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I heart the David B

David B at Wood Spit on an Alaska Small Ship Cruise
Sand drawings at Wood Spit on an Alaska cruise

Our guests love the David B! Since we only take six guests on the boat per cruise, we work hard to make sure your time onboard the David B is unique, authentic, and special. I think that’s what makes our cruises in Alaska, the Inside Passage, and the San Juan Islands, so different from small ships that carry 50 or 60 passengers is that we get the time to know you as a person. On the David B, you are not just another passenger on another trip. We really do care about you and we really do hope you’ll join us!

-Christine

“No Outside News” Alaska Cruise

Sunset on an Alaska Small Ship CruiseDrop your cell phone and back away from your device…

I spend a lot of time quietly pondering things, because, well, my job is basically to stare out the window. The bridge windows on the boat, to be sure, but as I stare at those miles and miles of ocean going by it’s very calming for me. It’s especially good when we’re in a place that doesn’t have any cell coverage and there aren’t a lot of boats that might call me on the radio. I really like that old-school feeling of no one being able to contact me (well, we do have a satellite phone, but it very seldom rings). There was a time when all vacations were like this. It’s actually one of the main reasons people used to get away — so that others couldn’t contact them.

Now, in our regular lives we’re so completely connected to our phones, our iPads, our readers, our laptops (even our wrist-watches). We’re connected to everyone, yet no longer connected to who or what is around us. And, at the same time, the media, who seems to have our full attention, is whipping us into a frenzy. Everyone, regardless of political position seems to feel this angst about what the future holds.

I’ve got a way to solve all this, and you don’t even have to vote for me

Imagine if you could be gone, just completely out of touch, right during the conventions this summer. You Mary B Birding Cannery Covewouldn’t even have to think about what was happening in the American political system, and you could just enjoy the wild outdoors, the amazing hiking, the serene kayaking and Christine’s wonderful food. Perfect relaxation.
We’re making Trip #279 July 21-28 a special No Outside News Trip. It happens right in the same week as the Democratic National Convention. (The Republican convention week sold out early this year.) It’s round trip out of Juneau and as soon as we get out of town there will be almost no coverage for the whole 8 days. And, we’re even offering a 20% discount on it as well, making the new price $4480 per person. Click for itinerary information of send us an email.

-Captain Jeffrey

New Video – One Boat Two Hearts

Last summer at the Victoria Classic Boat Show we met with Steve Stone from OffCenterHarbor.com who asked if he could do a video shoot of the David B. Someone from the boat show had suggested that the David B’s story would be a good one, and so we were introduced.

The next morning Steve came to the boat and videotaped us as we talked about the David B and what it was like to restore the boat as well as what it is like now to cruise in Alaska and the Inside Passage. The video is heartwarming and they did a great job of capturing who we are and what the David B means to us and to our guests. I hope you’ll take the time to watch the preview and then sign up with OffCenterHarbor.com to see the entire clip. It might just make you cry — but in a good way.

http://www.offcenterharbor.com/videos/david-b-one-boat-two-hearts/?awt_l=sR7nMY&awt_m=3VggOkPJh644w9k

Going Ashore in the Wilds of Alaska

Going ashore in AlaskaFrom the bow of the skiff, I watch for bears and submerged rocks as we close in on the beach. In the final moments before I hop out, Jeffrey cuts the motor and lifts its prop out of the water. The sandy beach greets the fiberglass with a scratchy hello. Jeffrey instructs our guests to sit back while I step ashore and pull the boat up a little higher. Our guests climb out of “Skiffy” and after a radio check, a quick chat about the pick-up time, and meal prep, I push Jeffrey and Skiffy back out into the water. He’ll be back in a few hours.

 

It’s quiet. We’re on the beach. No cars, no cell phones, no Wifi, no pressures. Just me, six people, and the wilderness.

 

We go ashore because the wilderness is a real place. It’s more than a backdrop of beauty to pass by balcony windows and outside decks of larger cruise ships. Yes, the David B, is a warm, cozy vessel for cruising in Alaska, but Jeffrey and I have a greater goal for the David B’s

cruises– to experience the wilderness, where it’s fresh, it’s clean, it’s wild. It’s a pAshore at Little Dawes Meadow in Alaskalace too few people know anymore, and at a time when nature and wilderness are what we need to find calm in our ragged, over-scheduled lives. No matter how addicted I am to my distracted wireless life during the off-season, (and trust me, I can’t leave my device alone when a connection is available,) I yearn deeply for my summer
months on the David B, with our guests, in the wilderness of southeast Alaska. It’s a place where we can squat down next to a tide pool and lose track of time watching the rhythmic motion of the tiny feathery appendages that barnacles sweep the water with, while hermit crabs fight, sea-stars hunt, and small fish dart with lightning speed for a safe haven between sponge encrusted rocks.

