|A white-hulled 100-foot super yacht, docked at Echo Bay, Gilford Island|
It was late May, and the boat was making a nine-day repositioning cruise from Gig Harbor, Washington, to Ketchikan, Alaska, where her owners would spend the summer cruising Alaska’s Inside Passageway. By some miracle, for this leg of the trip, one of her two guest staterooms was offered to my brother, Chris, and the other to me.
No Internet, no television, no cell service, a private chef, a chance to read and write my novel undisturbed—it’s a wonder I didn’t get a speeding ticket on the way to the airport.
Tuesday, May 29
Is any tourist trap more photographed than Pike Place Market?
I thought, “Except for book publishers, only cruise ship operators are lame-brained enough to give away their product for free to an audience that will trash it in snarky reviews.”
|Norwegian Cruise Lines’ The Bliss|
Cruising north, we left Seattle behind us, crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and checked in with Canadian customs at Bedwell Harbor. The attractive, vintage hotel overlooking the marina was Poet’s Cove. The sun felt good on our faces. We anchored that night at Montague Bay, an hour north of Bedwell Harbor.
Aboard the boat, cocktail hour commenced every evening at 5:30. We gathered in the comfortable salon. That first night, for an appetizer, Chef John served a delectable chicken satay with peanut sauce. This is my idea of roughing it enroute to the great North.
At 7:00 p.m. we moved to the formal dining table. Chef John’s perfectly grilled filets of tenderloin beef and a fresh green salad were passed family style around the table.
After dinner, it was warm enough—and still light enough—to take a bottle of wine to the top deck. We drank from red solo cups. Coming back down the steep steps, I sloshed red wine onto the white Berber carpeting of the wheelhouse and spent the rest of the night on hands and knees, scrubbing the stain with club soda and a kitchen towel.
On this trip, between meals—and naps—I sat at the dining table and worked on a new novel, a sequel to The Dining Car. The rain was constant. With so few distractions, my production as a writer eclipsed what I could do at home. By this time, I was living in jeans and a heavy sweatshirt, and I was always barefoot when aboard the boat.
Late that day, docked at a marina at Campbell River, we found a grocery store within easy walking distance. Chris and I followed Chef John through the brightly lit aisles. Have you ever seen a real chef shop? It was as if John were running a steeplechase, families and shopping carts the obstacles.
Dinner that night was memorable: fried oysters, grilled halibut, potatoes, and a tossed green salad.
Chef John served a delicious broccoli-and-beef filet Chinese stir-fry lunch.
That evening, docked at Echo Bay, Gilford Island, Mark introduced us to local Nikki van Schyndel, a world-recognized survivalist who made a name for herself by living (voluntarily!) 19 months in the harsh elements of the British Columbia wilderness. (For a harrowing adventure tale, read Nikki’s book “Becoming Wild.”)
It doesn’t hurt that with her jet-black hair and sapphire blue eyes, Nikki looks like a young Elizabeth Taylor.
|Chef John's decadent chilaquiles, |
the scrambled eggs on the side
A few hours later, our reward for successfully crossing the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, where for a time we bobbed like a cork on a roiling ocean, was a lavish taco salad.
|Howard, the generous Canadian fisherman, hands over some delicious seafood: "No chardonnay!"|
Chris saw what was happening and hailed Howard back, hoping to give him a bottle of wine as thanks.
“What do you like?” Chris called from the aft-deck. “Red or white?”
“White!” Howard shouted through cupped hands. “Anything but chardonnay!”
At 2:00 p.m. we reached Ketchikan. The NCL cruise ship “Pearl,” southbound, was just leaving the harbor. The passage out was so narrow that we had to wait for the “Pearl” to pass before entering the channel. It made us wonder how a ship the size of “Bliss” will ever negotiate these tight waters.
Our last dinner aboard the yacht was a surf and turf served family style: Howard’s prawns and halibut, carne asada with Buffalo-brand red sauce and salsa, steamed vegetables, a colorful green salad. The wine flowed.
And our dinner?
For Chris and me, this was the end of the line. We packed our bags, stripped our beds, chugged a cup of coffee, wolfed down a satisfying egg burrito—Chef John had just pulled the pan from the oven—and said good-bye to our friends on the boat.
|Chef John: artist at work on morning egg burritos|
The airport is as tiny as the town it serves, but its TSA agents are Herculean. They wasted no time snatching Chris’s briefcase from the conveyer belt.
“Mind if we take a look?” the woman demanded.
“It seemed suspicious,” she said. “Books that big don’t normally come through Ketchikan."
|Intercoastal ferry, the Chegena, zips by airport ferry, The Oral Freeman.|
Eric Peterson's debut novel, Life as a Sandwich, was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards. His most recent book, The Dining Car, won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Popular Fiction, the San Diego Book Award Gold Medal for Best Published Contemporary Fiction, and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Silver Medal for Literary Fiction. The story follows a former college football star who signs on as a bartender and personal valet to a legendary food writer and social critic who travels the country by private railroad car.