• Alaskan Skies

"I'll show you the Alaska you came to see, but don't call me a bush pilot, it's over blown," says Bill de Creeft. Named 'Alaska Man Of The Decade' for selfless and daring rescues, Bill says, "Thirty years ago the Coast Guard didn't have many helicopters, so I was frequently called to help out. At that time it was just part of living here; if someone was in trouble and you had an airplane, you were just naturally going to be out there trying."



In Alaska, flying is almost as much a part of everyday life as a commute on the Interstate in the "Lower 48." But pilots, like drivers, vary in skill and experience. When you hire one as a tour guide, picking the right one is an insurance policy and also your guarantee you'll see what Alaska offers.



"Today, as a sightseeing pilot, my job is different," Bill says, "my responsibility is to take care of my passengers. Sometimes when the weather's bad I may not take you anywhere. I'd rather disappoint you than scare you. But if the weather cooperates and you'll come with me in an airplane that's been an old friend for over thirty years, we'll see Alaska together."



Departing from Beluga Lake in Homer southwest of Anchorage, Bill and his floatplane will give you a bird's eye view of whales breaching in the bay, brown bears fishing in rivers, salmon by the thousands, moose meandering through meadows, big horn sheep gazing at you from impossibly steep mountainsides, and more eagles in one tree than you can count. You'll even see a nearby town, Soldotna, built on a dozen tiny islands that has bridges instead of streets, farmers with boats instead of tractors, and herds of oysters instead of cows.

Bill is a weathered version of Sean Connery. He built the log cabin they live in working outdoors only when Alaskan weather was so bad he couldn't fly--which in Alaska means either white-out blizzard or zero-visibility downpour. He orchestrates an annual neighborhood paella cookup in honor of his Spanish ancestry. "Who knows," he says,"Maybe I'm a Count, not a no account". Picture a man who can bring tears of pleasure to your eyes when he plays the bagpipes.



His wife Barbara quietly puts up with all this while firmly running Kachemak Bay Flying Service. She actually cooks the paella while Bill enjoys the credit and results. Barbara's the one who worries about where the money's going to come from for the overhaul on their engine while Bill dickers to buy a sister-ship of their aircraft that went down on the North Slope in the '30s and hasn't been seen since. Picture a woman who gently rocks her granddaughter while she calls on the shorthwave radio to make sure Bill is okay flying over treacherous Cook Inlet.



Their aircraft, a Travel Air 6000B, is extraordinary too. It was built back when there were round engines, and rag wings, and shiny varnish on golden wood ribs. With wicker seats, mahogany framed roll down windows, fresh flowes in a crystal vase. a tiled lavatory, and broadcloth seat covers it personified luxury aloft in 1929. Fledgling Delta and Braniff flew them and they were touted as the "Limousine of the Air."



In the glory-days of the mid-30s, Phillips Petroleum even sponsored their aircraft (not one like theirs, theirs) and a crew that stayed up for 13 days without a landing or, for that matter, a bath. A hose was lowered from another aircraft to transfer fuel and, clinging to a makeshift catwalk, the crew changed spark plugs inches from the spinning propeller, thousands of feet from the ground.



Bill knew we owned a Travel Air biplane made by the same company as his floatplane and wanted us to know what Alaska was like during the Travel Air's heyday. So the first night we flew out to Willard's Moose Camp on Caribou lake. The cabin there was a remnant from the '20s built as shelter for pilots forced down by weather. Eight feet square, it had a wood stove that used sawdust mixed with diesel fuel for fire starter. Amenities included flour sacks full of sawdust for mattresses on the bunk bed, and slices of truck inner-tube for springs. It was a moose lodge, but it was bears that partied all night. We hardly slept worrying about the noisy neighbors, what with the nice collection of nuts and berries someone thoughtfully provided.

The next day Bill picked us up at the dock and we flew to a lake at the foot of a glacier. Some travelers go to the ends of the earth to get away from it all. Go to Loonsong Mountain Lake Camp and you'll understand what being away from it all really means. Bill carried every stick of wood, every nail, every gallon of paint, and every knife and fork for Loonsong into the tiny lake that it sits on. It took over a hundred trips about 30 minutes in the air each way. You can't get there in by land except hiking for days. Stay a week and he'll drop the Sunday paper on the porch for you as he flies over.



Loonsong cabin, with its spacious rooms and massive posts and beams, is constructed with giant spruce logs cut from where the building stands now. Charming antiques, art, pioneer artifacts and a cozy wood burning stove warm the living room. A kitchen, bath, two guest rooms and a sleeping loft, accessed by hand-hewn stairs, accommodate a single couple, family, or up to six friends. Huge picture windows frame the lake, forested mountainsides and the blue ice-face of a vast, unnamed glacier. The sod-roofed Finnish sauna will soothe your body and soul at day's end.

