Web posted Thursday, April 4, 2002

photo: news

The Double Eagle left Northern Enterprises Boatyard and crawled through Homer on Friday.
Photo by R.J. Kelly, Homer News

Old boat makes final voyage

by R.J. Kelly
Managing Editor

Some men dream of a cabin on a hill. Some dream of old wooden boats and the mountain-rimmed waters of Kachemak Bay.

Bryan Zak has figured out a way to have both in one ambitious project.

Motorists caught in a long line behind the 60-ton hull of the 95-year-old Double Eagle as it was hauled slowly down Kachemak Drive, through Homer and up Baycrest Hill on Friday of last week were perhaps puzzled where the derelict boat was bound. Now boaters on the bay may wonder if Noah's Ark landed about 500 feet up the bluff.

Zak's dream is to turn the Double Eagle into a three-bedroom rental cabin to add to his growing complex at Alaska Adventure Cabins just off the Sterling Highway near the top of Baycrest Hill.


Owner Bryan Zak, left, relaxes with Homer contractor Troy Watson of Action Instant Remodeling.
Photo by Joel Gay, Homer News

The Anchorage residential property manager and retired Air Force major envisions a historic boating theme as a way of attracting vacationers as well as students and researchers to Kachemak Bay.

By the time it's ready for guests, hopefully this summer, Zak and his Homer contractor, Troy Watson, say the project is likely to cost around $250,000.

There are also a few railroad cars in the dream, too. But that's another story.

Zak said he bought the Double Eagle from Northern Enterprises Boatyard, where it's been sitting for the last dozen years or so. He said the old boat was about to be broken up for scrap.


The wheelhouse of the Double Eagle will eventually join the hull on Baycrest Hill.
Photo by Joel Gay, Homer News

Restoration work began last fall after Zak said George Hamm of the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society recommended he save the Double Eagle from destruction.

Under the guidance of Watson, the wheelhouse and the upper part of the boat were removed from the hull, engines and other fittings stripped off and loose pieces of wood replaced.

The three-hour trip several miles down Kachemak Drive, through downtown Homer and up the Sterling Highway was a precarious final voyage. Like a ship's lookout, Zak rode in the bow as crews from Homer Electric Association, GCI and ACS pushed and pulled electric, telephone and cable TV wires out of the way.

"I've been so nervous, I haven't been able to sleep for a week," a clearly relieved Zak said as the boat was pushed to a temporary roadside resting spot near the top of Baycrest Hill.

After making the trek on a specially designed 15-ton trailer made of steel beams built by Homer welders Jock Niemi and Robert Simmons, the boat and trailer were to be slid about 100 feet down the bluff. First, however, Zak said his crew welded the keel securely to the trailer frame to keep the hull from coming loose on the hill.

Using sheer power and cables, bulldozer operators Mark Roderick and Richard Gaboriault from R.C. Land Improvement of Anchor Point were to hold the hull and trailer from above and below to guide the 75-ton mass down a steep 300-foot path cut through the dirt. In a hair-raising finale, the big Cats jockeyed the hull around at a 90-degree angle on the nearly sheer bluff.

After it is lifted by a crane, the steel trailer frame will become the permanent foundation of the boat. It will rest on 44 steel pilings driven 40 feet into the bluff, Zak said.

Once the upper half of the boat is trucked up and attached to the hull, the interior will be converted into a finished suite for rental to guests, complete with bay view windows and an outdoor deck.

After the boat is settled on its permanent site with the help of Jason of Johnson and Sons Construction, "the inside work will go quickly," Watson said. Zak hopes to be ready for guests this summer.

The history of the Double Eagle remains clouded in mystery, rumor and speculation. Zak said it was a shrimper and also fished Alaska waters. The boat is believed to have played some part in the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup. Why it was abandoned is unclear. Northern Enterprises Boatyard operator Ken Moore was out of state this week and could not be reached.

According to Hamm and his wife, Karen, the boat was built as a Louisiania shrimper that was brought up from the Gulf of Mexico during the oil spill cleanup. Karen said she had considered buying it several years ago to turn it into a floating restaurant.

Hamm said Zak is donating the boat's Caterpillar engine to raise money for the Kako Native Retreat Center which helps troubled Native villagers along the Yukon River. Homer volunteers from Glacier View Baptist Church occasionally fly there to do helpful labor, Hamm said.

With maritime history a major part of Zak's boat/cabin project, he is hoping people will help fill in the blanks on the Double Eagle's past. He is asking anyone with knowledge about the boat's background, photos or other items to contact him through Alaska Adventure Cabins.

In addition to the Double Eagle project, Zak also has two surplus Alaska Railroad crew cars sitting on a gravel pit in Anchor Point. He plans to eventually truck them down to the 9.3-acre Double Eagle site and convert them into rental cabins, too. He said he also has his eye on a double-decker rail car to add to the complex.

While some might see the mixture of log cabins, boats and rail cars as an unusual blend, Zak said he believes the shapes and positions he plans will be in harmony with the Chinese concepts of "feng shiu," an ancient method said to guide architectual and landscape design.

With the restored dovetail log cabin high on Baycrest that has been lighted in Christmas fashion all winter, plus another canyon cabin out of sight down the bluff, Zak has been operating Alaskan Adventure Cabins for two seasons.