One small ship cruise line goes under. Most people would have seen their ships as fodder for the scrap yard. Dan Blanchard of American Safari Cruises saw them as the means to start a new company. With the complete overhaul of two ships formerly of Glacier Bay, InnerSea Discoverieswas born, a small-ship cruise line with a taste for adventure and exploration of wild places.
The first time I saw the Wilderness Discoverer she sat high and dry in a shipyard in Seattle. Pointing to the bulbous protrusion on the underside of the bow hanging over our heads, Dan Blanchard enthusiastically explained how an underwater camera soon to be mounted there would give future guests a view of what swims beneath the ship from the flat-screen TV's not yet added to the passenger cabins. He added that the bulbous bow, as it is actually called, reduces drag and thus decreases fuel consumption.
Outside the boat did not look like much. Most of the paint had been removed and the hull was in various stages of repair. Ships come into drydock periodically for maintenance and repairs. This one would stay longer than most for intensive overhaul. Dan mentioned that he intended to fix potential future problems in addition to current ones while the ship had her makeover.
After climbing a tall set of construction style temporary stairs, we reached the back deck and climbed aboard. We proceeded for a tour of the mostly still intact inside of the ship. At that time it appeared much as it had in its past life with barely a glimpse of the destiny of what it would become. Looking into sparse cabins with beds resembling camp cots, it took a lot of imagination to picture comfortable guest rooms.
Stepping cautiously over various tools and bits of construction debris, and careful not to touch any wet paint, we followed Dan as he happily pointed out the changes he planned to make.
“I'd like to decorate it in early Forest Service Lodge décor,” he said at one point, mentioning that he would be happy to accept donations of items anyone in our group of writers and travel agents might have for that purpose.
No doubt he expected things like fishing poles or kitschy cups. Perhaps someone might have an old fishing lure or some antlers. Things to give the ship an old fashioned outdoorsy look reminiscent of a remote lodge built in the first half of the last century. My thoughts drifted to the hay loft of my barn. There sat an old western saddle, gathering dust and cobwebs. It spent many years in that hay loft after a horse's extreme bucking fit broke the saddle tree.
At some point in the tour I found the chance to ask if he might like the saddle. He said he could find a use for it, perhaps as a lamp.
I next saw the Wilderness Discoverer several months later when I stopped by Dan's office to deliver the saddle. Dan said he had decided it would make a good bar stool. (I had wondered how the lamp idea would work.) He pointed out the way to the dock at Seattle's Fishermen's Terminal where the boat now resided in water.
The outside looked far better this time, the inside far worse. The newly painted green hull symbolizes a green company as well as honoring the Forest Service boats of Alaska. In southeast Alaska, the Forest Service built and maintains a series of boardwalk trails in the wilderness, which InnerSea Discoveries makes use of on their cruise itineraries. InnerSea Discoveries passengers don't just see glaciers, they hike on one. Instead of watching ice bergs float by, they get up close enough to touch, and even taste them.
Having patched, repaired, and painted the outside, work had began in earnest on the inside. Piles of old fixtures and furnishings cluttered much of the space. Little of the interior remained intact. Most of what did would not stay for long. Some of the vessel's future crew took time out of their day's remodeling and clean-up work to show off their new toy, the kayak launcher.
The kayak launcher enables people to get in and out of the kayak without getting off the boat. The kayak sits on rollers in between a set of handrail-like bars. Once in the kayak, it slides into the water on the rollers as the passengers use the handrails to push themselves toward the water. Testing it out with the bow of another boat just a few feet away proved a bit of a challenge, but it worked wonderfully and once in operation cruise ship guests will not have that obstacle to face.
The third time I saw the Wilderness Discoverer she sat tied to a pier not far from her former berth. This time she had her sister ship the Wilderness Adventurer tied to her side as they awaited their double christening ceremony. The newly refurbished inside now matched the recently renovated outside. While still small, the staterooms now sported real beds and of course, the flat screen TV's. All new furnishings graced the dining room and bar. A trip down a flight of stairs led to a small massage room. Up on deck a fleet of Necky kayaks awaited action and hot tubs nestled under their covers. Even exercise equipment found a place on deck, though how much use it will get in days filled with hiking and kayaking remains a mystery.
The ship looked great. It only lacked one thing. They had not yet mastered the secret of how to mount the saddle onto a bar stool. So while the ship found new life, the old saddle still waited. It did not have to wait long though. It missed the christening, but made it on the ship securely mounted to a bar stool before the ship set sail for the summer cruising season.
Time came for the christening. Champagne bottles broke simultaneously on both ships, followed by loud blasts of their horns joined by the horns of other ships in the fleet and cheers of the crowd and crews.
Two ships once destined for the scrap yard rescued and rebirthed to a new life as adventure vessels bound for Alaska with InnerSea Discoveries. Instead of cruising from port to busy port as the large ships do, they cruise cove to scenic cove, experiencing the wonders of nature in the wilds of southeast Alaska.
Interested in this cruise? Book early for next year at InnerSea Discoveries. This year already sold out. Or try American Safari Cruises luxury yachts to Alaska in the summer or their wintertime warm destinations in Hawaii or the Sea of Cortez.
Tags: Cruise Travel Adventure Alaska InnerSea Discoveries Nature Vacation