“There are a million special memories. Laughing and sharing with groups, telling jokes and talent shows around campfires, stargazing, night paddling in bioluminescence, dolphins leaping suddenly into the air, the bellowing blow of a whale nearby….it goes on and on,” says Nancy Mertz, owner of Sea Kayak Adventures.
Longtime world travelers, Terry Prichard and Nancy Mertz met while working as guides in 1991. They started Sea Kayak Adventures in 1993 while continuing to guide for other tour operators. Terry has graduate work in geology, is a long distance cyclist, and has been a river/sea kayak guide since 1989. Nancy has a Masters of Social Work and has been a river rafting and sea kayak guide since 1982. They ran 1 trip with 13 guests in Feb 1993 and now run 55 trips with 600 people a year on average. They are located in Coeur d’Alene but operate tours in Loreto in Baj and Vancouver Island, BC Canada. Tours in Baja are October through April each year. Then each June-September in northern Vancouver Island.
Where It All Began
“One story that stands out was exactly a year after Sept 11, 2001. We sat on a beach in Johnstone Strait, BC Canada, in the dead calm of a starry night. There were several New Yorkers who were on our trip trying to get away from it all. It was the stillest, clearest night we’ve ever seen in BC. We sat together in the absolute stillness, and one by one we each set a candle onto a little cedar bark “boat”. We sent them out on to the barely perceptible current. There was a trail of 15 little candles heading out. When they disappeared, the northern lights came out and covered the sky. I’ve never seen the northern lights there before or since. Magic truly happens out there on our trips. “
The vast majority of clients attracted to our active and whale watching tours are in their late thirties to late sixties. Most of our tours are created for novices. But, we do run four tours a year out of forty-eight that are geared only to those who have prior sea kayaking experience. Being experts about our destinations, we work tirelessly on every detail. Our clients should be able to relax on their vacations. We are friends with our competitors, which is quite unique in the business. We refer folks to each other to help out in this economy. We are working right now with Grupo Tortuguero in Baja to develop tours for 2011 for guests to come down and help sea turtle researchers tag sea turtles in Baja.
Then the Downturn Happened
Worried about their business, (since travel might be the first item cut from most people’s budgets in a downturn), Nancy and co-owner, Terry Prichard, took a 9-month Entrepreneurial Leadership Training. This training offered by the Idaho SBDC included personal coaching as well as classroom sessions. “Bill Jhung offered an encouraging calm wisdom which steadied our hand on the tiller of our business during a very dark time for our business”, said Nancy. “A shorter course would not have been effective. This way you could really learn to focus and change your thinking and behavior. While still practicing under the tutelage of a phenomenal instructor. The steady and focused encouragement coupled with tools for business cost analysis really helped us. Bill helped us be confident about when and how to raise prices, etc. For example, we’d been too soft-hearted in many cases allowing emotion to trump logic and numbers.”
In 2009 taking Bill’s advice to constantly weigh each penny spent, each discount, and doubling our marketing efforts. We went from 2008, our worst year in the last 10 years, to on par with our best ever years. Not that we went into this business for money. We do it mostly for the pure love of sharing nature’s wonders with others.
Sea Kayak Adventures was the recipient of 2009 National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” and 2009 National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s “50 Best Trips of a Lifetime”. For more information about Sea Kayak Adventure visit www.seakayakadventures.com.