 

Reflection at a tide pool in AlaskaIf there were more people than just our small group it wouldn’t be the same, and our group size allows us to have permits to take people to really special places. Places that other boats with more than twelve passengers cannot take their guests. Places few people ever touch foot. Going ashore is where you feel the power of Alaska, its nature and the draw of wilderness. When I push back on the branches of a Sitka spruce and the thorny leaves of a Devil’s club, to open up a passage into an ancient forest where the trails are made only by bears and deer, I know we are truly stepping into the real Alaska. We are getting more than just pretty backdrop scenery on the way to the next town and t-shirt shop, and we’re experiencing a transformation in ourselves as the timelessness of the wilderness whispers of our ancient and lost connection to nature.

I hope to get to walk ashore with you this summer.

-Christine

That time we anchored in Tracy Arm…

David B anchored at Tracy Arm Mud Flats
David B anchored at Tracy Arm Mud Flats

It was maybe the coolest thing we did all summer, and it wasn’t planned at all. I didn’t really mean to be there at that time of day anyway.

What started it all was a “boring” glacier in another fjord. We normally visit a glacier on our Juneau and Petersburg trips, and stay around for an hour or so to watch it calve, but this time — no luck.  We drifted around, and drifted around and nothing. The glacier was just sitting there, doing absolutely nothing. Maybe a couple little snowballs, but not like our normal shows. And it was really windy, so we kept having to maneuver to get back into position. There were lots of big icebergs that we pushed up against, and lots of brash ice and the whole thing was really annoying since nothing was going on with the glacier.

So I made a pronouncement “this glacier is boring! I’ll take you to see better one tomorrow.” Seemed like a good idea at the time.

The next morning we got underway at a nice civilized hour. The logbook says: “0935 — Underway“ Then everything seemed to slow us down. The tide was against us, we stopped for whales, we didn’t even make it out of Endicott Arm until well after lunch.

Black bear looking at kayakers un Tracy Arm
Black bear in Tracy Arm

And so, late in the afternoon we were headed up Tracy Arm and we weren’t going to make it. Turning around meant covering this same stretch of water two more times and if we kept on to the glacier, it was going to be dark on our way out. Not good when you’re trying to avoid icebergs.

So I did what anyone would do in that situation. I anchored right in the fjord. We’d been told about a spot where a river flows out into the fjord and pushes the icebergs away, but it didn’t seem that good, so we went back a few miles and dropped the hook on a shallow ledge where another stream flows out. We’d scooped out this spot a few weeks earlier, tested the depths and looked at how the stream flow pushed the ice away.

Seal eating a fish in Tracy Arm
Seal with fish

It was amazingly beautiful. Everyone got in kayaks and paddled around the little bergy bits that were nearby and watched a black bear at the water’s edge. Then we observed a seal eating salmon, and there was even a place to nose the kayaks into a little waterfall flowing into the fjord. Over dinner we spotted the bear again on the rocks high above us.

As darkness fell, Christine, Cass and I set an all night anchor watch, which was mostly an all night berg watch. We plotted the big ones with the radar, we scanned for small ones by searchlight. It was really eerie watching the huge bergs go by all night at a quarter knot or so, but it was too shallow for them to get close to us.  

When you go through a night like this, it seems almost bittersweet when it starts to get light. It was so serene and peaceful as the bergs marched slowly past us in the dark, first one way, then the other as the tide turned. There was a kind of magic to it. We were the only ones there quietly watching what the natural world had been doing for thousands of years

Sawyer glacier calving
Sawyer glacier calving

The spell continued as it got light, and we got underway to be the first ones to the glacier. The sun shone brilliantly, and this time, the glacier performed.

 

-Captain Jeffrey

The David B is in WoodenBoat Magazine!

The David B in Wooden Boat MagazineWhen we first stared Northwest Navigation Co. and bought the David B in 1998 we often dreamed of seeing her restored. We also hoped that someday there would be an article about the David B in WoodenBoat magazine as that magazine has always been a source of inspiration. This was especially true during the toughest times of restoring the David B when the end seemed impossibly out of reach. When things were difficult we’d often pull out our favorite copy of WoodenBoat – issue #140 Feb/Jan 1998 which featured the restoration of a boat called the Eda Frandsen. Its owners had done a beautiful job rebuilding it, and just prior to her relaunching a fire nearly destroyed her. Somehow, that didn’t deter the Eda Franden’s owners and they kept going. Their story helped inspire us. If they could rebuild an old wooden boat (twice) and get through major obstacles, then we could too!

