The Bering Sea King crab fleet has nothing on the newest darlings of Alaskan screen reality adventures and, Sarah Palin aside, this five-man personal watercraft riding team will actually see Russia from their backyard. As a matter of fact, they plan to touch Russia.
It just so happens their backyards are specially modified Seadoo Jet Ski’s, and their front yard is a virtual heaven of Alaskan waters and wildlife.
“This is the adventure of a lifetime,” said Dangerous Waters team leader Steven Moll, 40. “This has never been done before.”
Moll, from Sacramento, Calif., team member Patrick McGregor, 40, from Boise, Idaho, mechanic Charles Davis, 39, of Petersburg, his driver/cameraman and brother Wesley, 37, of New Orleans, La., and hot-shot snowmobile rider turned cameraman Andrew Mazzella, 24, of Bozeman, Mont., overnighted in Juneau Saturday night on their way to Haines. It’s all part of a multi-thousand-mile trip that originated in Seattle on June 15, and will end when they strike gold on the beaches of Nome, hopefully by late July.
The trip is being filmed as part of a 10-episode series to air in March 2012 on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s HDNet high-definition cable channel.
“The whole goal of the expedition is to get up to Nome and then cross the Bering Strait to Russia,” Moll said.
The crew retrofitted four Seadoos themselves, designing and manufacturing from scratch specialty racks on the back that can carry extra fuel, increasing each craft’s range to more than 300 miles without refueling.
“Especially when we get out in the Aleutians we want to make sure we had that capability,” Moll said.
The team estimates fuel costs will be more than $30,000. With survival gear, food, satellite phone, GPS, incidentals and gear, the amount staggers to well over $150,000 just to be able to film. Then again, this is the new NBA champion owner’s television station.
Episode 1 was riding north from Sacramento to Ballard, Wash., then to Nanaimo, B.C., on Vancouver Island. There they overnighted, then spent a night farther north at Alert Bay, the oldest native settlement in British Columbia. During this adventure they got stuck on the water in darkness after sucking up a rock in one of the craft’s impellers and were guided to land by the lights of Alert Bay. The next morning they traveled to Port Hardy, BC.
“I can’t script what is happening,” Moll said. “Being the executive producer of the show I put together our route as going from point A to point B, and our goals as to what to film. It has been so dramatic.”
Episode 2 is an encounter with a Sealion haul out near Port Hardy and 1,500-pound pinnipeds jumping off the rocks into the water around the skis. Orcas swim six-inches from their watercraft as their second day of filming ends in Prince Rupert, BC. Their time includes a stay at Butedale, BC, a ghost town of a former 1918 fishing, mining and logging camp.
Caretakers there let them stay in a cabin and took them up to Butedale Lake where they caught trout for dinner. The last night is spent camping in Dixon Entrance.
“Surreal is the only way to put it,” Moll said.
Episode 3 is four days of filming from Dixon Entrance to Ketchikan and on to Petersburg. Outside Ketchikan, Dall’s Porpoises were riding the waves of their Seadoos. The episode ended with three of the skis hitting sandbars up the Stikine River between Wrangell and Petersburg, and the riders ejecting into the air and somersaulting into the water. Moll blew a head gasket on his Seadoo after successfully testing the glacier waters of LeConte Bay and then fouling on the Stikine River.
“We sucked up some rocks into the Seadoo,” Moll said. “Tore apart the ware ring, the prop, and punctured the cooling ring. But the head gasket, that never happens.”
Even the team’s Seadoo mechanic consultant back in California was amazed.
Then again, this group of men are on an amazing adventure.
Episode 4 is the Petersburg to Juneau section. The team encountered nasty weather as soon as they left “Little Norway’s” dock.
“We took a pounding,” Moll said. “It is like doing 20,000 forced squats. We left at 7 a.m. and it turned into an all-day ordeal.”
With the wear and tear, however, came the breathtaking scenes that will leave viewers eagerly anticipating the next week’s show. The team found humpback whales to share water with, stopped at three beach camps to enjoy the scenery, and jumped over a wave or two.
They arrived in Gastineau Channel eight hours later and, like reality TV, had a run-in with a cantankerous young pilot who didn’t like their docking arrangement.
Episode 5 will have the short trip to Haines where they will meet up with the RV driver who left Seattle last Saturday and drove north three days up to Anchorage.
“There is just not enough theatrical value in open water if we were to ride the skis up the coast,” Moll said. “We want to be in close to shore where we can interact with wildlife and scenery and each other. Not that we can’t go out into the big water — we certainly can and have — (but) for filming it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Moll said the team was chosen specifically for its skills, and cameraman Mazzella drew his praise.
“When I looked through the stuff he filmed on snowmobiles is when we decided we needed someone who was rugged, was used to the water, but could ride backwards and side-saddle and all that stuff,” Molls said. “Wesley is his pilot, so that lets Andrew operate the cameras.”
The other members each ride their own single Seadoos.
The team will put the Seadoos back in at Anchorage and cruise to Homer, Kodiak, King Cove, Dutch Harbor, the inside of Bristol Bay to King Salmon, north through Dillingham and Western Alaska to reach Nome.
“Water conditions will determine everything we do,” Moll said. “We should be able to go 150-300 miles per day. If conditions are favorable, we will push for the higher end of that. If unfavorable, we may be caught up in a cove or on a coastline.”
This is Moll’s second adventure in Alaska. Moll and Todd English navigated the inside passage on Seadoos in 2010.
“The interaction you get with nature when you are on something as small as we are is unlike anything else,” Moll said. “A big boat is not getting up close and personal experience with the coastline or with wildlife. We can stop on any shore or go up any river, and we are all in agreement on the schedule. We are pretty focused as a group to make our goal of Russia.”
Fans can get advanced episode glimpses by following the team live at seadooadventures.com or on the California NBC news station following their trip at KCRA.com, search for “Seadoo Adventures.”
“The ocean is completely unforgiving,” Moll said. “Just like the mountains. If we make mistakes in navigation the ramifications can be enormous.”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.