Wednesday, 2 May 2018

World's first all-women tugboat crew - one week old

Marine engineer Kelsie MacLean (left) and deckhand Jocelyn Smith pull down the gangway as they work aboard the Atlantic Willow on Wednesday afternoon. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)

This is the straight lift of a story that broke yesterday, about the three women who work and live aboard the Atlantic Willow tug in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Tugboat women are still rare in every country. An all-woman tugboat crew is even more rare. It's still likely that some traditionalists elsewhere may not want their vessels tugged by such a team, or only want them for the novelty.

Francis Campbell wrote this story, which appears in The Chronicle Herald, the biggest independently-owned newspaper in Canada. The accompanying video of them can be seen, too, at
(I've inserted some side-headings and extra pictures for easy reading, and an addendum.)


“We’re a team but it’s also like a family here,” tug master Andrea MacDonald said of the non-traditional, all-woman crew who work the bridge, engine room and deck of the Atlantic Willow as it chugs and tugs around Halifax Harbour and beyond.
“It’s going well,” MacDonald, 50, said of her newly assembled tugboat crew of engineer Kelsie MacLean, 23, and deckhand Jocelyn Smith, 29.“We live together. This is home. It’s more comfortable, if you need to get up in the middle of the night, to have all women on board. We were really excited to have the three of us on board. We were all a little curious, even I was thinking, 'Wow, this is going to be different.’ Three women, OK, this has never been done before.
“We are getting along very well, the jobs are all getting done, everything is working fine.” Even a makeshift family that works one of the four harbour tugs operated by Atlantic Towing requires a modicum of structure.
“I’m like the boat mom,” said MacDonald.Like any mom, she shares tidbits of little-known information about her crew.“On Saturday morning, we brought in a tanker in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm. Jocelyn doesn’t like lightning. She was not happy.”

Tugmaster Andrea MacDonald poses for a photo aboard the Atlantic Willow on Wednesday afternoon. The Willow features an all-female crew of MacDonald, engineer Kelsie MacLean and deckhand Jocelyn Smith. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)


And what about Kelsie [Maclean], the newest family member brought into the fold just last week? “Even though Kelsie’s only been here a week, I can already tell you some of her idiosyncrasies. I’m starting to learn what she’s like first thing in the morning, in the middle of the night. She’s not a morning person. If you were here at six this morning to see her rolling out, I said ‘good morning’ because I am a morning person. She knows that. She just went ‘mmmm.’” Mornings might not be her thing but MacLean said she has sea salt in her blood.
“I could not imagine living anywhere that is not near water,” said MacLean, who grew up in Marion Bridge on the Mira River in Cape Breton. “My grandfather is a fisherman out of Gabarus. My great-grandfather, I can remember his whole dining room was filled with model ships. That was my favourite place to go, in that little room, but I was little and my mother always scooted me out because she didn’t want me to break them.”
Having studied at the Nautical Institute in Port Hawkesbury, MacLean is now more into fixing things, including the two 16-cylinder marine diesel engines that she monitors in the engine room of the 95-foot Willow.

The Nautical Institute in Port Hawkesbury where MacLean trained

“Fixing everything that breaks, running the engines, doing the maintenance on all the engines and every system we have on the boat, including our domestic systems, like our sewage and our pot water,” MacLean said of her duties. “Literally everything.”
The tug has an unmanned engine room and alarm panels warn MacLean to immediately go below if anything demands her attention. In the interim, she helps Smith on deck.“When we come back in, most of the time we go up with Andrea and have a chat, see the nice views if it is not too foggy,” MacLean said. “There's lots of coffee on board.”


[Jocelyn] Smith, who lives in Dartmouth, started working in construction but was looking for lighter work.“I like manual labour so this is good for me,” said Smith. “My father is an engineer on one of the other tugs. He got me involved in this.”
The Willow works the harbour primarily but it also makes some long trips to Sheet Harbour.“Six hours there, six hours back and the time to do the job,” said Smith.
The crew works a 14-day rotation, living on the boat and ready 24-7 to chug into action in rain, snow, sleet or freezing weather. “We were looking like a Popsicle after one of those (winter) Sheet Harbour trips,” Smith said.
Smith said her duties include maintaining the tug, putting the line out for ship assist, releasing all the mooring lines, and doing the bulk of the cooking, cleaning and painting.

