Member Spotlight: Alaska Marine Coatings

Q&A With Mike Ritz of Alaska Marine Coatings

It’s often said that people make the place and we couldn’t agree more. Our new spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.

Alaska Marine Coatings was created in 2013 by husband and wife team Mike and Tiffany Ritz to bring quality, cost-effective coatings to Seward’s marine community. Their expertise covers anything a vessel needs to preserve: decks, hulls, tank coatings, insulation or flooring. They work with USCG/ABS inspected transportation vessels from companies like Crowley, Foss, and Lynden Transport. AK Marine Coatings prepares and coats giant work boats, tugs, barges, and commercial fishing vessels, but has also been known to take on smaller projects for local businesses such as repainting metal deck railings at Harbor 360 Hotel.

We recently sat down with Mike to learn more about the journey he and Tiffany have taken as small business owners in Seward. 

The power couple in charge of brightening up the boats of Seward: Mike and Tiffany Ritz. Photo Courtesy of AK Marine Coatings

What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?

To say that a company like ours encounters many challenges in Alaska’s harsh environment is an understatement. With projects in places like the Arctic, western Alaska, and the Aleutians, we have to be resourceful and strong in order to finish a job. I’m proud that we have managed to complete over 200 projects in less than perfect weather while being good stewards of the environment and operating in a clean, responsible manner.

Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.

We started our business without ever having to take a loan or assistance. AK Marine Coatings has been self-sufficient since inception and runs off of the income that we earn from each project.

What is the best compliment your business has ever received?

This past year we’ve been recognized for our work on TV, radio, and in magazines, which is an honor. Being awarded Seward Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Business of the Year was a major highlight. We pride ourselves on bringing jobs to Seward’s economy and it was amazing to be recognized for our contribution.

Neither wind, rain, sleet nor snow keeps Alaska Marine Coatings from finishing a job. Photo Courtesy of AK Marine Coatings

Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.

Our decision to travel to remote locations to perform the work we do is always a huge risk. Giving firm, fixed estimates for work that is weather dependent and has so many other variables meant that, at times, we barely broke even. It’s a huge expense flying people, materials, and equipment into some of the more remote Arctic locations to work. Sometimes we came out ahead, sometimes we didn’t. It is a process that we are learning to master.

What advice would you give to a new business owner who is working to build a business like yours?

Blaine Bardarson told Tiffany and I when we first started that we would never experience emotions like we would running our own business. Emotions run high when it’s your own money and your family’s future on the line. My best advice is don’t give up and prepare for the many valleys in your business’s path, but also remember that they make the peaks so much more enjoyable!

How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?

An executive with a coatings manufacturer brought me up in 2011 to coordinate the coatings on the 9 million dollar AMHS Tustumena. That was originally a two year contract, but we never left.

What would people be surprised to learn about your business or your journey as a business owner?

Up until I quit my job in 2014, I never intended to be in business for myself.

What do you like most about living and working in Seward?

I appreciate the inclusive, supportive attitude of the businesses in our community. The scenery and the wildlife are amazing too. But mostly the people of Seward make it a great place to live and work.

M/V Christian shows off its bright blue paint job. Photo Courtesy of AK Marine Coatings

Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.

Seward is a very unique place with so many successful business people that it’s hard to pick just one. In no particular order, Joe and Tom Tougas, Blaine and Jean Bardarson, and Jim and Rhonda Hubbard have supported us immensely. We started only with the knowledge of our industry and a strong desire to make this work; these people and others helped us learn how to effectively run a business.

How do you spend your free time?

My wife and I love to fish, view wildlife, and spend time in the beautiful surroundings of Seward. We love any time we get to really embrace and enjoy the beautiful place in which we live. On the rare occasions we have free time, you’ll usually find us somewhere near Resurrection Bay or on our boat on the water.

If your life was a book, what would the title be?

When In Combat and the Bullets Start Flying, by Mike and Tiffany Ritz

Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share?

