of the most dramatic scenery around. It’s the topic of our latest Yachting Magazine blog.

The Unbelievable Nature of Tracy Arm/Fords Terror Wilderness…

Serendipity and the David B

Goofing off with Sarah Kirkish on the David B

A few of years ago we had a couple from Austin, Texas come on the David B for a cruise in the San Juan Islands. Sarah and Rob are both adventurous people and we took a liking to them immediately. Rob and Sarah are interesting for many reasons, but one of the most interesting thing about them is their lifestyle. They are “urban nomads.” This means they live lightly and are constantly on the move.

In the spring when we were looking for a house sitter to take care of our cats while we are away in Alaska doing cruises, Sarah and Rob were looking for a place to rebuild their newly purchased RV. Their schedule fit perfectly with ours and we’ve been feeling lucky to have them taking care of both our house and our cats. Here’s Sarah and Rob’s story. It was originally published on Sarah’s blog.

Nomadic Serendipity

June 20, 2012


Rob said, “The whole reason we moved to the Pacific Northwest was so I can rebuild our RV.” Funny, I thought we moved to the PNW when he took a job as an engineer last year. Silly me.

I had asked him about Serendipity at lunch today, because the Technomads recently issued a Serendipity Challenge: http://www.technomadia.com/2012/06/serendipity-challenge-contest/ The challenge asked how being open to opportunities leads to incredible experiences.

Working backwards, I think Rob is right. Serendipity has definitely played a part in our lives over the past four years.

First, we are having a wonderful time this summer because our friends Jeffrey and Christine asked us to house and cat sit while they are in Alaska’s inside passage. We met Jeffrey and Christine Smith when we took one of their small ship cruises in 2010. This cruise trip to the San Juan Islands was organized by Chuck Byrd, who was one of the Smith’s first passengers when they started their business in 2006. Rob met Chuck, who led a Sierra Club outings leadership training that Rob took in 2008. Rob took this training because when he first moved to Austin, TX he wanted to meet new people.

Secondly, how does this help us rebuild an RV? Well in addition to a cute house in Bellingham,WA with hot and cold running cats Harriett and Oswald, the Smith’s have a full-sized wood shop plus a quarter-ton pick-up truck from Christine’s former gardening business. I can’t imagine rebuilding the RV DIY style in less than twelve weeks without access to storage, tools and a table saw. There is no way Rob could have gotten the materials we needed or disposed of the old RV contents with out that old panel truck.

Two more added bonuses to living in Bellingham are that it has one of the country’s best hardware stores and by being a seaside port town, lots of marine supply stores. Hardware Sales is not a store, it is an industrial complex with over four buildings spanning two city blocks. (Take THAT Home Depot and Lowes!) The aisles are narrow and filled from floor to ceiling with tools, hardware and building materials. If they don’t have it, you don’t need it. No seriously, you don’t.

Fortunately there are a lot of cross overs between RV and Marine applications. Often you need it small, efficient and nailed down. Looking for cabinet door catches and the RV store charges an arm and a leg? You can always try the Pacific Marine Exchange looking for “consignment booty”.

Finally, the last bit of serendipity is what I call the “mercy firing”.

Since he started in mid-May, Rob has been spending eight hours a day five and six days a week working on the RV. The project is that extensive, even with Rob’s considerable engineering and building skills. Still, Rob has the time to rebuild the RV because he was let go the Monday before we were supposed to start house sitting. How is that for timing?

A bit more background for those of you without a scorecard about Rob’s job. Last year when a head hunter approached Rob, he thought this job would give him a sense of accomplishment by working for an established company with definite projects. Initially it was exciting to be moving to Bellingham, WA because we knew Jeffrey and Christine. They were very helpful offering suggestions about nice places to live. They even let us store our stuff in their shop for a week. (Man that shop is useful!)

Unfortunately that was not to be the case. Legacy products and corporate culture was clamping down hard on his definition of quality engineering. So Rob had already begun planning his exit strategy, but he wanted to rebuild the RV first.

Rob’s original plan was to work full-time while working on the RV at night and then give his notice in August. That is when we would start RV’ing full-time. Admittedly I was worried he wouldn’t have enough time to rebuild the RV at night. Nor was I looking forward to being a “RV widow”, even if he was just 60 feet away in the backyard. Thankfully the company realized Rob’s heart just wasn’t in the job anymore and let him go.

