LOOK OUT NOW, MAMA'S RUN OFF TO SEA & Other interesting articles, sites for sailing women

Lately I've been reading alot about women who are captains of vessels, hoping one day to be one of them. Here's an interesting story about five of them. Look Out Now, Mama’s Run Off To Sea!
Meet five women and the sailboats they captain
by Alice Snively

What do you mean Mama’s run off to sea?

Just that. And she’s only one of a growing number of women who are taking up the sea as a profession. Don’t conjure up images of a dining room server on a giant cruise ship. These women are not the marine equivalent of airline stewardess. Women captains on Chesapeake Bay in the 21st century are an intrepid group of sailors.

Captain Mary Ann Albright proved the stuff that sisterhood is made of when, on her maiden voyage, she sailed up the Atlantic coast into a storm. “I was stuck in that 50-knot gale for 12 hours, and my radar was knocked out.”

Was she scared? “No,” she said. “It was tense, but I wasn’t scared. I’ve never really been scared.”

Fear doesn’t seem to be a common emotion among these waterwomen. Most say they don’t have time to be afraid; when trouble comes, they’re busy working through it. Intense training coupled with thousands of sea miles traveled under constantly changing conditions enable them to handle the unforeseen.

A Different Kind of Pioneer Woman
Today’s women captains didn’t appear out of the misty seas of history. Washed out, albeit slowly, by American independence was the myth that women brought back luck to working boats. From the 1800s into the early 20th century, pioneering women headed west; others pioneered marine trades here on Chesapeake Bay.

No longer were the wives of Bay watermen relegated to the shore, cleaning and mongering great yields of crabs, oysters and fish. Wives, and daughters began to accompany the men on their boats, crabbing and tonging, hauling in the catches, cleaning, sorting and working as general crew. These small family enterprises were the springboard for even larger roles for women, including captain.

Romantic paintings and photographs of beautiful sailing cargo schooners disguise the hardships pioneering women captains faced. Imagine managing a large crew; sailing in foul weather with no radar, depth finder or GPS; feeding the crew from a galley with no electric refrigeration or modern cooking range; handling the business end of hauling cargo, from loading and unloading and keeping financial account of everything. There was no place for daintiness on these magnificent vessels, and quick, correct reaction to changing conditions required sure knowledge of the Bay’s fickle ways.

Calvert County’s Susie Langley Brinsfield was the first woman to obtain a skipper’s license for a three-masted schooner in the Baltimore District. She became captain of the schooner Josephine Wingate.

‘I’ve sailed to lots of places, but there is no better place to teach and sail than on Chesapeake Bay,’ says Mary Ann Albright, who captains a 46-foot Morgan Round the World sailboat.
Born in 1878 in St. Mary’s County, she began sailing in 1929. Her career hauling freight even took her beyond the Bay to the West Indies. By the end of the 1930s, other forms of transportation and food preservation made the schooner trade obsolete. The T.J. Ward was her last boat; she gave up sailing in 1942, but she outlived three husbands (also Bay captains) to live to the age of 97.

Another captain, Gertrude Edwards Biscoe, worked side by side with her captain husband Clarence Biscoe — whom she married in 1913 — sailing pungy schooners to transport cargo on Chesapeake Bay. After World War I, as the economy began to slide, she and her husband quit the hauling business. In 1925 they settled on Carthagena Creek near Solomons and ran fishing parties, crabbed and tonged oysters. Gertrude Biscoe died in 1987.

By the time of these captains’ deaths, revolutions in technology, the economy and the women’s liberation movement had written tickets in the marine profession for a new generation of women. In the new century, they form a sisterhood that encompasses not just Chesapeake Bay but nearly all the world’s waterways.

Then as now, they make serious sacrifices to work the Bay and the seas beyond, and they take risks that most women and men prefer to avoid. Why they do this is the natural question, to which there is no simple answer. To find answers, meet five of this sisterhood spanning three generations.

Fox Hunting to Foam Jumping
Septuagenarian grandmother Mary Ann Albright of Westminster captains a 46-foot Morgan Round the World sailboat.

The New York native had lots of sea time growing up, helping her Portuguese father on his deep-sea fishing boat. Becoming a captain was not, however, part of her plan.