Atlantic Towing company in action:

The all-female tugboat no doubt looks cleaner and smells fresher than her sister tugs manned by males. Sitting in the Willow’s control room at the Woodside dock in Dartmouth, MacDonald repeats a company suggestion that the all-female tugboat crew might be the first of its kind anywhere.
“This is very much a male-dominated industry,” she said. “This type of work is not for the faint of heart. It’s rough. It’s very technical. There is a lot of strain on these lines. We’re just a small boat going alongside these huge moving ships, sometimes at a considerable speed. We’ve got to get in there and get lines on them. It’s quite a job and it’s not something a lot of women think of doing for a career, but it’s certainly very doable.”
MacDonald grew up in Purcells Cove, attained two degrees from Dalhousie and worked for many years in the insurance business before putting her mind to what she loves — the water and working on boats. She’s heard men dismiss her as inferior because of her gender.
“I just smile and say, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way.’ As time goes on and there are more of us coming into the industry and as we stay in the industry, I’m finding that the men are starting to change their minds and they are being much more accepting of women on these boats. And even encouraging.”


She likens her control centre to a video game, with three screens — a chart plotter, radar and engine information — and two joysticks that control the Z-drives, or azimuth thrusters, propeller pods that can rotate 360 degrees, allowing for rapid changes in speed and direction.
Pushing and pulling gigantic ships into port and through narrow channels, the female crew pulls closer together as a family each day. MacDonald said it’s the Irving-owned towing company’s decision as to whether the crew stays together.
“We certainly hope that we will stay together because it’s a good thing and it’s really cool. Fingers are crossed that we all stay together.”



Captain Annie Brennan (Madge Dressler) handles her family aboard her tug Narcissus. Pic courtesy of Doctor Macro's High Resolution Movie Scans:

The most famous woman working a tug is, of course, a fictional one: 'Tugboat Annie' from the 1920s stories of Norman Reilly Raine and the subsequent movies and TV series.
Annie, played by Marie Dressler became a byword for a quarrelsome mouthy older woman operating in man's world and not being properly 'feminine'. Luckily that was so long ago that none of the Willow's team will have face this stereotype.
The main thing that the Atlantic Willow and Annie's celluloid family team have in common is that they are operating in a tough world.
Thea Foss of Tacoma, Washington and Kate A. Sutton of the Providence Steamboat Company are said to be Raine's real models. In fact neither was seagoing. Foss was an owner. Sutton was a secretary and dispatcher.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Rainbow Warrior's female captain, Hettie Geenen, gets on with it in Manila

Here are two articles from the Philippines about Hettie Geenen, arising from a Greenpeace press conference in Manila earlier this month.

Article 1, GMA NEWS ONLINE, 13 March, How she gets it done: Hettie Geenen, the female captain of the Rainbow Warrior ship,


'“It’s just a job, like everybody has a job,” Hettie Geenen brushes off the distinction that comes with her job. She is the female captain of recent Manila visitor, Rainbow Warrior, the only female captain of the environmentalist group in fact — “but not the first,” she quickly contends.
“I’ve been sailing since I was younger, most of the time with men too, so for me, this is very normal,” the sailor says.“But I respect people who are not used to this. Like me, in the beginning, when I saw female bus drivers. I had to look twice. You don’t judge, you just look twice.”
The lady sailor gave us an idea how she got into this profession, the kind of life the job entails, and the joy it brings.


"In the Philippines, when we had authorities visit the ship, they asked where the captain was. I said, ‘sorry I’m the captain.’ And I find they don’t really treat me differently. When I treat them with respect, they treat me with respect.
"It’s very important to follow your heart, and to not let what you want be stopped by anybody. Maybe you think there are a lot of barriers, but there are none. I really don’t like to be in the picture, but if I can be an example to someone younger, who wants to do something different, she can see that I did it.
"I never wanted to become a captain. I like to be practical and busy. I like to work a little bit more in the background, and as a captain, you’re in the spotlight. But after a while, you realize you have to step up. I’ve been a skipper on a lot of vessels for 12 years, so I thought, let’s do it! I have been chief mate for almost 15 years.
No one day is ever the same, but I have to say as captain, spending a lot of time behind the computer and preparing reports is not my favorite part of the job. The job of captain these days involve a lot of administration and communication. I spend a lot of time inside. But when my sailors need me, I’m there. Last night, I woke up four times to go to the bridge and check. I did a little maneuver with the sailors. It can get very busy.


