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#MaidenInspires… Charly Hewett

Blog post written by Charly Hewett

I was invited to write this blog, through a facetime conversation on my Dad’s phone, when he visited Maiden at the Southampton Boat Show. I was quite jealous that he was able to see Maiden on the pontoons and I’d asked that he show me the boat on a video call! It was then that Kaia suggested I write a blog about how Maiden has inspired me and my career. 

It all started with a failed attempt at becoming a navigation officer in the Royal Navy.

I’d spent all my teenage years passionately focused on learning to run fast, get strong, learn everything I could about warships and current affairs and even get a head start on learning navigation. I came within a hair’s-width of passing my training, because although I excelled in all the tests in these subjects, the instructors who marked our leadership exercises thought I was just too quiet to be a member of the bridge team on a warship. To not pass the leadership exercise is like getting a major on your driving test. I was crushed and left with my self-esteem in a puddle on the floor. I was devastated that my all was not enough to achieve my dream and 19 year old me didn’t know what to do next.

I spent nearly 2 years sulking as a waitress in a cafe, where I was very low and withdrawn.  It was then that I saw an opportunity on the Sea Cadet’s tall ship ‘Royalist’. It was an apprenticeship style role as a deckhand. Incredibly, I got the job. I was very nervous with my self-esteem still at rock bottom but over the duration of the first year, my confidence crept back up. The staff were incredible mentors and watches on deck would fly by as they’d teach me about watch-keeping and tell me inspiring stories from all parts of maritime history. There were the likes of Cook, Shackleton, Harrison and then some more modern names like Knox-Johnston, McArthur and Edwards. I learned so much from my mentors and these stories gave me back some of that spark for what had previously been my passion. Navigation. 

I particularly connected with Tracy’s story. Where she had struggled in the beginning to be taken seriously, I hoped that I similarly would find success in the end, which to me just meant being allowed to drive boats and not getting any jip for it.

I felt so unbelievably lucky to be out at sea again. It’s amazing how an empty horizon and some salty air can have such a dramatic effect on our well being! I’ve never taken that for granted since.

My next jobs were in whale and dolphin research. I was first mate and relief skipper on the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s research vessel ‘Silurian’, which made me fall in love with the West Coast of Scotland. I felt confident in this job. Now qualified, I loved being left to sail the boat for hours at a time with no one watching me or correcting me anymore. The scenery was the best I’ve ever seen and the company was always excellent. After Silurian, I worked on another whale and dolphin research vessel, called ‘Song of the Whale’ which sails all over the world completing projects for various marine conservation groups. 

We once sailed Song of the Whale from Gosport in England, to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. That’s over 8,000 miles and I used it as an opportunity to become advanced in celestial navigation. It was totally fascinating to watch the skies roll by each night, learning all the constellations, and watching the north star dip below the northern horizon to find the southern cross rising in it’s reciprocal place. The patterns in the sky became so familiar, and working out the calculations at the beginning took about 45 minutes each day, but by the end would take around 5 minutes. When we sighted land, I checked my sextant-derived position against the GPS and we were less than a mile off. After 8,000 miles of sailing by the sun and stars alone, we had kept track of our position to within a mile. I would have been delighted with any result less than about 15 miles so this was possibly the proudest moment of my life.

And most recently, I worked aboard Skip Novak’s vessel, Pelagic Australis which is an Antarctic expedition vessel. I couldn’t believe I had found my way into another epic niche within sailing. We visited places such as Antarctica, the Falklands, Cape Horn, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunaha. We sometimes had mountaineers aboard who wanted to climb unclimbed peaks, we once helped a team who reenacted Shackleton’s crossing of South Georgia, and another time we took a BBC film team to make a David Attenborough documentary about whales in Antarctica. It was all incredible. 

But sailing in the Southern Ocean is hard. The swell is the biggest anywhere in the world, and the winds are the most furious. It is gale force conditions over 50% of the time and it is tiring just to exist on a vessel that is being thrown around like that. The latitudes are nicknamed the ‘roaring forties’, the ‘furious fifties’ and the ‘screaming sixties’.  Pelagic Australis is a large and comfortable vessel in comparison to Tracy’s ‘Maiden’, but even so it was a little scary at times. On the worst nights I’d often think of Tracy and her team on their Southern Ocean leg, and it would make me feel really proud and happy. It also reminded me how lucky I was to be there at all. 

Since lockdown, I have been busy setting up a brand new business teaching sailing and motor courses online. We’ll be offering a range of RYA theory navigation courses and hope to bring a VHF course soon too. So far, we are the only company to offer our courses in full video, filmed from the water as well as the standard text and diagrams. 

I’m really proud to be a business owner in the maritime industry,. Aand a navigation instructor too, which I really enjoy. There have been some hurdles in my career for sure – it was harder than it needed to be at times but hopefully if we ladies all take inspiration from each other it will get easier and easier for the generations after us. 

Thanks to women (like Tracy) before me, I’ve been able to achieve my dream with relative ease. I’ve got a daughter of my own now, and I’m optimistic that the road to her goals will be even smoother for her.

Because we would really like to give back to the organisations that have inspired and supported us through our own careers, we’d like to offer a 20% discount to all of The Maiden Factors supporters and followers. Just use the discount code “MAIDEN20” at the checkout. We’ll also donate 10% of the course cost to The Maiden Factor! 

You can visit our website at www.ardent-training.com and take our free trial!