By Captain Lynn Korwatch
Marine Exchange San Francisco Bay Region
Alumna of the California Maritime Academy
Attending the California Maritime Academy is unlike almost any other college experience. I belonged to a corps of cadets — a small, disciplined and incredibly close unit of students. Every graduate of Cal Maritime remembers morning formation and shares the experience of a cruise on the Training Ship Golden Bear.
There is an amazing sensation of freedom that you get being part of a crew in international waters. The ship is in the middle of a vast blue landscape that stretches from horizon to horizon. The nearest land is hundreds of miles away. For every mariner, the first crossing of the International Date Line or the Equator is a milestone steeped in tradition and celebration.
At sea, I also felt a tremendous responsibility for my fellow shipmates. Serving on the bridge, engine room or any other capacity on the ship had real consequences. Under the watchful eye of Cal Maritime faculty and professionals, I performed many of the daily functions of running a ship carrying hundreds of people. The experience taught me a great deal about leadership and camaraderie.
I think I inherited my passion for open water. My dad served in the U.S. Merchant Service during and after World War II – and when I saw an ad saying Cal Maritime was taking women I was inspired to apply. While I share the Cal Maritime experience with thousands of graduates, I arrived at the school at a unique time of change – both for the academy and for the maritime industry.
There are now more than 110 women attending Cal Maritime. I attended as one of five – the very first class of women to attend the academy. A curious privilege accompanies those who are the first. In a small and essentially all-male school, I had to find my niche and footholds.
The experience of finding my way in that nearly all-male environment prepared me for success in what is still a predominately-male industry. Cal Maritime prepared me to be the first female to command a U.S. commercial vessel. There is an unwritten rule in the maritime industry, “never say no to becoming Captain.” So, I took command of the ship despite being eight months pregnant. It was in many ways a trial by fire that required me to use everything I learned at Cal Maritime.
My son, Kent, was born a week later. My husband (a Chief Engineer and fellow Cal Maritime graduate) and I often joke that Kent had “sea time” before he was born. Maybe it was inevitable that he would also attend Cal Maritime. My proudest moment was being on the dais with him as we both prepared to address the graduating class of 2010.
More than 160 cadets received their diplomas alongside my son. They all now join a distinguished group of alumni, known throughout the global maritime industry and in countless other professions. They will always have a connection to their fellow cadets and all the cadets who came before them.
Note: Captain Korwatch is additionally featured in the “Working for California” project that celebrates CSU alumni leaders. She is also noted among CSU’s Green Alumni for her role in the ”Zero Garbage Discharge Program” designed to avoid the overboard discharge of any solid waste into the ocean.