Horses brought Albright to Chesapeake Bay. As a young woman, she concentrated on marriage and family and raised racing and fox-hunting horses. She and her husband bought a farm in Howard County to further their horse business.

Working for a yacht delivery company, Captain Dale Norley, here with her dog Tonka, recently returned from delivering a 48-foot catamaran from Captetown, South Africa, to Trinidad.
But Albright never got far from the water. In 1970, she bought a 10-foot day sailing boat for her five children and enjoyed it so much that she progressed to ever-larger boats. Once she began sailing Chesapeake Bay, she was so smitten that she gave up horses to devote her time to the water.

If anything could have scared her out of the water, it might have been that first trip sailing her boat back from the Caribbean. Twelve hours without radar in a 50-knot gale didn’t faze her.

Between that stormy rite of passage and her 50-ton master’s license, which she earned in the early 1980s, Albright studied at Annapolis Sailing School and worked with Louise Burke, long-time head of the U.S. Naval Academy sailing program, as well as with Womanship sailing school.

“I wanted to get my license because I wanted to teach,” she said. That she did, working as a teacher with Womanship, where she was featured in an ESPN special about that school. In addition to teaching on Chesapeake Bay, she’s done chartered teaching out of Key Biscayne in Florida and on the West Coast.

She’s also captained boat deliveries, which “take away any land ties you have if you do them for a living,” she said.

On one of those trips, she recalls, “I thought I was heading straight for some big rocks, but I couldn’t find them on any chart. It was dark, and all I could see were these shapes that looked like rocks.” It turned out they were partially submerged submarines coming out of New London, Connecticut. “That was strange, very strange,” she said.

Since the death of her husband last year, Albright spends more time on her boat at Maryland Yacht Club where she is a past sail fleet captain and current member of the board of governors. She has resumed private teaching and taught at the club’s Junior Sail Fleet Camp last month.

Walking her dogs up the dock as we talked, she took a long look around the boat basin and woods and marsh surrounding it. “I’ve sailed to lots of places,” she said, “but there is no better place to teach and sail than on Chesapeake Bay.”

Into the Doldrums
To write a story like this, you’ve got to catch up with some very mobile women. Captain Dale Norley returned June 16 from delivering a 48-foot catamaran from Captetown, South Africa, to Trinidad. She’d planned to bring the boat up to Rock Hall, but the owners decided they wanted to keep it in Trinidad for the season. The altered plans were conveyed to her after she was underway, so she had to change course. “That put us in the doldrums for 10 days in very hot weather,” Norley said.

That was just one more minor bother. Her diary puts perspective on the challenges of that 5,743-nautical-mile voyage.

“The watermaker, plumbing and electrical challenges, water in the fuel, the autopilot replacement project, the spinnaker sock incident, the s
Not only do Brest’s schooners, Woodwind and Woodwind II (above), carry paying passengers, the ships often compete and have won the Annnapolis-to-Norfolk race an unprecedented three times.
mashed finger … the trek across the never ending ITCZ.”

For landed readers, the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ, is the doldrums, the common term for an area of low barometric pressure lying in the equatorial belt between the trade-wind regions of the northern and southern hemispheres. Winds in ITCZ are either very light or absent, and the weather is sultry hot. The size and character of the zone varies from year to year and season to season. This is no area for sailboat racing, and it’s understandable that this term is commonly used to describe depression.

Note that Norley’s nautical-mile voyage was longer than a familiar statute-mile trip of 5,743 miles. The statute mile is 5,280 feet while the nautical mile is 6,076 feet. The difference carries over to wind speed. One knot of wind speed is equal to one nautical mile, amounting to a harder wind than measured in miles-per-hour weather reports.

“I’m still recovering,” Norley said when we talked, noting continued bouts of vertigo and muscle fatigue. “After two months at sea, you expect this. It takes me five or six days to get over it.”

Like most sailors who’ve been a long time on the water, favorite foods and drink were the first things on the captain’s mind when she arrived home. “I wanted a bunch of mimosas and fresh fruit salad,” she said, “and that’s what I got.”

Norley’s name will be familiar to readers of the sailing magazine Latitudes and Attitudes, where she writes the boat-of-the-month reviews. But Norley is a woman of many talents who has worked in several professions. She took a degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and also holds degrees in journalism and early childhood development. During her first career, in publishing, she married and had two children. She also studied with the American Institute of Gemology, was certified, became a jeweler. And, like Albright, she grew up with horses and still enjoys fox hunting.

