Living the UnCruise Life
Jan 12, 2018
We sat down with seasoned UnCruise Expedition Guide Hannah Hindley and asked her what it’s like to adventure with UnCruise, why it’s the best way to explore and about some of her favorite memories from out in the remote places that we visit.
Tell us about your typical day?
I do my best to start the day with a moment of quiet. I’ll steep some hot tea and step out on deck to check the weather (usually rainy if we’re in Alaska).
We travel “the route from which to deviate,” which means we’ll lay loose plans but change them up according to conditions and guest preferences. So it’s important to take a moment in the morning to look around and see where we actually ended up overnight.
Then we’ll launch into the flurry of getting ready for an expedition day. We’ll lower kayaks, bring the small boats around to the back of the ship, pull maps of the area to send out with guides in the field.
Sometimes not all of the guides have been to a place—that’s good! The freshness and sense of exploration is contagious. We’re not here to lead people on a set route; we’re here to explore together.
As a lead guide, I’ll share what I know about a place, we’ll point out landmarks together on the bow, and then we’ll launch into the day.
Every day is a little different. We’ll usually guide a trip in the morning and another one in the afternoon—kayaking in front of glaciers, bushwhacking through the rainforest, poking along the rocky shoreline looking for gooey stuff at low tide.
In Baja, we head off into desert arroyos to listen for birdsong and to look for cacti that grow nowhere else in the world.
In Hawaii, we’re in the water all the time—kayaking next to misty blowholes in the cliffs, snorkeling with sea turtles, jumping off the back deck to cool off.
A lot of my day involves wandering around with a heightened sense of awareness. Searching for overlooked treasures and finding connections that will help people fall in love with our wild places. Maybe we’ll lean against a grounded iceberg together, watching the way the light scatters through the blue ice.
Maybe we’ll hunker down in our kayaks and watch a bear snorkel around looking for salmon in a creek or pause and catch rain on our tongues and listen to the twitter of eagles.
Maybe we’ll pass a banana slug around and discuss its fascinating sex life, or dare each other to give it a smooch.
There’s no typical guiding day at UnCruise, but I haven’t done my job well if at the end of the day I don’t have pieces of forest in my hair or sea salt patterns dried on my pants from wrangling kayaks.
Or, in the winter season in Baja and Hawaii, I haven’t done my job well if at the end of the day I don’t have cactus spines lodged in my boots from a desert exploration or salty braids from jumping in the water to listen to whale song.
Back on the boat, I’ll pull out field guides and follow up with guests who had questions out on the trail or who found something weird that stumped me. Sometimes I’ll give presentations in the evening, which is mostly just an excuse to geek out about the stories that set me on fire.
The wild places we explore hold so many stories.
What do you feel distinguishes the UnCruise experience?
I really think what we do is unique. I know that other similarly-sized boats operate in some of UnCruise’s destinations, but they all tend to either stick rigidly to the same general itinerary every week, or they pack a whole bunch of guests into big groups led up by a single guide.
Depending on what you sign up for, it’s either inflexible or crowded. UnCruise is kind of special. Every week that we’re out there, we’re looking for new adventures to have, new places to explore so that we don’t have too heavy an impact on any one spot.
Sure, it’s about comfort and personalized care, but it’s also about taking risks and getting dirty. When you UnCruise—either as a guide or as a guest—you’re signing up for adventure.
UnCruise is a small company, and day to day it’s clear that they care about their ecological footprint.
Also, the owner of the company knows just about every crew member by name and really cares about his people. He’ll show up in a kayak in the middle of Alaska out of nowhere sometimes and join us for a night on board the boat.
He loves to tell stories about travels and misadventures (if you stick around long enough, you might feature in one or two of them). And those friendships often extend not just to crew but to guests, too, long after they’ve stepped off the ship. I think Dan Blanchard’s vision has really shaped the culture and spirit of adventure on all of the UnCruise boats. It fels like a big extended family.
What advice do you have for someone going on their first UnCruise?
There's no bad weather, only bad gear. There won't be an internet connection where you're going; come ready to live in the moment. You don't have to squeeze everything into every day.
Give yourself permission to lay back and watch the sky or to sip a hoppy beverage and enjoy the reflections on the water. If you can't pack all of the adventures into this trip, you can always sign onboard for another one--you might even see some familiar guides; we tend to stick around :)
Some travelers are used to going it independently and may be skeptical of cruises. What would surprise them about UnCruise?
This isn’t a cruise. It’s simply not. This is an expedition. It’s a boat-based adventure into wildernesses that can’t be accessed any other way.
We don’t cruise. We look for orcas. We stop when we find critters pacing the shore. We zig zag. We shut down the engines so we can hear whales singing next to the ship. We get off the boat as much as possible. We don’t stop for shopping experiences; we stop for adventures.
Our boats are platforms for exploration. Sure, you’ll have a soft bed and a hot meal at the end of the day, but if you’ve signed up for an UnCruise, it’s because you don’t want to see the world through a window—you want to get out into it. So do I. That’s why I keep returning to lead trips for these guys.
What are some of your favorite memories of UnCruise expeditions?
There’s a motto we have in the guiding world: “last week didn’t happen.”
We don’t like talking about the wonders we’ve seen because we want our guests living in this moment, in this place, focusing on the wonders at hand. But I’ve been guiding with UnCruise now for over ten seasons, and the wonders definitely stack up.
I’ve watched a pack of wolves attack a brown bear on the beach. I’ve watched orcas slice through the water right underneath my small skiff, close enough to touch.
I’ve jumped in the water with whale sharks, with sea lions, with oarfish, with translucent clouds of jellyfish. I’ve kissed the face of a baby gray whale when he swam up to investigate our little boat. I’ve kayaked through an absolute fog of misty whale breath. I’ve listened to wolves howl in the valley below me.
And then there are the things I’ve witnessed people do on our trips: smearing their faces with war paint made from glacial silt, back flipping off the top deck of the boat, powering through a wind storm in their kayaks, sharing their own expertise in extraordinary other disciplines, creating astounding art, bushwhacking through a hellacious forest tangle and still somehow smiling at the end of the snarly adventure, tasting glacial ice, demonstrating their synchronized swimming moves, seeing bears for the first time, seeing whales for the first time.
These trips make people happy. These trips make people smile.