Q&A: Belinda Bennett, the first black female cruise ship captain

Belinda Bennett of Windstar Cruises explains how things have changed since she became the first black female captain of a cruise ship in 2016. Katie McGonagle reports

Q. How did you get your start in cruise?

A. I am from one of the most remote islands in the world, St Helena in the Atlantic, so I naturally became immersed in life at sea. I started at 17 as a deck cadet on the cargo ship RMS St Helena and climbed the ranks. Following brief stints with private charter yacht SS Delphine and Isle of Man Steam Packet ferries, I joined Windstar Cruises as second officer in 2005.

Q. What was it like training in a male-dominated industry?

A. When I was training as a cadet, the chief officers made me work harder than the guys. They would knock off for the day, and I would be left outside continuing to work until it got dark. It was make or break – and I refused to be broken.

Q. How did it feel to be the first black woman to be a captain?

A. I felt a great sense of personal achievement. It was tough but I’m proud I was able to earn the rank and inspire others, and perhaps make it easier for them in the process. There is more awareness now, more support and helplines for bullying and racial harassment.

It is still a male-dominated world at sea; however, if you are ambitious and not afraid of hard work, it’s very rewarding. You get to see the world and be paid for it.

Wind Spirit in Tahiti

Q. What do you enjoy about sailing smaller vessels?

A. I love the size and intimate atmosphere of Windstar’s ships – you get to meet and greet everyone, guests and crew alike. I like getting to know guests better each time they sail. And there are fabulous places smaller ships call at that you wouldn’t see on a larger vessel.

Q. Do you have any favourite regions?

A. I love French Polynesia; the islands are so beautiful. There is a maximum size of ship allowed, so the culture remains authentic as tourists don’t outnumber locals. I also love the Greek isles – each has a story to tell or history to reveal – and we stop in Kusadasi in Turkey, where a private dinner in Ephesus is a highlight of the cruise.

Q. Your ship, Wind Spirit, is among the three Wind Class ships being refurbished over the next three years – what can we expect?

A. We’re really excited about the improvements. Look out for a full redesign of public spaces with new layouts, furniture and lighting, and lots of custom art. The Owner’s Suites are being redesigned and all the staterooms will get new decor and interactive televisions. I’m also very happy about the new pool, Jacuzzis and expanded bar areas. Our guests are going to love it.

PICTURES: Andy Johnson

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