Ultimately the sea became her great love and her workplace as a delivery captain. She says the sea is in her blood. The Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, native grew up sailing Chesapeake Bay with her family.

In 2000, Norley attended captain’s school, earning her 100-ton master’s license. Since then, she’s racked up 80,000 incident-free nautical miles.

Now she works primarily with Echo Yacht Deliveries based in Newport, Rhode Island. “They offer the jobs, and I decide if I want them or not,” she said. Most of the time, she also gets to choose her crew.

Camille Vickers began her working life as a professional ballet dancer, and for years ran her own ballet school until retiring to Chesapeake Bay, where she is a sailing instructor, briefing captain and delivery and charter captain.
The mid-50s, divorced grandmother was a California live-aboard for 13 years, but she recently moved to Pennsylvania to be near her aging mother. Her boat, a 45-foot Hardin ketch named Estimated Prophet, is docked at Georgetown on the Sassafrass River for easy access when she has free time to sail between deliveries, most of which return her to the Bay.

After some summer fun, Captain Norley will deliver a 56-foot Sundeer sailboat from Barcelona, Spain, across to the Bay and up to Oxford in September.

“That ought to be a good trip,” she said. “I love this life.”

Woodwinds Play the Bay
If you know Annapolis or if you’ve seen Wedding Crashers, you know the schooner Woodwind — or its double Woodwind II.

Woodwind II, a 74-foot commercial pleasure schooner docking at the downtown Marriott Hotel, was featured in the film as Christopher Walken’s private sailing yacht.

In real life, at the helm of Woodwind is likely to be “five-foot-nothing-and-proud-of-it” Captain Jennifer Brest.

How did a 35-year-old Connecticut Yankee come to be master of a pair of 74-foot wooden beauties?

Back in 1992 when Brest’s parents, Ken and Ellen Kaye, were planning their retirement from school teaching in Connecticut, she suggested they get “a really big boat and sail around the world.” Hers was an avid sailing family, so the idea wasn’t far-fetched. After much research, they decided to have a boat specially built to offer as charter for people to experience sailing in a safe and comfortable yet exciting environment.

Annapolis, the Kayes concluded, was the place to launch their venture. Their new schooner was commissioned in 1993 and certified for 48 passengers. Thus was born Woodwind Charters. Brest finished college, including a semester at sea on a 125-foot vessel, and crewed on Woodwind. In 1996, she earned her captain’s license and joined the family business full-time. Her husband Dan joined the business in 1998, about the same time as the second schooner, Woodwind II. Woodwind Charters offers day sails, overnight and some extended sails.

“This job is all about the people,” Brest said. “I want to get people so fond of sailing that they want to keep doing it. We encourage passengers to help steer, raise sails, to participate hands-on with the sailing of the boat. Of course, not all people do; some just want to relax and enjoy.”

Brest loves a good adventure, too. Imagine you’re at the helm in a race with some 30 other schooners, trying to be first from Annapolis to Norfolk and sailing right into a weather front heaving 35-knot winds and pounding waves directly at your bow.

“That happened to us last year during the annual schooner race,” she said. “It was so wild, some of the crew and passengers were getting sick. Despite our efforts, the boat was literally going nowhere. It’s called ‘bashing your brains to windward.’”

They were only 30 miles from the end, but concerned for crew and passengers, she turned the boat to head for safety. “Suddenly, we were really flying,” on what’s called a broad reach, with the wind perpendicular to the boat. “Why not use that tactic,” she said, “try to beam reach across and down the Bay? We did, and it worked.”

It worked so well that Woodwind won the race, way ahead of the next nearest schooner; several others indeed dropped out of that race. Brest has done 12 of the schooner races, and Woodwind has been overall winner three times, more than any other boat.

“Every cruise, however ordinary it might seem, really isn’t,” she said. Whether it’s weather, equipment or people, there is a challenge. “And I enjoy every one of those challenges.”

Brest calls on three other women plus a number of men for crew, but she’s tickled when leading an all-women crew. “I enjoy the reactions of people,” she said. “I particularly like having groups like Girl Scouts aboard with our all-women crew. It’s a way of reinforcing their potential for achievement,” she said. “We are changing perceptions of what it takes to make a big boat go.”

