Captain Vanessa Merchant has broken new ground by becoming the first Guyanese woman to obtain a Masters in navigation and she is one of only three female ship captains in Guyana.
Merchant is currently the captain of the vessel, MV Malali.
In an interview with the Department of Public Information (DPI), the 36-year old and mother of one stated that this was her biggest achievement to date and comes as a result of pursuing her dreams. It was not without its challenges particularly since she was pregnant while studying for her masters.
She explained that the only challenge she currently faces is working in an environment not conducive for women.“I try to focus a lot on what I do, I try to be stern, I try to be brave, because remember this is a men-oriented field and they feel that women have no place here, that’s why I am here to show other women that there is place for you in the navigation arena.”
On her way to earning her masters, the captain had to undergo training in fire-fighting, survival at sea, ship security, oil and chemical tanker cargo operations (tanker familiarisation) and shipboard awareness, all with no prior maritime knowledge.
Merchant told DPI that as part of her training, she worked as a mate on a vessel that she steered to Trinidad and rates it as one of her most exciting journeys yet. She disclosed that in a storm, the waters can get rough with the waves reaching as high as the navigation bridge however, she is not fearful and is confident I her ability to “ride the waves.”
Merchant is the last of four girls and grew up in the village of Vryheid’s Lust on the East Coast of Demerara, where she attended the Vryheid’s Lust Nursery and Primary schools. After completing her secondary education at Bladen Hall, she began working at Transport and Harbours but was always behind a desk, which was never her style as she always liked doing things that would challenge her. She applied to work in the mechanic shop but was not granted the opportunity. Thereafter, when the masters in navigation course was made available for both men and women, she decided to take a shot at it and the rest is history.
For Captain Merchant balancing her career and family life has its challenges but nevertheless, she remains steadfast and committed in both her roles. She urges young women who are pursuing their careers to be bold, be strong and to not be intimidated as this is no longer just a man’s world.