Wendy Williams is used to taking the road less traveled. Not only is she one of the women rising through the officer ranks at Royal Caribbean, but she successfully pulled off a career transition after a start in nursing. She has charted her own course, following her heart and her passions to the sea and into the mostly male maritime industry. Williams is Staff Captain of Anthem of the Seas, which means she is just one step away from being captain of the whole ship. We asked her how she navigated her way up in this male-dominated field; what a day at sea is like for a Staff Captain; and for that matter, what is a Staff Captain?
Here’s her perspective from the bridge:
- What is the role of a Staff Captain?
A lot goes into running a smooth operation on a ship that is 168,666 tons and carries 4,905 guests, so the captain of the ship is supported by a team. There’s the Chief Engineer, the Hotel Director and Staff Captain, that’s me. I’m responsible for overall ship maintenance, security onboard and I look after the navigation officers on the bridge.
- How did you come to be a mariner?
My family is involved in the marine business in various ways, and I grew up on the west coast of Canada and now live in Vancouver so the exposure was natural. I actually trained to be a nurse first though. Then I got a second degree in marine biology and went to sea to study fish for the Department of Fisheries. We would be out for six or seven months, and I just fell in love with learning about the charts and stars, and navigating from the bridge; sometimes they would let me steer and I thought – this is what I really want to do. I got my Master Mariner’s license and started working on commercial fishing vessels before coming to Royal Caribbean. In 2002, I applied and when I got the call to join Voyager of the Seas I left the very next day and have been with the company ever since.
- Do you get to drive?
Yes, sometimes I bring the ship into port or take the ship out, sometimes Captain Andersen does. We have positioning systems on this ship that will take us to within 10cm of our planned spot at the pier, but this “parking” is still done by hand. When I am not the one maneuvering the ship, you will find me in the center doing speed control, communicating with the pilots who are experts on the local harbors we enter, and coordinating operations with the mooring deck to get the ship safely tied up and the gangway set.
- Why be a mariner?
Being a mariner is almost a calling like the priesthood; not everybody wants to be out here, but we sail these amazing ships, going to amazing places and carrying this precious cargo – people out to have a great vacation. It’s a big responsibility, but look at the office we have here. I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.
- What is it like to command a massive ship?
It’s exciting, the most exciting thing I’ve done in my life. I will stand on shore and look at how absolutely immense this beautiful ship is, and I know I am this tiny figure up on the bridge controlling this whole mass, it’s humbling and I’m so happy and proud.
- What is your next goal?
I would like to be a captain with Royal Caribbean and have my own ship.
With skills, smarts and experience like Wendy Williams has, we have little doubt she’ll reach that goal. Royal Caribbean was the first major cruise line to have a female captain, back in 2007, and has continued to place women behind the helms of our ships. We’ll be rooting for Wendy to add her name to the list someday!