Vickers’ Pearson 365 ketch, Dancing Lady.
Dancing with Waves
Captain Camille Vickers dreamed of becoming a professional ballet dancer, and she studied diligently toward that end. But she made a compromise with dance that would lead her to Chesapeake Bay and a life dancing on the waves.

Competition in professional ballet was too intense and, she said, “cutthroat. I just wanted to dance.” So she married, moved to Vermont, bore two children and opened a ballet school, which grew to an average enrollment of 400 students. She and her husband enjoyed vacation sailing on Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, New England waters and eventually the Virgin Islands. When they divorced, Vickers began to formulate a new life plan.

“My goal was to sell the school, retire by the year 2000 and then go to sea,” she said. “I so love sailing, the freedom, the release from stress, the excitement. I knew that was what I wanted.”

In January of 2000, the 50-something grandmother did in fact sell her school. By October she had found the right boat, a Pearson 365 ketch she named Dancing Lady.

Launching her new career, Vickers started educating herself. She became an American Sailing Association certified instructor in August of 2001. From there she went on to earn her 50-ton master’s license, taking her certificate from Sea School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, along with her sailing and towing endorsement and other specialty certifications.

On the water, Vickers has filled an array of different roles, including racing crew, sailing instructor, briefing captain and delivery and charter captain, which brings us to another peril of a woman’s life on the sea.

Like all these woman captains, Vickers endures the gender challenge. Over time, all agree, as their competence becomes better known, most of their male counterparts come to respect them and work well with them. But first, they’ve got to navigate around doubt.

During one delivery Vickers crewed, a storm caused a crack near the top of the mast. In making repairs, the crack had to be sanded. “The captain and first mate each took a turn to go up. It was difficult and tiring,” she said. “But when I suggested it was my turn to go, they refused to let me. I tried to convince them that I was fully competent for that activity, but the captain stood firm. I was, however, good enough to mend their sails.”

Vickers got acquainted with Chesapeake Bay through friends who had moved to Pasadena. “I fell in love with the Bay,” she said. “Last year I made the decision to move down here from Vermont.” Whenever she could grab time, she scouted the area for housing and for work.

Recently returned from St. Thomas as charter and briefing captain, she reported on the progress of her plan. “I’ve bought a lovely little condominium in Annapolis,” she said. “I’ll be working primarily as a charter instructor with Let’s Go Cruising and Ocean Sailing Academy.”

Vickers ranked her new job as “doubly good” because the academy also has a location in St. Thomas. With a son in Philadelphia and a daughter in St. Thomas, she said, “this will allow me to be near both of them at different times of the year and to sail the Bay as well. Life just doesn’t get much better than this.”

Captaining a Flotilla
As owners of Haven Charters in Rock Hall, captain Jacki Appleton Fife, and her husband Dave, satisfy two loves: sailing and working with people. They’re in their third year of managing a flotilla of 21 boats ranging from 30 to 42 feet.

For Fife, Rock Hall is a return to home territory. “My father runs a sailing school in North East, Maryland, so I sailed Chesapeake Bay my growing-up years,” she said. On the Bay, she sailed in local, all-women racing regattas; then, she spent several years in the Caribbean, honing her sailing skills. Eventually, she earned a U.S. Sailing School Certificate and certification as an open-water diver. Both Fifes hold 100-ton master’s license.

The combination of captaining and diving has introduced Fife to drama under as well as on the water. While delivering a boat from Miami to Antigua, she got her first up-close look at sharks — who were also looking at her.

“The delivery itself was a dream,” she said. The owners of the boat had no required timeline for the boat’s arrival, so she and her husband sailed for a month, visiting 11 islands, and she got in a lot of diving. “During one dive, I was met by several sharks. It was a total surprise, and it was really scary,” she said, “until I realized they weren’t interested in me for lunch.”

These weren’t little sharks, either. “They were about 30 feet long,” she said. “They circled around, inspected me, then swam off a little way. But they kept an eye on me the whole time — and you can bet I kept an eye on them.”

Haven Charters called Fife to use her sea skills in a new way, providing people with a pleasant sailing experience that also will bring back good memories of Chesapeake Bay. “I was a travel agent after all,” Jacki said. “For me, it’s all about people — people and sailboats.”

