Per­fect po­si­tion

In the lat­est in her se­ries through­out 2018 pro­fil­ing in­spi­ra­tional women, KATE HASKELL talks to Ge­orgina Carlo-paat, Il­fra­combe’s new har­bour mas­ter

Devon Life - - Inspirational Woman -

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’

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