So through a connection that started four years ago in Austin, TX, we wound up in Bellingham, WA rebuilding an RV practically from scratch and with the time to do it right.  Thanks again Chuck for inviting us on your small ship cruise trip all those years ago. I’m so glad we said yes! I can only imagine that given how our full-time RV lifestyle is starting out that Serendipity will continue to be a force in our lives for many years to come.

Click to follow Sarah Kirkish – Urban Nomad and Business Consultant, or check out Sarah’s business Work Life Organization.

The Start of a New Season

San Juan Islands Cruise | David B | Northwest Navigation Co.
Interesting Rocks on Sucia Island in the San Juans

We began our 2012 season on the first weekend in May. In the days leading up to our weekend getaway cruise I began to worry that I’d forgotten everything I knew about running the David B over the winter. In the end it turned out that being on the David B is a lot like riding a bike. It’s something you never forget. To read more about our first trip of the season visit my blog on Yachting Magazine’s website.

The Bellingham Bay Rendezvous

Bellingham Bay Rendezvous | Charter Boats | David BWe recently attended the Bellingham Bay Rendezvous which was a fun weekend event for unique charter boats like the David B. It was a blast to get to spend two days with the crews of charter boats from all over the Puget Sound. The Bellingham Bay Rendezvous is the topic of my latest blog post for Yachting Magazine. Hope you’ll take a moment to click on the link below to watch a video of the Bellingham Bay Schooner Race and see a few more pictures from the event.

Christine’s Yachting Magazine Post about the Rendezvous in Bellingham


Remembering the Old Times with Bill

Northwest Navigation Co | Small Boat Cruises | San Juan Islands | Alaksa | BillThis past week I spent some time with an old fisherman who stopped by the David B to celebrate his 87th birthday. He’s the topic of my blog post for Yachting Magazine this week. I hope you’ll take a moment to visit the link and enjoy the story and short video.

A Conversation with an Old Timer | Yachting Magazine

Christine has a New Blog on Yachting Magazine’s Website

Yachting Magazine | Blog | Christine Smith | David B ChartersBe sure to stop by Yachting Magazine’s website once a week to check out Christine’s newest gig as a blogger for Yachting Magazine. Every week she will be posting something new about boats, boating, the David B, cruising, wildlife, running a charter boat business or whatever tickles her fancy.


Here’s a link to Yachting Magazine’s website. We hope you enjoy!


Feeling My Way Though the Loss of Our Friend Jim Langei

Jim on the David B
Jim on a trip in Alaska in 2010

Yesterday we lost a good friend, Jim Langei. Some of you know him from the trips he crewed with us on the David B. As I think about the events that took the life of Jim and his wife Stirling, I’m remembering that it was only a year ago today that Jeffrey and I attended a memorial for a friend who’s life was cut short by an avalanche. Last year I just listened to the words of others that were spoken. I let their words heal me and help me to remember, but then a few months later a suicide reopened that wound of loss. This time it was Jeffrey’s words that began the healing, but again, healing wasn’t complete when another avalanche a few weeks ago unstitched the repair to my sickened heart.  Today I need my own words to describe yesterday and to mend this heartsickness I have over the loss of a wonderful person who has been a dear friend to us and to the David B.


Even though it was raining in the early morning yesterday, Jeffrey and I were outside enjoying our morning coffee in the hot tub at our house. It was Jeffrey that noted the unusually agitated flock of gulls flying overhead. We talked about it and came up with a few reasons for their behavior. Never, would we have dreamed of the horrible reason for their flight.

What the gulls knew, but we didn’t, was that there had just been an explosion in the harbor, and all the boats in a row of boathouses were consumed. The flock overhead eventually calmed and dispersed leaving Jeffrey and me to our thoughts of the upcoming day and what we planned to do with it.  Finishing our coffee, we soon went back inside forgetting about the birds. While we listened to the news on the radio and tidied up the house, Jeffrey heard a breaking story about a boat fire in Bellingham. He checked his phone. The Port had not called. The David B was safe. Soon we heard the arrival of a news helicopter.

Jim on deck with a book
Jim on deck with a book

“Hmmm, this might be bigger that we thought,” I said, sitting down at my computer.

