Katmai Bears by Boat: A Week on an Old Tugboat

Low tide almost empties the terminal end of the Kamishak Bay in Geographic Harbor leaving a stunning technicolor braided river in its place. The opaque blues of the glacial silt mix with the sand and soil from recent rains.  We fly over this majestic landscape and my heart swells as we approach to land on the water near the mouth of the bay.

Our seaplane flight out of Kodiak was canceled yesterday due to the windy remains of Typhoon Shanshan.  The seas both in Kodiak and along the Katmai coast were far too rough to be serving as runways.  Today its overcast, cool and spitting rain, but the winds have died down.

Departing Terminal C
Departing Terminal C
Kodiak from the Air
The crystal clear waters and harbor of Kodiak

Bill (co-captain) and Matt (deckhand) motor over in a steel skiff.  The airplane pilot exits to catch a line that will keep the boat snugly next to the plane’s pontoons in a gently rocking sea.  There are four of us that climb out of the plane and step into the skiff.  Our bags and some supplies for the boat follow us. We head a short distance to the MV Waters, a retired wooden tugboat built in the 1960s, that will be our home for the next 5 days as we explore Katmai National Park in Alaska.

We are warmly greeted by our cook, Cathy, with hot salmon chowder – the perfect lunch for this day; Captain John Rogers, our soft-spoken but strong-willed captain and our wilderness guide, Buck.  Buck is a youthful 69 years old.  He has a warm smile, piercing blue eyes, a deep tan, and a curly ponytail.   He walked away from a high paying job in the real world for this life in Alaska. He has camped out here for weeks at a time, studying wolves, guiding film crews and finding his peace.  He is well-versed in wolf and bear behavior and, boy, does he have some stories to tell!

Buck and Us
Our guide, Buck, has a fantastic sense of humor.

The other two travelers accompanying us have both been on this trip with these same people before.  Chris is on his second trip, and Sandy is on her thirteenth or so.  She’s lost count.  The beauty and majesty of the landscape, the charismatic megafauna, the warm hospitality, the locals chasing their dreams and living in the moment – it draws people in and compels people to come back again and again…or just stay.

Our room has a surprisingly comfortable bunk bed and little else.

Our Stateroom

The galley is the main (only) indoor hangout featuring this banquette and some stools.

Sometimes a few of us hang out in the wheelhouse, watching the otters and seals as we sail by.  (This is also where Capt John sleeps!).

Wheelhouse accomodations
The Captain’s Quarters – in the wheelhouse

We listen to Bill’s stories about crab fishing in Alaska, or living and teaching in “up and coming” Detroit, or Matt’s stories of his off-the-grid California farmstead where he and his ex-girlfriend raise sheep, goats, pigs and grow crops.  They teach others how to prosper with less impact on our land and how to live and farm peacefully among the local wildlife. You can even rent a cabin at his place at hipcamp.com. He is formally trained in mechanical engineering and works in remote places (Antarctica, Greenland, a boat in a remote bay) fixing things with whatever is on hand.  He jokes, “It’s not working?  Did you try swearing at it? Did you try kicking it? And it still won’t work?  That’s all I got.”  When in actuality he is quite skilled.

Matt on our skiff.  The bow folds down creating steps for our wet landings.

When we aren’t on the boat eating (substantial three-a-day meals made from scratch, including decadent desserts, wine, and beer), relocating to another spectacular bay, refilling our water tanks from a waterfall or sleeping, we are wildlife viewing – mostly bears onshore, but we saw wolves, birds, sea mammals, and a swimming bear, too.

Here are the links to the wildlife stories…

Our First Steps in Geographic Harbor

Two Full Days of Bears

Kukak Bay Serenity

Hallo Bay Bears and Wolves

Frazer River Bear Families

Wandering Kodiak

Young Adult in front of Our Boat
Bear on the Beach in front of Our Boat

3 Replies to “Katmai Bears by Boat: A Week on an Old Tugboat”

  1. What FUN .. my first seaplane landing! Videos were a wonderful addition! Fun to see your views, your accomodations and learn about the people and personalities who lead you on your journeys.

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