Westward: Cruising Alaska 1920's Style

Most people think of Alaska as a far away land of perpetual ice and snow. Southern Alaska on the contrary lies at our very door and is easily accessible. The following pictures, all taken aboard our yachts, will show that it is a land of sunshine and beauty whose sheltered waters are never frozen over even during the winter. These cruising grounds, among the most beautiful and varied in the world, extend some five hundred miles in a northwesterly direction from Prince Rupert, British Columbia and Ketchikan, Alaska, and average one hundred and fifty miles in width. There is a coast line among the thousands of islands and the innumerable inlets and fjords of over ten thousand miles.

For many of the pictures we are indebted to William L. Finley and Arthur N. Pack of Nature Magazine, as well as to others who have taken trips aboard our yachts with their movie cameras and have brought back lasting records of the wonderful lure of that coast and of the wealth of fish and game to be found there.

Cambell Church, Jr. Seattle, Washington

So read the introductory credits laboriously applied to the opening scenes of Westward, Campbell Church's 1920s-era film that depicts the Alaska excursions conducted by his Alaska Coast Hunting and Cruising Company aboard the 86-foot M/V Westward.

Church had commissioned the celebrated Naval Architect Ted Geary to design the vessel, based on a cannery tender design he admired, and the vessel became the prototype for Geary's famous fantail yachts. She was launched at the Martinolich Shipyard at Dockton, on Maury Island near Seattle, in 1924 and began her career ferrying passengers along the Inside Passage from Seattle to Alaska.

Board the Westward and join Church's elegant clientele whose names included the likes of Disney, Crosby, Kodak, Hutton and Mellon. Dress for dinner in the saloon, where stewards in white coats assuage your thirst and your appetite.

Marvel at the mountains, glaciers, icebergs, islands, forests and fjords that line the Inside Passage. Strip off your cravat or your fine dress and pull on high topped boots for hiking, camping and canoe trips, where meals are cooked over open fires and wildlife abounds at every turn.

Watch a member of your party scale a cliff to examine and eagle's nest, as baby eagles with three-foot wingspans squawk with displeasure and their parents swoop perilously close to the interloper. Marvel at the calving ice walls of Glacier Bay as the Westward navigates a sea of icebergs that serve as resting places for vast numbers of seals, sea lions and birds.

Cast for steelhead and trout along primeval streams as huge salmon runs forge their way past the beach seines, the salmon traps and the waterfalls that impede their spawning urge. Marvel at the wildlife, the deer, the bighorn sheep, the mountain goat, the caribou and the omnipresent brown and black bears.

If styles were different then, the main regard in which Alaska excursions of yesteryear differed from the modern variety lay in the preferred forms of recreation. The real lure of an Alaskan excursion to the consciousness of 1920s America was blood sport.

Thar She Blows A 1925 promotional brochure extols the myriad fishing and hunting opportunities available to passengers, everything from big game to very big fish:

Another thrilling sport is made possible by the whaling outfit installed aboard the Westward. “thar she blows”, and keen excitement follows, the chase, the intense moments just before the shot, the harpoon hitting true, splashing and boiling water!

The tackle includes a Norwegian whale gun shooting harpoons fitted with time fuse bombs, a 10-horse gasoline winch with thirty-six hundred feet of quarter-inch plow steel cable as a fishing line, and all of the accessories for “scrapping it out” with fifty-ton whales, any one of which can furnish a week’s excitement between sunrise and sunset.

They didn't dispatch every animal they encountered. Two baby bears joined the party after a hunt that claimed their mother, and the insatiably curious bruins explored every inch of their new surroundings, first the human campsites and later the yachts, clambering up and down the rigging and over desks, tables and typewriters and in and out of the guest quarters and the galley. The news media had gotten wind of their existence and the camera shutters clicked furiously as the Westward transited Seattle’s Hiram Chittenden locks on her homeward journey, the bear cubs observing civilization from high in the rigging.

Church was an avid filmmaker and produced promotional films each season that served as keepsakes and marketing devices. He and his cameramen labored to capture images of Alaskan wildlife and scenery, and Westward is one of the best examples of his work.

Transferred from 16 millimeter film. To learn more about Campbell Church, Jr., and M/V Westward, click on these links:

Westward in the Twenty-First Century
Bear Facts: 1934 Voyage of the Hussar

DVD-Video. Black and White. Silent