"I’m not married but I have a partner for many years. He is a seafarer as well, which makes it a little bit easier. When I’m home, sometimes he’s still at sea, but we both understand each other’s lives. We know each other from Greenpeace. We don’t have children. I would’ve loved to have children, but sometimes, it doesn’t happen. I always say that on board, this is my family.
It was his birthday yesterday and I wasn’t home. Especially when you don’t have children, or family [it can be difficult] but you find another way. This is just how life is. We are three months at sea and at the end of three months, you really want to go home, and if they ask you to stay another week, it’s really hard.
But I wouldn’t have it another way. Sometimes, I think I want to stay home but no. I really think I have a great job. And the nice thing is with my partner, because we don’t see each other, when we finally do, it’s almost like starting again. It has positive sides for sure.

Article 2. PHILIPPINES DAILY INQUIRER. The captain of the Greenpeace ship is a woman

Jill Tan Radovan of Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote this story and took this photo, which appeared on 25 March 2018.

"Films and literature tell us one thing about ship captains: The captain is almost always a man. The captain in “Titanic” was a man. Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” is male; Captain Hook, too, menacing with a mean mustache at that. Reality, however, can opt otherwise.
Hettie Geenen, captain of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, is a woman. She leads a team of 16 dedicated crew members, sailing around the world and fighting for climate justice. Hettie has been sailing since she was 13 years old. She joined Greenpeace in 1999 as Third Mate, and her first voyage on the Rainbow Warrior brought her to Manila.


She recalls a distinct but sad memory from that trip.“Here we met a girl who lived in Clark Air Base. She was sick; sick because they had to leave their home after the eruption of a volcano. They moved to the former US airbase but the soil and water there was contaminated. Lots of the children became sick and the women had miscarriages. This girl had leukemia, and had one last dream—to visit the Rainbow Warrior,” said Geenen in a media conference during the Rainbow Warrior’s recent voyage to Manila.
“After a protest at the US Embassy, we invited these children and their mothers to the ship. The captain at that time sailed in a rip around the harbor with the children. She was at the helm. He let her drive. She had a huge smile on her face.”The child passed on an hour after, at only 6 years old. Geenen continues, “After this I was convinced; this is the job I want to do. I want to be part of this platform, giving people a voice. Someone needs to speak up. We need to do something.”
After almost 20 years, Geenen, now the Rainbow Warrior’s captain, still feels the same, and is ever as passionate about Greenpeace’s fight for climate justice. She admits that being a woman in a job dominated by men has both its ups and downs.


“They look at you more critically. Probably if I make a mistake, it will be perceived differently. On the other hand, it helps. People look twice just because it’s not something that you see a lot.”
“What I see now, when authorities from the Philippines come onboard, they ask for the captain. And then I apologize and say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m the captain.’ They are all very humbled and say, ‘I’m really sorry, but we didn’t expect a woman.’”
Does she think women are vulnerable, and does she feel vulnerable as a woman? “It depends. I cannot say that women are not. I have never felt vulnerable, but I come from another country. So I cannot say… on the ship, in the lifeboats, the priority is still the women and the children.”


“I think it’s important that women don’t separate so much. We need to move together, men and women. You can separate at first but you need to connect and be equals.”“I think it’s time we equalize so that we have more women in certain positions. Women do things differently; not necessarily better, but differently. At the moment we have mostly men in power, and I think it should be more equal.”
For her, there is one aspect of one’s character necessary if you want to pursue a life at sea.“You need to be able to live in a closed space with a lot of people, without the ones you want—you don’t choose. You have to respect and accept everybody.”