So, seventeen years later Jeffrey and I have finally made our dream of seeing the David B in WoodenBoat magazine come true. Just yesterday Issue #242 Jan/Feb 2015 arrived in my mailbox. As I tore open the packaging, I felt both the joy of accomplishment and the fear of criticism as I flipped through the magazine to my article. There it was on page 72. The head of the article has a beautiful picture of the David B at anchor in Fords Terror from one of our Alaska cruises a few years back. I scanned the article and hoped I still liked it. I did. The rest of the pictures were restoration photos. I sometimes forget how much work we did during those first years and reading the article reminded me of how far we’ve come with the David B  and how far we will continue to go as we spend our summers cruising in the Inside Passage and Alaska.

Cycles of the seasons

Whatcom Creek in Bellingham has a run of chum salmon
Whatcom creek runs through downtown Bellingham and is a popular place for sports fishermen looking to catch chum salmon.

Whenever I see salmon in our local streams or in far-away wild places, it reminds me of the endless cycles of the seasons that often seem to go unnoticed. It’s changing from fall to winter bringing big winds and rain. Leaves from the maple trees have all blown down, and the trails are muddy from the fallen leaves trampled into the soil. When the rain and the wind come to my home, I know that soon the chum salmon will too. And along with them, bald eagles and people will appear along the banks of our urban streams. All these things have come to symbolize to me that another cycle for the David B has ended.

Fall and winter are a busy time for us. Each year in October our trips are finished and it seems like spring is impossibly far away. I drive around town picking up parts for the boat, the mail at the post office, and doing other off-seasons tasks. I often go past Whatcom creek, a small salmon-bearing creek that empties into Bellingham Bay. The in-town anglers line up, elbow to elbow along a retaining wall for their chance to catch a fish.

The other day when I saw the crowd of fishermen it reminded me of a day few months earlier in mid-July when I was kayaking with some of our guests in Alaska — Cannery Cove at Admiralty Island to be specific. It’s one of the most scenic anchorages we visit — almost unbelievable in it’s beauty. From our anchorage, the 3800-foot high Bear Pass Mountain rises right from the edge of the cove. Between the water’s edge and the top of the peak an ancient forest covers the side of the mountain. The boughs of those old-old trees seem to cling to the slowly rising wisps of clouds. Ravens fill this basin-like cove with their throaty “kwork-kwork,” calls while eagles whistle from their high perches atop of impossibly tall trees. Multiple waterfalls are visible as they tumble down Bear Pass Mountain forming cold and snow-fed salmon streams. Here the chum salmon run earlier than those in Washington state.

Brown bear viewing in Cannery Cove on an 8-day Alaska cruise on the David B
A brown bear walks the beach in Cannery Cove where chum salmon come home to spawn in creeks that feed into the cove.

On that day in July we kayaked to a spot where I’d seen a brown bear the week earlier. I figured I might as well check it out again, and sure enough, almost as if on cue, a bear ambled out onto the beach. It was, like the scenery in Cannery Cove, almost unbelievable. My guests followed and we watched the bear eat grass, dig a little around the beach and walk along the water’s edge. As I held my kayak in place, dipping my paddle into the water and pulling back slightly, I focused my eyes into the shallows below my boat. The water was clear and I could see a deeper dark-bluish-green channel that lead through the tidally-submerged mudflats at the head of the cove. Something caught my eye. It was a school of chum salmon swimming purposefully through the deep channel. These fish were nearing the end of their life-cycle. Their bodies already showed the changes that salmon go through on their way to spawn in freshwater. No longer were they the sleek and silver salmon of the Pacific ocean, they were now greenish with distinctive purple tiger-stripes. If I’d been able to scoop one of them out of the water, I’d have seen that their mouths were developing a hooked snout and canine-like teeth. These changes were in preparation for their final stage in life — migration up their natal stream for their chance to spawn and to end one cycle while beginning another.

Chum salmon in Whatcom Creek
Chum salmon in the fast waters of Whatcom creek in Bellingham.

Our cyclical lifestyle is defined by our sailing season and our off-season. We’ve finished with our wilderness adventures on the David B for the year, and we’ve prepared it for winter. We’ve finalized our project list, and put a winter cover over the boat. Is it the beginning of a new cycle? Or the end of the old? It’s hard to know and it doesn’t really matter where the line is. What does matter is that during this part of the cycle we get to reconnect with past passengers who are planning to return to the David B, and connect with new people who will travel with us for the first time. In a few months the David B will emerge with fresh paint, new varnish, and upgraded systems. Soon after, we will set off for new adventures. And a new cycle.