The next night we spent back in Homer at Wild Rose Cottages, log cabins on East Hill just two miles out of town. With cooking facilities, huge windows, and an awesome view of Kachemak Bay, glaciers, and mountains the place was wonderful. Each cabin is 'Alaska homeyness' at its best with lots of amenities and comforts. Indoor-living accommodations makes each cottage great in sunshine or rain, summer or winter. There's even a floppy-eared rabbit that thinks he's a chicken.

To sample more modern accommodations, we tried Land's End Resort, a 80-room hotel where many of the rooms face Kachemak Bay and have private viewing decks. These comfortable rooms come in a number of different styles to suit any taste and budget including 21 deluxe rooms added in 2001. They all have bay windows (Kachemak Bay, that is) with incredible views, including active St. Augustine volcano. A unique feature are the hand made beds fabricated locally from beetle-kill spruce. Sounds of the surf made our room a private haven after a busy day.



We flew across the inlet to Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, nestled among towering spruce, on an island peninsula. The beauty and uniqueness of the lodge and its surroundings are a delight. The artistic detail in every building was beautifully planned and executed. Each delightfully unique cabin has fine art, homemade quilts, tile and cedar bath, a picture window and electricity--something you won't always find in the wilds.

Views from the solarium and lodge windows frame China Poot Bay's exquisite estuary and a panorama that unfolds from sea level to the top of nameless 4,000' mountains. Yes, there are so many mountains and so few people there are actually mountains that haven't been named. The friendly experienced staff of trained naturalists shared the country with us at our pace. Trails radiate from the lodge and invite exploration. As we amble over ancient bedrock and through dense spruce forests, each unexpected opening in the trees offers a visual gift: a sea otter sleeping on the water below, a kingfisher flying to its burrow, a whisper of smoke rising from a distant volcano.

Bill dropped us off at sea for our final treat. The Katmai Coast is an unlikely destination for a tourist boat, but skipper Michael Parks, and first mate Lydia Rabottini, along with owner John Rogers, have been running a heavyset 70 foot tugboat built for the U.S. Army 50 years ago. With thick wooden beams built into its rising lines, motor vessel Waters has cruised for years during the summers exploring the coast and sharing views of the bears of Katmai with people seeking a unique Alaska adventure.

When you go to Alaska you will want to go flying. Alaska is a place where pilots are beloved and airplane noise reason for rejoicing. Most of the places we visited would take days by car and hours by boat to reach (if you could get there at all) and a few minutes by air. Visit Kachemak Bay Flying Service in Homer, Alaska and you can fly Alaskan skies with a humble hero that in 40 years has accumulated over 20,000 hours of flying experience. And he will show you the Alaska you went to see, just as he promised.

Kachemak Bay Flying Service, PO Box 1769, Homer AK 99603 1-907-235-8924

Loonsong Mountain Lake Camp, Box 956, Homer AK 99603 907-235-8910

Wildrose Cottages, P.O. Box 665, Homer, Alaska AK 99603 (907) 235-8780

Land's End Resort, 4786 Homer Spit Road, Homer AK 99603 907-235-0400

Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, China Poot Bay, Box 956, Homer AK 99603 907-235-8910

M/V Waters,
c/o Katmai Coastal Bear Tours, Homer AK 99603 1-800-532-8338

• Don't Piss off A Bush Pilot

Here's Bill holding forth on a Jaguar forum (that's pronounced Jag_you'_r, yankee), decrying some political jabs on what's supposed to be a politics-free automobile community:

Argh !!

Read the rules you guys !

Just because we are silent does not mean we agree !?!

We are not supposed to have to be a captive audience....I may ramble but I try not to give you the benefit of my knowledge on politics world history and the real bullies in this world..

Sick of hearing the sheep bitch about the sheepdog while the wolf moves in...
What you say sticks in my craw....but tic a loc ...I'm not saying it !!

Now about jags .
Bill de Creeft '32 model and high mileage seen three wars from the ground.

[later]

But see...that's what I'm saying; start out on health care and it rolls right on into war and Bush and why we are hated!

If it had been about health insurance I would not have said a word.

Until I got to be 65 and became a ward of the State it cost me a couple of hundred thousand dollars paid over years and years to repair me from an accident because I had once had arthritis (until I learned what not to eat) and couldn't get insurance....And I would rant with the rest.

But that ain't politics!

Don't eat high fructose corn syrup and stay skinny...Don't eat meat with growth hormone implants in it and you won't need the pills. At 75 I don't even take aspirin and I was looking at methotrexate !?!

But stay offa war unless you want my side of it and it won't be on this site...in fact I've made my statement in other years and in other lands under my flag.

