Captain Bios


Denee Blanchard

Safari Quest

It would be a pretty darn accurate statement to say Denee grew up on the water. She spent her youth in Mukilteo, Washington, Southeast Alaska, and the South Pacific—more often than not on a sailboat. These days you’ll find her in the south end of Seattle when she’s not captaining her ship or out on her own explorations.

As she puts it, Denee worked from “head to helm” starting her career on ships by working to rebuild the Safari Spirit, then working her way along as steward, hotel lead, deck hand, bosun, second mate, chief mate, staff mate…and now, captain. She has her 200 Ton Near Coastal Masters license and sails throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

For Denee, her job is a lifestyle. Growing up on the water, she wouldn’t want life to be any other way—the friendships formed on board, the beautiful places she sails through, and the exciting challenges. One big challenge was sailing in the inaugural Race to Alaska—an unsupported, 750-mile cold water race by non-motorized vessel from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska through the Inside Passage. She does, now and again, step off board to hike and backpack in the Cascade or Olympic mountains, foster shelter dogs, and work on home renovations—be sure to ask her about the tiny home she’s building!


Gavin Rainwater

Wilderness Adventurer

It’s hard to imagine Captain Gavin living anywhere but the green Pacific Northwest. With a last name like his, it only makes sense that he grew up in Portland, and has called the Pacific Northwest home for the majority of his life. He’s also made his home aboard passenger vessels sailing adventurous seas for over a decade.

Gavin began studying nursing in Oregon, but after a season aboard a Columbia River cruise boat, he found his calling. Climbing the hawsepipe, he put time in as deckhand and engineer working up to captaining a 500-passenger dinner boat on the Columbia and Snake rivers by age 25. He’s sailed in Hawaii and Alaska with UnCruise as 2nd mate, chief mate, and captain. Gavin has his 100 ton Near Coastal Master license, and is certified in radar navigation, firefighting, and as a Wilderness First Responder.

More than anything, Gavin enjoys sharing his beloved Pacific Northwest with his fellow crew and guests. He feels particularly lucky to see so many incredible views from his “office.” Not one to shy away from landlocked adventures, he also feels the pull of the mountains and snowshoed into a hot springs in the Jackson, Wyoming backcountry on a winter wonderland vacation. While onboard, try to entice Captain Gavin to pull out his guitar or mandolin—he played semi-professionally for many years!


Jared Passenger

S.S. Legacy

Ever since Jared’s family moved to the Puget Sound, he’s had a fascination with boats and marine environments. He has built, owned, lived on, and professionally skippered boats for years. No matter where he goes, Jared is drawn to the siren call of the sea.

Jared started out building yachts and working deck on a 425 foot paddle wheeler along the Columbia River and in Alaska. He then moved to the oil fields south of Louisiana as lead captain on offshore supply vessels. He also skippered 110 foot crew boats and drove 230 foot ferries from Galveston to mainland Texas for the Department of Transportation. Jared attended San Jacinto Maritime College and has his 100 Ton Master 200 Mate Near Coastal license with 200 Ton Master Sail endorsement.

Jared now lives in Galveston, Texas where—in addition to his passion for sailing—he dabbles in art, design, and construction. His favorite travel memory is watching lightning hit the water all around his vessel in the fog at 2:30 in the morning. He’ll tell you that on the water, anything can happen. Stop by the bridge and ask Jared about his know-how outside of boat-life; he’s also a practicing metaphysician.


Jon "Shep" Shephard

Safari Endeavour

With “water” in his roots, it’s no surprise Shep found his way off the riverside plateau of Watertown, South Dakota, and landed in the meandering waters surrounding Seattle and Southeast Alaska. He loves the natural world, calling the wilds of Alaska his office, and sharing what most captivates him with interested travelers.

Shep attended University of South Dakota and University of Hawaii majoring in Ancient History, Photojournalism, and Marine Science, but after years of travel—Italy, Greece, Central America, Thailand, and 42 of the 50 US states—he decided to seek a career combining his profound love for the sea with his love of travel, and get paid for it. Shep’s certifications include a USCG 100 Ton Master License; PADI MSDT; and First Aid/CPR Instructor/Trainer. He survived Dengue fever in Nicaragua, has captained adventure boats in Alaska and dive boats in Hawaii, owned an underwater video production company, and worked as a photojournalist.

Interested in just about anything, Shep welcomes a good conversation—well, about anything! And the funny thing here, with his wide range of interests and knowledge on so many vast topics, Shep is the only member of his family who doesn’t work in education.


