Sitka, Alaska, North America: Captivated by the breathtaking beauty of Sitka in Alaska, the crew on board Riviera 53 Booyaa followed the way points through amazing fjords and mountain ranges in what would be a shakedown cruise to remember.
Booyaa owner, Stephen Seal said the shakedown cruise was the longest water journey he had ever embarked upon.
“When I reached Alaska, I felt a very powerful sense of accomplishment. I was proud to have made the journey safely and on time,” he said.
“There is an exhilarating solitude that I find when I’m on the water. Words can’t come close to describing it. To me, it is the ultimate freedom – the ocean is my playground and I like to visit the playground as often as possible.
“We have spent an exceptional amount of time on board, clocking up 540 hours in the first five months.
“Booyaa is my home away from home. She is so comfortable and familiar to me now.
“I visited the Riviera factory in Australia twice during the build and each time when I would walk up to the boat, I would just stop and stare, not believing she was mine. Now, I still look back in admiration and pride every time I disembark.”
When Stephen Seal took delivery of his new Riviera 53 Enclosed Flybridge in April 2012, he knew he had selected a robust and luxurious vessel, one that would handle the Columbia River Bar, which is the most treacherous marine environment in North America, according to the US Coast Guard.
“I use my boat the most on the infamous Columbia River Bar. There have been over 2000 shipwrecks there. I fished her three months this summer off the Columbia River, out to about 60 miles offshore,” he said.
“The weather on the Columbia Bar is treacherous. During the winter, 30 foot breaking seas are not uncommon.”
Given the harsh environment in which Stephen uses his boat, he wanted the shakedown cruise to be just as challenging, which is why he chose to make the 1000 nautical mile journey from Seattle, Washington to Sitka, Alaska.
“It is a gorgeous place, full of solitude and isolation. It was also a great challenge to run the boat all the way up the 1000 mile course,” he said.
“We left Seattle, Washington in May and broke the trip into three-and-a-half days on the way up and return. We were not intending to take our time, but instead, wanted to get up as fast as possible, to spend more time in Sitka fishing. Each day we covered about 300 miles at 21 knots, making each day about 15 hours long.
“For most of the trip we had amazing, clear, sunny weather, and great conditions with flat seas, which was very unusual.
“Over the summer, we got into some pretty tough conditions on two different occasions. The first time was on our way back from Sitka on the final day of the journey. We were headed from Campbell River in British Columbia (on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island) to Roche Harbor, WA, on our way to the Riviera Rendezvous.
“I knew the forecast was worsening, so the day before we ran several hours into the night so the next day would be a few hours shorter. That night, coming into a somewhat unfamiliar port, in the dark, with 25 knot winds off the beam was interesting.
“The next morning we woke to 25 to 30 knot winds, and the forecast was 20 to 30, so I didn’t give it much thought. About two hours later, in an area called the Georgia Strait, we were in the midst of a major summer storm. The anemometer was reading 54 knots. We were headed straight into the wind with 10 foot, very steep chop. It was a very rough ride but Booyaa handled it fine. It wasn’t unsafe, just extremely uncomfortable.
“It was so rough, in fact, that for about two hours, I pulled in very close behind a huge tug and tow, following behind them about 50 yards, and allowing them to break down the seas. Even following them very closely at 6 knots, it was still a rough ride. I would say the tow had 80 rail cars and 200 ocean containers on it, so that puts the size of the tow and the size of the sea conditions into perspective.
“The second time we encountered big seas was on our way back from Garibaldi, Oregon, headed back to the Columbia River Bar. We had just won the Oregon Tuna Classic Tournament Series, and were headed home after the awards ceremony. The winds were blowing 35 knots and we had nine to 11 foot seas off our port quarter. I’ve been in seas that size many times and usually it is no problem.
“The problem with this condition was that not only were the seas off our quarter, but the buoy was reading a period of only six seconds. So, we had a nine foot wall of water on our quarter every six seconds. The boat handled the conditions beautifully [break out quote] and by the end of the trip I had become very comfortable at the helm with steep following seas.”
Stephen is a reservist in The United States Coast Guard, so his crew consisted of friends from the Coast Guard and family members. He changed crew at Sitka, where his friends and Coast Guard colleagues Scott Lloyd and Reid Stollberg met him for Reid’s bachelor party on board.
They spent a few days fishing in Sitka before heading back to Seattle.
Scott and Reid said they were thrilled to be part of Booyaa’s shakedown cruise.
Stephen suggested the shakedown cruise to Alaska while they were planning Reid’s bachelor party.
“I was ecstatic when I heard this because I knew it would be the most amazing bachelor trip I could ever ask for. I was in shock that I was even being offered this trip. Words could not describe how I felt,” Reid said.
“Scott, Chip (best-man and life-long friend), and I flew up to Sitka together to begin this fairy-tale of a journey.