The Fifes don’t own the boats they charter. The vessels are owned by a number of people who let them for charter when they’re not sailing. Running crewed and bareboat charters is part of their business, but not all. They also offer sailing lessons at their location and through her father’s school. Dave is an ordained minister. So, Jacki says, “we also do weddings, averaging about six a year.” They call on two larger boats for weddings, corporate events and parties.

The 30-something captain and her husband have no children yet, so they’re not tied to one place. That’s a good thing because they also have a Caribbean operation. Chartering is seasonal; when it’s winter here on the Bay, they take working vacations. Every year, they captain a flotilla of boats for a week of sailing in the British Virgin Islands.

“There are people who really want to sail the islands but are reluctant, for any number of reasons, to go solo the first time,” Fife said. “We offer them a way to do the sailing and learn their way around.”

Captain Jacki Appleton Fife manages a flotilla of 21 boats ranging from 30 to 42 feet as owner of Haven Charters in Rock Hall.
Fife also gets plenty of sailing time, because she and her husband captain and crew most of their chartered trips. All together, she’s thriving on her life of adventure.

Tried, Tough and True
Many more women than these make their living on the water. Others are captains of pilot boats, tug boats, water taxis, excursion boats and fishing boats.

Earning their captain’s licenses demands hundreds of hours of underway time as well as diligent study to master navigation, safety, repair and maintenance of all types of equipment, maritime law, communication, emergency medical and survival techniques.

They sacrifice family, good hair and manicured nails. They deal with Mother Nature’s whims. After long voyages, they suffer vertigo and muscle fatigue. They do without ice, and most of the time they eat on the run. They go without sleep and showers. Theirs is not a pretty business in many ways. They do it because it satisfies an irresistible desire to be on the water.

“Still the sunsets beckon us out on deck,” reads an excerpt from Captain Norley’s diary. “We have cheered at the blush of the rain as it moves across the water … have laughed together and enjoyed the solitude of standing alone in the cockpit watching for shooting stars.”

About the Author

Sailor, journalist and grandmother, Alice Snively lives with her husband aboard the 43-foot Columbia Cherokee II, berthed at the Maryland Yacht Club in Pasadena — when not out sailing.

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Comment by Terri on May 5, 2010 at 5:47pm
Horizon ship has all-female deck crew

For the first time in Hawaii's maritime history, three female bridge officers were at the helm of an 800-foot container ship that arrived at Honolulu Harbor from Los Angeles on Wednesday.
The three -- Capt. Robin Espinosa, Chief Mate S.L. Sam Pirtle and Second Mate Julie Duchi -- were assigned to the same ship by chance through their union's bidding process.

The women are in charge of the Horizon Navigator, carrying about 900 containers, with a total of 25 crew members.

The Horizon Navigator carryies about 900 containers and a total of 25 crew members.

Women were virtually nonexistent in the male-dominated industry a few decades ago, and the U.S. Merchant Marine service remains dominated by men.
But more women are moving up the ranks in all areas of ship operations, and female merchant mariners have gained respect in the rigorous field.

Matson Navigation Co., the state's largest ocean carrier, made maritime history in 1988 when Lynn Korwatch became the first female captain of a large commercial vessel in the Pacific, Matson's SS Maui.



Capt. Robin Espinosa, with Chief Mate S.L. Sam Pirtle, left, and Second Mate Julie Duchi, are in command and on deck of the container ship Horizon Navigator.

By Kristen Consillio
Horizon Lines Inc. made Hawaii maritime history this week when an 800-foot container ship arrived in port with women occupying its top three bridge posts.

The Horizon Navigator, carrying about 900 containers and a total of 25 crew members, arrived at Honolulu Harbor Wednesday from Los Angeles with Capt. Robin Espinosa, Chief Mate S.L. Sam Pirtle and Second Mate Julie Duchi at the helm.

It was the luck of the union's bidding process that brought the three female bridge officers together on the same bridge, as the U.S. Merchant Marine service remains dominated by men.

The International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots in Honolulu represents about 150 members, 10 percent of whom are women. Fewer than 1 percent were women 30 years ago, according to the union.

"It's a real anomaly; it's very unusual," said Espinosa, who is based in Charleston, S.C., and has been sailing for 25 years. "When I first started, I was pretty much the only gal around. I never worked on a ship with any other women for the first 10 years."

