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It’s About Safety

May 1, 2013

Inspired by a recent post by Enchanted Seashells called “Chicks on Tugs – Part One” I thought I’d elaborate on my reply to her post.

How have I handled knowing there are females on board? I will admit it hasn’t always been easy. I don’t think I’ve ever wondered about the Chief’s devotion to our marriage but I know having a female on board just changes things. How do I know this? I sailed with him.

1. No longer could the guys just leave the door to the head (bathroom, for you landlubbers) open. It was located in the passageway to the outside and you never knew when I might walk through.

2. No longer could off-color jokes be told freely. It was a really awkward moment when I arrived to the officer’s mess a few minutes late, apparently interrupting the captain’s monologue. I left to go get my food, heard muffled fast talking and then laughter–which immediately died when I came back in. The Chief (then a 3rd) whispered, “Captain told a joke not for your ears.”

3. No longer could they belch or do any other manly thing with out a quick, “Ooops, sorry. Didn’t see you. Excuse me.”

I don’t know but forcing them to be on their best behaviors for a week was tough.

4. The whole officer-crew things made for a few awkward moments. Etiquette determines who has to be introduced to whom. It was not necessary for the Chief to introduce me to crew. I was introduced to every officer, the Bo’sun (highest ranking crew), the Steward, the Messman, and the Utility. The last three were going to be providing me food and clean towels. If an AB (Able-bodied) particularly impressed the Chief I was introduced to him. So I’m on board for two days and I’m out on the wing sunbathing but in order to get there I have to go up a few decks, etc. I pass crew on the way out. The sailor goes on to the bridge and says to the Chief’s watch partner “Man, I thought I just saw a woman on board!” I don’t know how he kept a straight face but he responded, “Yeah, that’s the 3rd’s wife. She’s been on board for two days.”

So have there been problems of an amorous nature? Yeah a few. So far only one involved me directly. The Chief had a watch partner with the same name as myself. (If you don’t know, watch partners are 1 engineer and 1 deckie that work the same shift, usually the same rank or equivalent.) At this time she had a fiance but she was a friendly gal. One of the Chief’s higher-ups was recently single. He enjoyed the attention. Perhaps a little too much. When she rotated off ship I believe he “kept in touch” but the feelings were not reciprocated. Some times you have to call the ship to talk about a project either left for your replacement or one coming up. This gal called a few times. I called a few times. This was back in the day when I had better luck getting the Chief on the ship’s phone than on his cell phone. I would call the control room, identify myself with my first name and ask for the Chief by his rank and last name. So the Chief and this other officer are in the control room and the Chief is handed the phone with a “It’s Snipewife for you.” Before the Chief can even say a word to me, the other officer was like “Why is Snipewife calling you?” The Chief just looked at him and said, “Dude, you mean my WIFE Snipewife?” Not good. Thankfully the situation fizzled. She married her fiance and the officer cooled his jets.

Do I mind women on board? Again, it doesn’t really bother me. The stories are humorous. But what I’m about to say will offend every feminists out there. For a matter of safety I would prefer them not to be. Recently on the Deadliest Catch‘s special on the Time Bandit, while the ship is out of the water for much-needed repairs it meant all hands on deck because the repairs were a huge chunk of money. One of the Hilstrand’s daughter was working on the ship. Her father proudly stated, (very loose paraphrase) “She’s the best deckie there is but she’s no fisherman because, well, she’s a girl.” Couldn’t she be a fisherman? It is back-breaking dangerous work that most men can’t do. But perhaps there is a reason there aren’t women out there (at least not on any ships featured on DC at this time).

The Chief’s job is a little less back-breaking. Why wouldn’t I want a woman out there? Because in the event of an accident, fire, explosion … the fire trucks aren’t coming. I have often wondered why the physical requirements for women are different. Does the fire fighting gear suddenly and magically weigh less just because it is on a woman? No–you still have to be able to carry 40 lbs. of gear and the injured crewmate to safety. I do believe in an emergency I could go all Hulk and use the adrenalin to save my children and my husband–but I’m invested in them. I struggle to press 80% of my weight–how am I going to haul myself, 40 lbs. of gear, and my crewmate who is 130% of my bodyweight out to safety? This is not to say I think every man is capable of doing this just because he IS male. I just don’t like the risks. Female police officers generally call for back-up. Female firefighters and soldiers are usually not alone. In the middle of the ocean it is only you, your crew, and the ocean. And I want the Chief to come home. You may be the best engineer, top of your class, out there, but if you are not physically capable of doing the job to the same set of physical requirements, you shouldn’t be there. (I would also add that some old-timers who aren’t up to par physically shouldn’t be out there either!)

I am a product of the Barbie “I can be anything” generation–I’ve never really seen discrimination based on my gender, never been told “You can’t be that.” I’m running a troop with materials that have a definite agenda but I still tell them that “I may, with all my being want to be a professional basketball player, but let’s just face it–even with 24-7 practice and conditioning, it isn’t going to happen. I may want to be an accountant–but no amount of classes is going to help me understand math any better so that won’t happen either. Be realistic in your choices in this day and age where, yes, if you have the ability, you can be anything you want to be.”

And this is really hard to write because I do think there are inspiring women out there who sail. Captain Deborah Doanne Dempsey is one and her story is fascinating. I think I would add to my own daughters and my scouts to think about this: just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should especially if it is not in the best interest of those around you.

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One comment

  1. This was an excellent perspective about women on ships. I’ve spent a night or two on one of hub’s tugs when he was offshore around Santa Barbara. As the wife, I was treated like a princess (haha), the cook made special food for me, baked a cake, and it was a really nice time. I’m 1000% sure that’s not how they treat female crew. Everyone is thrown into a tizzy in those close quarters. (Capt had a huge stateroom on this tug. Better than some hotels!) I’m not very woman’s libby about things like this, I’m a bit old fashioned and also don’t understand why they have different criteria. If I ever found out hubs was injured due to a scenario like you wrote about, I’d own the company when I was through with them. Right now he’s just dealing with some bitter guys who are jealous of him which is also dangerous cos they’re not doing their job.



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