Hermione thrives on the responsibility of having the controls of the most sophisticated dynamic positioning vessels at her fingertips – navigating its course and steering clear of hazards keeps the crew safe when she’s in charge of the bridge as officer of the watch.
It was her first glimpse of this bridge on the world’s largest and most advanced offshore wind farm installation vessel, Seajacks Scylla, that switched her career plans half-way through sixth form.
“I want to drive this,” she exclaimed, dazzled by the $250 million mammoth vessel’s technology and three-storey engines.
Her career plan to become an officer in the merchant navy was shelved and now she plans to qualify as a ship’s captain by the time she is 30.
She stumbled across the fully-funded deck cadetship after her father persuaded her to go to an offshore energy careers event at East Coast College, where she met Ian Robertson, Seajacks’ HR and training manager.
“Ian asked me if I’d thought about engineering and offered to show me around Scylla.”
That chance meeting led to a voyage of discovery for the then 17-year-old who, despite living just yards from the North Sea where most of the UK’s turbine capacity is installed, had no idea about the industry or what jack-ups or the merchant navy were.
Two years later, she was waving to her parents on Great Yarmouth seafront this summer from the bridge of Seajacks Hydra as she sailed back home from installing turbines on the Moray East wind farm off Scotland.
Hermione dropped her A levels and embarked on a whirlwind week of offshore survival and safety courses at Petans, near Norwich, before flying to Amsterdam to join a vessel for a taster week at sea.
It was all she hoped for, so she enrolled on a three-year, fully-funded officer cadetship at Warsash Maritime Academy, part of Solent University in Southampton, which will lead to an HND in nautical science. She is sponsored throughout by Seajacks.
When she finishes next year, she will also have a UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Certificate of Competency (STCW95 II/I OOW) and be a qualified officer of the watch.
“I love it and can see how my career can pan out. My plan is to become a captain by the time I’m 30.”
Captains earn about £140,000 annually.
“The bridge is super high tech. Steering is by a set of azipods that you can fit your hand around and can turn the weight of the vessel 360 degrees.”
The jack-up process, where Scylla’s 105-metre-long legs have the ability to install components in water depths of up to 65m, “blew my mind,” Hermione said.
“It is so interesting to be part of, especially watching the chief officer who is doing the jacking and engineering side of it and see how everything is connected and how much needs to be in place for it to happen.”
Her cadetship is paid for by the government and her training is through the SSTG (Ship Safe Training Group), which provides sponsorship to train as a deck, engineer or ETO officer in the merchant navy.
She’s paid a monthly salary from Seajacks. Officer cadet training schemes are split into five phases (39 and 31 weeks at sea) for academic studies, practical experience and safety training.
“It is like a job from 9-5. We have to wear uniform every day – a company tie, epaulettes with one stripe on our white shirts to show we are still training.”
During her sea training, she completes a Merchant Navy Training Board (MNTB) training record book to record professional competency for her initial MCA certification as an officer of the watch. Qualifications are awarded on course work and written and practical exams, including ‘orals’ when she can be asked how she would deal with different seagoing situations and challenges.
Complete knowledge and understanding of Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs) – “like the highway code for the sea” – are vital. Other cadets on her course are mainly from shipping companies, cruise liner operators Princess Cruises, Trinity House and supply vessel companies.
“Apart from a female medic sometimes, I’m the only female in the crew. It doesn’t bother me or anyone else. We’re all part of the team and it doesn’t matter who is male who is female. It’s about getting the job done.”
Her early sea experience was heavily supervised, responsibility earned gradually.
“I had understudied the officer of the watch before I took my own turn on watch. I normally do it for a five-hour stretch. We are looking for other vessels, avoiding collisions and looking out for fishing buoys in coastal areas, which are the bane of officers of the watch’s lives because of the damage they can do to thrusters and the rudder.
“It’s really important to be calm on watch. You can’t get stressed about anything. You are in charge and you need to be calm, confident and alert.”
Hermione’s ambition is to progress to chief mate’s training with her eye on the captain’s ticket. Meanwhile, she is about to fly to China for four months on board Scylla, a last-minute opportunity pushing her final year at college back to a January 2022 college re-start.
“I get to travel as well as the qualifications and experience.”