The first women were allowed to enter maritime academies in the 1970s to be licensed deck officers and engineers, which allows them to go anywhere in the world on any kind of ship, said Randy Swindell, the union's port representative.

However, more women are moving up the ranks in all areas of ship operations, signaling a new era for female merchant mariners who have gained respect in the rigorous field.

Matson Navigation Co., the state's largest ocean carrier, made maritime history when in 1988 Lynn Korwatch became the first female captain of a large commercial vessel in the U.S. Merchant Marine, Matson's SS Maui, said spokesman Jeff Hull.

Pasha Hawaii Transport Lines, Hawaii's third-largest ocean shipper, has never had a female captain or female bridge team, said general manager Reggie Maldonado.

Breaking into the industry, where superstitions about women on board being bad luck abounded just a few decades ago, was challenging for the female officers who worked harder to prove themselves.

Throughout her career, Espinosa said, she has staunchly rejected being treated any differently from men on the ships.

"I worked harder than most men because I wanted so desperately to be accepted," she said. "I'm not a big woman and I'm not real strong; some things physically I just couldn't do."

While there was some prejudice, the union's training programs placed the women on equal footing for jobs, said Espinosa, 49, who supervises overall operations and the ship's course and speed.

"Sure, I got catcalls and whistles from guys," she said. "But it was a good thing for us that we did come through the union so we have the same qualifications as any guy has had."

Espinosa developed her love for the sailing as a child growing up in a family of sailors and was inspired by late marine conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau. She originally attended the Texas Maritime Academy to become a marine scientist, but was later recruited into the marine transportation program and drawn to going to sea to travel the world while making a significant amount of money.

Duchi, 46, a Honolulu resident who as second mate is in charge of navigation, also was raised in a sailing family and shared that dream.

"At first I thought it was going on a sailboat and getting paid for it," she said.

The job turned out to be much more challenging than she had imagined. While the crew uses GPS navigation, which allows her to simply push a button to direct the ship from one point to another, she says she still does celestial navigation purely for fun.

"It's been a great career. I really love it; it's a lot of fun and freedom," Duchi said. "But it's just not for everybody. You have to be willing to give up being at home."

Among the greatest challenges is the time spent at sea, typically six to 10 weeks at a time.

Espinosa said the schedule is tough on her husband and 18-year-old daughter.

"It's real tough. We're lucky because we're in port so often, so ... we're in good communications with our families," she said.

For Pirtle, 49, whose duties include getting cargo on and off the ship, the rigorous schedule has made it difficult to get back into the dating scene. She is usually gone anywhere from 35 to 70 days at a time.

In addition, men are often intimidated by her career, which includes being the crew's medical officer.

"I did like a year of Internet dating," she said. "I was honest about what I do for a living, but that just scared off everybody. It was like I was attracting men who wanted a woman to push them around."

While the pace of their lives is much faster than a typical career, the women say they would not change a thing.

"The thing I always tell people is that my career is so much a part of me I couldn't even conceptualize anything besides going to sea," Pirtle said.
Comment by Terri on March 25, 2010 at 2:00pm
Hilary Lister disabled sailor ---- Disabled Sailor Hilary Lister Ready for Next Challenge

Hilary Lister, 37, from the United Kingdom, is aiming to sail 100 miles around another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Her specially adapted vessel is designed to be operated through three straws, which allow her to control the boat using a "sip-and-puff" system. Ms Lister, who is disabled from the neck down, will set sail on April 13th. The Oxford University graduate has used a wheelchair since she was 15 because of a progressive neurological disorder, reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Ms Lister became the first quadriplegic sailor to sail solo across the English Channel in 2005 and two years later was the first quadriplegic woman to sail around the Isle of Wight. From: BBC. Photo: 'Hilary Lister controls her yacht using three straws'. . Also see..
Comment by Terri on March 21, 2010 at 10:11am
World's first female captain of a major cruise ship

Enlarge By Kate Greenberg, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

In charge: Janson's the first woman to guide a major cruise ship.

