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Cruiseship first officer Jennie Doyle's career highlight was sailing in the wake of her Antarctic heroes

6 March 2020

With a father and grandfather in maritime careers, and a childhood spent in shipping museums, first officer Jennie Doyle was bound for an ocean life, although her sailing hobby didn't turn into a career until she was 33. Now she has sailed the infamous Drake's Passage of her Antarctic explorer heroes Shackleton and Scott.

Why did you choose a career at sea?

In the area of Liverpool where grew up, the head teacher told our parents we would never amount to anything. My grandfather was a stoker in the Royal Navy, and my father was at sea as an Electrical Officer. When myself and my brother were born my father had already come ashore and retrained as a physics and maths teacher. Throughout my childhood, however I listened to his stories about great maritime explorers such as Shackleton and Scott and others. I was often taken to Liverpool docks, and spent many hours in shipping museums.

When I was 14, we moved to a little fishing village in North Wales. During that time my dad introduced us to a local sailing club. From then on, each weekend we would go sailing, racing all over the country and in national championships.

When I left school, I studied science and eventually ended up in ocean and earth science researching how carbon dioxide emissions are affecting oceanic plankton. For a long time I dreamed about going on adventures and seeing some of the great wonders of the world like those my father told us about as children. I then sailed as a hobby all over the world, moved yachts and dingy raced.

Around 10 years ago I reached an impasse in my career. One day my father just said: 'Jennie if you can turn your hobby into your career you will be the happiest person on the planet.' I was 33 at the time.

I quit science a week later and completed my basic Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW). Within a few weeks I was on board a ferry as a steward. One day a captain overheard me talking about my sailing experience and invited me to the bridge. He gave me advice on how to become a deck officer and what I needed to do to get a cadetship.

Three months after that experience, I had secured a trainee placement and was back at Liverpool University retraining. I spent my training time between the JST, Hanson's dredgers and Scotline moving timber around.

I have walked on the Elephant Island beach that Shackleton left his men on to make the infamous trip across the Drake Passage to get them help Jennie Doyle, first officer

Tell us some of your career highlights so far – and challenges

After qualifying as an Officer Of the Watch, I have never looked back. I moved straight over to cruiseships and I eventually had the pleasure of navigating the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic in memory of the Titanic. It was a strange feeling being at the helm of QM2 as we sailed over Titanic and one I will never forget.

One of the highlights of my career up to now, must be the trip I am currently on. I have walked on the Elephant Island beach that Shackleton left his men on to make the infamous trip across the Drake Passage to get them help.

I also sailed across the Drake Passage to the whaling station Shackleton reached, and where he currently is laid to rest. To toast the man himself at his resting place is truly a privilege. To see the Icebergs and feel the remoteness of Antarctica is another thrill.

One of the challenges I have faced is the perception of women from countries that do not have equal rights for both sexes. One male would address the bridge team as 'good morning gents' and stated in front of the whole team that he had always addressed the team that way and would not change because I was on board. If I didn't like it, I could go home at the next port.

There have been many small such incidents over the years which have only served to make me stronger and more determined. I thank both the men and women who have ever said to me: 'Women don't do things like that'; 'you will never amount to anything'; 'get real' or 'wow a woman driver' – Because I have now driven the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria around the world four times.

What are the best things about your job?

I love what I do. Would I recommend it? Yes, if you have the sea in your blood that's where you should be.

Someone told me I would never make captain! When I go home this time, I have enough time to sit my captain's exam, so that's what I will be doing.

What is the one thing people don't know about your job?

Working on cruise ships, we have an abandon ship drill every week.


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