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Pacific Catalyst Update from Captain Bill Bailey

Westward anchoring in S British Columbia

Catalyst and Westward were nearly fully booked for the entire 2021 Alaska season, which helped us rise from the almost universally negative financial impact due to Covid-19. It felt good to be able to pay back a good bit of the loans taken out to survive 2020. There was also enough left to replace Catalyst’s aging generator and undertake a partial engine rebuild. 2021 also provided the unique and unrepeatable experience of having SE Alaska devoid of large cruise ships until late July, and it was glorious.

Since we didn’t take Westward to Alaska in 2020, there was a 2-year interval between Tracie and I seeing the results of warming temperatures, and the changes over that longer than usual span were breathtaking. Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm, had retreated about ¼ mile from where it was in August 2019. It was almost to the point where a tributary branch joins the main flow. This year, or perhaps next, there will be two glaciers at the head of Endicott Arm instead of one. Other glaciers are retreating and thinning at an ever-increasing rate. The changes are graphic and saddening from our blatantly ethnocentric viewpoint. It is important not to consider geological changes in the context of our puny lifespans.

Grey whale calf getting its nose rubbed by Westward guests. Photo: Carlos Cajón Bermúdez

Westward left Alaska and spent a few weeks in the shipyard before heading to Baja for her busy 2021/22 winter season in the Sea of Cortez. We had an incredible time there, with among many wonders, the sightings of five species of whales on one trip. Our stunned guests had the opportunity to stroke, pet, and even kiss some of them.

Westward needed a full month to reposition from La Paz to Port Townsend. The weather was terrible for much of the route along the west coast, forcing the crew to take shelter in San Diego, Bodega Bay, Eureka, and Newport before finally getting beautiful weather for the final push along the Washington coast and into the Straits of San Juan de Fuca. After a short pit stop in Port Townsend for provisions and a crew change, Westward sailed for Juneau on April 30th.

Catalyst about to launch

A shiny Catalyst about to launch. Photo: Bill Bailey

In crew news aboard Catalyst, our engineer of the last five years, Shane Blair, has earned his captain’s license and is moving up to the pilothouse as captain. He and our veteran naturalist/guide (and internationally recognized artist) Sarah Drummond celebrated their marriage in New Mexico last fall and will be making googly eyes at each other this year on Catalyst.

Shane will be replaced in the engine room by Daniel Ward. In addition to having spent the winter working on Catalyst projects, Daniel is also a talented musician and experienced deckhand.

Paul Brown has semi-retired from driving boats full time. Michael Neswald, Catalyst’s former chef, has also moved ashore. That position will be filled by Jada Nye who has followed a wonderfully circuitous path to reach Catalyst’s galley. Shane, Sarah, Jada, and Daniel will do an excellent job on Catalyst this summer.

Westward anchoring in S British Columbia

Mirror calm anchorage in S British Columbia. Photo: Dorin Ellis

On Westward Tracie will begin training her replacement, Tristan Marette, this spring, and the multi-talented Dorin Ellis will be stepping into my place in the engine room and pilothouse before the end of this summer. Hannah Moench and Molly Delandsheer, both experienced naturalists and kayak guides, will be sharing the role of guide naturalist aboard Westward this season.

As Tracie and I step aside from our onboard roles, we will assume increased responsibilities as office and shore support. We will also serve as emergency relief-crew for both boats, something we have long thought essential. Pacific Catalyst is evolving in a way that will carry it into the future with younger people in key roles. While there is some new crew, the underlying philosophy remains unchanged.

a body of water with a mountain in the background

The Inside Passage, N British Columbia. Photo: Dorin Ellis

Both Westward and Catalyst are over 98% booked for the summer of 2022 and the heart of whale season in Baja. We have availability on Sea of Cortez trips in November and December 2022, as well as the first half of January 2023. Consider joining us in Baja when the water is still warm (low 80’s) and crystal clear.

Bookings are beginning now for 2023 in Alaska, with Westward already over half-filled. If you have specific travel dates, you should consider making reservations soon to ensure your dates will be available.

We have spent the last year telling our guests and outfitters that we were going to let Westward sit out the 2023/24 Baja season, so she could spend a few months in the shipyard getting prettied up for the 100th anniversary of her first trip to Alaska in 1924. Rest assured she will still get her spa treatment, but not at the expense of the 2023/24 Baja season. Pacific Catalyst will be offering a full calendar of adventures in the Sea of Cortez into the foreseeable future! We have many exciting plans for the future of Pacific Catalyst which we will be sharing with you in the months ahead.

As always, we thank our wonderful guests and outfitters whose patronage allows us to maintain our historic vessels and lets us, as crew, have adventures, we would never be able to have without you.

a bridge over a body of water

Westward waiting for good weather, Newport, OR. Photo: Dorin Ellis