All ships need assistance coming into ports. Local pilots bring boats in as they have specialist knowledge in areas such as port movements, tidal streams, how wind affects certain areas, the use of tug suits to help the ships come along side. Pilots go onboard ships to assist the bridge team and make sure that the ship is docked safely.
Rachel is a dedicated Admiralty pilot at Portsmouth Naval Base in the UK and is the first woman in the country to hold such a role. She was recently awarded the Victoria Drummond award for boosting the profile of women at sea.
We were eager to chat to Rachel to find out how tough the job was and how she had coped being a woman in a very male dominated world.
Rachel explained that the captain of the ship is always in control as the ship is their responsibility. Rachel travels out to sea on a small boat and clambers onboard the larger vessel up the pilot’s ladder. There is huge teamwork involved to get onboard safely. Rachel offers advice in what to expect and the captain listens and works on what the admiralty pilot has to say.
Rachel has always been a female in a very male dominated world, so she does not know any different. But things do get easier as you build relationships up with the crews over time. Rachel has a fantastic outlook on life. She feels that perhaps the captain has a more difficult job as she may be an unknown quantity who turns up, they may not know her background and they have to trust Rachel. They have to listen to her advice… maybe that is more daunting? The tasks are not strange or unusual for Rachel, as she knows she can do her job. It’s what she has trained for. If others do not like the situation it is not Rachel’s problem … it’s theirs and they have to listen to Rachel.
This is a very interesting way of looking at the world and good for your own mental health and resilience. Rachel accepts herself for who she is. It’s about not imagining a problem that may not exist. There is not a problem as far as Rachel is concerned, Rachel is there, doing her job. Invariably once you have completed the piloting, others realise that you can do it and are more than happy to accept you later on when they return or sail again.
Rachel started her career at 18yrs old, on a course for radio, deck and engineering officers. She found the deck side very interesting so was determined to get onto an apprenticeship scheme. She spent 3 yrs on the apprenticeship, then 9 yrs as a third mate until she got her masters certificate. After getting married Rachel worked as a Captain on ferries for a few years whilst bringing up 3 children. Then she applied for the Admiralty Pilot post and has loved doing this for the last 7 yrs.
The number of women involved in this type of work has increased as time goes on but in her early years as a cadet Rachel only sailed with one other female. Rachel was the first female captain on the ferries. At the admiralty she was again the first women that they had employed there, now other females have followed in her footsteps. Rachel is proud that she was the first female, but it is what she wants to do and the fact that she is female doesn’t really come into it for her. She got the job because she was the best person for the job, she did not get the job because she was female.
There are lots of people that find themselves in that first position, whether it be gender, orientation or whatever, the same thing applies. You do have to work harder – but once you have gained respect, being different allows you to stand out and be more appreciated and noticeable.
Woman at sea bring a different perspective to the bridge team, they have a different mentality and often approach things differently to get the same result. Rachel’s training helps her deal with the complexity of moving ships around the docks and dealing with the ever changing weather, making sure you are ready for every eventuality.
The Victoria Drummond award was very special for Rachel. Victoria Drummond MBE(1894–1978), was the first woman marine engineer in Britain and first woman member of The Institute of Marine Engineers. During World War II she served at sea as an engineering officer in the British Merchant Navy and received awards for bravery under enemy fire. As a result of her dedication and perseverance Victoria opened up the world for other woman to go to sea. An amazing achievement for Rachel, given out only every 4 yrs.
Rachel loves her job and the people she works with, every single day is different. The harbour is very busy at the moment with a lot of dredging going on. It is being deepened and widening in preparation for the Queen Elizabeth coming in later in the year. She has no regrets going into the Navy, her advice if you are interested in joining….
“Go for it, whether you are male or female, if you are dedicated, you will do it”