I’m embarrassed to admit that even though I have lived and boated in the northwest for the past ten years, this is my first trip to Alaska. When Larry Graf, owner of Aspen Power Catamarans, invited PassageMaker to come to Alaska to cover the beginning of yet another one of Larry’s adventure-tours, I couldn’t say no. This particular trip is a joint venture with one of Larry’s recent owners, David Jenkins, who bought a 40-foot C120 Aspen Powercat named Knot Wafflen’. As we have covered online, the voyage, once complete, will cover 10,000 miles, delivering the new catamaran from Anacortes, Washington, to Annapolis, Maryland, mostly on her own bottom.
Before leaving the West Coast, Jenkins took the boat north to Alaska up the Inside Passage to experience a cruise that lands on most people’s bucket list. From Alaska, the boat will motor back to Anacortes before heading down the Pacific coast to the Sea of Cortez. Instead of heading through the Panama Canal—which can deter many boaters due to length and safety concerns—instead, Knot Wafflin’ will haul out in San Carlos, Mexico, and then truck across to Galveston, Texas, before being dropped in the Gulf of Mexico. From there, she will cruise around the tip of Florida (with a possible side-trip to the Bahamas and Cuba), and then the final leg will lead north to Annapolis. This 10,000-mile tour really abides by the mantra, “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.”
If I needed proof that Larry was committed to the adventure and the "journey," I was provided with it as soon as I stepped off the plane in Juneau. It had been a whirlwind day getting to Juneau. Abiding by my usual method of travel, I rushed to pack on the day of my flight, checked the weather, and frantically dug out the foul weather gear that I’d already packed away in anticipation of summer. I finally caught my breath on the two-hour flight to Juneau and was preparing to settle into my quarters on the Aspen before an early departure the next day. Destination: Glacier Bay.
Larry met me as I was picking up my bag. If you’ve never met Larry Graf, he’s animated, full of energy, and always on the move. The first thing he says is, “I’ve got a proposition for you! If you’re up for it, let’s go take a float plane ride!” As if he knew this was the sort of thing one could not pass up, he didn’t wait for me to answer: “Grab your bags, we’re double-parked out front, and the plane is on the other side of the airport warming up.”
Alaska, Day One
As we drove around to meet our pilot, Larry explains that the day before—while he and his son-in-law were prepping the boat for our trip—they’d met a guy on the dock named Steve Birkinbine, owner of a small charter operation of Nordic Tugs, called Auke Bay Adventures that operates out of Juneau. As they were chatting about the ideal destinations from Juneau and all that Juneau had to offer for those cruising in Alaska, he suggested to Larry that he should arrange a scenic floatplane ride with Ward Air. It didn’t take long to convince Larry that this was a must-do activity before we started our trip, and just like that, Steve was arranging a special deal with Ward Air to take us all for a scenic flight.
So, within an hour of landing in Juneau, we were headed over to meet our Ward Air pilot, Kyle, a young man who looked like he lived and breathed Alaska. I was afraid to ask him his age, because while he looked wise and appropriately rugged, I was pretty sure he younger than me, and I was afraid to find out by how much.
Without fanfare, the de Havilland Beaver was airborne, banking hard and climbing steeply up the mountainous landscape that looms over Juneau.
I had already been impressed by the landscape of Juneau as I’d stared out the window during the descent of my commercial flight; descending for a good twenty minutes just above and then just below the various jagged peaks that seem to rise straight out of water surrounding the city. While our Alaska Air pilot had taken a conservative, well regulated approach to the Juneau airport, Kyle climbed and then dropped the float plane low over the rising peaks. Popping over Mt. Juneau we flew low over the edge of Suicide Icefalls. As we followed the rugged contours of the land below, I was overtaken with the beauty of the surrounding landscape. The blue glow of the Taku Glacier below mesmerized in the deceiving light of the summer evening. Below we could see the glacial encampment that offered the cookie cutter “Alaska Experience” for cruise ship passengers. We followed the glacier up into the Juneau Icefield before dropping down for a landing on Turner Lake in front of a spectacular 2,000-foot waterfall.
We stood on the pontoons of the Beaver snapping shots of the falls while Steve explained that most people who come to visit Juneau never come up to see this. I regretted not bringing a fly rod as Steve talked of trophy Cutthroat that could be caught in the waters at the base of the falls.
Once we returned to the marina in Juneau, we settled into the boat as the sun started to fade around 11 pm. As I nestled into my bunk, downloaded the photos and video of the day to my laptop, I could not help but take a moment to appreciate how unexpected and unique this day had been. I’d left Seattle focused on the next day’s destination. But I wasn’t here to simply go places, I was here with Larry Graf, which meant that I was here to experience Alaska. He generously and gracefully had swept me up in his way of life, and I had gone from being focused on the destination to being focused on the journey.
Stay tuned for more journal entries of my time with Larry Graf in Alaska aboard the Aspen Power Catamaran, Knot Wafflin'