With a little searching I found a live video stream coming from the helicopter that I could see and hear circling the neighborhood and harbor. In the tiny frame on my computer were flames and black smoke shooting through corrugated metal and up creosote soaked pilings. The whole dock was burning. Oh no I thought. My body shook knowing that our friend Jim and his wife Stirling lived on their boat where the flames were the biggest.

I looked up a Jeffrey who was watching over my shoulder.

“Jim’s boat’s in there.” I tired to control my voice with a whisper.

The phone rang while we stared at the video. I looked at the caller ID. It was Chris, another friend who lives on a boat. She asked me if I knew. I said I did. She said her husband Jeff had heard it. I told her about the video stream on the news, and that from the helicopter footage I could see her boat, 100 yards away from the fire. I could see the David B 150 yards away.

I watched helpless and not knowing if Jim and Stirling were safe. I sent an email to Jim’s work address, telling him how sorry I was for the loss of his boat and home. I wondered if he would respond. I refreshed my email. No auto-responder came back saying he was away. My heart sank.

“Jeffrey. Do you think they got out?”

“Don’t know,” he said staring out the kitchen sink window absentmindedly washing a coffee cup. I could see in his body that he didn’t think so.

Driving the David B
Driving the David B

With our morning chores done, Jeffrey and I sat back down at our computers and read the news flash. “Two missing in Bellingham Boat Fire.” We looked at each other and tears came. The missing two were our friends. We knew it had to be.


We drove to the harbor and prepared ourselves for the walk down the dock to the David B. We could see the smoldering creosote pilings, the firefighters, Coast Guard boats, Department of Ecology, and Port employees busy taking care of the situation. I tired to hold in the tears as we walked past the parade of people who had come to look at the dying fire and crumpled buildings. People I love lived there. Do these people here know that? My friends were missing and I tried not to think about them dying in the sunken, twisted jumble of hot corrugated metal and melted fiberglass not so far away. We walked on to the David B. I spent a moment on the back deck trying to take in the scene – trying to not believe that it was real.

The rest of morning I painted below decks. The busy work was a channel for my nervous energy, but the breeze flowing into the David B smelled of burnt plastic and tar. It brought more tears, emotions, and memories.

We met Jim in the fall of 2008 through a friend when we needed a loan for the business. Jim had been recommended to us as someone who understood the needs of a boating business. Through the process of getting the loan we learned that he was boater and was taking a class to get his 100 ton captain’s license. Not long after that we invited him to come north to Alaska with us to help out as a crew member and to show him the Inside Passage so he’d know some great places where he could someday take his own boat.

While I painted, I thought about his first trip with us and how professional he was with our passengers, and then how much fun, Jeffrey, Jim, and I had bar hopping in Ketchikan after the passengers had left.  I thought about how much he liked to read, and how many of the books he brought with him have become part of the David B’s library. I remember him wanting to read late into the night at the galley table and offering  take my one a.m. watch so I could have an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

Dawes Glacier Ice and a Cold Kokanee
Dawes Glacier Ice and a Cold Kokanee

I remembered watching Jim help Jeffrey navigate through the ice in Endicott Arm. I loved watching him at the helm following Jeffrey’s hand signals from the bow. They worked in tandem slowly and carefully dodging icebergs. What was special about Jim was how he was always thinking of new ways to help us promote our business. It was Jim who first suggested that we should dedicate our trips between Bellingham and Ketchikan to boat owners who wanted to learn how to cruise the Inside Passage. Those trips are sold out this year, and I never had a chance to thank him for the idea. I eventually thought about my last email from Jim. It was one asking if he could post some of our trips in the coffee shop that Stirling ran at the top of Gate 3 in Squalicum Harbor. Throughout the day I remembered a friend who was always there to help.

At the end of the day, I cleaned up my painting project and walked out onto the back deck of the David B. Jim and Stirling were still listed as missing. I suspected that they would be for a long time. I watched the smoldering pilings that even Mother Nature couldn’t put out with the downpour she had started an hour or so earlier. As I stared at the destruction, two seals surfaced near the the David B. They looked around the changed harbor and slipped back under water. Watching the seals caused my lower lip to quiver and with a deep breath, I let the sadness sink in a little more. I resigned myself to the reality of their fate. I mourned my missing friends.

Slow Down – You Move to Fast

Relaxing on Deck | Small Ship Cruise | Inside Passage | Alaska
Taking time to relax at anchor

Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics “Slow down you move to fast, you’ve got to make the moment last..” has been playing over and over in my head the last few days. I often get this song bomb when I’m feeling rushed or panicked for time. I like those words since they help me to remember to take a breath, pause, and soak up the world around me.

