Arksen 28 Adventure

Arksen 28 Adventure

Photos by Alec Burke

An Arksen 28 plus two novice mountain bike riders let loose on Vashon Island­—will they survive?

Photo: Alec Burke

Trail Blazing

Every man has a moment in life where time stands still and he asks himself, “How did I get here?” For some it’s the moment they see their bride walk down the aisle, for others, it’s the first time they hold their newborn child, for others still, it’s the moment they finally raise that trophy over their shoulders. For me, it was while airwalking across the sun-kissed treetops of an island forest; floating, if only for a moment. Only I wasn’t really airwalking or floating so much as gazing skyward from upside down as my legs flailed and my body tumbled over my mountain bike’s handlebars. And still, as I hung there suspended five feet in the air, the question beckoned—how did I get here?

It started straight forward enough: Ben Oaksmith, owner of Oaksmith Yachts, had a brand new Arksen 28 in his lineup that I wanted to test. We decided to make things interesting. We decided to take the boat through Puget Sound to an island for some mountain biking. After some Google Map browsing, we settled on Dockton Park on Vashon Island. Two highly capable men, with little to no mountain biking experience venturing to an island they didn’t know the name of until they saw it on their computer screens. Sounds fun, right? What’s the worst that could happen? At least we could be confident that the adventure-ready 28 would get us there quickly and safely. With a sturdy aluminum hull, diesel heat, air conditioning, and a roof rack to hold our gear, this boat had just about everything we needed to venture beyond the inlets of the Pacific Northwest. And we wouldn’t have to feel like two bulls in a china shop on the journey either, as Arksen boats are designed and processed with a low environmental impact in mind, using materials like recycled aluminum and relying on carbon-footprint conscious suppliers. The founder of Arksen is Vala Capital Venture Firm Cofounder Jasper Smith of London, England. A long time climber and adventurer, he’s seen stark changes in the environment while at sea and decided to launch a company he felt could help be part of the solution for a greener future.

The Arksen 28 is an all weather day boat that sports a sturdy aluminum hull perfect for the Pacific Northwest’s debris-riddled waters.

Photo: Alec Burke

“We loved fishing on our transpacific sailing voyage from Australia to Alaska in the mid 80’s when fish were pretty plentiful—now it’s rare to get a bite on a sailing trip,” Smith said. “As an entrepreneur with the means to operate in a different capacity and the influence to drive change, it is almost an obligation to do what is possible and be part of the solution, not the problem. I decided that I would commit to investing in and building a series of adventure brands that endeavored to change the way we view and experience adventures and to ensure that the products we developed were the best in class and designed with sustainability as a core tenant of their function, rather than an afterthought.”

Thus, the company looks toward building responsibly, even offering an exit space for removing larger pieces of machinery in their boats, should they need changing in 25 years or so. This ensures that swapping parts won’t involve ripping out entire cabins’ worth of materials, causing unnecessary debris or waste.

And indeed, Arksen isn’t just a boat builder, it’s a global adventure company that also transforms old Land Rover Defenders and Unimogs into green-friendly—even electrified—landsharks. They’re also a clothing brand that utilizes innovative fabrics like Shoeller, Pertex, Majotech and Polartec (synthetic fibers designed to imitate genuine wool fleece) to keep clients dry and warm. And last but not least, they’ve even formed their own explorers club­—really an umbrella title to describe their own hand-routed and professionally staffed adventures across the globe. These include signature cruises, a concierge, exclusive outposts, an owners’ club with private events, and crew services, such as ice pilots, chefs or full time crews. But we wouldn’t need all this for our adventure, sheer grit would do just fine.

Dockton Park

Photo: Alec Burke

Dockton Forest

Photo: Alec Burke

The day I arrived in Seattle was the day Oaksmith was admitted to the Emergency Room. He’s OK now, but at that moment, he was giving up everything he had in his stomach due to a bad case of Moctezuma’s Revenge that came over him unexpectedly after indulging just days prior, in a lunch from a small deli south of the border known for “The best sandwiches in Mexico.”

“There wasn’t a single refrigerator in that place,” Oaksmith explained as he picked me up late the next morning. “Unless they made the mayo fresh that morning, I suspect that was the culprit.”

Black shades covered Oaksmith’s tired eyes as he sipped on a sports drink and wearily drove us to a nearby bike shop. We picked up two mountain bikes we had reserved days prior with a warning that they were due back by 6 p.m. It was already nearing 11:30 am, so we were in for a fast-paced day—my legs quivered at the thought.

Just before noon we were strapping the bikes to racks atop the rugged, matte green, aluminum Arksen 28, which made the boat (and us) look pretty cool. By this point, Oaksmith had chugged another Gatorade and proclaimed that he was now “electro-lit.”

The author at the helm of the Arksen 28.

Photo: Alec Burke

Powered by just one 400-hp Mercury Verado, it was clear the 28 was built for range over speed. All things considered, the 28 still had velocity to match her range, reaching 38.5 knots while burning 1.1 gallon per nautical mile. And she could certainly handle. I found this out the hard way as we entered the inlet of Vashon Island, when a five-foot dead head popped up dead ahead. A dozen feet before impact, I cut a hard starboard turn, narrowly missing the log.

