LANGLEY — Breanne Hunt won’t have far to go to begin her next crew assignment for Lindblad Expeditions.
Just a few blocks walk, over a bluff, down a hill, and she’s aboard.
Lindblad’s newest cruise ship, National Geographic Venture, is a Whidbey Island native — just like Hunt. Venture was built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, the 190th vessel produced at the Freeland shipyard since 1964.
“My first port of call is my home port,” said Hunt, a 2000 South Whidbey High School graduate. “I still can’t believe it. The ship was built right in Holmes Harbor where my grandmother has watched ships being made her entire life.”
The sleek, sparkling white, “pocket” cruise ship has been moored at Nichols Brothers’ Langley dock, undergoing interior work since being launched five weeks ago.
Venture will set sail soon, stopping first in Seattle before heading out for a series of sea trials. A christening ceremony in San Francisco is scheduled prior to two inaugural voyages along the coasts of California and Baja from Dec. 2-19.
The 240-foot-long, 46-foot-wide Venture is the second 100-passenger ship built by Nichols Brothers for Lindblad Expeditions. In June 2017, it launched the sister ship of Venture named National Geographic Quest; the contract for both ships topped $95 million.
The 3,200-horsepower twin-screw diesel vessel has a service speed of 12 knots, four decks for wildlife viewing and specialty tools for exploration.
“When we wanted to build the perfect ships to explore from Alaska to Central America, we turned to Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island, Washington, the same company that built the very vessels we’ve used for the last 36 years,” Lindblad Expeditions stated in a 2017 press release.
“Lindblad’s work with Nichols Brothers will result in the only expedition ships of their kind built entirely in the United States — an endeavor that both companies could not be more proud of.”
The global marine adventure company partners with National Geographic to offer high-end expeditions from the Arctic to Antarctic, the Galapagos to Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Lindblad/National Geographic alliance funds many conservation, education and research efforts worldwide. The cruise line recently announced its ships are now 100 percent free of all single-use plastic bottles, cups, straws and stir sticks.
Venture is teeny tiny compared to massive cruise ships with towering decks, thousands of passengers and all-American amenities, such as shopping malls, ice-skating rinks and movie theaters. Lindblad’s pint-size ships can easily maneuver around islands and get in and out of ports where big ships can’t venture, said Matt Nichols, president of the shipbuilding company.
Hunt didn’t follow the path of her mother and other relatives, who are all teachers. Instead, she managed a restaurant and obtained a bachelor’s degree in digital media and fine arts.
“I quickly realized a 9-to-5 office job just wasn’t for me,” said Hunt, a Langley resident who grew up sailing. “I need to be up and active.”
Her brother, Cameron, who works for Portland Spirit River Cruises, suggested she find a similar maritime job.
After undergoing Coast Guard training, Hunt landed a steward position for Lindblad. Working on a variety of cruise excursions, she served guests meals and drinks, cleaned rooms and generally kept the ship in shape.
Her new crew position will involve exterior upkeep of the ship, supporting the officers and captain, and loading and unloading gear and supplies.
Decades ago, Hunt’s father worked at Nichols shipyard. In the past weeks working pre-launch tasks, she’s spotted some of his former workmates.
“I’ve been running into old Nichols friends of my parents, high school classmates and the Lindblad staff,” Hunt said. “I feel like I know everybody here.”
Hunt, 36, has worked on all the Lindblad ships built by Nichols, including the smaller 65-passenger sister ships, Sea Lion and Sea Bird. Her voyages have stretched from Alaska to Panama.
“Beyond beautiful — that’s how I describe some of the places I’ve been,” Hunt said. “I’ll never forget seeing glaciers in Alaska for the first time and snorkeling down in Panama in pristine, gorgeous waters.”
She also fell in love with a baby gray whale in Baja, swam with sea lions and witnessed humpback whales bubble-net feed, a cooperative technique where they circle and exhale bubbles to disorient, corral and inhale fish.
Sleeping below decks, Hunt admitted, seemed weird at first.
“It took awhile to get used to sleeping so far down,” she said. “Now, I find it so soothing. I miss it on land, without the constant rocking beneath me.”