We are well into our fourth year and are focusing on industry/safety training. Purchasing new equipment for our crew will make things more efficient and safe for our team and also improve the quality of our work for our customers. We are driven to positively influence Seward’s economy and only hire workers who live in the community. This pushes us to go after larger contracts so we can provide better wages for our employees, so they, in turn, can support Seward businesses.

Feature Image: The travelifts at the Seward Marine Industrial Center help Alaska Marine Coatings give Crowley’s fleet a face lift. Photo Courtesy of AK Marine Coatings

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For more information about Alaska Marine Coatings, call 907.422.7640. 

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051. 

Member Spotlight: Exit Glacier Guides & Liquid Adventures

Q&A With Brendan Ryan & Ryan Fisher

It’s often said that people make the place, and we couldn’t agree more. Our new spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.

Co-owners Ryan Fisher and Brendan Ryan have been shaping the Kenai Peninsula’s adventure travel industry since 2004, when their company, Exit Glacier Guides, pioneered ice climbing tours in Seward. In 2013, they took over the helm at Liquid Adventures and have been growing Seward’s Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) scene ever since. These friends and business partners continue to push the boundaries of guided tourism by creating safe, exciting, and novel adventures for visitors to Seward and the Kenai Fjords National Park. Specific experiences include paddling around towering icebergs in Bear Glacier Lagoon, kayaking expeditions in remote Northwest Fjords, heli-accessible alpine hikes, and exploring deep crevasses on Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier Guides also provides convenient and economical transportation to Exit Glacier with a shuttle that leaves every hour from downtown Seward.

We recently sat down with Brendan to learn more about the journey he and Ryan have taken as small business owners in Seward. 

Co-owners Ryan Fisher (left) and Brendan Ryan (right) relax after a successful summer of guiding. Photo courtesy of Exit Glacier Guides.

What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?

Our goal is to provide unique, ground-breaking new tours with the best-trained guides in the area. We have a very extensive training program in place for both companies, and for Liquid Adventures we only hire guides with extensive prior guiding experience. We believe this provides our clients with an exemplary and safe guided experience.

Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.

We’re proud to be offering a new kayaking trip this year, the Aialik/Northwestern Explorer, that explores the fjords using a custom-built, brand new catamaran as a ride out. This vessel is not shared with any other companies, which means that our captain and guides can choose whether to paddle with our clients in Northwestern Fjords or Aialik Bay for the day, depending on factors like the weather, wildlife activity, and crowds.
 
We’re very excited to offer a trip that allows us the flexibility to provide our clients with the best paddling experience we can, specific to the day. Kenai Fjords is a very dynamic environment and we wanted to create an experience that can flex with the day’s conditions. Best of all, we’ve worked out a way to offer this trip at the same price as most other kayaking day trips to the fjords while offering a more private and exclusive experience.
 
How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?

I’ve been in Seward for a little over 16 years. I originally planned to stay for a couple weeks while visiting a friend, but that quickly changed to permanent residency.

Kayakers glide across aquamarine waters of Northwestern Fjords. Photo courtesy of Liquid Adventures.

What do you like most about living and working in Seward?

The two things I love most are the access to the outdoors and the tight-knit community. It’s nice to run into people I know everywhere I go, and I always know I can rely on people in the community to help out when needed. Seward and the surrounding areas are an adventurer’s haven for back-country skiing, ice-skating, camping and climbing expeditions. A lot of our “just-for-fun” exploration becomes a jumping-off-point for developing new and exciting trips for our guests.

What would people be surprised to learn about your business or your journey as a business owner?

Ryan and I spent our second spring surviving off of ramen and hot dogs for about two months while we scrimped to re-open for the upcoming season. Things were pretty lean back then, but we wanted to put all of our income back into the business itself. We learned that there are a lot of ways to make ramen!

Hanging glaciers dwarf kayakers in Northwestern Fjord. Photo Courtesy of Liquid Adventures

What is the best compliment your business has ever received?

“This trip was life-changing.”

How do you spend your free time?

