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.