When I was in eighth grade I went to New York City for the first time on a school trip. I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere, the cultures, and the liveliness that surrounded me. When I returned home to Colorado where I grew up, I told my mom “I am going to New York City for college”. In junior year of high school when it was time to start looking at colleges, again I reiterated: NYC was my goal. We traveled to New York on two different trips and looked at several different college options. I knew that I wanted to be in the science field but didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. I narrowed the selection down to two choices: CUNY John Jay Criminal Justice College, and SUNY Maritime. I ended up choosing SUNY Maritime College; the degree they offered that interested me the most was Marine Environmental Sciences, and the even bigger reason I chose them was because they had dormitories on campus, whereas CUNY John Jay did not.
When I showed up to the SUNY Maritime orientation, I knew little to nothing about the maritime industry. My advisor, Captain Eric Johansson, who is now a friend, asked me if I wanted to be in the licensed or non-licensed program. I’m sure the blank look on my face gave away the fact that I had no idea what he was talking about. He suggested that I start in the licensed program, as it is always easier to drop the licensed program than it is to decide you want in and join it later. Captain Johansson’s suggestion was key to my success and largely responsible for where I am now in my life. By the end of the first semester I started to figure out what this whole maritime industry was about. I enrolled in fire fighting class and ship nomenclature classes, and learned all about ships and their roles in carrying goods around the world.
After my first full year, summer time was upon us. Unlike all my friends back home in Colorado who were embarking on summer break, I was getting ready to go on Summer Sea Term. For 60 days we would be onboard the T.S. Empire State VI. We traveled from New York City across the Atlantic Ocean; we anchored in the Azores, dropping our lifeboats and climbing into them for drills. We sailed through the straits of Gibraltar and made our way to the port of Barcelona, Spain. Thanks to the watch rotation we had in place, I had some days where I was able to get off the ship and explore the city. I saw a live Spanish bullfight, walked down and explored the famous Las Ramblas street, and lay on the beaches. I felt as though I was where I needed to be in life: a mariner, sailing the deep blue seas and exploring the world. After Barcelona, the training ship carried us to the ports of Lisbon, Portugal; Copenhagen, Denmark; Kiel, Germany (through the Kiel Canal); Gdansk, Poland; and Nassau, Bahamas. I didn’t want that Summer Sea Term to end.
I finished out the remaining three years of college much like my first: working hard all year, taking anywhere from 22 to 26 credits each semester, then going on the Training Ship during the summers across the Atlantic, learning celestial navigation and knot-tying, preparing to become a Third Mate aboard a merchant ship.
During my senior year it was time for me to start looking for jobs and decide where I wanted to go when I graduated. I had already made up my mind that I wanted to sail - I loved being out on the water and I had worked so hard to earn my Third Mates license, I was going to become a sailor. I interviewed with a few different companies, and got three job offers. I could have chosen to be on an Ocean Class tug pulling a container barge from Philadelphia to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to sail deep sea on a Military Sealift Command Ship, or to work on harbor assist tugs in Texas. I wasn’t too familiar with harbor assist tugs as they had just started the inland licensed program at my college and we didn’t really touch on the subject in school. But I always like a challenge and going on new adventures, so the day after graduation I packed up all my belongings in my civic and drove down to Houston, Texas. By the middle of May I found myself in a whole new world on board a harbor tug.
My first day on the job I had no idea what I was getting myself into. At the time I was the only female working at the company and it took a bit of adjusting for some of my male co-workers. I worked hard my first 6 months, proving to myself and others that I was fit for the job. I made sure to go out on deck and learn how to throw the lines and do the required vessel maintenance. I got my Master of Towing Vessels license, which allowed me to drive the boat by myself. It was a personal goal of mine to get qualified on all classes of tugboats in my company’s fleet: single screw tugs, single screw tugs with flanking rudders, twin screw tugs, twin screw tugs with flanking rudders, and z-drive class tugs. After 4 years of working hard as a mate, learning the ins and outs of the company and different channels we operated in, I was promoted to Captain. I was the first female to be promoted to captain at my company and I did it in a relatively short amount of time. I am now one of the senior captains at the company and have sailed as captain aboard three brand new tugs. I am the lead captain of the current tug I am running, spearheading the operation from the time she was in the shipyard.
I also travel around the country to the different Maritime Academies talking to young women about the industry, recounting my experiences and promoting the fact that you can put your mind to anything you choose. My future goal is to one day become a harbor pilot: the pinnacle of the maritime industry.