How Men’s Work Made Me A Better Woman
I learned it wasn’t more muscle I needed, but more technique
I’m a petite woman. I come in at just around 5 feet, 6 inches tall with boots on and have never weighed more than 115 pounds, soaking wet. I went to college for writing and communication studies, so you can imagine how pale and frail I was coming out of there with my degree in hand (that certificate sure was heavy for me!).
And then, right after graduation, I took up a training program to work on tall ships—think of the big sailing ships from Pirates of the Caribbean movies (the boat I trained on was actually in the first of those films). Over two weeks, I learned how to handle ropes, furl sails, and sand any and all types of salt-worn wood you could imagine. I learned about maritime history and trade while corralling kids to teach them the same things I had been taught just hours earlier.
The crew of that first ship hated me. To them, I was an irredeemable city girl with an attitude and less muscle than a towel. Behind my back, just a week in, one of the crew members called me a burden, making sure to be just loud enough so I could hear him. It shattered me. I spent the last few days of my training hiding in storage cubbies, crying and wishing I could rewind time so I was back home writing essays.
But after my two weeks was up and I was free to go back home, something felt different. I had this spark, and I couldn’t stand the thought of being back in my bedroom letting my leathery callused hands become soft and pink and fragile again. I called up the other ship in the company’s two-boat fleet and jumped on board, this time determined to prove to its crew that I wasn’t some weak city girl—and definitely not a burden.
Work aboard tall ships and fishing vessels has, until very recently, been strictly a man’s line of work. Historically, women on board a boat were seen as seriously bad luck, and some captains still think that. Veterans and other military personnel are nearly 85 percent male across the board; although Team Rubicon, a veteran and civilian disaster relief organization where I also worked for a time, boasts a higher percentage of women than that. I’ve also done groundskeeping and electrical work, and both of those groups would have been 100 percent…