A pale-blue 110-foot Bering Sea crab boat anchored off the inside of the Homer Spit has gathered a bit more attention than the usual fishing boat in Kachemak Bay. The R/V Wild Alaskan might not be a Deadliest Catch star like the F/V Time Bandit, but she’s become almost as famous.
Last week, the Wild Alaskan pulled into the bay and a 28-foot Mako sport boat with triple 250hp outboards associated with it moored at the Homer Harbor at the bottom of Ramp 2. A poster on the boat with an illustration of a red-haired mermaid announces exotic dancers and nightly entertainment from 9 p.m.-4 a.m. Wednesdays through Sunday starting June 7. For $30 patrons can catch a short ride to the Wild Alaskan and enjoy nude female entertainment. Soft drinks will be served, but no alcohol. Beyond the water taxi fee, there is no admission charge, although tips are welcome, said Wild Alaskan owner Darren Byler of Kodiak.
“These girls are not prostitutes. They’re professional dancers. They need to be treated with respect,” Byler said in a phone interview last Friday. “We run a clean ship. This is not a sleazy operation. This is a first-class entertainment venue.”
The Wild Alaskan aft deck has been covered with a building.
“Instead of a big deck for crab pots, we have a stage,” Byler said. “It’s a floating lodge.”
The lodge has a sound system and a lounge. Byler said the Wild Alaskan is licensed as a recreational vessel and has all the safety equipment, including 100 life jackets. The shows include scripted acts, like one where a woman washes up on shore after a shipwreck.
“A girl comes out in a survival suit and peels out of it buck naked,” Byler said. “The fishermen have never seen anything like it.”
A jury in 2015 found Byler guilty of discharging sewage into the Kodiak Harbor. Byler set up his floating strip club in 2014. Federal prosecutors said toilets on the Wild Alaskan improperly discharged human waste into the harbor. He was sentenced to 5 years probation and fined $10,000. Byler said the Wild Alaskan had then and still has a 3,500-gallon holding tank.
The Alcohol Beverage Commission also took away Byler’s liquor license in December 2014. The Wild Alaskan had a liquor license similar to that of a cruise ship.
The ABC said the Wild Alaskan should have been moving, not anchored, and thus Byler violated his license. Byler said he’s appealing the federal conviction and intends to file a lawsuit to get his liquor license back. He said the applicable liquor license statute didn’t say a ship had to be moving.
“I wasn’t breaking any laws,” Byler said. “I told them (the ABC) if you don’t want me to be setting anchor, you have to change your laws and statutes.”
The Wild Alaskan visits Homer as part of what Byler called “our summer civil liberties recreational event.”
Byler claimed the feds and state came down on him because of “the do-gooders in Kodiak.”
“They wanted to strip my First Amendment rights because they didn’t approve of what I was doing,” he said. “I have a lot of supporters who say ‘Thank God there are people like you who can take on the government.’”
Entertainers working on the Wild Alaskan live onshore in rented apartments, Byler said. Some women come from Alaska, but most live in the Lower 48. Byler plans to be in Homer for at least a month and later visit other fishing ports, including Dutch Harbor and Sand Point.
“I’m getting calls from fishermen all over the state. ‘When are you coming to town? We’re counting the hours,’” Byler said.
Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said it appears the Wild Alaskan set anchor inside of Homer city limits. It’s not clear if the Wild Alaskan has anchored in the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area or in the harbor area excluded from the critical habitat area regulations. If the boat is in the critical habitat area, after 14 days Byler would have to get a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the agency that regulates the critical habitat area, said Ginny Litchfield, Kenai Peninsula Area Manager, ADF&G, Soldotna.
“We would probably have a conversation with them,” Litchfield said if Byler stayed beyond 14 days.
However, if the Wild Alaskan moved to another spot, that might reset the 14-day limit.
ADF&G also would want to make sure the Wild Alaskan isn’t dumping sewage or being a hazard to other users in the critical habitat area. The Coast Guard also prohibits discharging sewage inside a 3-mile limit from shore. Kachemak Bay is within that limit.
As for the water taxi, the city doesn’t regulate such vessel operations, Hawkins said. That’s up to the Coast Guard. The water taxi would pay moorage like any other transient vessel.
Homer Police Chief Mark Robl said it appears the Wild Alaskan operates legally.
“From what we can tell, he’s not breaking any state laws or local ordinances,” Robl said.
While Homer doesn’t have any strip clubs, it does have a burlesque troupe, Tails and Tassels, that performs periodically around town. Their next event is a Pin Up Pageant at 3 p.m. July 1 at the Down East Saloon. Tails and Tassels director Bobbye Hurd, who performs as Bobbye Pin Up, said burlesque has a different emphasis than a stripper show like on the Wild Alaskan.
“As a performance artist, we pick and chose what we want to show,” Hurd said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where she was attending an event for the Burlesque Hall of Fame. “In our art form we don’t do anything we want to do. All body shapes and sizes are accepted. Nudity is entirely optional.”
Burlesque also pays more attention to costumes, make up and hair, Hurd said.
“It’s much more of a show. It’s much more glamorous,” she said.
Hurd did express solidarity for the Wild Alaskan strippers, and said she hoped that as fellow performers they get paid well.
“More power to them for whatever they’re going to do. I just hope they’re damn good at what they do and get paid a fair wage, because quality is important,” Hurd said.
With the Wild Alaskan anchored off shore and not near the main channel, Byler said his floating strip club should be less intrusive.
“I’m not 100 feet from a school or church where you can drive out and see these bad people. I’m a speck on the horizon,” Byler said. “I’m pretty much out of sight, out of mind.”