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Into the wild

2020 April 1

A cruise through Alaska’s Prince William Sound brings sailors into the heart of the splendid wilderness

Dorian goes high to navigate through the ice as Qilak leaves Columbia Bay.
Julien Giradot photo

Literary masters including Jack London and John Muir have described the beauty of Alaska with more talent, strength and sensitivity than I could ever muster. I was left mostly speechless during a cruise of Prince William Sound as I tried to take in this masterpiece of nature.

I experienced the natural wonder aboard a 52-foot aluminum schooner designed and launched in 1999 by naval architect Michel Joubert, who made the passage from Northwest Greenland to Alaska in 2012 with polar explorer Janusz Kurbiel. Now owned and operated by a father-son team, Qilak is used for expedition sails through Prince William Sound and Kodiak Island. 

An excursion on Qilak was the best way to get up close and personal with the melting glaciers and colonies of sea lions in the Last Frontier, the nickname given to this extraordinary state with a rough and tumble history where nature rules. In the heart of the forest, bears, moose and mountain lions outnumber people. In the sea, otters, orcas, whales and dolphins frolic.

My journey to meet up with Didier and Dorian Forest went through Anchorage’s small domestic airport terminal, which was full of business travelers on a midsummer Sunday afternoon. Given the long distances and the limited road network, the preferred way to reach isolated destinations is by plane, seaplane or helicopter. A few outdoor travelers like us stood out in contrast to the corporate types. We were en route to Valdez and the propeller plane took off with a roar and we flew over the Chugach Mountains and glaciers. Just 45 minutes later I met up with Forest and boarded Qilak.

Forest said owning Qilak and the business gives him the opportunity to explore this wild place, but he also knows it won’t last forever. 

“I hope to leave Qilak and the business to my son, so he can continue these unforgettable voyages,” Forest said. “I am getting older and Dorian is as passionate as I am.”

Julien Giradot photo


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