Pipes at sea : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Pipes at sea

•By Chuck Stanion, photos by Richard Friedman•

Richard Friedman’s home is the 96-foot yacht The Alaskan Song, anchored in Bellingham, Wash., in Bellingham Harbor, where he and his wife, Nancy, stay through the seven months of winter weather that keeps them from taking charters along the Alaskan coast, as they do the rest of the year. It’s February now—almost time to get back to work, if you can call boating in a luxury yacht along some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world “work.” Nancy is the chef; she prepares astonishing gourmet meals for the guests who charter the weeklong cruises, so her job is much harder than Richard’s. Sure, he makes noises about red tape and licenses, bookings, repairs and maintenance, but he’s too happy in his work for that to be taken seriously—one suspects that his main jobs are to steer, point at the fabulous wildlife that abounds along the coast and look like everyone’s expectation of a sea captain.

That rugged sea captain appearance is an archetype that we all recognize and that Friedman fits perfectly. With chiseled features, clear farsighted eyes and tousled gray hair, he’s tan and weathered while still seeming at least 10 years younger than his 61 years. The pipe helps too. It’s easy to imagine him effortlessly maneuvering his vessel through gale-force winds, pipe clenched tightly in his teeth, sneering at the sea’s fury, master and commander of all before him.

“My wife won’t let me smoke inside,” says the rugged captain, sitting down in the covered aft deck and lighting a Dunhill billiard, “so I smoke out here.” Well, maybe not a perfect archetype, but pretty close. And it’s easy to understand the smoking arrangement: The Friedmans are hosts to many different people throughout the year, some of whom might not appreciate pipe smoke. It’s a terrific smoking lounge anyway, just as nice as inside and nicer for those who enjoy the outdoors. Today it’s 50 degrees with wind gusts up to 60 mph, but it’s remarkably comfortable nonetheless; with the bow of the boat into the wind and the cabin sheltering the aft deck, it couldn’t be better.

part of the sea creatures collection

It seems like an idyllic life, but Friedman paid high dues to get here. He spent 11 years as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, then 12 years in the insurance business. “I was a reasonably successful insurance guy,” he says, “but I missed the water.” Nancy recognized that he wasn’t happy, and in 1994 they made a courageous decision to change the lives of their family, which included their three sons, then aged 8, 7 and 5. “It had been our dream to take the boys cruising,” says Friedman. “So we sold virtually everything we owned. We sold the business, sold our house, bought a boat—a 60-foot Norwegian coastal rescue vessel that had been refitted as a yacht—and went on a two-year cruise around North America, all the way from Maine to Alaska. We homeschooled the boys and showed them how differently people lived in different regions. We visited historical sites everywhere.” It was an unparalleled education for all of them. “I count my blessings that I married the woman I did. For her to risk the security of her family for my happiness—for our happiness—to be willing to go to sea and cast our fates to the winds.”

octopus by Stephen Downie

After two years they were out of money, so a new plan was needed. It would have been easiest for Friedman to return to the insurance business, but that seemed like purgatory to him—he couldn’t live happily away from the water. They rented a house in Washington State and Friedman started chartering cruises along the Alaska coast on their boat. And he’s been doing that ever since.

When the charter business was going well they bought a house, but things still weren’t perfect, with Friedman away from home five months out of the year. “Five years ago the youngest of our boys left the nest,” he says, “and we found ourselves with this big empty house. It was always my dream to work with Nancy rather than be away from her so much. So we sold the house and sold the boat, and bought this boat, which we live on year-round.”

Last year the Friedmans did 14 weeklong charters, which is about average for them. “One of the things that’s made the business successful is that, because I was in the insurance business, I had computer skills. When we started we were literally the first charter yacht in the world that had a website—it’s been up since 1986. It’s an international business. In those early years almost all of our customers found us on the Web. Now probably 60 percent of our business is either repeat or referral.”

porpoise by Peter Heding

Something else The Alaskan Song offers that can be found nowhere else is the opportunity to examine Friedman’s pipe collection, a small part of which is on display in the pilot house of the boat. It’s a large collection that includes a remarkable genre of pipes: the sea creatures collection.

Please read the rest of this article in the pages of P&T magazine or in our online digital edition).

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Category: Spring 2012

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