Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 7, 2013

Local maritime grad nabs dream job

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Kelin Hickey is living his dreams fresh out of school.

Hickey, of Williamsburg, is a new third mate for National Geographic/Lindblad adventure cruises.

The Elk Rapids High School alum is a February graduate of Ferris State University and Traverse City’s Great Lakes Maritime Academy. But instead of plying the Great Lakes, he’s finding his little slice of heaven cruising up and down the Pacific Coast, from Alaska to Costa Rica.

“One thing I always knew about school and myself is that they want you to work on the Great Lakes, fill the positions that are retiring,” said Hickey, whose unlimited third mate ships license allows him to work on any size non-military vessel anywhere in the world. “I just knew the first time I was out there that it wasn’t for me. You’re basically running cargo from a foundry in Chicago to Escanaba in the U.P. It’s just not exciting for a 26-year-old.”

Hickey said he got the Nat Geo/Lindblad job a week after researching and applying for it in April. Four days later, he was on his way to the West Coast for orientation, CPR and first aid training.

On April 27 he departed San Diego for Seattle, where he picked up his first passengers on the 150-foot eco-tourism cruise ship equipped with inflatable boats and kayaks for closer exploration. From there it was on to southeast Alaska for one- and two-week cruises between Juneau and Sitka.

Besides navigating the ship for a good portion of each day, his job is to point out locations with spectacular glaciers or wildlife and to drop the inflatable boats via crane – and then pilot one — for daily tours. When the tours require kayaks, he becomes an instructor and guide.

He also is the environmental officer on board in charge of recycling and other tasks.

Hickey said that unlike larger cruises, which are designed to entertain guests aboardship, eco-tourism cruises are intended to entertain guests off-ship. Cruises are limited to about 65 passengers, with 25 crew and nine professional naturalists and photographers to attend to them.

“They want to take the guests to a complete extravagant wilderness and show them connections to nature and continue the ideas of preserving nature,” he said. “They follow the seasons and tides and the wildlife. For instance, they know specific times of year when the salmon are running, and that’s when they want to be there.”

As the weather cools, the ship’s cruises will move progressively south to the Columbia River, Baja, Calif., and finally to Panama and Costa Rica.

“We alternate between sea birds and sea lions,” said Hickey, whose job gives him two months on ship and two months off, with roundtrip airfare between to anywhere in the world.

For now, he’s enjoying Alaska and its abundant wildlife, including the eagles that are as common there as seagulls are in northern Michigan. He said job perks include gourmet meals featuring fresh catches of salmon, halibut, rock fish and crab, and the chance to explore Alaska’s small towns when in port.

Hickey said the job challenges his comfort zone and is teaching him more about himself and self-reliance. He credits the Maritime Academy and its internship program for giving him exposure to real-life jobs and the opportunity to move around and explore the world.

“There’s nothing like watching the sun come up and the sun go down while you’re dodging icebergs and sea lions and whales,” he said.

“It’s the ultimate cool,” said mom Marcia Hickey, an occupational therapist for Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District.” I am very jealous. I would like to go to many of those places. And if I hang tight, my hope is that I will.”