I have been dreaming of sailing the Seven Seas for a long time. With my high school diploma in my pocket and after spending six amazing months traveling through Central America it was time to put my plan into action. I registered myself at the Netherlands Maritime Academy in Rotterdam to become a ‘Maritime Officer’. Back in the days there were separate educations for becoming a deck officer or a marine engineer that both lasted 4 years. Nowadays this is still the case in many countries. By the time I applied they combined the two studies into a four years program. This meant a lot of different subjects and a lot of studying. I had no technical background whatsoever and I was not very good at mathematics and physics. Therefore, I started at MBO level at the Shipping and Transport College, which is more practical oriented. The first year was a success. I liked the study and wanted to know how life onboard would be. I got my first job in the summer where I sailed as an apprentice/OS (Ordinary Seaman) on a RO-RO Ferry between Zeebrugge, Belgium and Göteborg, Sweden for 4 weeks.
After my first practical experience onboard I decided to follow an extra physics course. I passed the test and got accepted at the HBO level of Maritime Officer (Bachelor of Science) at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. Luckily for me it was more than mathematics, physics and thermodynamics! The main fields of study were: navigation, navigation instruments and – systems, Regulations of the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, voyage planning, cargo handling technologies, propulsion installations, auxiliary installations, electrical installations, automation, communication skills, maritime English and project management.
The study also included but was not limited to the following courses: basic safety training, medical first aid and care, advanced firefighting, security awareness and proficiency in fast rescue boats.
This all sounds very interesting, but I soon found out that this is a job that you particularly learn on board.
For my first internship I spent 178 days onboard a general cargo vessel. I flew from Holland to Japan where I embarked. I sailed to China and South Korea, crossed the Pacific Ocean, passed the Panama Channel to discharge and load various types of cargo in the USA, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela. Fully loaded with iron ore, the ship sailed via the Panama channel, across the Pacific Ocean, back to China where I disembarked in Shanghai. Every month onboard I switched between deck and engine department. Although loading and discharging all those different types of cargo and working with the crew on deck was very interesting, navigating a ship on a Pacific Ocean where you see nothing but water for 30 days in a row was anything but interesting to me. Here is where my interest in engineering started.
I went back to school, chose to do a technical minor, passed a lot of exams and courses and worked for a Dutch gas shipping company where I wrote my bachelor thesis about the technical aspects, costs and legislation of a new way of purging gas tankers. I liked the company and was asked if I wanted to work onboard there. I said: “yes!”
A few months later I travelled to the Dominican Republic for my second and last internship. I spent approximately 3 months onboard a 20-year-old LPG tanker. The ship was sailing between two ports in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. It was a Caribbean dream with a one-month dry dock period in Curaçao as the icing on the cake. I was determined. Being a deck officer is fun…but being an engineer is the real deal! (joking)
After six years of hard work and dedication, exams, trainings, courses and 9 months at sea I graduated in 2017. And with the title ‘Engineer’ in my pocket I started my adventures as one of the two female 3rd Engineers for that same gas shipping company.
Becoming a Marine Engineer was not easy but I did it. I made it. I made mistakes but I learned. I felt but I stood up. I wanted to give up but I didn’t and when I didn’t believe in myself, somebody else did.
I could not have done it without the help of all those amazing teachers, my wonderful colleagues from all over the world, my supportive friends and my loving family. A big thank to all of you.
And for all the non-believers, people who said I should stay at home in the kitchen and to those who believe women don’t belong in an engine room…