IIn the male-dominated world of global shipping, Karin Stahre Janson is used to raising eyebrows. Now the self-described "tomboy" is making history as the first woman in charge of a major cruise ship. "I'm a pretty tough girl," says Janson, 38, of Stromstad, Sweden. "I've always said I know what I'm doing." Janson, who has taken command of Royal Caribbean's 2,400-passenger Monarch of the Seas, talks with USA TODAY's Gene Sloan about her rise through the ranks and life at sea.
Q: When did you first feel the pull of the ocean?

A: I met a lot of sailors when I was a student (taking sailing lessons) in my early teens. They told me about their lives, about exotic places they visited. I was hooked.

Q: These sailors, in fact, helped you get your first job on a ship. Tell us about that.

A: It was the summer I turned 19. It was a small petroleum tanker sailing around coastal Sweden, Norway and Denmark. I was a junior seaman, the lowest rank, and I was just there to try it for six weeks. I painted, chipped rust, scrubbed the decks, greased the pumps — whatever needed to be done.

Q: And you loved it?

A: I realized I liked the life. It's not a stationary workplace. It's never the same, day to day. But I also realized I didn't want to swab decks for the rest of my life. I wanted to be on the bridge and navigate. So I enrolled in cadet school.

Q: You were a woman breaking into a very male-dominated world. Was there resistance?

A: Ninety-nine percent of the time (in those early years) I was just treated like one of the boys. I can remember one grumpy old sailor telling me I shouldn't be there, that I should be out making babies and looking for a husband. But I have met very few of those (on ships).

Q: Why did you switch from cargo ships to cruise ships?

A: I like working with and for people. On a cargo ship there are maybe 15 or 20 crewmembers; on a cruise ship there may be 800 or more. It's a much more social life and a more interesting life. (On Monarch of the Seas), we come from 60 different nationalities. You learn about different cultures, religions. And you meet the guests.

Q: What do you think has held women back from commanding a cruise ship until now?

A: It's all about timing. Back in the '40s and '50s, when shipping was blooming, it was hard, muscular work, and (therefore) it was very male-dominated. These days it's all about brains and knowledge.

Q: Are there any advantages to being a woman as captain?

A: They say females are better at multitasking, and that's a plus because there are a lot of things happening at the same time .… (and) maybe we show more empathy.

Q: How has the crew reacted?

A: It's all positive. Everyone is saying, "It's about time, and we're so proud you're on our ship." Also our guests are very positive. I had an old lady the other day pat me on the head, which is hard since I'm 5-11, then pinch me on the cheek.

Q: Your favorite port?

A: Mombasa in Kenya, because you see the small, old-fashioned sailboats coming in with bags of spices, then (it's transferred) to big shiny container ships that take it around the world. It's this wonderful meeting of old and new.

Q: Least favorite port?

A: Any oil terminal in the winter when it's raining horizontally.

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Comment by Terri on March 21, 2010 at 9:51am
Damiana Corrias is one of the very few existing women super-yacht masters and we managed to catch up with her through the grapevine of her male counterparts. She is currently skippering a 22-metre Farr Southern Wind, "Nessun Dorma", which was built in a Cape Town boatyard in South Africa. Chance would have it that the owner of "Nessun Dorma" is also a woman who obviously has no prejudices about the seafaring skills of the fair sex. I meet Damiana in Viareggio where we have a pleasant chat about her activities on board the yacht berthed in the Arpeca dock, where it will spend the winter, after a busy summer of magnificent sailing cruises in the Mediterranean.

Damiana, tell me about your origins

I was born 36 years ago in the South of Sardinia, in a house by the sea in Portoscuso, in the province of Cagliari. I am a woman master who for nine years now has been skippering yachts, I therefore have a job that has traditionally been almost always exclusively male. Suffice to think that sailors have always thought that having a woman on board brings bad luck, while they are considered perfect in the role of the master's wife.

Tell us briefly how your life at sea started

I have had a passion for the sea since I was little. At the age of 14, together with a group of friends, I founded the Windsurf Vela Club in my hometown. At the age of 18 I passed the exam for the federal sailing and windsurf instructor's licence; despite the fact that I was actually attending a technical high school for accountants, my thoughts were always far from the greyness of figures and always nearer to the blue of the sea. However, I then worked with my mother in her flower shop and in my free time I sailed with my friends. I would never have thought that my love for the sea would have become my real job.

What marine training do you have?

