Responsible Travel-Alaska Small Ship Cruise
Scattered islands and rugged coastline filled the window as I landed in Sitka. Tall pines and small cottages were surrounded by crashing waves layered in blues as crisp and clear as any Caribbean sea. Discovering Alaska’s Inside Passage would hold many surprises with AdventureSmith Explorations , a small ship cruise expert.
Their award-winning company is well known for responsible travel and sustainable practices. Leaving the compact airport in a late morning mist, the air immediately smelled of the pine so familiar from my trips to northern Canada. It’s a deep, damp musty scent of the forest: clean, fresh and untouched.
The wooden vessel I called home for seven days was the historic MV Westward. Recently renovated and equipped with her original slow-turning diesel engine, she was a sparking vessel among the many fishing boats in Sitka harbor. Built in 1924, the 86′ boat was modeled after a traditional salmon cannery tender. The rear fantail shape is characteristic of many workboats in the Pacific Northwest during that era. Originally owned by Campbell Church Sr., the Westward for many years ferried passengers from Seattle to Alaska to experience Church’s hunting and cruising expeditions. The boat has seen a who’s who of the rich and famous, including film magnate George Eastman, E.F.Hutton, Walt Disney and John Wayne. Now, the eight guests aboard will be taking in the Alaskan scenery, hiking, kayaking and viewing wildlife on a much different adventure experiencing sustainable travel.
It takes a day or so to get used to the engine, but just as quickly you’ll find the rhythmic motor below deck lulling you into a trance-like dream. A quiet anchorage at night was perfect for open portholes. In addition to the sound of gentle waves lapping, one might hear whale blow or other wildlife nearby. Traveling in a small vessel affords the luxury of passing through small coves and bays too shallow for the much larger cruise ships that frequent this area. Many days the only others we saw were animals.
Captain Bill Bailey has spent most of his life on the water and has traversed the waters of the Inside Passage for 12 seasons. After working as a commercial fisherman in the Pacific Northwest, he knows the sea like the back of his hand, but still carries a healthy respect for her power and changing characteristics. When asked why he added this particular boat to his charters, he got a bit misty-eyed and remarked that he wanted to save and restore the Westward to her former beauty. From the water purifying system he built from scrap parts to the gleaming woodwork throughout, it is unequivocally a labor of love to keep the MV Westward thriving.
For Chef Tracie Triolo, her road to the MV Westward was a circuitous one that traveled through high-end kitchens of hotels and restaurants, as well as training with chefs known for their showmanship. When she visited Alaska for the first time, she knew she wanted to come back. After working in temperamental kitchens, Tracie was looking for a different environment, one with a bit more democracy; leadership by example, where there was little delineation amongst the crew. In the small world of charters, those characteristics led her to Capt. Bailey. She fell in love with the galley and knew immediately she wanted to work on this boat. Nine years later, it’s easy to observe the respect and love the small crew has for one another.
Want to read more? Enjoy the rest of this responsible travel journey into Alaska’s Inside Passage on JustLuxe.