Monday 29 August 2016

After that quayside kiss ...

In December 2011 this became the most famous same-sex quayside kiss. (See this blog,
In part the greeting celebrated the lifting of the US military's much criticised Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
The picture became so famous that the couple were invited to San Diego Pride and much featured in the New York media. But they 'didn't want to be poster children for a movement.'

Now a journalist has revisited the couple: former Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta and Lali Snell.
Courtney Mabeus of the Virginian-Pilot has today published this article, 'Whatever happened to couple who had Navy's 1st gay homecoming kiss? The full version can be read here:

Snell said that after the picture was published they 'got some hate mail along with some letters of support, calling the couple inspirational and courageous ... at a visit to a Target store in Virginia Beach ... a family recognized the couple and shook their hands. "It's nice having that positive reinforcement ... It reminds you there's still kindness in the world," she told Courtney.


Both women have left the navy - and each other. It's mainly because of long deployments apart - which are a key problem in almost every naval relationship. They had only a week together in 2011.
Lali said the photo 'added pressure ... "I almost felt we were going to let people down."' They parted in summer 2012.
Marissa is now planning to become a nurse. Lali is studying to become a forensic pathologist. She's engaged to a a male, a former sailor; they have a three-year-old son.


Both women are still in touch and 'speak of each other fondly.... Neither regret that first kiss.
'"I think it was such a big moment in, you know, history for the Navy and for the LGBT community so, I'm OK with it,"' Lali affirmed.'

©2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Monday 22 August 2016

India's first woman captain, Radhika Menon, to get Bravery Award.


On 21 November 2016 Radhika Menon will become the first woman to receive the 2016 International Maritime Organisation Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, it was announced on July 10.Here are some extracts from the internet coverage:

"I am humbled, honoured and grateful. It is a maritime obligation to save souls in distress at sea and, as a seafarer and master in command of my ship, I just did my duty," she said in an email quoted by The Times Of India.


'Born and raised in Kerala’s Kodungallur, Captain Radhika Menon did a one-and-a-half year radio course at the All India Marine College in Kochi before she became a radio officer in the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), which was also a stellar first, as far as the SCI’s track record with women officers goes.
'By 2012, she ascended up the rungs, with persistent studying and clearing of the required exams for the posts of second mate and chief mate, served out her hours at sea required to appear for the master’s certificate, which she cleared in 2010.
'By 2012, she historically became the first woman captain of the country to take charge of a Merchant Navy ship – the MT Suvarna Swarajya.

'"Captain Menon was nominated by the Government of India for the rescue of all seven fishermen from the fishing boat Durgamma, which was adrift following engine failure and loss of anchor in severe weather," a government of India statement said. Seas were tumultuous in the Bay of Bengal. Food and water had been washed away and the men were surviving on ice from the ship's cold storage.
'"Through wave heights of more than 25 feet, winds of more than 60 knots and heavy rain, on 22 June, the second officer on the Sampurna Swarajya spotted the boat 2.5 kilometres away, off the coast of Gopalpur, Odisha. Captain Menon immediately ordered a rescue operation, utilising the pilot ladder and with life jackets and buoys on standby," it added.
'It took three arduous attempts in the lashing wind and rain and heavy swells before all seven weak and starving fishermen, aged from 15 to 50 years old, were brought to safety on board the ship.'
The IMO is the UN agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. It has long had an excellent record in combating gender discrimination. When the IMO Council met last month in London it endorsed the judges' decision that Captain Menon displayed 'great determination and courage in leading the difficult rescue operation.'

Knowing something about the (poor) history of UK awards made to maritime women, it seems to me that it is wonderful that Radhika's achievement is being properly recognised. So readily too.
In the past, many women have been brave at sea. For example, they've selflessly given their life jackets to save others' lives, and lost their own life in the process.
Yet few deserving women have been given awards for meritous feats. Sometimes their feats were covered up, as in Wren Audrey Coningham Roche's case in WW2.

It's as if men feared that their own feats bravery would be somehow diminished if it was seen that women could also be brave.

Conversely, also, women were patronisingly feted for their actions, as if it was unusual that women could display any courage at all.

Because women have only recently been allowed to be captains, and only rarely allowed near danger (in the armed forces) there have not yet been many in a position to lead such rescue operations, as Radhika did.

Captain Menon's award really is an important first. I'm sure it will be the first of many to women captains.

