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It’s unusual for crusty old salts to congregate around a tugboat at the Ketchikan Boat Harbor. But when the tugboat is the Swell, it’s easy to understand why.
Rather than moving huge, ocean-going vessels, this 12-guest tug now moves the hearts of those who delight in a boutique-class ship specializing in southeast Alaska ecotourism in an environmentally responsible manner.
Travel veterans will find the dimensions curious for a cruise ship.
With a 22-foot-wide beam; a reach-down-and-touch-the-ocean stern; and a high-rise, 6-foot bow, this 88-foot tug has a colorful history. Built in British Columbia in 1912, Swell laid the foundation for thousands of stories and survived countless storms, from Seattle to the Bering Sea. Its feats in building coastal cities and boom towns in Alaska and Canada have been documented by filmmakers and historians. It was an integral part of a 1974 episode of “The Beachcombers,” a CBS prime-time television show.
As the tug was nearing the end of its commercial life, new owners repurposed the vessel and initiated a major rebuild, from keel to radio antenna. After several additional upgrades costing a total of $4 million, Swell was born again with a renewed mission: Transporting eco-focused clients to a heaven on earth, Alaska’s Inside Passage.
“Swell offers a red cedar-paneled, indoor salon; in-cabin showers and heads; a jetted hot tub; and a covered aft-deck lounge with ‘surround-view’ picture windows,” said Maureen Gordon, co-owner of Swell and its parent company, Maple Leaf Adventures. “Each of the six cabins — named after major trees in the region — offers a door that opens to an outside deck and a large portal that allows plenty of fresh salt air.”
Indoor decor consists of old-world artisanship that blends red cedar and Douglas fir, complemented by mahogany highlights.
Swell brushes off conventional cruise conformity in culinary terms, too. The boat is to eco-cruising what a Crock-Pot is to cooking: Slow gets it done. (The chef slow-cooks scrumptious Alaskan cuisine, and the boat’s average cruising speed is 9 mph, compared to a cruise ship’s 23 to 34 mph.)
Gordon says clients are encouraged to take part in daily operations, from co-piloting the tugboat and plotting courses to helping prepare a seafood masterpiece in the galley.
Savvy travel advisors know that eco-travelers embrace a different mindset than big-ship cruise clients. As a dedicated eco-vessel, Swell and its trained crew immerses guests into the hidden nooks, seams and secluded bays of Alaska’s Inside Passage — areas far out of the reach of most ships.
The tug also serves as a portal to a sacred place that is different for each Maple Leaf Adventures client. Many view these hidden, natural gems as a part of Cascadia, a revered, pure-life bioregion where they can put their ears over a moulin and hear glacier whisperings; watch a Steller’s jay scold a land otter over a stolen fish; or discover a hallowed, rainforest sanctuary where they can understand the life cycle of Alaska salmon.
“We become a small tribe,” Gordon said. “When we’re anchored in a remote bay, far from the travel routes of larger ships, and shut down the engines for the night, a wilderness silence sets in that allows clients to hear the frolicking seal chatter, feel the cooling touch of an alpine glacier’s breath rolling down across the valley, taste the tang in the salt air, and breathe in the relaxing scent of Sitka spruce. It’s all so simple, yet these events are as exciting for most guests as seeing a brown bear. The exploration, as well as the interpretation, is done together, and remembered for a lifetime.”
The DetailsMaple Leaf Adventures www.mapleleafadventures.com