Snowboarding Mt. Alice and Tiehacker among other mountains around Seward is a favorite pastime. Running trails with my fiancée keeps me on my toes—she runs the Mount Marathon Race every year!

What advice would you give to a new business owner who is working to build a business like yours?

Scrimp and save. The first years will be hard, but don’t give up. The feeling of creating something from scratch is incredibly rewarding.

Feature Image: The crystal blue walls of Exit Glacier’s crevasses inspire novice and experienced climbers alike. Photo courtesy of Exit Glacier Guides.

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For more information, call Liquid Adventures at 907.224.9225 or Exit Glacier Guides at 907.224.5569.

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051. 

 

Member Spotlight: Alaska Northern Outfitters

Q&A With Captain Sean Carlin of Alaska Northern Outfitters

It’s often said that people make the place, and we couldn’t agree more. Our new spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.

This week features Alaska Northern Outfitters, a world-class deep sea sportfishing charter targeting halibut, salmon, lingcod and rockfish out of Seward. Fishing charters explore the Kenai Fjords National Park and soak up the beauty of the giant glaciers and majestic wildlife with owner-operator, Captain Sean Carlin. The 50′ catamaran, Sea Quest, is the only sport vessel with an upper deck allowing companions to view wildlife without disturbing fishermen below.

We recently sat down with Captain Sean to learn more about the journey he has taken as a small business owner in Seward. 

Captain Sean (upper right) and crew reel in the catch of the day. Photo courtesy of Alaska Northern Outfitters.

What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?

We have a reputation for being family-friendly. We are the only vessel in the fleet to allow clients to share a rod with a partner for an extremely discounted price: our Companion/Shared Pole deal. This unique set-up allows spouses to come aboard to check out wildlife or help fish, effectively combining fishing and marine wildlife viewing. It is also great for younger children to accompany a parent at a reasonable cost and gives fishing enthusiasts the chance to take home more fish with two permits sharing one pole. Over the years we have built up a following of mostly Alaskan locals looking to fill the freezer for the year with the fact that we always stay out the latest and fish the hardest.

What would people be surprised to learn about your business or your journey as a business owner?

The Sea Quest was the first boat I ever worked on. Back then, I never thought I would be able to buy the business and build it up to what it is today. But at 23, I made my dream a reality.

Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.

Our dedication to client satisfaction and our Companion/Shared Pole deal that lets anglers bring a friend for only $149 sets us apart from others.

Everyone gets a piece of the action onboard the M/V Sea Quest. Photo courtesy of Alaska Northern Outfitters.

Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.

A major risk was custom-building the M/V Sea Quest in 2006. However, it has paid off as one of the most sought-after fishing platforms in Seward. Largest and newest goes a long way when looking for a comfortable fishing experience.

How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?

I’ve lived in Seward for 12 years. My passion for fishing and adventure brought me to Alaska when I was 18.

What do you like most about living and working in Seward?

I love the small town community that surrounds the fishing industry. Everyone has a lot in common and seems to have migrated to this magical place for one reason, ADVENTURE!

David vs. Goliath. The little ones love reeling in big fish, too! Photo courtesy of Alaska Northern Outfitters.

Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.

Tom Tougas is a great man who has helped many small businesses in Seward get a start. He has played a major part in shaping the community into what it is today.

What is the best compliment your business has ever received?

“That was the best day of my life!” is definitely my favorite compliment.

How do you spend your free time?

Fishing, fishing and on the weekends…fishing!

If your life was a book, what would the title be?

The Pursuit of Elusive Creatures by Capt. Sean.

There are so many great wilderness areas to explore around Seward and Kenai Fjords. If you had a free weekend, where would you go?

Taz Basin or Nuka Bay

Feature Image: Spacious decks offer fishing fun for the whole family! Photo Courtesy of Alaska Northern Outfitters.

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For more information about Alaska Northern Outfitters, click here or call 907.224.2665. 

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051. 

