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Thursday, June 28, 2018


A white-hulled 100-foot super yacht, docked at Echo Bay, Gilford Island


GUEST BLOG / By Eric Peterson, novelist, travel/wine writer and dining critic with was fit for a spread in a yachting magazine: a gleaming white-hulled 100-foot superyacht, powered by twin Detroit Diesels, her sleek profile tasteful yet somewhat sinister—a floating stronghold from which James Bond’s archenemy might launch a takeover of the world.

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
The day before boarding the boat, Chris and I met up at Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel, a long-in-the-tooth waterfront property whose claim to fame is that the Beatles once fished there from an open window. Chris and I spent the afternoon walking the hills of downtown Seattle—in late May, it still felt like winter.

Is any tourist trap more photographed than Pike Place Market?
For dinner, to get in the spirit, we saddled up to the glittering bar of a waterfront restaurant. At this time of year, being so far north, the days are long—eating dinner in broad daylight took some getting used to. The gin helped. My seafood stew was tasty but wanting in volume. The bartender, a would-be writer, learned that I had written a novel and promised to order a copy of my latest book. We bumped his tip—by about 4x my royalty on the book, I realized the next day.

Wednesday, May 30
The next morning, leaving the Edgewater Hotel, Chris and I found ourselves in the shadow of a monstrosity. In the night, Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) newest megaship, “Bliss,” had tied up next door. This behemoth blocked the sun; it was like staring up at the MGM Grand.
“It’s their invitation-only, inaugural cruise,” a middle-aged Canadian woman told us. “Mostly travel agents. Three days to Victoria and back. For free.” She gave us her card. She was a travel agent.

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
The Bliss holds 4,000 passengers. On the top deck, along with the obligatory water park for the kiddies, is a 1,000-foot go-kart track.
Someone in Norway should be ashamed.
Over salmon tacos and clam chowder at a seafood restaurant called Anthony’s, we watched the leeches and sponges of the travel-agency world board the grandiose ship. Most of the ship’s passengers wheeled two roller bags—the second one, we surmised, for the ship’s silver.

Thursday, May 31
Our superyacht departed Gig Harbor early the next day. Mark, the captain, adroitly operated the boat from the flying bridge while Sean, the mate, and John, the chef, handled the lines. The Peterson brothers were monkeys, pretending to help with the lines and getting wet.

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.

Friday, June 1
Early the next day, as we pulled anchor, the smell of bacon wafted from the galley. “Stir sticks,” we said, planting the strips of bacon in our red solo cups brimming with Bloody Marys. Captain Mark corrected us: in Canada, Bloody Marys are called “Caesars.” They’re customarily made with Clamato, a reconstituted tomato juice flavored with spices and clam broth. In honor of Canada, I had two Caesars. The purr of the Detroit Diesels led to a late-morning nap.

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.

Saturday, June 2
We left Campbell River on a rainy, windy morning. The low clouds, dense forests, and cascading waterfalls of the Seymour Narrows made for riveting scenery. During this scenic stretch, the pace of my writing slowed considerably.

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.

Nikki van Schyndel, a world-recognized survivalist who is the author of “Becoming Wild.”)

Nikki joined us at the boat’s dining table, telling us the latest: Ironically, she’s been drummed out of her burgeoning ecotourism business by the Canadian government for lacking the proper permits. If she’s caught picking her trademark “wild” salads on Canada’s nature preserves, the officials warned, she faces a $10,000 fine.

Sunday, June 3
We left Echo Bay on a wet, gray morning. Entering the calm waters of Queen Charlotte Strait, we caught sight of the cruise ships “Golden Princess” and “Nieuw Amsterdam,” both steaming north towards Ketchikan.
For our Sunday breakfast, Chef John had a decadent treat in store: chilaquiles, the traditional Mexican dish, made wickedly with salsa and mashed up Doritos. John served the scrambled eggs on the side.
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.
I followed this fiesta of a lunch with a long nap in my darkened stateroom, which was appointed like a room at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Later that day, passing the Indian Reserve community of Bella Bella, we had a brief window of cell service. There was a scramble to catch up on e-mail and call home before again losing our signal.
Mark took us up a majestic, narrow passage, where we anchored in an isolated bay while being pelted by torrential rains. During cocktail hour, when shafts of sunlight started breaking through the clouds, the rainbows were vivid.
That night, Chef John made beef bulgogi, a classic Korean barbecue dish. He served the impressive meal with wok-fried vegetables (below).

