If you love your job, it doesnt seem like work, he says.
But its not all fun and games, sailing until the sun goes down each day. Im out here every day, seven days a week, with four cruises each day, he says. Im the only captain, so that ends up being about 100 hours per week.
Captain Nowland is partners in the Nauti-Cat with his father, Jack, who owns the SOS Analytical environmental assessment company in Traverse City. Jack does the books while Chien does the hands-on work. Chien is also the son of Nita Nowland, a well-known local businesswoman and rock singer.
He got started in the family business while still a kid. Ive been sailing since the age of 14 on the Nauti-Cat, but my first job was as first mate on my dads charter fishing boat when I was eight, he recalls.
He served his apprenticeship on the water by getting up at 5 a.m., getting the charter boat out of the slip, helping with the fishing gear, docking the boat and cleaning the fish caught by clients.
At the age of 14, Nowland started working on the Nauti-Cat. I was unable to serve drinks at that age, so I paid my dues, helping with the kids cruises until I was 18, he says.
He graduated from TC West High School in 2004 and went on to earn his captains license in 2006. I tried college twice, but had a lack of focus, Nowland says. Im an autodidact -- I like to study on my own -- things like music theory. He also plays alto sax and guitar.
In 2006, the Nauti-Cats owner, Russell Schindler, announced that he was bowing out of the business. Jack and Chien purchased the boat the following year and carried on with the popular cruises.
Chiens contribution has been through sweat equity, running the boat and also installing and removing a massive wooden dock at the West Bay Holiday Inn each spring and fall with the help of friends.
ABOUT THE CAT
At 47 feet in length and 29 feet wide, with a mast that stands 63 feet, the Nauti-Cat is the largest sailing catamaran on the Great Lakes.
It was custom-built in Galveston, Texas in 1987, with double the required fiberglass in its mono-hull. Its very easy to sail and easy to get the sails up, Nowland says.
So how did it come to Northern Michigan?
Russell brought it up from Galveston in the mid-90s, Nowland says. But a big storm snapped the wooden mast, so they ended up floating it here on a barge up through the Mississippi.
Today, in addition to its day cruises, the Nauti-Cat is available for private parties and weddings. Last year, for instance, the Kellogg company rented the boat for a run between Bay Harbor and Harbor Springs.
This is an ocean-going vessel, so weve had it out in major storms on Lake Michigan in waves that are easily seven or eight feet high, Nowland says.
Mostly, however, its cruises around West Bay that keep the Nauti-Cat busy. Theres a kids cruise from 10-11:30 a.m. ($15); a noon cruise from 12-2:30 p.m. ($22); a happy hour cruise from 3-5:30 p.m. ($28); and a champagne sunset cruise from 7 p.m. on ($35). The boat can accommodate 46 people, and theres a cash bar and two heads onboard.
So, what next for Captain Nowland? He and his girlfriend Susan Taylor are expecting the birth of a child this winter. And someday, hed also like to adopt the local habit among captains of working the boats down in the Virgin Islands in the off-season. But in the meantime, there are still plenty of smiles, sunsets and good times on the Bay to attend to as the Nauti-Cat wraps up its summer.
Check out the Nauti-Cat and its sailing opportunities at its dock at the West Bay Holiday Inn, or call 231-947-1730. Web: www.natuti-cat.com