Captain Billy Choate or as I called him, Captain Q. Billy was not only our boat Captain for the Aleutian History Expeditions, he was an inspirational human and my friend. His calm demeanor at sea was always soothing to myself and our tour goers. In rough water, he remained undisturbed, I can remember several instances when the rest of us were barely keeping our stomachs down and dishes were crashing onto the floor of the galley causing our chef extraordinaire, Nicole (Puddin Pants) to swear loudly, Billy at the helm, sat there serenely and ate his dinner without a care in the world. Nothing he had not see before.
Captain was 71 when I met him in 2016. I was always in awe of his zest for life and his quiet way of going about it. During random times of the year when we’d talk, he’d be busy roller blading, cross country skiing, hiking or playing granddad to the light of his life, his granddaughter, Sienna. Billy had a very rare cancer that returned four years ago. He handled his diagnosis and treatments admirably. We spoke several times this year and I am so happy we did, "Good to hear you." he'd always say. I can hear his voice clear as day, a voice that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
This is one of my favorite photos of Billy at the helm. I believe we were prepping for our Summer Solstice party on the deck of his beloved boat, the M/V Puk Uk, while just off shore of Umnak Island in 2017. He built the Puk Uk (Inupiat for ‘Poking Around’) boat by hand in St. Augustine, Florida then sailed it through the Panama Canal and up to its home in Homer, Alaska. He was always up for anything we wanted to do, as crazy as it was, including these ridiculous bow ties we make everyone where during our Old Salt cocktail/poem reading party ; this old Bering Sea crab fisherman was a lover of poetry and all things arts. Billy was one of the few who would venture as far wast as Attu and he loved it, he loved the Aleutians. He was always willing to try new things for the sake of history, like getting us to Chichagof Harbor, docking at the rock dock on Umnak, or dropping us off at Jeff’s Cove on Kiska. But he always did so safely. He knew those waters like no one else.
Not sure what this means for the future of the Puk Uk or our Aleutian History Expeditions. I know he was trying to sell it. Whoever buys it will have some enormous shoes to fill. Truthfully, no one can replace Billy Choate I will miss you Captain Q and our trips will never be the same without you. RIP friend.