Thursday, 30 September 2010

Women Captains

An interesting blog has just appeared on women captains, summarising two who have not appeared on this website. The blog's English is rather hard to read and there are inaccuracies, but it's worth looking at.

1. From 23-29 December 2007 (and maybe still, I'd love to know) the captain and all navigating officers on the container ship Horizon Navigator (28,212 grt) were women. Captain Robin Espinosa, First Mate Sam Pirtle, 2nd Assistant Julie Duchi. (See upper picture). The rest of the 25-strong crew were men.
The gender balance was an accident that surprised Espinosa. It was the first time in 10 years that she had worked in harness with other women officers, let alone women navigators. And women are only 10% of maritime workers, so the rostering fluke was remarkable.

2. And on April 16 2008 the largest livestock-transportation ship in the world was headed by a woman, Laura Pinasko (30). (See lower photo). She worked for Siba Ships on the Stella Deneb, and this was the first ship she had captained.
From Genoa, Laura had been working at sea since 1997, and qualified in 2003. Previously she had been First Lieutenant on the ship, which took livestock from Townsville, Australia to Indonesia and Malaysia. On board this trip were 20,060 head of cattle and 2,564 sheep and goats, which had been brought to the quay by 28 train convoys.
The cargo was worth 11 million US$, which certainly indicates how much her competence was trusted.

3. The blog also mentions 'the first woman merchant captain', Anna Ivanovna Shchetinina, 1908-99. (See her biography on wikipedia). She wasn't the first. Several are slated for that honour.
The most plausible one seems to be Betsy Miller, master of the brig Clitus, in the 1870s.
For a fuller summary see my article in Maritime Heritage, vol 2, no 4, Nov/Dec 1998: "Women Taking the Helm", pp.34-37.

Monday, 6 September 2010

The woman who managed Jacques Cousteau's ship

A new blog tribute to women of the planet has just alerted me to - yet another - unsung woman working at sea: Simone Melchior Cousteau (1919-90. Her biographies show she was not merely a quiet landlubbing lady behind a famous man.
She was: the first woman scuba diver; in effect the bosun - and only woman aboard - a high-profile undersea exploration vessel; a maritime/media business manager. She learnt Japanese at five and was a mother too.
But as with so many wives, the historical record subsumes and naturalises her multi-skills into a story of what inspiring wives and mothers do.
Not only did she raise funding for her explorer husband Jacques-Yves Cousteau. undersea by selling her jewels for fuel for the Calypso, and her fur for a gyroscope.
She also managed after the 40-strong male crew. Her nickname "La Bergere" (the Shepherdess)summarises the way men represented her role. Sonia Paz Pachi Baronvine's blog records:
In 1980, in an interview, a journalist asked him if it was difficult to command the Calypso, Cousteau answered: " Not, if Simone is on board, she is the cook, the mother of thirty sailors, which advises, which finishes the fights, who tells us to shave, which challenges us, which our best critical one, caresses us, the hairdresser on board, our first admirer, who saves the ship of the thunderstorms. It is the smile every morning and the greeting before going to sleep. The Calypso might have lived without me ... but not without Simone " .
But it's a mistake to see this as 'just what good wives do.' Actually she must have learned her expertise in personnel management on ships partly from her father and both grandfathers. They were admirals in the French Navy
In the circumstances, how remarkable is it that - as Sonia Paz Pachi Baronvine points out (in rather unclear English) - with no formal training in navigation Simone steered the ship in an eight-hour storm while the divers were in the sea. She saved the converted minesweeper.
Her achievements were, of course, enabled by her being an elite white person. But she was happiest out of camera range, whalewatching up in the crow's nest.

Encountering a mermaid

Ancient seafarers' use of manatees and dugongs has always interested me. Calling them mermaids seemed like a post-event narrative means by which lonely men naturalised having sex with animals. I imagined it as being rather akin to farm lads using sheep, but far more myth-shrouded, and involving much unconscious self-deception.

No records of mermaid sightings - and they are always serious and respectful - refers to intercourse. But this week Spoof Times has come up with an absolutely plausible and courtly account by an invented captain.

'Francois du Pragu's' elegantly written 'diary' recounts that following a 60-day voyage, his crew found a 'behemoth' just off the coast of Florida. He had it brought to his cabin. Then, supping wine as the ship rocked quietly at anchor in the moonlight, adorned his guest in his sister's frock and ...

'Henceforth I thought of it as a beast no more. I imagined the thing before me was in fact a stranger, simply a person from another land. People from this land favor a prostrate position rather than to sit or stand, I decided.
'They also do not appear as myself or anyone whom I know. The language of this person was unknown to me; however, we understood each other through instinct. Lastly, I decided that this stranger whom I was receiving in my quarters was, in fact, a lady...
'The creaking of the ship's timbers began to evoke a strange sonata in my head. I slid to the floor... As I neared, her eyes looked into mine once...then again...and then once more! Mine own eyes were wild with exultation.
'Finally, my will overcame my cowardice and I addressed her, my voice cracking and affected with emotion, "Do you wish to possess my love this night, my lady?"....

For more see 'Lost Sea Captain's Diary Tells of Encounter with 'Mermaid',by Peter_Otool at