 

Member Spotlight: The Painted Whale

Q&A With Justine Pechuzal of The Painted Whale

It’s often said that people make the place and we couldn’t agree more. Our spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.

The Painted Whale is a specialized art company operated by local artist and art educator Justine Pechuzal. Offerings include mural tours, art classes, and art events like Paint ‘N Sips. She is also the creator of The Statehood Mural, The Whale Mural, and The Friendship Across Water Mural in Seward. In addition, Justine has worked with rural Alaskan communities making collaborative school murals.

We recently sat down with Justine to learn more about the journey she has taken as a small business owner in Seward. 

Justine Pechuzal’s mixed media artwork roves small galleries around town from The Cookery restaurant to Resurrect Art Coffee House. Photo courtesy of The Painted Whale.

Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.

In the summer of 2017, I started doing walking tours showcasing public artwork that makes Seward the “Mural Capital of Alaska”. Tours last 90 minutes and cover approximately 1.5 miles meandering between nearly a dozen murals in the historic downtown area.  Visitors learn about the cultural and historical themes presented in each mural relevant to life in Seward and Alaska (i.e. The Iditarod Trail & dog mushing, commercial fishing, the Mount Marathon Race, Kenai Fjords National Park).  Tours also educate guests about the creators of the murals, both established Alaskan artists and local Seward talent, as well as the creative and logistical process.  For visitors new to Seward it is a fun and engaging way to connect with what our community is all about.  

My favorite personal public art project was the whale mural across the street from the SeaLife Center. The image came from my kayaking experiences and inspired my company name.

Tiny artists access their inner creative during a Percent for Art mural project in Bethel, AK. Photo courtesy of The Painted Whale.

What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?

Art can often seem inaccessible, whether someone is looking at an abstract painting or drawing an animal. My goal is to help people connect with art through positive experiences in interpretation or creation.

How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?

I came to Seward in 2005 to work as a guide for Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking and have been a year-round resident since 2009 (when I got the Statehood Mural commission.)

What do you like most about living and working in Seward?

I appreciate the diverse, yet tight-knit community and amazing natural environment of Seward. Coming from the dry desert of Arizona, it’s a joy to live by the sea with so many recreational opportunities. The size of our town makes it easy to plug into activities and make things happen.

What is the best compliment your business has ever received?

Last summer, a mural tour participant said the guided mural walk was her favorite Seward activity, although she had done a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, fishing charter, and Exit Glacier visit. She said the tour was unique and personal.

Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.

I may be a little biased, but I greatly admire the path blazed by Jennifer Headtke, the Seward Mural Society founder and owner of The Ranting Raven. It is amazing that she, with the help of a dedicated group of volunteer artists, was able to take an idea and turn it into a long-term program. There are very few communities our size with the breadth and quality of our public art collection.

Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.

I never imagined myself as a business person, but have learned that if there aren’t art jobs out there, you have to make your own. Therefore, almost everything that I have done thus far in my business feels like a risk. It’s been a lot of worthwhile work, but it’s a little early in the game to know about the pay-off!

Locals’ creative spirit comes alive at the Seward Alehouse Paint ‘n’ Sip. Photo Courtesy of The Painted Whale.

 How do you spend your free time?

When not working on art, I love to play outdoors. Baking is also a fun hobby because its edible!

Where’s your favorite spot in Seward to unwind?

I find the mountains and ocean calming, or if the weather is bad, curling up with a coffee at Resurrect Art is a close second!

If your life was a book, what would the title be?

Wilderness Muse

There are so many great wilderness areas to explore around Seward and Kenai Fjords. If you had a free weekend, where would you go?

I love paddling the area near Fox Island and the Resurrection Peninsula. There are so many fantastic rock formations and the wildlife is bountiful.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share?

My biggest creation to date is arriving at the end of the summer: a baby! Adding a tiny human to the art/work/life balance will take creativity. And giving tours with a big belly should be memorable.

Feature Image: The iridescent tiles of the Seward Public Library frame Nichole Feemster’s “The Irresistible Story” during the start of a mural walking tour. Photo courtesy of The Painted Whale.