Geenen has moved from Third Mate to Second Mate, and then to Chief Mate, before finally being appointed as the captain of the Rainbow Warrior on International Women’s Day two years ago.“The biggest learning is that we are all obliged to do something. We cannot sit at home and do nothing. It is for our children, and also for the Earth. I think if you do nothing, you are as guilty as those doing things to make the world a worse place to live in.” "

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

WW2: BOAC lady 'seamen' and Poole flying boats

Normally you'd think that chic lady employees of airline operators BOAC in the Second World War would never be blue-sweatered handlers of small boats. Wet ropes, oily hands, Aldis lamps? It sounds more like the work of Boats Crew Wrens servicing warships.

But Dr Nina Baker of the Women's Engineering Society has discovered a crucial image that gives the inklings of another story. In a Glasgow junk shop Nina found this material from The Second War, a popular as-it-happens publication. (The port referred to was surely Poole in Dorset.)

The text reads "Seawomen of B.O.A.C.
British Oversea Airways employed a number of 'women seamen' at the little fishing town which was the Corporation's wartime base. They worked on the launches used to service the four-engined flying-boats coming in from West Africa, Lisbon and America.
"These launches required skillful and delicate handling, especially in bad weather, to get them safely alongside the easily-damaged aircraft. The women, whose ages ranged from twenty-five to thirty-eight were promoted coxswain and placed in charge of launch after they had successfully completed a three-month training in Morse, semaphore and lamp signalling, compass work and general seamanship.
"Duties of women seamen included embarking disembarking passengers, handling the launch while stevedores loaded and unloaded mail and freight, washing down and scrubbing decks, painting and splicing ropes.
"Pictures: Above: a BOAC coxswain signalling to the shore from the flying boat 'Berwick'. Left: Coxswain leaving the 'Berwick' after mooring her."

In over twelve years of writing about women and the sea in wartime I had never come across any such role.


But lo, when I googled I found there was more information about these women, even their names and their usual jobs. It's to be found at the website of the local charity Poole Flying Boats Celebration (Part 19.‘BOAC Staff at Poole: Towards 650+',

It says that
"During WW2 with many of the MCU (Marine Craft Unit] men [who provided the links between moorings and quays] enlisted in the Royal Navy or to serve elsewhere, a significant shortage arose, whereon 18 women were recruited to train as Seamen, at a School set up by BOAC at Poole expressly as replacements!"

The seawomen in training in 1943 included:
1.Mrs Betty Archer (ex-secretary)
2. Eileen Armstrong (nee Wigg) (Rigger)
3. Mrs Elizabeth Bainbridge (widow of an RAF Officer)
4. Miss Pamela Bate (ex-secretary)
5. Miss V Bates
6. Miss Nora V Bevis (pre-war she raced yachts and by 1947 was last woman coxswain 1st at Poole)
7. Mrs Minna Ann Hansford (lived on a house boat with her husband pre-war)
8. Mary Hill
9. Mrs Pamela Nisbet (former model, also studying for her Yacht Masters Coastal Cert.)
10. Bunny Reece
11. Isobel Rickard
12. Miss Lynette Rowland (ex-commercial artist)

The women's tasks are outlined, and some of the women above are photographed in Fabulous Flying Boats: A History of the World's Passenger Flying Boats, by Leslie Dawson, p100,

Coastal women everywhere in the UK were no strangers to handling small boats. Poole's Royal Motor Yacht Club's online history shows pioneer racing driver Dorothy Levitt (1882-1922) on her launch in 1903:


Serendipity today played another part in life. As I was reading Forces Sweetheart Vera Lynn's autobiography Some Sunny Day I found that she had sailed by Sunderland flying boat from 'somewhere on the coast' when she went off to sing in Burma on 23 March 1944. Soon after midnight she and her accompanist took off.
"It was my first ever fight and I didn't enjoy it. I was airsick the whole time long hours" to Gibraltar. Very nervous (she'd only left Britain once before) it seems she failed to notice that the crew on the little boat taking her to her flying boat were women.

