When I was growing up, all I ever heard my father and grandfather speak about was Maine Maritime Academy. My grandfather had been a student there and graduated a 3rd engineer in 1955. My father didn’t go to the academy; he fished offshore for many years, leaving for weeks on end while I was very young. I know it killed him to leave us for long periods like that, so eventually he ended up coming home to lobster and be home every day to watch me grow up. I know it also killed him that he didn’t go to Maine Maritime, so my whole life, he pushed me to go there. I bucked it tooth and nail; there was absolutely no way I was going to the academy.
Every summer since I could stand on a bucket and drive my father’s lobster boat, I’ve fished during the summer, either with him or by myself. Starting out in a small 13’ wooden skiff my dad made me for my 10th birthday, we’d haul my 5 traps by hand. Eventually 5 grew to 30, and I graduated to a 15’ Diablo aluminum outboard that my dad and I also built together. Once I started high school, I was able to purchase my first wooden boat: a 33’ Jonesport with a 210 Cummins engine. By then my trap pile had grown considerably and lobstering in the summers was my job. The best job, if you ask me, for a high school teenager. I got to hang with my best girlfriend (as my sternman), and go for boat rides and “picnic lunches”, as my dad always says.
Clearly, the ocean was in my blood, even if I hadn’t yet realized it at that point. I was now a senior and honestly, I was very lost. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to become in life - I felt I had no direction. I had a few friends who were already at the Academy and after going to visit a few weekends and speaking with them - listening to the jobs they were getting - it was then that I finally realized how perfect MMA was for me. Working on the water was what I had already been doing my whole life! It was crazy how much freshman year essentially mimicked exactly what I’d been doing every summer: running boats, tying knots, splicing, navigating, and so on. I definitely knew the moment I stepped foot in Castine that I had made the right choice; my family had been right all along.
During my senior year at Maine Maritime, I went to Prince Edward Island for spring break and took my DP (Dynamic Positioning) basic class. Rig jobs were hot at the time and I was interested in that as a career. Everyone told me I would lose the small boat handling experience, but I had my lobster boat at home so I wasn't that concerned. DP gigs were hard to come by so after graduating, I went to work as an AB on a drillship. There were two other guys with 2nd mate licenses sailing as ABs with me just trying to get a foot in the door. That lasted about a year until we ended up losing our contract with that company, but fortunately I was kept on and sent to our other rig in Africa (fun fact, I actually met my now-husband on that ship).
I went from able-bodied seaman in the Gulf of Mexico to Assistant Dynamic Positioning Officer in Congo. At the time they had just gotten a pay cut - usually Assistant DPOs work at night with the Chief Mate - but because they were short handed and trying to save money, they moved me to days and I basically filled in the position of daytime C/M. I was in charge of maintaining all safety and lifesaving equipment, as well as helicopter operations, loading and discharging bulk cargo, assisting with cement jobs, and spending time on the DP desk. I loved not being tied to the desk and having the freedom to roam the deck. Coming from being an AB and doing everything on deck, I really enjoyed it!
We worked for several years in Congo and my company miraculously survived the big oil industry downturn. Unfortunately, the last extension seemed to be our last, and this October was it. There's been lots of talk that our rig will go to Egypt, but nobody really knows. As I write this, the rig has just arrived in Tenerife for some shipyard maintenance.
At this time, I've been on maternity leave since I finally broke the news to the company that I was 5 months pregnant. To be honest, the experience was really tough because there wasn't anything in our company handbook about pregnancy offshore. Sure, they've dealt with it in the office, but never on the ship. I didn't know if they'd try to fire me, if they would use it against me somehow. I debated for a long time about how to approach the situation. It's awful that this is the case but unfortunately this is the norm in the maritime industry, at least at the moment. I’d like to think they've updated their policies since my departure!
My experience was kind of wild because after I told the office, they initially wanted me to keep coming to work (at 5 months pregnant). I explained I had to see a doctor every 2 weeks now, and they STILL were going to try to get me out there! I don't think anybody from the office really understood the risks involved and what a liability I could potentially be. I ended up getting a doctor’s note that said I couldn't go back to work after that point. I was put on short-term disability until I gave birth and then was given 3 months of maternity leave. Despite my initial concerns, it ended up working out pretty well.
My husband is still working for them - he’s in the subsea department. Before the contract ended and the rig moved, we ended up on opposite schedules which can be almost impossible for couples in relationships, so we had already been discussing trying that out for a few months, but it's funny how things kind of turn out how they are supposed to. The contract ended, which gave me a good reason to stay home and figure out a better lifestyle for us going forward. I think lobstering next summer in Maine is just what my family needs. I’ll be home for my daughter’s first year, I’ll get to spend time with my family in Maine, and still get to be where I love to be: on the water. I think it's a win all around!