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Banjo-playing captain Kevin Martin guides S.S. Legacy river cruise

ABOARD THE S.S. LEGACY - When Kevin Martin was a boy growing up in Missouri, his childhood ambition was to become a marine biologist or an archaeologist or maybe a doctor.

Banjo-playing captain Kevin Martin guides S.S. Legacy river cruise
Banjo-playing captain Kevin Martin guides S.S. Legacy river cruise
Jackie Sheckler Finch
Captain Kevin Martin welcomes passengers aboard the S.S. Legacy.
Jackie Sheckler Finch

In a way, he has become all three.

“As a ship captain, I get to do a bit of all of those things,” Martin said.

Although he spent his childhood in St. Joseph, Missouri, Martin developed a yearn for distant waterways. “In college, I went on a sailboat and fell in love with it,” he said.

Of course, another famous Missourian also shared river travels with the world. Samuel Clemens, writing under the pen name Mark Twain, grew up in Hannibal, Missouri.

With a business degree from Graceland University, Martin discovered Un-Cruise Adventures and has been with the company for 10 years. A naturalist and certified interpretive guide, he spent more than six years as an expedition leader in Alaska, helping develop the company’s active adventures itineraries. He is now captain of the S.S. Legacy.

“Life is about gathering skills because you never know what you will be able to do,” he said. “You can never know what the future might hold.”

At first, Martin says, his parents were not too gung-ho about seeing their only son go to sea. Martin also has an older sister who lives in Virginia. “Now my parents gauge my happiness at what I do and that’s what is most important to them,” he said, adding that his parents are now cruiser themselves.

Martin and his wife, Kendra, also a ship’s captain for Un-Cruise Adventures, live on a 50-foot trawler in Seattle. He works six weeks on and two weeks off for Un-Cruise Adventures. “There is a lot that goes into a trip like this,” he said. “A lot of details.”

On our cruise, the captain seems to be everywhere. Each day, as we depart for our adventures, he is on deck to see us off. When we return, the captain is there to greet us.

Passing through the multiple locks on our journey – I think we will be going through 14 locks but that could be a few more or less - the captain is there. “The locks are a real bonding thing for the mates,” he said with a laugh.

To me, they look like an impossibility. Just seeing a lock ahead on the river, I wonder how in the world our ship is going to be able to squeeze into that little space. Sometimes, the ship comes so close to the sides of the locks that it looks like we will scrape for sure. But the captain and crew calmly guide us into and out of the locks.

For those who have never traveled through a waterway lock, locks were designed to help a vessel pass through obstacles such as dams, rapids or uneven water levels. Locks function like a flight of watery stairs. First the boat enters an enclosed chamber on a waterway with watertight gates at each end. Once the vessels is in, the water is raised or lowered depending on the water level the boat must meet to continue on its journey.

So far, the locks have been a big hit with passengers. Cameras come out, folks flock to the decks and applaud or cheer when our vessel successfully maneuvers through the system.

A self-taught banjo player, Captain Martin also joins in for Open Mic Night and other entertainment on our cruise. As he says, one of the great joys of working on the S. S. Legacy is getting to meet the passengers on each voyage.

“A cruise is always a really nice time to connect with people,” he said. “It is very humbling to all of us that you would choose to spend a week of your precious time with us.”

For more information: Contact Un-Cruise Adventures at (888) 862-8881 or visit

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