“This was my first time seeing Booyaa in person and needless to say, my jaw dropped to the ground when I laid eyes on her.
“She glistened and reflected off the flat, calm water in the harbour, all I could do was admire her beautiful lines.
“We quickly unloaded our food and gear onto the boat and made our fishing game plans while resting after the long day of traveling to Sitka.
“Each morning we would wake up early, getting the boat started and warming the engines. It was a new adventure waking up at 3.30am with the sun shining into the top vent in the V-berth. As we started our morning routine of making breakfast and coffee, starting up all the electrical equipment and figuring out where we would fish, I would take moments just standing on the aft deck soaking in the unusual sun rays seen in south eastern Alaska.
“We would cast off the lines and head out into the open ocean. As Stephen would pick the spots to take us, the rest of us would rig gear while sitting on the aft deck mezzanine lounge and taking glances at the tall mountain peaks off in the distance behind us.
“The fishing was good and very enjoyable, catching multiple King Salmon, Ling Cod, Halibut, and Rock Fish.
“At the end of each day we would head back to the harbour, grab some dinner in town and head back to Booyaa for some evening refreshments and rest.”
Scott said this was his first trip to Alaska and the memories of the experience and the ‘brotherhood’ will forever remain with him.
“After a few days of fishing and celebrating we said goodbye to Chip who had to get back for a college final. So now it was just the three of us, a machinist who was soon to be married, a CEO with a new and mostly untested Riviera, and an electrician. Our only bond; the US Coast Guard and a love for the sea.
“The excitement built as we fueled Booyaa and headed south. The sun was shining and the seas were calm. The narrow channels and the high mountains took my breath away.
“The sights were immediately trumped by our first passage through the narrows. Now, being a Coast Guardsman at a surf rescue station and having grown up on the Columbia River and its tributaries, I thought I had seen fast moving water. How amazing the sensation of taking a 53 foot motor yacht through a piece of water and feeling the immense power of the sea. The realisation that you are not invincible is staggering. My confidence, not significantly shaken, would return when we hit the straight of Georgia and found ourselves in the middle of a summer storm.
“Every day was more amazing and breathtaking than the last. Stephen’s way points carried us south on long straight tracks through increasingly beautiful fjords, each one with deeper waters and taller mountains. The immenseness of the land here really makes you question your whole existence, your past, your present, and your future.” [break out quote]
Like Scott and Reid, Stephen also has a lot of great memories from the experience and the friendships formed.
“Traversing 1000 nautical miles each way of rugged, remote waters was amazing and catching lots of Halibut and Salmon was a ton of fun. Spending hours with friends and family, building bonds that will last a lifetime, and of course Christening Booyaa in Sitka were some of the most memorable moments.
“The Sitka trip, and our offshore adventures off the Columbia River Bar, are not well suited for the uninitiated. Even though I am very new to the boating and fishing scene, I have taken my boating about as seriously as anyone could. I obtained my 50-ton Master’s License, and also joined the United States Coast Guard, all with the intention of becoming a master mariner.
“The 53 did great and handled the raging seas well. She was very comfortable and all of my guests were impressed. The living accommodations on the boat are so well designed and comfortable. The aft galley window that opens is awesome and we use it a lot. Even while we are fishing in six to eight foot seas, if the wind isn’t blowing salt spray, we open the window and serve lunch that way.”
Stephen started planning this trip a year in advance and in the three months before their departure, he would spend about 15 to 20 hours a week preparing for the trip.
“The most time I spent preparing, other than the time I put into the boat specifications, was the time it took to chart out the route. The route each way had 264 waypoints. I spent hours and hours planning and plotting the route. There were also the necessary preparations involved in cold weather gear, survival gear, and of course fishing gear, and rigging all the fishing tackle.”
When Stephen isn’t fishing, he enjoys spending time on board with his wife, Michele, and their three sons, Mason (6), Austin (4), and Dylan (1).
“I use my boat for fishing, cruising and live aboard for several months of the year and the 53 is the perfect boat for this with the enclosed flybridge to keep us warm and dry in our climate. I also wanted an interior Flybridge ladder for my wife and three small sons. We didn’t want to have to climb an external ladder. The master suite is huge and I don’t believe there is any other boat on the market that has this level of accommodations,” he said.
The Sitka voyage was the perfect shakedown cruise for Booyaa because it definitely put her through her paces.
“It was challenging for a number of reasons. It is very remote and sparsely populated, so one must be fairly self-sufficient because help is a long way away if needed. It also required a little bit of careful planning in terms of anchorages and fuel management,” Stephen said.
Boating gives Stephen a complete sense of ‘relaxation, escape, and freedom’.
“I like the responsibility and embrace the fact that I have to be prepared and ready for whatever may occur. I like the challenge in that aspect of the sea, and the 53 is the ultimate long-range cruiser and I feel safe and confident, even in the most treacherous of sea conditions.”