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For more information about The Painted Whale or to book a mural walking tour, click here or call 907.521.0311.

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051. 

Seward’s Place in Iditarod History

It’s a fair question: What’s a coastal town located approximately 1,000 miles from Nome have to do with the Iditarod?

Although Seward’s connection to Nome stretches back to the early days of the gold rush, our community also maintains a modern-day connection to the Iditarod race through some very special local residents. 

The Seward–Nome Route

The National Iditarod Historic Trail, first known as the Seward–Nome Route, actually pre-dates the famous serum run of 1925. The 2,300-mile trail system was originally developed to transport mail and supplies arriving by steamship in Seward’s ice-free port to communities in the Interior during the gold rush era. 

Nome’s port was ice-bound and inaccessible to steamships from November until roughly July each year. As a result, Seward was a critical link to the outside world for Alaska’s northern villages. From 1909 until the mid-1920s, dog sled teams were the primary method of transportation along the trail. 

Today, you can access two portions of the historic trail near Seward:

  • From the Iditarod monument marking Mile 0 of the trail, a paved coastal walk north parallels the shore of Resurrection Bay for nearly a mile to the boat harbor.
  • Nash Road intersects with the trail at mile 2.1, where visitors can hike four miles north to Bear Lake. From that point north, the trail appears and reappears periodically as links between public use cabins and current hiking trails.

The 1925 Serum Run

By 1925, when the diptheria epidemic struck Nome, the newly-constructed railroad carried supplies arriving in Seward to Nenana, located 420 miles north. From Nenana, dog sled teams transported supplies the remaining 674 miles to Nome. This portion of the journey typically took 25 days.

Responding with urgency to the growing epidemic, the first relay of dog teams carrying an initial supply of the life-saving serum covered that same distance in less than six days. The treacherous trip was completed in extreme sub-zero temperatures, with blizzard-like conditions and hurricane-force winds. 

After an additional shipment of serum arrived in Nenana via Seward, a second dog sled relay was dispatched. The second relay took approximately seven days, and included many of the same drivers, and also faced harsh conditions. 

This heroic story is a catalyst for one of the fiercest races still held today; a partnership between man and dog that covers some of the harshest terrain in Alaska: The Iditarod. Today, the race begins in Willow, just north of Anchorage. 

Modern Day Mushers

Happy dogs get a training workout at the Seavey’s homestead in Seward. Photo courtesy of Seavey’s Ididaride.

Seward’s legacy in “The Last Great Race” endures with two local families that will participate in the 2018 Iditarod—including the reigning champion!

In 2017, Mitch Seavey and his son, Dallas, brought home the gold and silver respectively in a finish that is almost becoming routine. A Seavey has won the Iditarod since 2012, with the other often coming in close second.

Mitch’s kennel is located on the outskirts of Seward, on the family homestead near Exit Glacier. Seavey’s Ididaride educates guests about an important mode of transportation in Alaska from some of the best mushers in the state. In the summers, they offer visitors rides around their property on wheeled sleds pulled by champion canines athletes.

Turning Heads Kennels keeps a portion of their team on Godwin Glacier during the summer for training and dog-sledding experiences for visitors. Photo: Kalani Woodlock Photography.

Four-time Iditarod finisher Travis Beals and his partner Sarah Stokey also offer visitors a chance to meet their racing dogs at Turning Heads Kennel. In addition to wheeled rides on their property, Turning Heads offers a helicopter-accessible dog sled tour of Godwin Glacier. There, a team of dogs spends the summer giving visitors snowy sled rides with stunning views overlooking Resurrection Bay.

Feature Image: Three-time Iditarod winner and Seward resident, Mitch Seavey. Photo: Seavey’s Iditarod Racing Team/Seavey’s Ididaride Tours

For more information about Seavey’s Ididaride call 907.224.8607.

For more information about Turning Heads Kennels call 907.362.4354. 

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051.