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By Dorie Cox
Former Chief Stew Carrie Lynn Kurka died on Dec. 11 in Soldotna, Alaska. The cause of her death is described by the family as personal illness. She was 41.
Ms. Kurka was born in Soldotna, the youngest of seven children, and attended high school in Port Townsend, Wash. She began her two-decade career in yachting in 1994 as deck/stew on M/Y Christina, the yacht her brother Capt. Mark Kurka ran.
“I was her first captain and she was 19,” her brother said. He said her four years on the yacht, based out of Mississippi, launched her career onto other yachts.
In 2002, Ms. Kurka worked on M/Y Roxanna and met former husband, Capt. Ian Westman.
“I was deck and she was chief stew,” Capt. Westman said. “It was my first big boat.”
He said people were drawn to her warmth, her inviting appearance and most importantly her big smile.
“Guests loved her, no one was too much effort,” he said. “She made time for everyone, often at her own expense.”
The couple worked together on other boats, including motoryachts Areti, Loretta Anne, Triple Seven and Blue Moon.
The couple always worked on tight-knit, private yachts.
“We liked developing a relationship with a family,” he said. “It was her nature more than mine; she was totally vested into the owners, the family, their kids and the guests. … Carrie was so good at what she did. She was old school and everyone felt welcome.”
Ms. Kurka shared those skills as an instructor of interior courses for entry-level stews in 2014 and 2015, said Amilee Luke, chief operations officer at Bluewater Crew Training USA (formerly ICT) in Ft. Lauderdale. Ms. Kurka also worked in the administration office at the school.
”Carrie could light up any room she walked into with her contagious smile and warm heart,” Luke said. “She was such a beautiful person, inside and out, and it was a blessing and honor to work with her.”
Ms. Kurka most recently had moved back to Soldotna where she worked in a real estate office with the Ross Baxter Group. Realtor Ross Baxter met Ms. Kurka early this year when he showed her homes for sale.
“I enjoyed meeting them and found a home for her and her dad; she was going to care for him,” Baxter said. He said he was impressed with Ms. Kurka and hired her as his assistant. He said she was close to passing the real estate exam.
“She talked about yachting, she loved it,” he said. “However, at 40, she said that yachting was a younger person’s game.
“Carrie wanted to get new sense of community in one place,” Baxter said. “Her dream, through real estate, was to buy property for horses. She loved horses.
“She was so much joy with that big smile,” he said. “She didn’t meet a stranger. And there was not a person she didn’t affect positively.”
When she was first hired, Baxter said they needed a good photo of her for business cards.
“We pulled over by a pure white snowbank,” he recalled. Instead of a studio backdrop, she had to take her warm coat off on a freezing day for the photo, he said.
“She was always such a good sport,” Baxter said.
Ms. Kurka is survived by three brothers, Mark, Mike and her twin Chris; and three sisters, Teresa, Marilyn, and Annie. Her parents preceded her in death; her mother in August 2015 and her father in May.
Family and friends held a memorial on Dec. 18 and Ms. Kurka has been buried. The family suggests that contributions be made to a charity of choice.
“Or perform a random act of service,” Capt. Kurka said. “I would like to see people do that.”