“Bring it back hard!” Oaksmith called out, as my maneuver put us en route to shallow territory just before shore. I swerved back to port. Instantly, we were back on track. “The beauty of an aluminum hull,” he said. “If you’d have hit it, we might have gotten a dent, but no holes.”

After docking next to what looked like some sort of modern Viking burial barge, Oaksmith and I unstrapped our bikes, tightened our helmets, and with cartons of water wedged into our water bottle holders, walked along the old wooden docks toward Dockton Forest. It was sunny, very sunny, and I was beginning to regret wearing flannel and chinos.

With a huge 36- by 60-inch sunroof to let in the breeze, heating, air conditioning and shock absorbent seats, the Arksen 28 is built just as much for comfort as she is adventure.

Photo: Alec Burke

As we walked off all eyes were on the Arksen, which was surrounded by a few charmingly putrescent sailboats. “What kind of boat is that?” some old sailors muttered to each other as we walked on with a wave.

Hailing from Wight Shipyard in the East Cowes, England, like much of the Arksen lineup, this U.K. built boat’s exterior sure looks tough. But, a tour of her interior shows that she’s also built for comfort. Among the leisurely features the 28 offers, my favorite would have to be the almost too comfortable heated and shock absorbing helm seats, which came in handy as we bounded over the chop and rollers that are all too common in the Northern Pacific. Another thing that stands out is the crazy number of cup holders you’ll find inside—I counted nine. The cabin seats six comfortably, so three of your friends get to have two drinks at a time if they’re feeling frisky.

It wasn’t until we made it up the dock and across the street to the trail opening that the fear really began to set in. We weren’t in for some mediocre beginner’s trail. No, this looked different. It even smelled different: Untamed, wild. No, it wasn’t my sweaty flannel. It was a forest that appeared largely undisturbed, goading us to enter its paths.

We spent some moments looking at a map—one and a half miles of trail forking one way, three miles going another. As neither of us had ever been here before, it didn’t mean much. We shrugged. “Well, let’s just go for it,” Oaksmith said with a grimace. We decided to go straight up into the forest and let Mother Nature decide where we’d end up.

Arksen 28

Photo: Alec Burke

I followed close behind Oaksmith as both of our bikes began to squirrel and slide across a carpet of pine needles under our tires. The hill climb was steep. Too steep.

“How about we hike up and ride all the way back down?” I suggested. Oaksmith was quick to agree. We walked up the trail and took in the serenity of the tall trees surrounding us, speckles of sun peeking through to light our shady path.

After we’d walked up what felt like a good one to two miles, we decided it was time to grip it and rip it and turned around to bomb the hill back to the starting point. This time I took the lead. I try to live a full-throttle motto, whether on water or land, whenever possible—plus, I wanted a real mountain biking experience. So, I decided I needed to use my brakes as little as possible. I slid a few fish tailed turns, which was fun until I smacked right into what I feared was an overgrown bush of poison oak. But I couldn’t stop. No, really, I was going too fast; I didn’t even know how to stop at this point. That’s when I heard the call.

“Shane!” Oaksmith yelled from what sounded like half a mile away.

But that wasn’t the call I’m talking about. Around the same time that I heard Oaksmith’s voice in the distance, nature called. I’m not talking about relieving my bladder, but to be honest, with what happened next, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had. No, nature called my bluff. It knew just how clueless I was about this trail and was going to make me pay for it. Within seconds, another pine needle slide-out sent me full speed in the direction of a thick root jutting out of the ground just off the path. It launched me tumbling into the air. And here we are, the same place we left off earlier; several years of internships, oddball reporting jobs on shoestring budgets, and zero years mountain biking experience all led to this moment. My body continued to rotate around, and I rolled out onto a surprisingly soft bush. I brushed myself off and took a selfie for the magazine’s social page. Crisis averted.

Arksen 28

Photo: Alec Burke

Eventually Oaksmith caught up. Adrenaline had completely overridden his ailment and we pounded our way down the bumpy trail. “Yeah, man!” he said, knocking his fists against mine. Despite the poison oak, we were actually now itching for more, but knowing the bikes had to be back at the shop in less than two hours, we called it quits. By 5 p.m. we were walking back down the docks. The 28’s green aluminum curves were a sight for sore eyes. A fellow with a long, jet-black beard popped his head out from the burial barge.

“I haven’t been pleasure boating in 20 years but if I were to now, I would want to do it on a boat that looks like this,” he said with a nod.

We waved goodbye and Oaksmith made quick work of the 28’s bow thruster to turn us out from the dock and back toward the inlet’s opening. With the boat’s oversized, 36- by 60-inch sunroof wide open, we took in a nice breeze as we headed back to the mainland. We were about 30 minutes late to drop the bikes off, but no one seemed to mind.

My concluding verdict? For a city slicker to get out of town and into the wild and back again within six hours with only a mild case of poison oak and a couple of bruises to complain about, I’d say the Arksen 28 came through with flying colors.

Photo: Alec Burke

Photo: Alec Burke

Arksen 28 Specifications:

LOA: 28’1”
Beam: 8’8”
Draft: 2’11”
Displ: 7,055 lb.
Fuel: 305 gal.
Water: 26 gal.
Power: 1/450-hp Mercury Verado

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This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.


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