|Return to Alaska|
A special boat and crew make a trip back to the 49th state different and memorable.
By Richard Thiel — February 2003
For me, cruising is about exploring new places. So when my friend Pat Brown invited me on a cruise in southeast Alaska, I was leery. I'd already been on a memorable trip there two years earlier with him aboard a lovely wooden double-ender called Explorer, where he'd earned his reputation as chef and raconteur extraordinaire. My dad, daughter, and I had seen scores of breaching whales and calving glaciers, but I didn't particularly want to go back and see the same landscape all over again.
Brown assured me that although the general area we'd be cruising in would be the same, we'd be covering new ground: leaving from Sitka instead of Juneau, heading west instead of south, and cruising aboard a different vessel (a 65-foot sistership to Explorer named Ursa Major) accompanied by her owner. Brown being an indisputable expert on food, boats, and Alaska, I signed on.
I landed in Sitka in late July to typical Alaskan drizzle and mid-50s temperatures. Brown met me with a hearty hello and slap on the back, and we were off to the docks. When you're on a boat that cruises at 7 knots, every moment counts, so after I met Capt. Ron Miller, owner Dr. Joyce Gauthier, and mate Cami Cash, we were headed northwest, past old Sitka, where Russia ceded Alaska to the United States in 1867.
We settled into a leisurely 7 1/2 knots with the big diesel turning 850 rpm. At 109 tons, not much disturbs Ursa, even after we cleared Neva Strait and Salisbury Sound and entered the notorious Gulf of Alaska. She took the six- and eight-footers so well, I quickly fell asleep. When I awakened we were entering Piehle Pass, an unmarked passage through scores of rocky islets, named after a famous Sitka rumrunner. Piehl used to hang an anchor light on one of these islets to fool the revenuers so he could deliver his hootch. All went well until he fell asleep one night and his boat dragged anchor. The Coast Guard spotted him and, thinking he needed help, hailed him. Figuring he was busted, he reportedly said, "Well, ya got me." The Feds investigated and soon had him in custody.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.