A picture on the Poole Flying Boats website (page 9) shows BOAC seawoman Mollie Skinner (later Mollie Harman) escorting singer George Formby and Beryl, his wife, to their flying boat. In their ENSA khaki greatcoats they they too were going out to entertain the troops.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Navy woman first-time voter in 1918. Helen Beale's story

Helen Beale, centre

Helen Beale (1885-1972) was one of the Royal Navy women allowed the vote for the first time in 1918. This important figure in Women's Royal Naval Service history was over 30, therefore she was eligible to have her civic say.
A hundred years ago this month it was an exciting time for her. Helen enrolled into the brand new WRNS on 28 January 1918, age 32. She was one of the first tranche; it had only just begun.
Then, only nine days later, she got the vote, along with possibly a thousand other Wrens.

Many Wrens did not qualify because they were were too young,or not property holders or graduates.
For example, Vera Laughton Mathews (pictured right), a WW1 counterpart of Miss Beale, was a suffragette.
Vera became Director WRNS in WW2 and remembered that 'when the first limited measure of franchise to women was passed on February 6th, 1918, I was extremely annoyed to find myself excluded,'(Blue Tapestry, p29).
Age 29, Vera was just seven months too young, having been born on 25 September 1888. Also she did not have the requisite property qualification, nor a degree.
Vera, like most women, had to wait until the 1928 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed.

The letter (pictured above) about Miss Beale's status as voter is part of the new National Trust exhibition about her.
The exhibition is on display at her family home of Standen, near East Grinstead in West Sussex.

Helen (pictured right) is significant in the story of women's naval life because not only was she Divisional Director at Devonport, and therefore one of the nations' six regional on-the-spot organisers of the WRNS.
(She attained the post just seven days before the Armistice, 4 November 1918 and carrying on until the very last: 11 November 1919.)
Miss Beale was also one of the very best writers in the entire service.
Her records, and her letters to WRNS Director Dame Katharine Furse (pictured left, below) are vivid and invaluable evidence about the teething problems of being a women's auxiliary service. The WRNS was hurriedly created mid war and worked round the traditional, male and sometimes misogynist permanent service.
Helen and Katharine had been together in the VAD before the WRNS began. This shared history, and having transitioned to the WRNS together, enabled them to write very frankly to each other.
They may also have felt a subtler affinity too, as they both shared the same tall, angular body type and authoritative style.

The exhibition, Helen Beale - Never at Sea, opens on Saturday 28 April and continues until Sunday 11 Nov 2018.

~ Helen Beale's file can be digitally viewed via the National Archives (TNA ADM 318/21) if you pay £3.50.
~ Her letters and reports can be seen at the archive of the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Modern women in maritime industry: UNCTAD report's revelations

The Review of Maritime Transport 2017 reveals the outcomes of two online surveys in 2014-15 and two focus groups in Cebu with Filipina cruise ship workers. Published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD) International Business the report is available in full, free via:

This is a new report, with a sub-chapter on gender issues which includes information on the position of women in the maritime industry, world wide. I've extracted the key parts and reprinted them below. I've inserted my own paragraph breaks, topic headings and graphics in the report here, to enable easier reading. (That's why the lines are of uneven length.)

Part of Introduction, re onshore jobs:

'The shipping business – both offshore and onshore –
is traditionally a male-dominated sector. At sea, 1 per
cent of seafarers are women. Onshore, women hold
55 per cent of global maritime junior-level positions,
compared with 9 per cent of executive-level positions.

By promoting the employment of women, maritime
businesses may not only help overcome shortages in
labour supply, but may also contribute to achieving key
Sustainable Development Goals.' [p11]

Gender issues: Assessing gender aspects in shipping. pp.36-37


In shipping, men make up the majority of the workforce.
In 2015, out of the estimated 1,647,500 seafarers in
marine operation roles employed in the global merchant
fleet, about 16,500 seafarers, or 1 per cent, were women
(Baltic and International Maritime Council, 2015).

In particular, 0.4  per cent of ratings and rating trainees,
0.7  per cent of officers and 6.9  per cent of officer
trainees were women. The latter number suggests a
likely increase in the number of women seafarers.

A survey conducted in 2016 by the Maritime HR
Association indicates that the share of women in global
onshore maritime employment strongly depends on the
level of hierarchy.

