God and Family First
Written by Captain Nathan Depenbrock
Our passion for serving people comes directly from the "good book", book of Matthew.
"So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets" Matthew 7:12
"In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16
And that is truly what we feel our "job" is... serving others and sharing kindness with them.
Allison and I have been sharing this joy and passion of our in the beauty of Kentucky's landscape for over 20 years. We are also the owners of Canoe Kentucky, the Bluegrass State's Premier Paddle Sports shop. We are a canoe and kayak outfitter as well as retail shop, and have been offering these services since 1981. We are a third generation business, with Allison and myself being second generation owners and our children working in the business. I would encourage you to check out Canoe Kentucky next time you are in Frankfort, and take a canoe or kayak trip on either the Elkhorn Creek or the Kentucky River.
As a part of Canoe Kentucky expanding its Environmental Education program, in 2015 we became managers of the Kentucky River Thorobred, a floating science classroom built and maintained by Kentucky State University in Frankfort. We offer students and adults alike, free cruises on the Kentucky River to learn more about our water and why we should protect it. Since this 50 passenger vessel required a USCG Captain to operate it, we had to hire in three different Captains to provide this service.
During our time on the Thorobred, we found ourselves falling in love with the river, and wanting to share it more. But, with the specific guidelines that have to be followed on the Thorobred, being that it was built for and funded for environmental education, we were limited on who we could expose the river to. So we began conjuring up "next steps". That is when we hired Captain #3!
Captain Clayton Embly is a 30 plus year veteran of the maritime world. He has captained pretty much anything you could think of, from Naval ships to freighters, from barge tugs to tour boats. He joined our team in 2016, and we knew from the get go that his joining us was a God thing. Clayton was just what we needed to head in the direction we are now plowing.
Clayton helped Allison and I get t he proper sea time we needed so that in 2018 we could attend school to acquire our Captains license. We attended "Sea School's" Bayou La Batre campus, in southern Alabama. 12 days of rigorous learning, everything under the sun when it comes to maritime law, rules of the road, marlinspike seamanship and more. Difficult for me, even more so for Allison, as she was the one female among 24 other sailors in class! 24 men, mostly barge technicians, who give understanding to the phrase "cuss like a sailor". A very intimidating learning environment, but the class teacher, Captain Pat, was very good, although crude as the next, and by the end of class, all the guys had taken in Allison as one of her own and looked out for her like a sister.
So we both graduated from the OUPV course, Mate First Class course and Master Course. After mountains of paperwork were filed, five weeks later we both received credentials in the mail commissioning us as USGS 100 Master Licensed Mariners! Allison's came three days before me, so she has epitomal date of rank over me!
Now came the work of how do we use these licenses. Experience working with Buffalo Trace Distillery through Canoe Kentucky gave us knowledge on how many people were coming to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and were looking for new things to do, especially those that were on the second and third trips to "the Trail". So the idea was born to offer a bourbon themed boat tour.
We knew this tour had to be offered on a unique boat, and no better way to make it unique than to build it ourselves. The hull we settled on being best was a Carolina Skiff hull, and we knew we were fans of Honda Motors, but other than that, we were working with a blank canvas. We custom built our vessel, and it was all built by Kentucky hands. From the rails being welded by Joey at Price Welding in Cynthiana, to the cushions being hand stitched by JR at JR's Upholstery in Paris. We installed all of this, as well as the benches, fiber glassing, center console, bimini top, etc. All in all, this work took 4 months, all while trying to run a canoe business, build a website, market, and more.
Once completed, she needed a name. A naming contest on Facebook netted a few good candidates, and we settled on the "Trace of Kentucky". The USCG came to town and provided us all our inspections and tests, and in September 2018, we received our USCG Passenger Inspected Vessel sticker; a HUGE accomplishment for anyone!
We launched the "Trace" in October and ran a limited number of "test" trips on the Kentucky. hen, winter 2018/ 2019 came and the long wait to get on the water. We spent or time studying our bourbon and local history, touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail ourselves (tough work!) , eating at local restaurants we wanted to recommend, taking in every tour we could, attended shows, wrote tour talks, practiced on the boat, improved partnerships with Buffalo Trace as well as our non profit of choice to help benefit, Woods and Waters Land Trust, and rested just a little... in the Florida Keys!
April 1, 2019 we christened the "Trace". Tradition may be to break a bottle of champagne over the transom, but we are "The Bourbon Boat' AND we believe in protecting our environment. We could not see wasting champagne in Kentucky or breaking glass in the river. So we instead, "washed" the "Trace of Kentucky" in Buffalo Trace bourbon, pouring it over the bow, and therefore blessing her with good will and safety during her journey. We had representatives from Woods and Waters Land Trust, Frankfort Tourist Commission, Frankfort/ Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, local elected leaders and others in attendance, as Father Charles Howell prayed over the "Trace" and asked the intercession of Saint Brendan, patron saint of boatmen and mariners, over her. And so it began!
Since that April day in 2019, the "Trace of Kentucky" has had over 8,000 people on her deck. She has offered bourbon themed tours, Frankfort historical tours, lock and dam tours, seen bald eagles, egrets, beaver, coyote, naked swimmers! and more!