Chef John's bulgogi, a classical Korean BBQ dish

Monday, June 4
Fueled by coffee, sausage, and eggs, I had a good morning of writing. The rain never let up. At noon, I broke away to feast on a pulled-pork sandwich.
In the afternoon, as we cruised through calm waters, I spent some time sitting with Captain Mark up in the wheelhouse. On our port side, a humpback whale breached.  
Late in the day Mark found a quiet cove. We dropped anchor and had a Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner, complete with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy.

Tuesday, June 5
The next morning, still at anchor and with a light rain falling, Chef John served congee for breakfast. At first I mistook this savory, rice-based dish for oatmeal, but the subtle flavors of scallions and ginger quickly distinguished this Asian standard from its Western counterpart.
I was by now in the routine of going to bed at 9:00 p.m. and waking up at 6:00 a.m. I never saw the dark of night.

Wednesday, June 6
Heavy winds, big rains in the night—the boat pitched and rolled and pulled at its anchor. The morning was dark and blustery. Our destination was Newcomb Harbor. We arrived in more rain and gusting winds. Twelve-foot swells were reported on Queen Charlotte Sound.
For me, it was another productive day of writing. Chef John prepared a sumptuous dinner: rack of lamb with potatoes and a Greek salad.

Thursday, June 7
Awake and writing at 5:00 a.m. Breakfast in the galley: blueberry pancakes, bacon, and eggs.  
Clam chowder and garlic toast for lunch. Chris and I had Bloody Marys. It was an easy sale. We kept telling ourselves, “How often …” My ensuing nap was sublime.

Howard, the generous Canadian fisherman, hands over some delicious seafood: "No chardonnay!"
Later that day, at anchor in a peaceful, rainy cove, we watched a local fisherman work the waters around our boat. He landed a halibut. The next thing I knew, he was backing his boat to our aft-deck and handing the big fish over to Captain Mark. Howard, our generous Canadian fisherman friend, gave us a bucket of prawns, too.

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!”

Friday, June 8
Closing in on the port city of Prince Rupert, we had a sudden burst of cell service. It meant civilization was near. Our trip was drawing to an end.

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.

Saturday, June 9
On this drizzly morning in Ketchikan, our last full day on the boat, Chris and I sat in the galley, drinking Bloody Marys and watching Chef John craft eggs Benedict. It was like watching a cooking show.

Eggs Benedict
As a thank-you to our boat hosts and crew, Chris and I proposed taking them to dinner that night at Ketchikan’s finest restaurant, the Cape Fox Inn. The restaurant is perched high on a mountainside and offers sweeping views of the harbor. Everyone assented. We were seated promptly for our reservation—it was 7:00 p.m.—at a big round table near a floor-to-ceiling picture window. We watched the cruise ships leave. First out was the Disney ship “Wonder”—Mickey Mouse ears on the red smokestacks and cartoons playing on a massive screen on the top deck. 

And our dinner?
With its list of predictable fare presented on menu pages laminated in plastic, with its laugh-out-loud wine list, and with its questionable cuisine—my horseradish-encrusted salmon was so bland and bizarre, and so offensive to Chef John that he had words with the manager about it—the Cape Fox Inn was no fine-dining experience, but then again, we reminded ourselves, this was Ketchikan, not Paris.

My guest stateroom, lavish as a room at a Four Seasons

Sunday, June 9
On Sunday morning, I awoke at 6:00 a.m., left my stateroom, and came up top. It was drizzling. Ahead of us, five gigantic cruise ships were docked.

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

We reached Ketchikan’s airport, on Gravina Island, by ferry. The scuttled Gravina Island Bridge project is infamously known as the “bridge to nowhere.” The $398 million project, a poster child for pork barrel spending, never got built.

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.
Upon returning the bag to Chris, who was halfway through an 850-page biography of J.P. Morgan and had the book stowed in his briefcase, the TSA agent offered this explanation:

“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.

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