This time of year I spend a lot of time, maybe even too much time, obsessing about how to get people to choose to take their vacations on the David B. I pay attention to what potential passengers are saying, and what ads from other types of tour providers show. The thing I see the most is speed: the drive to maximize the time you have away from work — to fill every moment with heart pounding adrenaline — to see it all in just a few days.

How can anyone ever relax, refresh, or renew themselves at this pace? I don’t know. What I do know is that the types of tours Jeffrey and I provide on the David B are the essence of slowing down and making the moment last. The David B is a slow boat. We have a top cruising speed of 6.5 knots or about 7.5 miles per hour. (That’s compared to the 17-22 knots of a cruise ship.) When we are underway and motoring through the narrow tree-lined channels of the Inside Passage at slow speed, we have more time to observe. We often spot bears on beaches, or eagles sitting high up in trees. When evening comes, we pull in to a new anchorage, drop the hook, and turn off the engine. It’s silent with the exception of the trickle of streams, and songs or calls of birds.

When someone signs up for one of our cruises I put myself into their shoes and try to come up with the perfect plan. I think about what I’ve learned about them from emails and conversations, and how I can help them slow down and enjoy the moment. When was the last time my guests took a vacation to relax? How do our passengers gear their time away from work? Do they maximize every moment so they don’t miss a thing? What’s it like for them when Jeffrey and I take care of all the details — the meals, the anchorages, the activities?

I think about these things a lot. While I love the speed of technology and I sometimes like to be somewhere in a hurry. I don’t like to see people rush through their valuable time off. When I think of travel, I envision going to a place to explore, to see, to learn, to slow down, to enjoy the feeling of being in the now.  Slow travel is what we offer. It’s the pause between the breath. It’s the chance to inhale the earthy scent of the muskeg, or the brininess of the sea. When I hear of people wanting to see Alaska in a few days or think that they are experiencing the Inside Passage when they book a cruise on one of the big cruise ships that steams through the night, I wonder if they know what they are missing.

Johnstone Strait | Cruise Ship | Seymour Narrows
Cruise Ship in Johnstone Strait Hurrying to Its Destination

I know the David B’s not for everyone. Our trips are for people who want more than to simply check a place off of their list of Must-Sees. The David B is for people who don’t want a vacation full of bright lights, public address systems, crowded dining rooms, and dance clubs. It’s for people who want nature and conversation over a good meal. It’s for people who want to make their moments last.

Last year we chose an anchorage in Johnstone Strait not too far from Seymour Narrows. Slack water was going to to take place at Seymour near sunset. The narrows are a place where boats need to time their passage because of fast currents.  For most of the day, we had been listening to traffic and knew where the cruise ships where and what times they were planning to be at Seymour. While they were spending the day steaming to be on time, we spent the day cruising. Twice we stopped to watch orca whales, and once we had pacific white-sided dolphins surf our bow before stopping for the night.

That evening I served dinner while the sky turned pink. Our little anchorage was quiet as we talked with our guests about the whales we had seen and what our plan for the next day would include. While we ate, the first cruise ship passed by. They were making their way for Seattle and would be there the next day. We still had four more days to make it to Bellingham. As the ship sped past, we stopped our conversation and watched. We paused and took in the moment, and were awed by the ship (it’s hard not to be).  As the sounds of the ship’s engines and public address system faded, someone voiced how lucky we were to be on the slow boat to Bellingham.

A Evening with Passion

Northwest Navigation Co. | Passion | StaggsonianSometimes you find passion in the oddest places. On Saturday evening Jeffrey and I found ourselves at the door of a rather plain old house. Its 1940s mint green asbestos shingles vaguely reminded me of my grandparent’s house. We had arrived at the house by way of an invitation from Nancy, a petite, fit and trim woman with beautiful silver hair that matches her fiery personality. We had first met her several years ago when she came on the David B for a kayaking trip.  This evening she had invited us and two other couples to the home of Don Stagg, a musician and a collector of pianos and pipe organs.

