Towards the end of Picton Castle’s most recent world circumnavigation voyage, the ship’s eighth time around the world, the ship sailed into Bermuda on the way to Nova Scotia, as we usually do. The chief mate was Erin Grieg of both Canada and Bermuda. Bermuda. Bermuda is an island so linked to the sea and seafaring, they were very proud of one of their own sailing in as Chief Mate of a Class A Tall Ship. Erin had already broken the glass ceiling in Bermuda, becoming the first woman in the country to earn a certificate as Officer of the Watch. You can read more about that accomplishment here: https://www.royalgazette.com/news/article/20171101/greig-first-bermudian-woman-to-be-navigator/. On this voyage, the media stories noted that she had became only the second woman to sail around the world in a square rigger as chief mate. The first woman to sail in such a position in such a ship was also in Picton Castle some years before.
In 2005 I signed aboard Picton Castle as a trainee on the ship’s fourth world circumnavigation. Our chief mate for that voyage was Samantha Heyman. She soon became one of my mentors. I had zero sailing experience at the time and Sam taught me and the rest of the crew so much about the basics of seamanship and life on board, giving us all a solid foundation that we could build on, still with her help and guidance, throughout the rest of the voyage. As a young trainee I appreciated having someone to look up to who I could identify with. It was only later that I learned that Sam was the highest ranking woman to ever sail around the world in a square rigger, the first time a woman had made that voyage as a chief mate.
I know that the maritime industry is a male-dominated industry, but I am quite surprised to learn just how few women go to sea for a living. Of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers, only 2% are women (source: https://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/TechnicalCooperation/Pages/WomenInMaritime.aspx). Of those 2%, 94% work in the cruise ship industry. 2% is a very small portion. In our little corner of the maritime industry, the sail training and tall ships industry, there are significantly more women than the general industry average. During the 15 or so years I’ve been involved with sail training, I have seen an increasing number of women not only working in the industry, but in senior or management positions. Picton Castle routinely has women mates, lead seamen and engineers. This is a step in the right direction, but clearly there’s still a long way to go.
To any women who are considering going to sea, go for it! Don’t let the statistics put you off. Sign aboard a ship, find a mentor, keep pushing, and know that you can accomplish anything you work for.