The gift of experience

Everyday I think to myself how lucky Jeffrey and I have been able to run the David B as a tour boat for the last nine years, and that we’ve been able to share with our passengers the most spectacular places in Southeast Alaska. As we move deeper into the holiday season and I’m constantly bombarded by the advertisements to buy more and consume more, I think about how much I enjoy my experience-based business. On days where I have to reluctantly go to the part of town with the big mall and its traffic, or I listen to people talk about the drudgery of buying gifts, I always wonder why more people don’t give the gift of an experience? Maybe it’s a small thing like a day trip to a nearby nature preserve, hotel stay, dinner at a special restaurant, or something really big like a trip in Alaska on the David B. I know my favorite gifts have all been the ones where I’ve spent time with the people I love and the memories I have from those experiences.

Here’s one of my favorite memories from our 2014 season. We were cruising near Admiralty Island and we came across a couple dozen humpback whales feeding. They were spread out far from each other. The weather was calm, the skies were clear. We stopped. Jeffrey shut down the engine, dropped an underwater microphone (hydrophone) in the water and just listened and watched. Soon two humpbacks surfaced nearby the David B.

Iceberg goes for a ride

Every so often we get a chance to see something a little unusual. One day while hiking at Fords Terror, we stopped to watch the reversing tidal rapids when a medium sized iceberg got sucked through.

Four Great Days in the San Juan Islands

Kayaking from the m/v David B at Sucia Island in the San Juan Islands
Kayaking at Sucia Island

We just got back from our first trip of the 2014 season. It was a lovely 4-day cruise with wonderful family of six on board. We left Bellingham and motored to Stuart Island. Along the way we found a bunch of Steller’s sea lions lazing on Spieden Island’s Green Point. They made a few guttural grunts, but otherwise they took little notice of us.

When we arrived at Stuart Island’s Reid Harbor, our guests went ashore for a walk to the Stuart Island School House. While they were away, I spent the early evening making a Coq au Vin for dinner and a fresh berry parfait for dessert. While I cooked, I listened to the calls of a family of osprey that nest in the harbor.

The next day we went kayaking and slowly paddled along the shoreline to look for sea stars, crabs, and anything else that we could find. While we paddled, two bald eagles came flying in pursuit of an osprey. It was a little like those World War II dog-fights. The osprey eventually gave the eagles the slip and soon returned to its nest. The eagles flew off to the other side of the island.

After we returned from kayaking, we raised anchor and cruised over to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. Our guests went for a walk to the McMillian Mausoleum. Jeffrey went up the dock with them and I stayed on board to prepare a special Mother’s Day dinner. I noticed that it was taking Jeffrey a long time to return to the boat and I wondered what happened to him. When he returned, I discovered that he joined our guests for an ice cream treat from the Roche Harbor General Store.

Sunrise at Garrison Bay at San Juan Island
Sunrise at Garrison Bay at San Juan Island

Later that night we anchored in Garrison Bay. The highlight for me was watching a bald eagle swoop down from a tree and catch a fish. It then took the fish to the beach and was joined by two patient crows who waited from the eagle’s scraps.

On the third day of the trip, we motored back to Roche Harbor. Our guests had arranged for a special side-trip to Zip San Juan  for a zip line adventure. The zip line folks met our guests in Roche Harbor. They were gone for about three hours and when they retured, they raved about how much fun it was to fly through the woods.

We left Roche Harbor and cruised up President Channel to Sucia Island. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Once we were anchored, Jeffrey took everyone ashore for some beach combing. When they got back, they reported that they’d seen a family of river otters.

Sometime after I went to bed, the wind picked up a bit. From my cabin below deck, I could hear the wind in the trees and the lapping of tiny wind waves on the hull. I loved the sound and tried to stay awake longer, but soon I fell asleep.

In the morning the wind was still blowing, but I didn’t think about it too much because it was Croissant Day. I love making pastries, but I really, really love making croissants and pain au chocolat. After they were out of the oven, they (the croissants) didn’t last long.

Once breakfast was finished, we took the kayaks out once more. There were tons of purple sea stars and leather stars. We paddled for almost two hours before returning to the David B.

Sea lions in the San Juan Islands
Steller’s sea lions in the San Juan Island

On our way back to Bellingham one of our guests, an eleven-year old steered the boat with me and Jeffrey. I think he spent most of the way back at the wheel. I enjoyed watching him and answering his questions. It was a fun way to start a new year on the David B.

-Christine