Outdoors

Sea Change

Women on the water

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Early in her maritime career, Captain Deborah Dempsey met plenty of people who had a hard time believing she could crew or command a 600-foot ship.

But during her 40-year stint at sea, Dempsey proved her worth time and again, becoming not only the first woman to command a cargo ship on an international voyage, but also the first American woman to achieve the top rank of master mariner, and the first to pilot ships over the notoriously dangerous Columbia River bar.

“I found my way because I ended up finding what I’m passionate about,” Dempsey says. “Once you find that, it doesn’t matter what obstacles are there.”

When the now-retired Dempsey keynotes the YWCA Leadership Power Breakfast Fri., May 19 at the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, fundraiser attendees will find out how her life’s journey led her from the Maine Maritime Academy—where she graduated at the top of the class, natch—to Bellingham, where she was instrumental in launching the Community Boating Center. (If you’re lucky, you’ll also hear about the time she was dropped by a helicopter onto the deck of a powerless ship to keep the vessel from capsizing during a storm.)

Dempsey will also likely touch on the fact that the maritime industry has come a long way, meaning women interested in making careers on the water now have more resources upon which to draw—and less bias about how they’ve chosen to live their lives.

That’s true for Liberty Miller, a Community Boating Center instructor who’s launching the Kulshan Kayak Academy this spring.

“I’ve been working consistently in the maritime industry since 2011, when I joined a conservation vessel in the Mediterranean as a deckhand and ship’s photographer,” Miller says. “Since then, I’ve crewed on numerous boats around the world and have obtained my 100 ton master captains license.

“Despite the common idea of women not being respected or equal in the maritime industry, I’ve never experienced this. I’ve always felt respected by my male coworkers and my male bosses. I walk away at the end of the day just as sweaty and dirty and with my hands just as calloused as they do, and because of that, I’ve always been treated like just one of the guys.”

At Kulshan Kayak, Miller and her crew will focus not only on kayak instruction, but also on sharing the healing power of nature via daytime paddles, overnight camping trips in the San Juan Islands, sunset paddles and more.

“I want to share my passion for the outdoors with others, while teaching them to be safety-conscious paddlers, Miller says. “The ocean is a force to be respected; a force that touches our souls, if we allow it to.”

Reserve tickets to the May 19 YWCA Leadership Breakfast through Wed., May 10 at http://www.ywcabellingham.org; for more details about the Kulshan Kayak Academy, go to http://www.kulshankayak.com

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