« | » Back to Blog

A Nautical Love Story In America’s Tongass

On June 16, 2006, the M/V David B left Bellingham, Washington, bound for Juneau on her maiden voyage as a passenger vessel. Eight years earlier, Christine and Jeffrey Smith found the David B tucked behind a breakwater on Lopez Island, in Washington’s San Juan Islands. The tired old wooden boat, built in 1929, was showing her age. But when the young couple stepped aboard the former work-boat, her sturdy style captured their hearts with an ageless beauty that only the young dreamers could see.

Their desire was to own and operate a small expedition cruise ship in Alaska. With their love for one another – and little else – they pinned their hopes on rebuilding the dying boat. What they thought would be a two-year project became an eight-year tug-of-war between time and money as they raced to finish rebuilding the David B. Love won out, however, and the Northwest Navigation Co. was born.

Today, whether gliding past Steller sea lions or curious seals, beneath vast stretched of yellow cedars or in front of towering glaciers, the couple is still at the helm of the David B, sharing the remote corners of the Tongass National Forest with visitors from around the world.

“When my guests come aboard, they come to see an unspoiled last frontier,” said Christine.  “Very few of them have ever been in or around an ancient forest. They have never had a chance to experience all the things that are provided by an intact stand of old-growth trees. They want to feel, see, touch, smell and hear the forest. They also want to hear from the Forest Service that the Tongass is being managed for the public good. I want that too.”

Christine and Jeffrey are committed advocates for a wild Tongass National Forest, having shared their perspective on multiple occasions with the U.S. Forest Service and the Tongass Advisory Committee. They have also supported the protection of high-value Tongass watersheds, critical to the region’s tourism and fishing industries.

“Our small-scale nature tours rely on this unique place.  We come here because there is nowhere else in the world like it,” said Jeffrey. “I really enjoy seeing our passengers relax and get into the rhythm of the voyage, because then wilderness experience unfolds.”

The Tongass National Forest is America’s largest national forest, encompassing the majority of the southeast Alaska Panhandle, and still contains some of the most intact expanses of temperate rainforest remaining in the world. It is a land of spectacular beauty and incredible ecological significance, which provides habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon, humpback and orca whales, plus some of the largest concentrations of brown bears and bald eagles in America. The Tongass is a world-class tourist destination – over 1 million visitors travel to the Tongass each year to experience its beauty – and supporting businesses like the one Christine and Jeffrey have worked so hard to build depends upon preserving the Tongass in its natural state.