Decades from now literary scholars may ponder an interesting cultural blip: Why did so many memoirs get written in the early 2020s?
If they stumble across Homer writer Scott Burbank’s “Interior Waypoints: Sailing to Colombia” (July 2022), they might get an answer.
Like many adventurers stuck in faraway places during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burbank seized the gift of time to write a long-planned memoir about six years of adventure sailing and traveling in the Caribbean and South America.
For about 25 years, Burbank, 71, and his wife, Susan Aramovich, ran St. Augustine’s Kayak and Tours out of Peterson Bay, including a summer contract offering kayak tours for the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies at its Peterson Bay Station.
Originally they had a cabin near McNeil Canyon, but later sold that and built their kayak camp in Peterson Bay.
Burbank grew up in Maine, where he came to love camping, boating and sailing. He and Aramovich both came to Homer in 1979, meeting shortly after they arrived, and were among the early water taxi and tour operators who helped grow ecotourism into a viable enterprise centered around Kachemak Bay State Park.
“Coming to Alaska was a good decision for us, I think,” he said. “We’ve had a rich life.”
Burbank and Aramovich ran trips in the bay for more than 40 years, including sailing charters on their boat, St. Augustine’s Fire. About the same time he brought the sailboat up, he bought his first water taxi, an open skiff.
“The first water taxi I ran was two teachers to the Saddle Trail,” Burbank said, referring to one of the most popular trails in the park. “That was the only trail in the park. … It’s funny to look back at it after all those years.”
Once they got their business going, Burbank and Aramovich found they could take the winter off to travel, and especially sail in tropical waters.
“That lifestyle of having a seasonal business allowed us to do a lot of traveling and sailing in other parts of the world,” Burbank said. “… During the time we had to work it was no holidays, no breaks, a lot of hours. You had to earn that free time.”
Starting about 2003, for six years the couple sailed and traveled in the northwest Caribbean in the area of Central America and Colombia. While their sailing adventures form the backbone of the book, Burbank said much of it involves kayaking as well as overland trips.
“Interior Waypoints” also takes divergent paths as Burbank and Aramovich took off on different adventures. That’s a travel plan Burbank said he recommends, especially if for a lot of time you’ve been crammed together in small boats and cabins.
“That was kind of fun,” Burbank said of occasionally traveling apart. “It really made our time together richer. We had some independence; we had the security coming back together and sharing.”
Out of those six years of adventure came “Interior Waypoints.”
“It was an especially rich time,” Burbank said. “Plenty of people told me I needed to write the story. It think that’s how it came to be.”
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, Burbank and Aramovich found themselves stuck at their Colombian mountain home near Bogota. Before the pandemic, the couple had a rich social life and traveled in the area. Then the lockdown came.
“We couldn’t do any of that. It was a little boring,” he said.
So Burbank started writing. He’d had some experience before, including a published article in Cruising World about sailing to Augustine Volcano in the winter of 1984 and making the first ski descent.
“It’s quite the job to write a book. You have to stick with it,” he said. “I’m not the best at that sometimes.”
The pandemic got him a start, and over the best two winters at their Colombian mountain retreat, Burbank finished the book.
“I noticed I could write a lot more and get better at it as I went,” he said.
Don’t expect artsy creative nonfiction for a master of fine arts thesis. Burbank writes with a casual, lively style. He can geek out a bit on the details of single-handed sailing or repairing small-boat engines that might appeal to someone looking for tips on cruising. He balances that with stories about the characters who live in the off-track marinas and free anchorages not frequented by billionaires in superyachts.
“It might resonate with a lot of people here who tend to be more adventurous than the average traveler,” Burbank said.
A traditional publisher took an interest in “Interior Waypoints,” but that also would mean he would have to do his own marketing and promotion. Burbank chose to publish through Amazon.
He said he’s discovered that independent bookstores — the stores more likely to sell his book — prefer other self-publishing enterprises like Ingram Spark and may go to that platform.
Burbank had editing help from his friends, the writers Mei Mei Evans and Marilyn Sigman; his sister-in-law Marsha Spector; and part-time Colombian resident Mary Day Kent.
Homer artist Oceana Wills did the cover illustration. Locally, “Interior Waypoints” can be found at the Homer Bookstore.
The initial response has been favorable, Burbank said, with the Homer Bookstore selling quite a few copies, he said. A British yachting magazine also did a review.
Burbank and Aramovich have since sold their Peterson Bay property and the business, including all their kayaks during the pandemic summer of 2020 when everyone wanted outdoor equipment. They now live in a small home on Kachemak Drive where they don’t have to worry about running a summer business.
“We’re happy not to be doing it,” Burbank said. “Just going fishing and picking berries and doing a big harvest to forget how bad it’s raining.”