By Rick Smeriglio for SCN – Local marine tour operator, Kenai Fjords Tours last week greeted the arrival of its newest vessel, M/V Callisto Voyager in the Seward small boat harbor. The shiny new catamaran brings to 10 the number of large, tour vessels operated by KFT out of Seward. Callisto joins its sister ships, Aialik and Orca in the voyager family. KFT General Manager, Ron Wille said that Callisto Voyager will complement the rest of the fleet by giving national park tours starting at 11:30 am and lasting 6 hours. Wille expects the first tour to cast off by mid to late April.
KFT chose the catamaran design primarily for fuel efficiency and customer comfort. A hydrofoil, essentially an underwater wing, provides vertical lift at speed. It lifts the hulls out of the water thereby reducing drag and the need for engine power and fuel. At more than one-third wide as long, Callisto Voyager provides a very beamy and stable platform for viewing the Kenai coast. Spacious, best describes its interior and its weather decks. The vessel has wheelchair access all around the main deck and saloon, including the heads.
In reference to all the space, Wille said, “It’s just a better overall experience for our customers, more comfortable and roomy.”
Callisto Voyager will impress passengers who appreciate quality machinery. All American Marine of New Zealand built Callisto Voyager in Bellingham, Wash. to a design by Teknicraft. All American Marine used aluminum for hull and superstructure. Interior spaces still smell new. Callisto Voyager has twin, 1,450-horsepower Caterpillar engines painted immaculate white. Engine-room metal still gleams with newness. Wille explained that the engines burn ultra-low sulfur, diesel fuel and meet current (Tier 3) EPA emission standards. Even stricter Tier 4 standards will apply to engines newly built in 2015.
Four KFT captains brought Callisto Voyager up from Bellingham Bay. Captain Mark Lindstrom said they took 4 days to steam from Bellingham to Elfin Cove in northern, Southeast Alaska. They waited out dirty weather for 3 days before cruising across the Gulf of Alaska to Seward in just 18 hours. Callisto travels at 22 to 26 knots. What sort of weather pins down four experienced skippers in a new, 82-foot boat?
“Well … you know the Weather Service instruments near Cape Spencer?’’ answered Captain Lindstrom, “It recorded 46-knot winds with gusts to 69 knots.”
KFT, a part of Cook Inlet Region Inc., employs 140 people during the season. It cooperates with researchers at Alaska SeaLife Center and other marine-mammal researchers. KFT operates exclusively from Seward.
In discussing its multi-million-dollar vessel, Wille said, “This was a sizeable investment for KFT and a great investment in Seward. It was a big investment, but we like to think it contributes positively to the economy of Seward.”
Charismatic marine-mammals and abundant wildlife draw visitors to Resurrection Bay and the outer coast. Boat strikes cause significant mortality to sea otters in waters crowded with fast boats. Captain Lindstrom explained that he viewed taking care of wildlife as part of his job security. KFT captains attend annual workshops and training sessions focused on marine mammal research and protection.
When asked how he avoids hitting sea otters, Lindstrom said, “Things happen fast at 22 knots, I like to have one hand on the wheel and one on the throttle. We look out and go around.”
Lindstrom also noted that he saw lots of whales and birds on his recent voyage across the Gulf. He expects that they will soon arrive for the upcoming season.