The share is largest in administrative
positions (74 per cent of the provided data) and balanced
in junior positions (55 per cent).

The share decreases with regard to senior positions: Women occupy
37 per cent of professional-level positions and 17 per cent of
manager-level positions. At the director level, 12  per
cent of positions are filled by women, compared with
9 per cent at the executive level.

Women were most likely to be found in corporate support
roles such as in human resources and finance. They
were least likely to hold positions in ship management
(9 per cent) (HR Consulting, 2016).

A similar trend can be seen in national shipowner associations. For example,
the International Chamber of Shipping found that only
6  per cent of national board members were women,
30 per cent at director or policymaking level and 86 per
cent at support level (Orsel and Vaughan, 2015).

Combined with other factors, the lack of women in
senior positions translates into a gender pay gap. While
no global data are available, in the United Kingdom,
there is a national average gender pay gap of 19 per

In comparison, the difference between the mean
hourly rate of men and women employees in the
maritime sector is significantly higher and translates to
39 per cent across the 26,000 employees covered by a
survey of the Maritime HR Association (HR Consulting,2017).

When comparing pay by gender within job
levels, the pay gap was at 8 per cent at the junior or
professional level, increasing with seniority (Spinnaker
Global, 2017).
Another dimension to be considered in this area are
health-related issues. Owing to concerns that medical
handbooks aimed at women seafarers might not take
a gendered approach to health or might be outdated,
the International Maritime Health Association and its
partners conducted a survey on the health and welfare
needs of women seafarers.

According to the survey,the main health challenges were joint and back pain
(particularly on passenger ships in catering and room
services, less so on cargo ships), stress, depression,
anxiety, obesity and heavy or painful menstrual periods.

Some 55 per cent of the respondents linked their health
problems to working conditions. About 40  per cent
did not have access to a sanitary bin and 17 per cent
considered sexual harassment to be a current challenge.

In an earlier pilot survey when the question was not
restricted to current experiences, 50  per cent stated
that sexual harassment was a problem (International
Maritime Health Association et al., 2015). [ends page 36]

Based on a shortage in the supply of officers and the need to
guarantee equal opportunity for all genders, Governments
and industry should take measures to facilitate the uptake
of women in shipping, ensure equal pay and improve
retention rates.

It is expected that the estimated shortage
of 16,500 officers in 2015 will grow to 147,500 by 2025
(Baltic and International Maritime Council, 2015).


~ Public and private sector initiatives can include targeted recruitment,
support for employees with caring responsibilities (such
as work arrangements to switch between vessel-based
and shore-based positions), unconscious bias awareness
training, mentoring, internal networks, talent pipelines and
consistency in salary decisions (HR Consulting, 2017).

~ Given the scarce data available on the topic, further
research should be conducted to tailor instruments to
the needs as fittingly as possible (Women’s International
Shipping and Trading Association, 2015). Organizations
working on the issue should exchange information and
collaborate to use resources as effectively as possible and
raise awareness in industry and politics.

~ To improve the working and living conditions of women
aboard shipping vessels, simple and low-cost interventions
can help substantially. The production and distribution of
gender-specific information on the aforementioned health
problems can support their mitigation.

~ A diversity charter signed by shipping companies and seafarer organizations
can support the change of corporate cultures. Prevention
and investigation of cases of sexual harassment and
bullying aboard should be standard policy.

~ Solutions for the disposal of sanitary waste on all ships and availability of
women-specific products in port shops and welfare centres
should be ensured (ILO, 2016; International Maritime
Health Association et al., 2015; Orsel and Vaughan, 2015).

~ Furthermore, gender-blind measures such as rejoining and
long-service incentives, an open-door policy in company
culture, better accommodation aboard and facilitated
communication between seafarers and their families
can help improve retention rates (Women’s International
Shipping and Trading Association, 2015).'[ends p37, and ends this section of women.]

The above report also ties in with a report, Women Seafarers’ Health and Welfare Survey. This 22-page report with useful coloured charts is a joint initiative of the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA), International Seafarers’ Welfareand Assistance Network (ISWAN),International Transport Workers’Federation (ITF) and Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS)