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Ladies, Take the Helm

Apr 4, 2023

Ladies, Take the Helm

International Women’s Month may have concluded on March thirty-first, but on the heels of our Kolcha Tuesday episode that featured Belizean women in business, we bring you the following story of thirty-one-year-old Monique Lamb.  She is the first woman to captain the Aggressor III, a dive yacht that is popular with visitors from around the world.  Born in Belize City and raised on the small island of Tobacco Caye, Lamb has worked her way up from studying marine biology at the University of Belize, and being certified as a dive master, to piloting the seagoing vessel that is chartered by tourists who visit the Jewel on diving expeditions.  Tonight, we look at Monique and the name she has made for herself in a male-dominated industry.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Monique Lamb

Monique Lamb, Captain, Aggressor III

“This boat is a hundred and ten feet long, twenty feet across.  We take eighteen passengers, seven crew.  We have four crew members on the deck, that includes myself; two in the galley and we have one night security.”

Taking the wheel is often considered a man’s job, despite the fact that women have long been the primary influencers when it comes to purchasing a boat.  Large, seagoing vessels, the kinds used for scuba diving and snorkeling expeditions, are captained by men.  It’s been that way for decades.  Meet thirty-one-year-old Monique Lamb.  As a Belizean woman, she is peerless at the helm of the Aggressor III.

Monique Lamb

“This is a dive yacht, so we head out for one week, we dive around Turneffe Atoll, we do some diving around Lighthouse Reef and, weather dependent, we get to explore the great Blue Hole on a weekly basis.”

Accompanying her on these week long voyages is Vanessa Matute.  Eleven years ago, after growing tired of a routine job in sales, she set out to sea as a stewardess and an assistant chef.  Since then, Matute has fully embraced salt life, all while navigating an environment that is male-dominated.

Vanessa Matute

Vanessa Matute, Stewardess, Aggressor III

“Its not challenging because I get to learn a lot.  I know a lot about the back deck, I learned everything here, they taught me a lot.  I try to challenge them and Im fine with that.”

Together, these women are among a small group making waves in a local industry that has been around since the late nineties.  Monique is the first female captain to head a Liveaboard Yacht.  To lead the crew, she first had to qualify herself and then make an impression on her colleagues.  It’s the realization of a childhood dream.

Bernard Blades

Bernard Blades, Chef, Aggressor III

“Working with Monique When I first got here, she was the first one that motivated me.  Monique is a people person.”

Taking up the challenge, however, is no easy task.  Working with the crew means all hands on deck and Monique is here for it.

Bernard Blades

“I really congratulate her, she has done a good job, she had motivated me and I was the first one, when the topic came up that the head office wanted a captain, I was the first one that went to her and I said, Monique, why dont you try it?  It would be good for a female to run Belizes vessels.  And she went with it and ran with it.”

On the quay, she is tossed a thick rope to moor another vessel that’s coming in after a week at sea.  Elsewhere, aft of the Aggressor III, Monique is helping the deckhands guide a dinghy to the stern.  Beyond camaraderie is mutual respect, as well as an abiding dedication to her métier.  It started off as a brief trial almost a decade ago.

Monique Lamb

“One week turned to seven weeks and seven weeks turned to nine years and I am still here diving, as a dive master and I worked up the rank to captain. I did pull my weight and I gained the respect of a lot of the males in this industry, however, there were a lot setbacks as I worked my way to where I am now.  It’s life, it’s not easy.  Nothing comes easy.  But even though I stumbled along the way, I still got right back up, dusted myself off and I kept running towards my goal.  In the process of working here, I had to take a couple years off.  I have a three-year-old son and now he’s with my mom and I came right back to work and just keep on doing it.”

Vanessa Matute

Yachting has also exposed Vanessa to different opportunities.  Over the years she’s learned quite a lot, including the standards relating to training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers.  This was achieved through the International Maritime Organization.

Vanessa Matute

“My experience on this yacht for eleven years has been wonderful because I got to learn to dive here.  I had to learn because they told me I had to learn, so I went in and I learned and then after that, I got opportunities to do a lot of stuff here, to take my STCW and then work with some wonderful captains and now we have Monique now as our captain.”

In the galley, food is being prepared.  Working in this small kitchen is Bernard Blades.  As chef, he’s also been on the Aggressor III for a number of years; long enough to witness Monique’s ascension to sailor in command.

Bernard Blades

“I am happy to work with her.  Whenever anybody feels down, Monique is the one that puts that smile on your face.  So I am pretty happy with her. Ever since I came on this vessel with the rest of the crew and team members, we have been going pretty steadfast and strong.  As a matter of fact, this vessel has reached the top five and number one a couple of times.  So we are steadily moving the levels of progress that we’ve been doing, you know.”

Raising the bar of excellence also means setting the right professional example for anyone wanting to walk in her footsteps.

Monique Lamb

“I hope that I have inspired some young lady or opened their eyes to be able to achieve what they want.  I want them to say, you know, if Monique can be a captain then I can also be a captain.  So don’t be afraid to achieve what you want to achieve.  It’s your life and you need to take charge and like I will continue to say, be the captain of your life.”

Isani Cayetano for News Five.