Oi ! It's hard to stick to Series One, Two and Three !!!

The most beautiful car I know and the sweetest V12 and I've owned a 1953 v12 Ferrari all out 183 mph race car

and a 1932 Pierce-Arrow V12...bloated plutocrat that I am.....



Like Forrest Gump, "that's all I have to say about that !"

I mean it darn it! No politics!!

I love the cars, I love you guys, I love being alive...(I might shoot you if you try and steal my car...I know I will if you try and hurt my grand-daughter) ...we are all different and we are here for one purpose, under Flag of Truce to talk about one kind of car.

Even if I were in the pub, I'm not interested in convincing you of anything...I've even got one hot Lump and one sweet 12 so I won't fight about that either!!

I was 5 years old and a refugee in the Spanish Civil War...I grew up through WW2...I've got a CIB from the 2nd Inf.Div. in Korea as an infantry squad leader in 1952 (been called a Baby Killer)...spent 40 years flying bush in Alaska....I haven't been hiding under the bed!

I'm descended from one of the guys that wrote the Bill of Rights and from people that have been on the wrong side in wars in Spain, Scotland, and on opposite sides at Gettysburg at the stone wall .......

None of us has the right to tell each other what to think....and when the wolf comes I'll be the sheepdog...but meantime let me sleep in the corner near the stove and dream of rabbits and biting tires on jaguars....!?!

"Don't Tread On Me"...older than the States.

I used to be in a Pipe band and there is a very old tune Cogadh Na Sith...means "Peace or War"; that's the essence of it, nothing in between.

No nibbling and quibbling...no agitating, no "signifying".

They also used to say, in the Band, when the girl brought around the water glasses at a pub "Och!, Lassie, We're nae dirty, we're thirsty !!"

See you in the Pub, someday...Until then, everybody, may you fire on all twelve!

(Nurse! Some Milk of the macDougalls here! Oban for my friends!!)

[later - referring to a winter trip in his Jag]

They did fine even up to 125 mph on graded snow (but very cold so good traction) in the long desolate open stretches....averaged 55 mph for 700 miles at 38 below F. non-stop from Haines to Anchorage.

Actually that was the series One that I have had for 15 years and we had been all through it; took out the bent front tray and replaced all the front suspension parts and installed a brand new 383 RV roller cam crate motor and 700R-4 and pulled rear tray and did everything new and a 3.31 LS xj-s rear and all bushings,brakes and suspension.

The run was from Haines at 9AM after digging out of 18 inches of snow and got into Anchorage at 11 at night (gained an hour) and saw four cars ,one wolf and two caribou throughout the whole time.

Haines junction for gas was 30 below,Burwash was 38 below Tok was 42 below so didn't dare stop! three or four yellow snow stops with the motor running and white ice fog out the tail pipes.

No food but 70% chocolate bars.

It's over 700 miles and I went as fast as I could the whole time. Road was beautiful graded very cold snow...penalty for leaving the road would have been a very cold night so actually I was conservative...as i remember 125 was 4000 rpm.

(Redline on the Aston I used to race was 137 mph and i spent a lot of time there while Phil Hill went by at 170 in a Testa Rossa as I waved him by...)

Got an SCCA Senior Competition License in 1958

It was a fun drive in a frozen waste in a good car that I had built up to do more than that(and may have!)...if you look at the map you will see.

The average with fuel stops is only about 55 mph so sounds mild, and obviously I wasn't flat out except for when I could.

I've seen a lot more from people passing me on the autobahn.

That was 7 or 8 years ago when I was young and strong. Once in a lifetime experience and never to be forgotten or repeated I'm sure (the times they are against it!)

Well here i go again running my mouth off but you asked, Frank, and this is restraint from me !?!

I don't try and justify or defend it...and i did enjoy it and here i am.
And my tires were at the "100 mph plus" pressure so "what could possibly go wrong !?!"

Sir Wm.Lyons built that car to do that.

From now on I will be cruising in the van den Plas but I have my memories from this life! Big Grin !

(It would do it too, but i won't ask it.)
cheers,

Toad of Toad Hall
(poop! poop!)

PS... Listen to this, (since it's late at night here and nobody is listening) I once raced in a race with Dan Gurney, Jean Berha, Richie Ginther, Roy Salvadori, Ken Miles, Masten Gregory, Jo Bonnier, Phil Hill, Lance Reventlow ,...and more, all in one race, and all faster than me!

But I had fun, and I finished and I wasn't last.

April, 1958 Riverside Intl. Gran Prix. Me and my little Aston DB3S (factory # 115) Single plug head, drum brakes early model. No crew, no budget, 1937 Dodge pick-up tow truck. Money went to Avon Racing tires. Lovely little car.