Jeffrey and Christine Smith stand on their ship, the David B. Motor Vessel, in Bellingham. The couple will be speaking about the 1929 ship they restored and now use for tours through southeast Alaska. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Jeffrey and Christine Smith stand on their ship, the David B. Motor Vessel, in Bellingham. The couple will be speaking about the 1929 ship they restored and now use for tours through southeast Alaska. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Skippers share sea stories at Marysville speaker series

The Bellingham couple will talk about charter cruises on the historic wooden vessel they rebuilt.

This cruise ship doesn’t have Zumba and slot machines.

It has kayak excursions and maybe a chance to follow the footsteps of bears on the beach.

The Motor Vessel David B is an eight-passenger ship that offers expeditions in Alaska, the Inside Passage and the San Juan Islands.

Jeffrey and Christine Smith restored the 1929 vessel for charter voyages. He’s the captain and she’s the chef/naturalist on the cruises, which run April through October.

The Bellingham couple will give an inspirational and informative talk Jan. 23 at the Marysville Opera House. The Outdoor Adventure Speaker Series, held on the fourth Tuesday of the month, features authors, outdoor enthusiasts and naturalists sharing their ventures and expertise.

Christine, 48, and Jeff, 49, bought the boat in 1998 and spent eight years rebuilding the historic but decrepit 65-foot wooden vessel, which served in the salmon industry in its heyday.

Jeffrey learned to sail as a child. He worked his way up to a captain position in the world of tall ships and adventure vacations.

“I love to cook and watch wildlife and take pictures,” Christine said. “We wanted to share that with other people.”

The couple met in Bellingham in 1996.

“I kind of had this idea I wanted to run a bed-and-breakfast at the time,” Christine said. “He asked me if my bed-and-breakfast had to have a foundation or if it could float.”

How could she not fall hook, line and sinker for that line?

Two years later, they bought the David B, knowing that it needed some serious TLC to start a new life. What they thought would be a two-year project became an eight-year tug-of-war between time and money to rebuild the boat. Christine detailed the process in a book, “More Faster Backwards: Rebuilding David B,” which was published in 2011.

The boat originally was built at Lake Washington Shipyard and named after David Branch, a manager for a cannery’s Alaska salmon operations.

“We always wanted to keep the name,” Christine said. “We felt it was too historical to change, especially since it had never been changed.”

Are they living the dream?

Yes and no.

“We tend to work 60 to 80 hours a week in the winter, and that’s the easy part of the year,” Jeffrey said. “In the summer we’re on the boat, and we’re basically at work 24/7 for six months of the year. It always bothers me when people are like, ‘Oh, you followed your dream,’ like it was some magical thing with butterflies.”

Magical with starfish and starry nights, maybe.

Home base for the David B is a slip in Squalicum Harbor on Bellingham Bay. Family members pitch in during the winter.

“Right now, my mom and dad are out in the shop cleaning engine parts,” Christine said.

A crew assists on the cruises, which are for novices and seasoned sailors alike.

“People who haven’t been on the boat find it is not scary. The boat is stable and it’s a comfortable space,” she said. “And we have others who are very boat-savvy, and they want to be involved in the operation of the boat, helping tie up, help in the galley.”

Some people book a cruise on the David B a year in advance and some a few months. Check the website for dates, costs and availability.

“Our biggest problem in marketing is that people don’t know they want this until they see it,” Jeffrey said.

Many come back for other cruises, which range from three days to 12 and cover different waters.

For open reservations, passengers must be at least 16. Those who reserve the whole boat can be any age. “Our youngest passenger was 9 weeks old,” Christine said.

The David B has four staterooms. Each cabin sleeps two adults and has its own sink and toilet.

“The couples who come individually always say they can’t imagine doing it any other way, because they loved meeting new people with similar interests and they end up friends,” Jeffrey said. “And the ones who reserve the whole boat say, ‘I can’t imagine doing it any other way, because how could you possibly be here with people you didn’t know?’”

The pace is about 6.5 knots. The motto here is go with the flow.

“We take people ashore. Go for walks. Look at old-growth plants. Talk about hermit crabs and sea stars,” Christine said. “One of my favorite things is looking for bears on the beach. And watch it in a way that is not disruptive to the bear. See them do their bear things.”

Though the Smiths are able to alter the course to take in different sights along the way. There is one given.

“At the end of the trip, we’ll end up in whatever city we said we were going to be,” Jeffrey said.

Prices vary. A three-day voyage around the San Juan Islands is $1,495 per person. The 12-day learn-to-cruise Canadian Inside Passage trek between Bellingham and Ketchikan, Alaska, is $6,700. Eight-day photography workshop cruises at Alaska’s Glacier Bay are $7,000.

“One price covers it all,” Jeffrey said. “Unless you want to buy a T-shirt.”

If you go

“The Restoration of the Motor Vessel David B,” an Outdoor Adventure Speakers Series talk by Christine and Jeffrey Smith, is 6 to 8 p.m. Jan. 23 at Marysville Opera House, 1225 Third St., Marysville. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Cost is $5. Call 360-363-8400 or visit for more information.

Small-ship cruises with the Smiths are available through Northwest Navigation Co., 2504 Henry St., Bellingham. Call 360-474-7218 or go to

Boat by the numbers

The ship is 65 feet long and 16 feet wide. The draft is 7 feet.

Actual weight (displacement) is about 65 tons.

Gross register tonnage is 52 and net is 35.

The top of the mast is 42 feet above the water.

It is powered by a 100-horsepower, 325 rpm, three-cylinder Washington-Estep diesel engine.

Source: Northwest Navigation Co.

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