Monday 13 July 2015

US's first cruise ship captain, Kate McCue

One of the best things about exploring mountains of information about the way women have progressed in maritime history is that I know when feats are mega-feats, par-for-the-course, or odd. Comparisons can be illuminating.

So when today Celebrity Cruises announced their first woman captain, Kate McCue, it's very interesting to see where she fits in two contexts: women cruise ship captains all over the world, and US women captains.

(This information is extracted from my forthcoming history of women at sea:
From Cabin 'Boys' to Captains. It's being published by the History Press, April 2016. There's a whole chapter on women breaking through into deck work, including the first women captains.)

Kate McCue is one of several illustrious women who have finally been allowed to captain huge cruise ships, since 2003. Some cruise ships captained by women are twice the size of hers; many go worldwide, not only the US's east coast, as she will be doing.
She is the successor of women masters who began sailing in the 1830s. Women really broke through in the 1930s in a small way, and then more routinely from the 1970s following anti-discrimination legislation.
The US Navy has been allowing women in command (of small warships) for a decade, so Captain McCue's feat is surprisingly late in US history. However, she has risen to this height relatively quickly, after only fifteen years.

The breakthroughs on cruise ships
2003: Inger Klein Olsen became staff captain on the Seabourn Pride, then took command of the Queen Victoria in 2010, Cunard’s first woman captain.
2007: Karin Stahre Janson (pictured) became Royal Caribbean International’s first woman captain on the Monarch of the Seas and the first woman to command a major cruise ship.
2008: Lis Lauritzen became relief captain on RCI’s Jewel of the Seas followed by command of the Vision of the Seas in 2011.
2010: Sarah Breton became captain on P&O Cruises’ Artemis, followed by command of P&O Cruises Australia’s Pacific Pearl in 2011.
2015: Kate McCue becomes Celebrity Cruises' first woman cruise ship captain, on the Celebrity Summit.

Earlier US women captains
US women were captains from 1887. They included Philomène Daniels, ’the first female steamship captain’ (pictured below) Mary M Miller, and Mary W Coons.
Lots of 'firsts' were claimed, in women's maritime history, I've found. Maybe communications weren't good enough to allow for checking and corroboration.
Possibly the first certificated US captain was was Ivy Wambolt (1910-1976)
Captain Ivy commented to a newspaper that ‘It was natural for me to go to sea … my father and my brothers all went … Following the sea is much more exciting than sitting at a pokey old desk. I get to go places, see things, and know that my ship is my own … I don’t see how it is unusual for a girl to be a captain. It happens to be my job.’
Ivy was followed by Molly Kool in 1939.

Worldwide pioneering woman captains

Worldwide, women have been captains since at least the 1830s. Some weren't certified, because formal qualifications, rather than experience, weren't initially required. The first woman captain on record in Western history is Betsy Miller,(1792-1864). Master of the Cloetus or Cletis, a 197-ton brig taking timber from Ardossan to Belfast, Dublin and Cork, she was from Saltcoats, Ayrshire, in Scotland.
Women in the early days, and they were rare, almost always rose to these heights because their family owned ships and had trained the woman to handle them. The women were known and trusted, and didn't initially do very long voyages.
They often got their opportunity because there was no-one else to help out in a crisis that would otherwise have ruined the family business.

Best person for the job

So Captain McCue is part of a new pattern: women who get their job on merit alone, because they are the best person for the job.
Her story, as it appears in US newspapers this morning, is below:

"MIAMI, July 13, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- For the first time in the cruise industry – and in Celebrity Cruises' history – an American female will take the helm of a mega-ton cruise ship. At 37 years of age, San Francisco native Kate McCue will command Celebrity Summit– a 91,000-ton, 965-foot ship in the Celebrity Cruises fleet, sailing between the eastern United States and Bermuda. As Captain, she will be responsible for the safe navigation of the ship and the onboard experience of its 2,158 guests and 952 crew members.

Career path

"The modern luxury cruise brand, which operates a fleet of 10 ships, has elevated McCue to the position of Captain based on her 15 years of successful experience and leadership in the maritime industry.
"During her tenure, McCue has managed ship logistics while sailing worldwide itineraries, including Europe, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and along the Panama Canal.
"Captain McCue has also served as a maritime leader while sailing several transatlantic and repositioning cruises, and played a notable role in the revitalization of ships in Singapore.
"A graduate of California State University's California Maritime Academy, Captain McCue has held a variety of roles in the maritime industry, beginning as a cadet and deck officer, then working through a series of successively more responsible positions to her most recent role as Master Mariner with Royal Caribbean International.
"McCue has earned numerous certifications in a variety of areas pertaining to leadership navigation, ship management and security.

Leading women in Celebrity Cruises
"Continuing Celebrity Cruises' dedication to advancing the role of women in leadership, Kate McCue's appointment follows that of Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, who was named President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises in December 2014.
"From the first time I met Kate, I looked forward to this moment, when I could extend my congratulations to her for being such a dynamic and highly respected leader who will continue to pave the way for women in the maritime industry," said Lutoff-Perlo.
"Of all the great moments throughout my career, this is at the top of my list. I am both honored that Kate accepted this position, and proud of the way our team continues to transform the way people think about Celebrity, and about cruising in general."

How Kate McCue sees it:

"Becoming the first female American captain of a cruise ship has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember," says McCue. "The honor is amplified by being the first at a company like Celebrity Cruises.
"The cruise industry is ever-evolving, from the ships and the itineraries, to our guests' expectations for vacation experiences. Celebrity has a history of delivering on each of these and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
"I look forward to working with an amazing team and the exceptional leadership who bring the Celebrity Cruises vision to life every day."

McCue will begin her new role on Celebrity Summit in August 2015.

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