I am often asked how I got to be where I am today, doing what I am doing. So, let's take a walk down memory lane together, as I retrace my steps to becoming the person of my dreams. A charter boat captain in my childhood playground.
First off, I never doubted that I could and would do it and there is power in that. All my career I have spoken to every child who showed a love for the sea with enthusiastic support, to instill in all of them the thought that "you can dream it awake." The realization that it was unique for a seven-year-old to know their life's purpose, much less an adult, never dawned on me. When I notice a child's questions coming from a deep sense of self, it really excites me.
There was this moment in time when the realization came over me that I wanted to find out what and who all those interesting critters were that I was seeing under the sea. Then it struck me that I wanted to share what I learned with all those kids standing around and not going in the sea, at
, to be as fearless as I was and remove their fears. I made a gut decision right then and there to make oceanic wilderness guiding my life path. I remember that moment like it happened yesterday, even though I wasn't quite sure at that time just what it was or how I would do it. It just simply became my dream.
The next step was my education and dream board. By that, I mean reading books and pasting pictures of my dream on cardboard. Self-motivation was key here. The schools couldn't teach me much about the marine world, but the library could and did. Children are lucky to have computers now, it's like having a library card to every library in the world.
every day after school was spent in the library on the Naval Base where my father was stationed. There was a cornucopia of knowledge of the sea to be had there. Let's just say my appetite was wet and insatiable. I couldn't get enough. I was addicted to books. All I wanted to do was learn and keep learning.
Just imagine this 13-year-old girl, new to California, not going surfing because the sea is not "pacific" at all and felt very cold to one born and raised in the warm calm waters of Key West, Florida. Instead, I would walk the beaches combing and collecting, and then after school, I would get off the bus at the naval base library and spend the afternoon looking up each and every one of my collection avidly noting names, characteristics, habitats and all I could about them.
All the while I was creating my dream board, which I kept on the bottom of my little sister's bunk bed above my head. Getting up or going to sleep, my dream was always in sight. I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce in Key West and asked for their packet of information so I could have pictures of my childhood home, my wilderness islands, and continued to add my
discoveries to the dream of being a charter captain in the Florida Keys.
Looking back at all the avenues that life took me down before I made it back to Key West, I see how important each was to my growth and development. I realize all those tangents helped ready me to be a better person and a better captain. Being a medic in the Air Force prepared me and gave me the confidence to take people out on the water far from land and trust I could handle anything that happened. I spent many hours staring at the ceiling trying to figure out how to be able to get my Marine Science degree from the college in Key West. I was dreaming it awake. The Air Force was my choice to get the GI bill, which was merely a means to an end. Having a medical career after the service helped me get through college working as a chemistry lab tech while becoming a marine science tech. Keeping my eye on my goal and trusting in the big picture helped me through those eleven years.
In 1973, I was a woman of 25 pushing a baby carriage down the charter boat docks with my 11-month-old son, Steven. I took my time on the docks and stopped to chat with each of the captains sitting on Charter Boat Row waiting for their next charter and new friendships began. These captains were my dad's friends from years gone by. Dad was an avid fisherman of the Key West waters since 1945 and knew these men well. They watched all of us kids grow up, so striking up conversations with stories from dad's past with these old salts made for some very entertaining conversations. Sage advice was offered to me and it felt like I was being tucked under their wing and cared for. Part of my dream was to mentor children, so I myself needed some good mentors. I quickly learned that any time in any circumstance, it always behooves a person to listen carefully to their elders, to learn from their experiences. It's called the fine "Art of Listening" for a reason.
I wonder what those old salts thought seeing me walk up, 25 years old, with a baby in a stroller and talking about being a captain? I know of at least one woman who had her captain's license in Key West when I started. Her husband owned a head boat fishing vessel and she assisted him. That felt different than being a GUIDE and that's what kept calling to my heart.
Back then, I had to fish because that was long before ecotourism was
invented. Starting out as a Tropical Oceanic Wilderness Guide specializing in children was completely unheard of. I told the old salts that I would teach the children how to fish, so their patience wouldn't be tried, and then send the children on to them to become professional fishermen when they graduated from me. That peaked their interest in what I wanted to do with my life.
Being a Montessori mother, I just carried that style of teaching into my boat. I would teach the child or adult the ABC's of fishing, telling them they would "feel" winning or losing, but they would do the feeling. The Montessori method of raising children, it you don't already know, is for children to leave home with skills for living life and it only works if you don't do everything for the child. They figure it out, ask questions, try, fail, and try again.
My mother was very clear that I was being raised to be a lady, which I brought into all aspects of my careers, even the Air Force, but especially as a captain. Dressing as a lady at all times and acting as one really helped me to be accepted in the world of men who charter. I never wanted to be one of the "guys." I wanted to be distinct. I also wore things that shielded me from the sun, protecting the delicate skin that my high school PE teacher always cautioned was the most prone to sun damage, the knees and décolletage.
While in college getting my marine science degree, I also took courses to prepare myself to become a charter captain. Some of my favorite courses were Coastal and Celestial Navigation and Seamanship. I took the test and passed and could now create my dreams into reality. I could charter and guide through the wilderness of my youth, sharing my passion for educating children and families on the diverse ecology that make the Florida Keys so incredibly special.