Keith Raisch

Wilderness Discoverer

Born in New Jersey, this “son of a son of a sailor” has always kept in close proximity to the ocean when not living on it. As a teenager in Southern California, Captain Keith learned to scuba dive and then joined the US Coast Guard at 17 when he found out they would pay him to dive. He, his wife, and their cat now live in Pensacola, Florida where access to diving is never far.

A retired US Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4, Captain Keith began his career as a hawsepiper and, logging the most sea time of anyone in the USCG, left the service a designated Senior Master Cutterman. His certifications are plenty: 100 Ton Master, Power and Sail, Automatic Radar Plotting Aids and Radar Observer, among many others. In his nearly four decades of service, he was assigned to 10 different ships, including sailing master of the 295-foot Tall Ship Eagle, the ice breaker Polar Star, and a Command Tour of the USCGC Saginaw. He loves the sea and feels most at home on the deck of the ship.

Curious about the constellations you see on your cruise? Just ask the captain—a long-time star-gazer, he taught Celestial Navigation at the USCG Academy. Never a dull moment with Captain Keith, visit him on the Bridge and ask about the time he watched a baby walrus play with bubbles from his regulator or how he happened to marry a pirate wench.


Rod Van Emelen

Safari Explorer

Captain Rod was born in Ballard, Washington, but memories of a time when boaters tied up to mooring buoys in the San Juan Islands and sleeping dogs in the streets are why he eventually found his way to Alaska.

A sailor at heart, Rod commercially fished salmon in the waters of Puget Sound and halibut and sablefish in deep water canyons off Washington’s coast before discovering small-ship cruising in the mid-90s, where he rose through the ranks from deckhand to captain. Rod later sailed unlimited class tankers delivering cargo throughout the Northern Hemisphere, crossing all degrees of longitude; small boom and tackle freighters delivering everything from corn flakes to pick-up trucks to the Aleutian Islands; and he traversed the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska during all seasons. Captain Rod has also transited both the Panama and Suez canals, sailed as far north as Thule, Greenland, and dipped below the equator a number of times, watching Blue-footed boobies catch flying fish on the wing. He’s lost and gained many-a-puzzling-days crossing the International Dateline.

When Rod wasn’t bouncing around on the briny, he was crisscrossing the slopes of the North Cascade Mountains planting trees. Believing there was nothing more sensible to do, Rod can boast to having planted over 100,000 saplings. He’s also a seasoned helmsman of “Texas Chicken” (only Rod can share this one).


Sean Manske

Safari Explorer

Born, raised, and even now, Portland, Oregon is home to Sean. So it’s an understatement to say he “knows” the Pacific Northwest—he’s a natural explorer with a fondness for boats and being on the water.

Sean graduated from Portland Community College with a degree in fire science. He furthered his education with certifications for marine firefighting; STCW-95 Basic Safety (Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping); CPR and first aid; and by acquiring a 100 Ton Inland/Near Coastal License. Since, Sean has worked for several small ship operators offering wilderness expeditions for both overnight and day trips in Alaska, Baja Mexico, and the US Pacific Northwest. Your safety is always top-of-mind with Sean and he’ll share experiences you will never forget.

Speaking of sharing… Sean has a twin brother, enjoys biking, camping, and windsurfing (at least we hope so by now, he told us years that years ago he was learning). He also has a memorable and funny tale of his own, about three stray dogs: Rupee, White Toes and Underbite? While on vacation in Italy and Greece, the “three terrors of Santorini” became inseparable from Sean and his troupe causing pandemonium amongst tourists, overturning café tables, and sending children and unsuspecting cats running for safety. There are too many details to share here, but with Sean, you can count on an unbelievable adventure.


Tim Voss

Captain/Relief Captain
S.S. Legacy

Raised on a rural farm in north central Minnesota, Tim traded cows for whales early on in his quest to travel the world by sea. After years on the water, Tim stays true to his motto, “life is too short to delay enjoying it.”

A hawsepiper and former commercial fisherman, captain of a large fish factory ship, and Vice President of Technical Operations here at UnCruise Adventures, Tim has spent his career in all things maritime. His certifications include USCG Master Steam or Motor Vessels Oceans 1600GT, Second Mate Unlimited any gross tons, and Fishing Vessel Master Oceans 5000GT. For Tim, there’s no better way to start a workday than waking up to the smell of saltwater and watching the sun peek out over miles of ocean. One of his favorite journeys was to Antarctica in 2009 to experience the continent of ice.

When not aboard showing guests a slice of the natural world, Tim stays close to the shore in his home on Whidbey Island, Washington where he enjoys fishing, woodworking, and the occasional poker game. After decades at sea Tim’s advice to his guests is simple: Travel light, no one cares if you wear the same shirt twice.