On September 1st, 2015, Major Marine Tours was honored to take President Barack Obama on a cruise in Resurrection Bay. The President was visiting Seward to witness first-hand how climate change is affecting Alaska’s glaciers. Three Major Marine Tours Captains were asked to captain the President’s cruise on our vessel the Viewfinder. Here is the account from Captain Gary of his experience serving as Captain for the President of the United States.
It’s two-thirty on a Tuesday, and I’m waiting for the President.
On board the Viewfinder, moored in the northeast corner of the Seward Small Boat Harbor, we three captains wait, almost in disbelief. And even though this moment has been long in the planning, we are still skeptical that it is going to happen at all. The whole thing sounds incredibly improbable.
The fact that the President of the United States is in Seward is not disputed. We’ve all been watching the special helicopters all week, and now he’s supposedly up at Exit Glacier with some Park Rangers. I suppose Major Marine Tours as a company was chosen due to our close relationship with the National Park Service, but still, we are skeptical.
For 10 days, we’ve submitted to background checks, met with the Secret Service, planned our route, and even painted the decks. All this was done quietly, knowing that if word got out, the whole thing would be cancelled. We’ve discussed which Captain would drive which piece of the tour, which Captain would handle the different dock lines, and who would do the routine safety talk.
And then, with little fanfare, the motorcade arrives and suddenly we can see the actual President giving an actual press conference 100 yards from our little boat. Two minutes later, he is boarding on the back, and he immediately jumps up the steps to the pilot house and shakes all of our hands.
I suppose that was the most awaited thing, meeting the President. The next three hours seem more like a dream. We drive the Viewfinder around Resurrection Bay amid a flotilla of Coast Guard boats, and alongside one aluminum boat laden with the Press and the Secret Service. We take turns at the helm. We watch him talk to the Park Ranger. We watch him watch sea lions. We watch him look at glaciers and smile and take sea spray in the face like a normal customer. But it’s far from normal. Next to me stands a rescue diver with purple dry suit zipped half on. The Coast Guard announces a security perimeter around us on Channel 16 in a stern voice. We have a blue power cord that stems to two special convection ovens for the White House chef. And the NSA Director is on the bow in a red jacket, checking her cell phone when we are close enough to get a signal.
Not much else seems to happen in those three hours. We check the oil pressure. We check the coolant temperature. Puffins fly around the boat like little aerial clowns. Porpoises play. We line up our boat with the Press boat so they can get their perfect photo of the President on the bow of the Viewfinder beholding Bear Glacier. But there’s a question that keeps going through my mind. I think it goes through a lot of peoples’ minds. What would you say to the President of the United States if you had the opportunity? What one thing? I suppose it’s different for everyone: different for supporters, different for critics, different for skeptics, different for fans. And certainly different for me.
We pull into the harbor. Captain Josh has elected to park the boat. I am ready to handle the spring line and the stern line. I have a long boat hook in my hand, and my gold tie is blowing in the breeze. Suddenly the President is standing next to me, and actually asks if he can help. He’s about six foot one. I’m about six foot one. Half the town is watching us through binoculars. And then I say it.
The President smiles, wheels around to look me in the eye, and shakes my hand. We tie up the Viewfinder as we always do.
-Captain Gary Kirsheman, 9/1/15