When we stepped up to the front door, it had been left open a crack to let us know to just walk in. I stepped inside first and was greeted by  Nancy. She introduced us to her guests, Graham and Donna, and Lisa and Ken, then she introduced us to Don Stagg. He’s a tall man of 82 years. His thin ponytail was tied into a ball at the nape of his neck. He wore long-sleeves with cuff links, a tie and a green vest with a chain that was fastened to the middle button hole. The chain we learned later was made from his mother’s hair and held a pocket watch that chimed on the hour. While we chatted with one another, I surveyed the house. The furniture was heirloom, dark colored wood with red and green velvet. It had been reupholstered three times. A grandfather clock that Don had first seen as a young boy stood in the corner. The opposite wall held a watercolor portrait of a younger Don playing the piano. His strong hands and bearded face stood out from the white-washed background and instrument. Everything in the room and on the walls had meaning. As I looked around, I saw not just stuff, but a man’s life and the memories and the passion that drives him. While I listened to the conversation my eyes lingered on the things that made this house different from every other house I’ve been in — pianos.Northwest Navigation Co | Small Ship Cruises | Don Stagg

Set though out the house were pianos, a clavichord, the world’s only double harpsichord, more pianos, and two pipe organs. Each and everyone had been rescued. When Don walked over to an insturment, he’d sit down and play for us. His hands moved with incredible speed and accuracy, his emotion in every note. His music makes you cry. Between bits of music Don would talk. He’d talk about living and working in Montana and Alaska. He’d talk about the mining camp where he was born and the hardworking mining couple that adopted him as an infant. He’d talk about the worthlessness of today’s throw-away electronic culture. He has no electronic gadgets, no television, no computer. He talked about his disdain for the universities and museums that put great instruments like the ones spread thoughout his house under lock and key where they cannot be played.Northwest Navigation Co | Small Ship Cruises | Pianos and Organs

As he talked about his life and his passion for playing I couldn’t help but think about the passion that Jeffrey and I have with the David B. I knew that Nancy had invited us and the others who shared the evening together because each once of us held a passion for something, whether it was music, sailing, felting, publishing, or an old wood boat, it was our love for these things that we all shared and we all got to see in one another. There’s a magic in a person like Don who is passionate. His love for his music and for the care of his musical charges was inspirational. Passion kindles a fire that we all have within us. Some of us move forward with our passions, others keep them ready for some safer future time, but the things we live for are there. What made our evening with Don so special, was seeing him pursue his amazing passion with such simplicity and focus.



Of Ginger Cookies and the Galley of a Wooden Boat

It’s been about a month now that More Faster Backwards has been published and Jeffrey and I are having a lot of fun promoting it in as many ways as we can. Later today we’ll be at the Pacific Marine Exchange in Bellingham doing a book signing. As part of the event, I decided that I wanted to make my favorite Triple Ginger Cookies as a way to show people who come to the signing how special a trip on the David B is. While I was thinking about cookies yesterday we were invited to dinner with some friends on the Schooner Zodiac. We wanted to go, but I also needed to make cookies, so it was agreed that I could use their galley.  It was a perfect evening because I love old wood boats, galleys, drinking wine, and baking while spending time with good friends.

Small Ship Cruise | David B | Alaska | Inside Passage | San Juan Islands | Culinary
Juliet making Triple Ginger Cookies

In my opinion, time spent in the galley is the best. It’s where heart and soul come alive with stories, smells, and tastes. In the summer months when we’re on the David B the galley is central to all of our cruises, whether we’re in the San Juan Islands, Alaska, or somewhere along Canada’s Inside Passage. It’s around the cook stove and galley table that I get to know the people who have chosen to spend their vacations with us. Some of the best times I’ve had on the David B has been while cracking crab or snapping beans with our guests. As our hands flow with motion our stories emerge. Some stories are simple, some stories are harrowing, but all of them bring us closer together.

In a era where the pace of life moves so fast, the galley becomes a refuge where time slows down and we can relax and be people; not employees, workers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers, or whatever labels we place on ourselves. The galley is simply a place to nurture and be nurtured.

After dinner last night, Juliet and I stole away to the galley to start the cookies. She helped me chop fresh ginger and candied ginger while I creamed butter and brown sugar. We talked about all sorts of things while everyone else was in the salon. As the cookies baked, the smell of hot ginger and sugar filled the space. It was intoxicating and added to the warm cozy feeling of being on a wooden boat while outside the wind and rain raged. It also made me remember how much I look forward to the summer and being in my galley on the David B.