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 Nicole of her experience serving as Captain for the President of the United States.
It was pretty amazing!
We knew there was a possibility it might happen but did not know for sure. There was a lot of intentional misdirection. For instance, the President kept saying he was going on a coast guard cutter but his team already knew he was not.
So, Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. I was scrubbing the Viewfinder and thinking that it was never going to happen. Anything could have changed at any minute. It really seemed unlikely that the President would be coming on the Viewfinder – there were so many other boats moving around and getting prepped. We moved the Viewfinder to the dock they wanted us to be at after finishing up with all the last-minute cleaning details and warming up the engines. They had us leave for a while so they could do security sweeps, reinforce the boat in case of gun shots, and dive around the site.
We went back down to the boat at 1:00 p.m. and waited. We knew POTUS was going on a boat but not sure it was ours. At 4:30 p.m. he showed up and said, “I have to meet the people who are driving me around,” so we got to introduce ourselves and shake his hand. I was the first captain to drive the boat out of the harbor. My heart was in my throat for a moment, not just because the President was on our boat, but because we were surrounded by boats with men dressed in black and armed with machine guns. The Secret Service guy in the wheelhouse informed me not to drive too close to the break wall because there were a lot of people there, and for security reasons we did not want to be close enough to get shot at. As the person driving the boat out of the harbor, it really made me pause and reflect on the fact that this was the moment in my life when I was both the safest I have ever been (surrounded by Secret Service and armed men) and also the biggest target I have ever been (driving a boat that the President is on.)
Once we got outside the break wall and got up to speed, our nerves all calmed and we could focus on what we are used to doing – giving a tour of Resurrection Bay. It was a little different than an average day because there was a Coast Guard Cutter, two gunner boats, two police boats, the press boat, and another boat following along and protecting us from unseen enemies. All the boats had Secret Service Comm guys communicating about our positioning, speed, next stop, ETA, and other details – so there was a lot going on in the wheelhouse. So, quite the flotilla!
One of the coolest parts was when we left the breakwater and the CG Cutter Mustang announced, “Security, security, security – All vessels must maintain a 1,000 yard distance from the vessel Viewfinder” on Channel 16. It was the first time that it was publicly announced that the Viewfinder was the boat that the President was on! And anytime a personal craft came near us, the gun boats would zip around us and head them off and make them turn around or stay put until we passed by.
Captains Gary, Josh, and I were in the wheelhouse taking turns driving. At one point the President got splashed with a wave as the wind blew it over our bow. He came over to the wheelhouse and joked about it even though he was drenched.
He is in Alaska to discuss climate change. So, the boat trip was really an opportunity for photos in front of glaciers. We stopped in Thumb Cove in front of Porcupine, Spoon, and Prospect Glaciers, at Sea Lion Rock by Cape Resurrection and in front of Bear Glacier. The press boat would come really close while he stood on the bow and take photos at all these spots.
POTUS played cards on the way back to the harbor. Very normal guy. He thanked us before he got off the boat and shook our hands and took photos. He was incredibly accommodating and friendly. All his staff said he had a great time because he usually does not get to go outside. I think it was a different type of experience for him to be out on the water and not be driven around by his own people.
I still can’t believe it happened! I think I just reached the pinnacle of my Captain career.
-Captain Nicole Lawrence