Unlike many captains, Whittaker doesn't come from a seafaring family, and her voyage didn't start at an early age in a maritime academy. While at university in Toronto she took time off from school to work on touring boats in Toronto Harbor for three years, then made her way to Sea Cloud as a deck hand in 1996. This first position on a sailing ship sealed her fate and began her journey toward securing her captain’s license.
Hands-on experience aboard sail-training ships
Whittaker did most of her training privately and achieved her certifications by passing the required exams through various Canadian maritime schools. Her hands-on experience was achieved on various sail-training ships, including five years as captain of Bytown Brigantine’s STV Fair Jeanne and small passenger sailing vessels in the British Virgin Islands, where she held various positions including chef, first mate and training captain. She then served as chief officer for two years with Canadian Sailing Expeditions.
Prior to being promoted last month to captain, Whittaker served as chief officer for six years. As chief officer aboard Sea Cloud II she was responsible for the ship’s maintenance and overall ship security. As captain, she will now head every department, and commands the mostly male nautical and technical officers.
'Growing up as the only girl with four older brothers prepared me well to work in this field. I had to prove myself on this ship and have over the years gained the respect of the crew,' Whittaker said.
'When the opportunity arose for our crewing manager to promote Whittaker—who conveys dedication and love for her job—to captain, the decision was easy,' said Daniel Schäfer, managing director of Sea Cloud Cruises. He added: 'In a very male-dominated industry, we are thrilled to have a very qualified woman for the highest position on a ship.'
Whittaker grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario, and when not at sea, she calls Ottawa home.
Another Canadian woman captain
Another Canadian woman, Maryse Camirand of Croisières M/S Jacques-Cartier, is a licensed captain who also teaches at the Maritime Institute of Québec (Institut Maritime du Québec), however her husband serves as the master of the 66-passenger Jacques-Cartier.