Sophie Bavière, French and 37 years old.
Why did you choose this line of work?
I first studied 6 years of architecture in Paris after high school. It was my dream job since I was 13 years old. One summer I participated in the tall ships races on a big wooden sailing vessel from the French navy and a whole new world opened to me. I did have a little bit of sailing knowledge but it was very different when at sea, in watches and with a full crew!. I loved it and decided to join the Navy as reservist and join the races again the next summer. At the end of my studies, I did a gap year in the navy on these sail training vessels and had my first double crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean. It was a great experiences and made a lot of life time friends. I joined Dutch tall ships as deckhand and later decided to go to maritime school in the Netherlands, where I could specialise myself in square riggers and traditional sailing vessels. At the same time I combined both my architecture and sailing passions and god my degree in naval architecture. For over 10 years I was sailing more than 10 month at sea gradually going from deck hand to chief officer. Sail training was a passion and teaching young people how to grow and discover themselves while learning how to set sails, climb 40m high masts and sail around the world without digital connection gave me a lot of sense. I loved what I was doing and teaching. I decided to pursue in this activity because I felt I could be my best self and that made me very happy!
Since three years I am now chief officer on a cargo ship, mainly sailing in the Baltic and North Sea, giving me more time at home and more coastal sailing to stay in touch with my friends and family.
What is the best and what is the worst with this line of profession?
The best is probably having a 1:1 rotation which means I am 2 months at sea and two month home where I can plan whatever I want and have lots of other projects like upcycling old sailcloth into bags I sell. I like that you have fixed colleagues that become like family onboard and that I used to meet a lot of people and sail to some of the most beautiful and remote places on earth: Antarctica, South America, South Africa, Caribbean… Now I have less time ashore but more time for myself too. It is hard work but well deserved rest after.
The worst is probably that I never enjoy saying goodbye: good bye to my family or to my colleagues. And that I miss quite a few events at home when I am not there. This probably also makes it more difficult as a woman to settle and have a family of my own.
Tell us a Memory
There are lots of great memories on ships! they often involve a lot of fun such as swim calls in the middle of the ocean in doldrums and calm waters. But heavy weather and physical activities are the ones that make me the most proud: with all hands on deck, furling square sails in the middle of the night in a storm, climbing up the mast with over 50 knots of wind and working with the rest of the crew to handle the sails and maneuver. Or furling jibs in the bowsprit with the bosun when waves come up to your knees in the water then coming back safely on deck and expressing your joy and power with a huge high 5 and lots of laughs! But there are of course more memories with pitch black nights full of shiny stars, singing, maintenance, long days and hard work!
Advice for women who want to work at sea?
Just keep on going! It is hard work in a man's world. Be focused, respect people, be interested and curious, show you want to learn and show you can! Be consistent and most of all, be yourself! Yes you can!
Anything else you would like to add?
Despite what can be said, women bring good positivity in all fields of the shipping industry! Never be shy to show you are also capable, there is a spot for all of us when we share knowledge! Take care of the ship and the crew and they will take care of you right?