Q&A with UnCruise Expedition Guide Sarah Sinn-White
Sarah Sinn-White was one of the guides during our “Rivers of Adventure” sailing on the Columbia and Snake rivers on the 120-passenger SS Legacy.
The always wise-cracking, super-friendly Sinn-White has been working with UnCruise for about five years and as a guide for more than a decade.
She hails from Lompoc, a small town north of Santa Barbara on the Central Coast of California, but has lived a bit of a gypsy-like existence since taking off on a life of adventure and travel. It’s part of the DNA for most guides.
“It’s really seasonal,” Sinn-White says. “Before I started working with UnCruise, in the middle of the summer season, you are working as hard as you can, and in the middle of it, you start looking for the job for the winter. You have to be willing to take off and go to a whole new location.”
She continues “I’ve moved to Honduras with a backpack on my back, and I’ve moved to Hawaii with a backpack on my back. You follow that wanderlust and follow where the work is, as well. So, you’ve got to be willing to pack it all, put stuff into storage or get rid of it altogether.”
Sarah’s obviously found some more stability with UnCruise Adventures in the past half-decade, and she represents the expedition cruise line well.
We had a great time learning from Sinn-White and all the UnCruise guides on our trip, and we were happy to grab a few moments out of her busy schedule so she could tell Quirky Cruise readers all about the guiding life.
QuirkyCruise: What led you to guiding and to working for UnCruise?
Sarah Sinn-White: I had no intention of going into the guiding industry and the tourism industry.
I originally started out as a production manager in a native plant nursery in California, and I managed a greenhouse and workers and sales for about four years.
I joined the California Native Plant Society while I was there … and I was one of the youngest members, along with a friend who was working with me. Because we were so young, they talked us into volunteering to lead hikes and organize things a little bit for the other chapters and members.
We would go to places like the redwood forest, the limestone quarries, the coastal meadows. It progressed into us dedicating a lot of time to it. Then some friends went off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and the nursery was shifting into a direction that I didn’t really enjoy as much. I realized that I’ve got the freedom. You know what? People are taking off, I’m going to take off.
So, I went from being a volunteer guide to being a paid sea kayaking and hiking guide up in Washington.
Then, I relocated to Maui to work as a naturalist, snorkel guide and deckhand for the Pacific Whale Foundation for the winter and spring. While I was there, I met a young woman who was talking about a summer job she had just finished (with UnCruise).
I decided it was just what I was looking for and applied that winter. I missed the deadline for applications but completed a Skype interview while sitting on my bed in Maui. Afterward, I was told they would get in touch the next fall about a placement on the boats.
I didn’t think too much more about it until my next kayak summer season was over, and I took a trip with a friend to the Kenai peninsula (in Alaska). I was about to be unemployed for the winter and was looking forward to it, but also looking towards spring for a new job.
While we were there on the Kenai, it rained the whole 10 days, but we had a great time anyway, and I vowed to find a job in Alaska after that trip. Less than two weeks later, UnCruise contacted me to reapply for the coming spring. I did, they hired me, and I have now worked almost every itinerary. I have worked on five of the eight boats in the fleet, and have worked my way up from newbie guide to expedition leader.
QuirkyCruise: What would you be doing if you weren’t a guide?
Sarah Sinn-White: I’d probably be in more of a classroom setting.
I really enjoy teaching. I love giving presentations.
I love having that moment of seeing an epiphany of knowledge sweep across someone. I love taking someone out and showing them a bird that they didn’t think they would ever really care about or notice even.
(I must note here that Sarah gave a fantastic talk onboard our SS Legacy cruise about some of the world’s lesser-known birds. The passengers loved it.)
In Alaska, I also love taking people tide-pooling. Because everyone shows up in Alaska looking for the mega-fauna, the postcard animals. They want whales and they want bears. Then, I take them tide-pooling, and all of a sudden, we’re putting sea stars on our faces, and we’re flipping over rocks and looking for little naked slugs (nudibranchs). It’s amazing.
You end up with someone who is maybe working in an office situation or they’ve been living in the big city their whole life … this happened to me last season.
