When I was young, Dad bought his first boat and early on he talked about someday cruising to Alaska. Lots of things have happened over the past thirty five years all of which have kept cruising to Alaska on the ‘someday’ list. In April, 2011, we were celebrating Dad’s 72nd birthday and talking about our summer cruising plans. I started teasing him about when ‘someday’ was going to come so he could see his dream come true of getting a picture of his boat in the ice floats. He laughed me off but didn’t really say, “No”. The next few months I started gently pushing Dad into making plans. Frankly, I didn’t really think that he would go through with it, but then he started to talk about going.
The following April we began to gather together all the paper charts that would be needed. My partner Wendy, Dad and I worked on borrowing, purchasing and cataloging the 100 + charts and the 3 electronic charting applications that would be on board. Using the charts, we crafted a rough float plan which showed that the whole trip from Seattle to Juneau and back would take about 68 days. One evening Dad said to me, “I think you should plan on being on board the whole trip.” I wasn’t planning on spending the whole summer on board but it was the best decision ever!
On June 1st, when Dad fired up the engines on the Simbalaut, the reality that we were leaving set in. We pulled away from the dock under overcast skies and gentle rain. The lock master asked where we were headed. When we responded, “North to Alaska”, he told us to go to the red buoy, turn right and just keep going. We arrived at SYC outstation on Oven’s Island 10 ½ hours after departing.
We spent Father’s Day in St. John Harbor on Zarembo Island in Alaska. After dinner, I gave Dad his Father’s Day card which included a personal note to him. He went down into his stateroom and brought up a letter that I had written to him for Father’s Day when I was in my mid 20’s. I had no idea that he had been carrying it around with him for almost 30 years. He told me that he was going to put the new card with the letter. It was a Father’s Day I’ll never forget! I bet Dad doesn’t either.
On day 23, we departed Petersburg at 6:30 a.m. under overcast skies and a chill in the air with a direct course for the Le Conte Glacier. As we approached the bay we realized that we were actually sneaking up on an ice field. We knew that this morning was going to be a challenge, and our observations confirmed our anticipation. The ice started from a scattered field to a dense field of ‘williwaws’. We had read that clear sharp edged ones that floated undetected, mostly below surface, were of the most concern.
Dad decided that the best solution to ensuring a safe passage for the Simbalaut was for me, his first born to get in the air filled dinghy and be a major bow buddy. When I first got in little Simby I was more than just a bit concerned about Dad’s latest plan and my welfare. With great trepidation, I slowly became Jackie Cousteau and motored around the bergs like they were an obstacle course. The beast became the beauty and soon we all became mesmerized. The colors and shapes were unbelievable and the sounds that they make as they move and transform was magical. Before the day was over I was able to help Dad fulfill his dream of pictures in the ice.
We were gone for 57 days, ran the boat for 317 hours travelled 2,513 nautical miles, visited 12 new ports of call and anchored in lots of coves. We took 1,945 pictures and shot 280 videos. We saw countless whales, numerous seals and lots of soaring eagles. Every day was a new adventure and the classroom was always open. Seven others joined us on our journey. Together we created daily float plans, recapped our days into the story that we posted so folks could follow along and laughed until our cheeks and bellies were sore.
It totally touched my heart to spend time with my Dad and it reminded me of how terrific a guy he truly is. Dad is a passionate man who loves the sea and likes to use words like magical. He is an extremely resourceful man that assesses the situation, listens to suggestions and then devises and executes a plan, a true leader in all ways. Dad is an amazing teacher who is more tolerant than any person I’ve ever known. Nothing, absolutely nothing rocks him. He gets sheer pleasure out of watching people be successful. Dad doesn’t really care what his role is; he just loves being a part of the team. Some were concerned that the trip was going to be a challenge but instead it was PRICELESS!