By Joanna Bastian
Katie Haven met me just outside her rambling fenceline. Romney sheep in varying shades of reddish brown, white and gray quietly grazed in a back pasture while three large Maremma sheepdogs stood guard. Stacks of beehives hummed under shade trees. Katie led me to a small farmhouse hidden behind a tangled jungle of hollyhock and sunflowers. Inside her sunny kitchen, Katie wove her maritime tale over cups of tea while her cat Lucky reclined on my lap.
“Maritime is my past life,” she began with a smile. As a teenager, Katie belonged to the Sea Scouts, a co-ed branch of explorer scouting through the Boy Scouts. Each group of Sea Scouts learned maintenance and navigation aboard their own boat. Their licensed passenger vessels shipped paying tourists out to sea for whale watching and day trips. The profits paid for fuel and maintenance costs of the boat.
At age 18, Katie sailed past the Coast Guard exam to earn her captain’s license for small boats. She practiced her skills on the waterfront tours along the Seattle coastline. Katie knew she wanted a lifetime career on the water, so she applied to the California Maritime Academy. When she first walked into the engineering room of a merchant ship, she knew she found her calling. “It was the coolest thing ever,” she recalled with a gleam.
In a class of 120 students, only 10 were women. Of the 10, only two, Katie and her roommate, were engineering students. After college, Katie spent seven years traveling the world by sea. She worked on propulsion systems, generators, water pumps and cargo hydraulics. She created maintenance plans and communicated repairs. Although she was often the only woman, she never really noticed. “I fit right in,” she said.
A life at sea as a ship engineer was exciting, at times, a little too exciting. Katie admitted the very real dangers of sea, but recalled each event with laughter.
One night she awoke in midair as she fell out of her bunk. A rogue wave in a mid-Atlantic storm had rolled the ship. Luckily, the ship righted itself, but a ship engine cylinder liner that was in transport came loose and rolled along the deck, smashing oil drums and everything else in its path. Oil generously lubricated the deck, making the rolling ship in the storm even more of a challenge for the workers.
In 1993, Katie applied to the Seattle ferry system, and in a few short years was promoted to Chief Engineer of the Alaskan Ferry Tustumena. Her first trip from Kodiak through the Aleutian chain confirmed her choice.
She loved being so far away from everything, seeing the little native villages, and the gorgeous landscape. Summertime had a festive feeling because the elders returned to the islands from their winter homes in Kodiak. The whole village would gather on the dock. Little kids shouted greetings to beaming elders.
The timetable for serving these far-flung and remote villages had to be flexible. In the middle of the night one big family set sail before realizing they were missing a child. The little one had fallen asleep ashore while waiting for the boat and in the hustled boarding, he was forgotten. So in the middle of the night, the ship chugged back to the dock to retrieve the little Rip Van Winkle.
Katie wants to share her experiences with anyone who is interested in a maritime career. There are many well-paying job opportunities as the industry expands. Ships need young engineers who enjoy traveling the sea. Katie can help young people determine if they are a good fit for the career and find training. Katie can be reached at (509) 923-1916 or by email at Katie@thelambranch.com.