I had a woman who had been a stay-at-home mother in a big city. She hadn’t ever really been out in the wild. We were tide-pooling in this incredible place called the Keku Islands, and she walked so far out to find animals that she was up to her knees, and her boots were filled with water.
I said, “Aren’t your feet cold?”
She said “Yeah, they are. But I don’t care Sarah. Do you see this one? What’s this?”
Those are the moments I love. When I tell people at the beginning of the week that I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone, and everybody kind of rolls their eyes because I say a lot of ridiculous things. But it turns out to be true.
QuirkyCruise: What will cruisers get out of the UnCruise experience?
Sarah Sinn-White: Memories!
I want you guys to go back and say that you had the best time ever and then start talking about things that you’ve learned and not even realize that you learned something. I want your UnCruise experience to be like an adult summer camp that you didn’t have to organize but also picking up a little bit of those knowledge tidbits along the way.
QuirkyCruise: Can you share some funny tales of interactions with guests?
Sarah Sinn-White: I can recall a time when I was a sea kayak guide in the San Juan Islands in Northern Washington….
The San Juan Islands are a hot bed for racoons. I would take people out camping for up to a week at a time, and it was about the fourth night of this particular trip.
As a guide at that time, I didn’t even pitch a tent. I just slept on the picnic table. It allowed me to keep better track of our food bins and the kayaks because the racoons would shred (lifejackets) and rip apart stuff going after a granola bar wrapper.
I had these big bins that I would wedge under the picnic table and sleep on top of. I woke up in the middle of the night, and the racoons are pulling the bins out from underneath me. So, I jump up, and I’m chasing them around. It’s like a cartoon; we’re going around a tree.
It was a family of racoons, and they bolt up the tree, and they’re all looking down at me, hissing.
I was shaking my fist and everything, like “You pesky racoons!”
Then, I hear one of my guests. She says: “Ohmigosh! Sarah, what are you looking at?”
She’s got her flashlight on. I told her it was just racoons, no big deal. She was like “Racoons? I’ve never seen those before.”
In my mind, I was like “You’ve never seen these trash pandas before??”
All of a sudden, I switched modes. I stopped shaking my fist at them. Instead, let’s talk about racoons. What are their adaptations? Let’s talk about their creepy little tiny hands.
So, we’re talking about all of this, and it’s about 3 a.m. So, finally, it’s like “They’ve been scared away; let’s go back to bed.”
I turn and look at her, and we’re on this weeklong sea-kayaking/camping trip, and she’s wearing hot pink silk monogrammed pajamas.
It was so great. We both learned something that night.
She brought what she was happy sleeping in.
She had never seen racoons before, and I had never seen hot pink silk monogrammed pajamas in a campground.
QuirkyCruise: What do you like to do in your off-season?
Sarah Sinn-White: I pretty much do everything I do on the boats, but without guests in tow.
We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t enjoy doing it, period. So, I’ve got my kayak that I’ve built in California and my paddleboard. I’ve got my Subaru parked in Seattle (UnCruise Adventures’ home base). I’ve got stuff kind of sprinkled up and down the West Coast, so that if I show up at a friend’s house, I can either show up with my bag or have a bag waiting for me.
So, I do a lot of hiking, a lot of kayaking and camping. And I’m really big on the traveling. I’m trying to do 35 countries by the time I’m 35. I’m 32, and I’ve done 32, so I’m on my way.
🐙 Editors’ Note 🐌
Interested in becoming an expedition guide? We asked UnCruise Adventures what they look for in their expedition guides. And they told us: “Expedition guides must have a Wilderness First Responder certificate. Only crew with Captain’s licenses may drive skiffs, so some guides have those, but it is not required except on the Safari Quest and Safari Explorer. All must have guiding background, interpretive/public speaking background, and we prefer a BS as opposed to a BA, but equivalents in those degrees are acceptable. The vast majority of our guides have previous science/naturalist backgrounds, including Masters degrees in various science-related fields such as marine biology. Some have history backgrounds, which is equally valuable for our guest programming. It really comes down to the individual.”
Don’t miss a post, subscribe to QuirkyCruise.com for monthly updates!
© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.