I didn't go to the Technical Sailing school, because at that time my family would never have agreed to such a choice. In the beginning my training took place solely on boats, thanks to the teaching of excellent sailors who took me to sea with them and passed on to me their knowledge on the art of sailing. When four years ago pleasure sailing was levelled with merchant sailing, I had to take a series of courses to gain the maritime professional title of 2nd class captain, which qualifies me to pilot boats up to 7,000 tonnes.

Atlantic crossings?

Yes, several, one with "Gael", then in the winter of 1997 on "Lady Samanta" a 17-metre Ketch belonging to Ennio Nard of the Circolo Velico d'Altura in Chioggia. A boat which sank last year in a storm off New York, fortunately without victims. In 1998 together with others on a 16-metre sailing catamaran and in 1999 on the first Wally, the 25-metre "Mister Geco".

As a woman skipper have you had any special problems?

In the beginning I sensed a lack of consideration by others, then as my self-confidence gradually increased I learnt to gain respect.

Was it difficult to find work in your role as woman master?

Definitely. And if it hadn't been for help kindly given me by Battista Borea d'Olmo, who has always believed in me, the owner of "Naly" would never have chosen me as master, purely because I am a woman.

Do you know any other women masters?

There are many women sailing boats, but very few have professional qualifications. I know that there are some among the English masters.

How come there are so few women super yacht masters?

You need a strong spirit to put up with the prejudices in this profession. I reckon I am very lucky, because a lot of people have helped me and put their trust in me. To do this job women must be very motivated.

What are the other typical female roles on board superyachts?

Cook and hostess. Until 10 years ago, owners didn't want hostesses on board, today all the yachts that employ them are more than satisfied. If a woman has a good preparation she is taken on for the whole year, with all the necessary guarantees. Otherwise she will only be offered seasonal work, temporary in other words.

Who is there in your current crew?

Apart from me there is a female cook and a sailor.

What effect does a woman skipper have on outsiders?

When we come into harbour I usually sense a certain admiration from men, but sometimes seem slightly annoyed.

What would you say to a young woman intending to become a super-yacht master?

If she is willing, step by step, to work her way up and to be very determined, she will definitely get there, not quickly to be sure but she will also be paid well.

Captain of "Nessun Dorma"
Name: Damiana.
Surname: Corrias.

Age: 37

Nationality: Italian.

Training: Business High School.

Previous command experience: "Naly", for eight years.

Current command: master on "Nessun Dorma".

Flag: Italian.

Main characteristics of the boat, (design, interior layout, technological and structural systems): Farr yacht design for the waterlines and the sails.

Interior architecture (colours, materials, decor, lights): Design by the architect Antonio Minniti for deck geometry and interior furnishings.

Favourite marine: Wintering in Viareggio.

Favourite route: Mediterranean routes.

What technological innovations in yachting do you think look interesting and why? Innovations regarding safety at sea (map GPS, radar, epirb) because they mean we can fully enjoy the sea without running worthless risks.

The worst incident that has ever happened to you?: An encounter with a shark in Australia, the time I dived down to check the keel.

The event from your professional life that you remember with most pleasure: When my first owner gave me the job of sailing Naly in 1996, I was so happy and I felt so proud to have made it, as a woman and a master. I remember thinking that all the effort of getting there was over but that now there would be even more effort involved with more responsibility.

An opinion on her role of Master and the world she works in: I am very happy and proud of my job, because it allows me to stay in contact with the sea. It is hard work but I really love it also because very peaceful periods alternate with others that are much more frenetic. I am a romantic, in love with sailing, but I think that the world of yachting is changing fast and calls for professional figures who know how to adapt to the new technology. For this reason, although I have my professional licence for mastering ships up to 7,000 tonnes, I have already planned to follow a course of parallel skills in anti-terrorist safety regulations and lots of other new, stimulating subjects.
Comment by Terri on March 17, 2010 at 6:14am
Who says you have to be 20 to sail yourself silly! :-) All women crew for the ARC. Their website Lagoon 44 catamaran
Comment by Terri on March 16, 2010 at 11:21am Nice article on all female crew out of California
Comment by Terri on March 16, 2010 at 11:10am
Comment by carole lowry on March 12, 2010 at 10:22pm
Really enjoyed reading the exploits of these wonderful ladies.
All the best
Comment by zeehag on March 11, 2010 at 8:53pm
cooool--ty terri!!!!!

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