In the latest in her series throughout 2018 profiling inspirational women, KATE HASKELL talks to Georgina Carlo-paat, Ilfracombe’s new harbour master
If life were a game of Monopoly I have a feeling that this month’s Inspirational Woman would be whizzing around the board, passing Go and collecting £200 whilst taking every Chance Card on offer.
Georgina Carlo-paat is Ilfracombe’s new harbour master and one of the very few women who hold that role in the UK. The path that has led to this dream job, however, has involved taking big chances, grabbing life with both hands and not letting being a woman stand in her way.
Georgina admits that initially she had no real career plan: “My parents were happy for me to do whatever I wanted as long as I was happy. What I really wanted was to drive tanks in the Army but at that time it wasn’t possible. My school considered only two options for women: be academic or be a good wife; I didn’t want either of those!”
So with £50 in her pocket Georgina packed her bags and travelled to Europe working in various catering establishments along the way. It was a chance conversation whilst waiting tables in Gibraltar that really turned her life around.
She explains: “It was at the start of the first Gulf conflict and American ships were stopping off in Gibraltar to re-fuel. One night two captains were having dinner in my restaurant and talking about how their ship’s cook had walked out. They turned to me and said ‘you can cook can’t you?’
“The next thing I knew I was standing on the quayside at midnight with no idea if they were truly serious. But sure enough the ship was there and I was transported out to the USS Gopher State whereupon I stood in the ship’s galley at 5 o’clock in the morning, waiting to cook for 32 hungry Americans, thinking ‘what on earth have I done?!’”
The money earned from that job allowed Georgina to travel to America and it was whilst staying with friends in New Jersey that one of them suggested that if she really liked life at sea why not go back to the UK and get properly qualified. After 98 job applications and 97 refusals, a life on the ocean wave was finally born; she started her cadetship and then two years later qualified as a junior officer. Georgina recalls: “I was convinced I was only good enough to be a cook but others saw potential and I developed an attitude of ‘let’s see how this goes, either something stops me or I stop myself but let’s see how far this can go’.” Well, nothing ever has stopped Georgina and after 28 years with the Merchant Navy she is a Class 1 Master Mariner; which means she can captain any ship, of any size, anywhere in the world.
Georgina Carlo-paat, Ilfracombe’s new harbour master: ‘I absolutely love this job and it feels like all my life experiences have led to this moment’
Georgina is now in charge of managing picturesque Ilfracombe harbour
In the midst of all this, normal life intervened with marriage, moving to Croyde and having a young son. However, working in a job where you are away for three weeks at a time can play havoc with family life but that Chance Card was going to come into play again. A casual conversation with friends revealed that the Ilfracombe harbour master might be retiring and almost as if it was meant to be, Georgina set sail on another course and hasn’t looked back
“I absolutely love this job and it feels like all my life experiences have led to this moment – standing on Ilfracombe harbourside and it’s just perfect.”
Georgina is leading the way for women in her field but not for the first time. When she joined the Merchant Navy they hadn’t recruited for over 20 years so the women joining then were the front runners for that generation; a responsibility that she has taken great care over: “I was very aware that girls get tarred with the same brush and if we did something wrong it would be assumed the girls coming up behind us would do the same; so we tried harder than ever to be better so it would be easier for them.
“When I started there were only around 15 women with my qualification but it is much more now which is great. We have smashed the glass ceiling!”
Georgina certainly has had a life many would envy, she has travelled the world, gone to places you can only get to by boat, seen the penguins and the polar bears and all the while being paid to do so. Now she has her dream job, in the most beautiful location and that’s better than owning Park Lane and Mayfair!
‘I was very aware that girls get tarred with the same brush and if we did something wrong it would be assumed the girls coming up behind us would do the same’