Charlie Summerville has owned Alaska Adventures since 1995.
For years, wildlife lovers with a taste for adventure came to Summerville for
fishing trips and bear-watching outings in Katmai
National Park, near Bristol Bay in Alaska. This part of the
state is so remote that it can only be accessed by airplane or boat, and the
trips Summerville organized were all on jet boats or a similar craft.
All of this changed one day in 2007, when Theresa Mazzoli of
Elite Boat Sales received a call from Summerville.
"He had decided he wanted to buy a bed and breakfast/bear-watching
houseboat," Mazzoli explained." It would be the first and only houseboat ever
Summerville further outlined what he had in mind.
"After offering tours from our land-based lodge, we decided
we needed to have some access to more remote areas for our clients, and what a
better way to do that than via a custom houseboat," Summerville explained.
While this idea was very exciting up front, a lot of work
would have to go into making it a reality. For one, how do you get a houseboat
into such an inaccessible part of Alaska?
And two, the houseboat could only be used for a certain part of the year, because
when the water freezes over, the houseboat's hull could be crushed if it isn't
Summerville's vision was to provide a fully-staffed touring
boat for his customers, and include a captain, cooks and a guide to make these
fishing and sightseeing trips as comfortable and convenient as possible.
Finding The Boat
At first, Mazzoli wasn't sure Summerville was serious about
"I didn't believe this guy would actually fly out to Tennessee from Alaska
to meet me," Mazzoli said. "I figured he was probably just someone calling with
But Summerville did in fact make the long flight, and toured
many boats at Lake
Cumberland and other
places. But it was at his last stop, at Dale
that he found what he was looking for.
"I just happened to have listed a six-bedroom Stardust
houseboat," Mazzoli recalled. "The current owner bought it from someone who had
used it as a bed and breakfast, and all the requirements for that purpose, i.e.
three sinks in the kitchen, were all there."
Summerville was very happy with the boat.
"After finding the three-year-old 82-foot Stardust for a
reasonable price, in excellent condition, we were sold!" Summerville said.
As the boat was part of a trade-in deal with Thoroughbred
Houseboats, the company held onto it while Summerville waited for the right
season to bring it to Alaska,
a span of time that ended up being around four months. When Summerville was
ready, Thoroughbred also helped him install a customized water filtration
system, as there would be no access to fresh water on Summerville's tours.
The houseboat is 16 feet wide and has five bedrooms, not
including the captain's suite in the aft. He also added four extra holding
tanks, enough to contain the gray water and waste for up to two weeks, as the
tours take place in an area of Katmai
National Park where
absolutely no discharge is allowed.
Mazzoli stressed just how well the whole process worked out.
"Six-bedroom houseboats are hard to find," Mazzoli said. "Most
of the time they are rentals."
After the boat sale had been finalized, Summerville returned
to get the boat ready for transport. Summerville packed the boat full of paper
towels, plastic utensils and other items for the boat's future as a bed and
breakfast. Because the cost of shipping was going to be so high, Summerville
figured he might as well get what use he could out of the whole experience.
Now began the hard part: getting the boat from Tennessee to Bristol Bay.
Mazzoli used her experience to line up a trucking company, which got the boat
from Dale Hollow
Lake to Seattle, Wash.,
a distance of around 2,500 miles, at a cost of about $43,000. This part of the
journey took about 10 days.
From Seattle, the houseboat
was loaded onto a container ship to be sent to King Salmon, Ala., which added
another 3,000 miles to the trip. Twelve days later, the boat had successfully
made it to Naknek, Ala.,
just south of Bristol Bay. A local trucking
company made the final leg of the journey.
"Boy did it make a statement with the locals," Summerville
remembered. "They had never seen such a beast in this remote area."
In addition to all the help Thoroughbred had supplied
before, they also flew up to Bristol Bay to
help re-assemble the houseboat, as the party deck and flybridge had been
removed for transport.
Summerville's clients love the experience of houseboating in
such a scenic wilderness. Others in the area are not quite as happy, however.
"The reaction from a few local outfitters has not been so
positive," Summerville disclosed. "Some of them are very jealous, and others
say they don't want Katmai Park and Naknek
Lake to turn into another Lake Powell."
But Summerville is convinced that, due to the extreme
expense of getting a houseboat up there and the legal difficulties, that's not
something to worry about.
"The only thing I can compare this undertaking to is putting
[a houseboat] on the moon," Summerville wryly said.
While Summerville loves the boat and what it adds to his
company, he is not planning on doing it all again and adding another houseboat
to the fleet anytime soon.
"The houseboat theme is so novel in Alaska that it is taking a lot longer than
we had anticipated to build up a loyal following of clients," Summerville said.
So if you're interested in taking a one-of-a-kind cruise
that is like nothing else in all of Alaska,
spending a week exploring the most concentrated population of brown bears in
the world seems like a good bet. Besides providing a captain and a cook, Summerville
also sends you off with a trained staff of professional wildlife photographers
and outdoor wildlife guides.
The cruise takes visitors away from the crowds, and gets
them exploring Naknek Lake, Brooks
River, Valley of 10,000
Smokes and many lesser-known rivers and streams. You can even sit on the top
deck of the houseboat and watch bears catch fish in the river below.
Summerville is confident the word will get out.
"In our opinion, this is the perfect family vacation getaway
for groups of up to eight, if you're looking for a wilderness vacation in a
pristine area," he added with satisfaction.
For more information on Alaska Adventures or to book a trip,
visit www.alaska-wildlife-cruises.com or call 877-801-2289. To contact Theresa
Mazzoli at Elite Boat Sales, call 502-905-7319 or visit www.eliteboatsales.net.
Mazzoli is also available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thoroughbred's
website is www.thoroughbredhouseboats.com.