Friday 12 August 2016

Janet Taylor, Pioneer of Sea Navigation

On Monday 15 August a new book is published: Mistress of Science — The Story of the Remarkable Janet Taylor, Pioneer of Sea Navigation, by John S Croucher and Rosalind F Croucher, Amberley Publishing, Stroud,

An astronomer and navigation expert Janet Ionn, later Mrs Taylor, (1804-1870) made important contributions to maritime life. But she was cash-strapped at times, died in poverty and was never properly respected by the elite of the British naval world, though others esteemed her innovations and generosity.

Guest contributor John Croucher, one of the authors, reveals the story behind the book:

“My desire to write Janet Ionn Taylor’s story was a deeply personal one. I am her great-great-great-great nephew, descended from Janet’s eldest brother, William Ionn. His grandson emigrated to Australia. His daughter Olive Stella Ionn married Henry Croucher, my father's father.
As a statistician, a Professor at Macquarie University, Sydney, I was intrigued by my super-talented ‘aunt’, and the mathematical ‘gene’ that connected us.
Sydney Ross Croucher, my father had made a few tentative enquiries. That opened up a correspondence with Lieutenant Commander Ken Alger.
Alger had been a teacher of navigation on the very same site that Janet had conducted her Nautical Academy for over thirty years in the middle of the 19th century. Ken’s modest 1982 pamphlet about Janet’s life whetted my appetite to find out more.

What kind of woman runs a London navigation school, has eight children (and three step-children), patents a nautical instrument like these below and swings ships? (Pictured, the compass, octant and binnacle she manufactured.)

What started as, for me, a journey of curiosity resulted in a determination to tell her story. I wanted to fill in a unique, and missing, piece in the history of sea navigation.
Rosalind Croucher, the co-author, my wife, and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Macquarie University, is a legal historian. Her work is in 19th century women’s legal history - and incidentally she is thought to be a descendent of James Cook.
She shared my curiosity and together we sought to recreate the life of Janet for this biography.

Looking for evidence
The story was written by our piecing together all the surviving publicly available historical records. This included things like:
~ correspondence with the Admiralty
~ letters to the Editor of the Nautical Magazine
~ baptism, marriage and death records
~ census records.
Janet also provided considerable insights in her way of thinking – her religious feelings and general philosophy – in the dedications and introductions in her many books.

But the sense of the private person is challenging to find, without the benefit of a personal diary.
A handful of private letters to family were of some assistance, together with the recollections of those close to her. On a rainy March weekend in Brittany, two of my distant cousins, Elizabeth Soulsby and her younger sister Winifred Cameron, brought out a rolled parchment.
Penned by Janet’s youngest brother the year before she died, this document provided many insights into many of his family members. It provided a backbone to support the essential structure of the narrative, particularly of Janet’s early years.
Without a diary the gaps between the events that are publicly recorded had to be filled in. Here we used a process of reconstruction, combining the fragments of surviving records together with deductions based upon the experience of women of her time and place in history to provide the narrative detail.
Throughout the book are also interwoven descriptions of many of the historic happenings of the day and their imagined impact on Janet and her family, given where she lived, and the nature of the events.

Modern links
And then there were the many hours spent with Ron Robinson, master compass adjuster and raconteur extraordinaire, in Hamble. His knowledge and admiration for Janet, his ease with the subject borne of a great mastery, and love of a good conversation enhanced the book we constructed.
It is very sad that Ron passed away on 6 July 2016, missing the fruition of Janet’s story. But his daughter, Jo, his student and business partner, carries on his fine tradition of compass adjusting.


In June 2004, we provided a new headstone for Janet, in her family’s graveyard at the parish church of St Helen Auckland. It had the following inscription:
(Photo courtesy of John Bake)

Within the constraints of a headstone, we sought to give, for posterity, a summation of her life’s work. And together we completed this book in the hope that, in a small way, her extraordinary story may now seen in the light it deserves.”

Editor’s Note
There is also a very interesting article by Rosalind and John, which reveals how much her lower social class and her useful applied theories meant she was less respected than her peer, Mary Somerville. This admiral’s daughter was more famous and feted, but less useful. ‘Mrs Janet Taylor and the Civil List Pension - a claim to recognition by her country’, Women's History Review, 2012 , vol 21, no 2, pp253-80.