Cape Town: 10 May 2018
A Simon’s Town maritime studies foundation school, Lawhill Maritime Centre, settled atop a hill overlooking the harbor below, where the memorial statue of Just Nuisance stands to sunrise, is besides itself with joy this month, and all with good reason.
The news had broken that one of its former pupils, Nicole Gouvias, now aged 27, (pictured left) had gone on to formally obtain her Master Mariner’s licence in April 2018, thereby becoming the first ever South African female from the school to achieve the top honor in big ships sailing.
And for Nicole, 27, it was not just an entry level licence, but an internationally-recognized Master’s Certificate of Competency (Unlimited) which means she is qualified to command a ship of any size in the world’s oceans.
STS Lawhill Maritime Center has been in existence since 23 years ago, providing 15 to 17 year old students with specialized knowledge and skills in maritime and other fields in their last three years of secondary schooling.
It is the only school in the Western Cape offering two maritime subjects; Maritime Economics and Nautical Science.
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) – the country’s agency statutorily charged with, among other things, promoting South Africa’s maritime interests – is among a handful of institutions in both the public and private sectors that has consistently supported the school over the years, mainly through bursaries for youths from previously disadvantaged communities expressly keen on maritime and related studies.
This past week, the school visibly excited about Nicole’s historical achievement, particularly in a maritime sector field where far few women have not only qualified but also thrived as sailors.
To date, South Africa, even though forever a maritime country with a coastline of some 3200 kilometers and an Exclusive Economic Zone measuring some 1.5-million square kilometres over three oceans – the Atlantic to the west, the Southern to the south and the Indian Ocean to the east – has produced a disproportionately low number of female Master Mariners than males.
In fact, the first ever three black female Master Mariners with unlimited licences only emerged in the last three years.
For Nicole, according to the STS Lawhill Maritime Center this past week, her achieving the qualification was a fulfillment of a long held childhood dream of becoming a ship’s captain one day.
She is now one, and is currently serving as Chief Navigation Officer on board container vessels within Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping line.
“She joined Safmarine as a cadet immediately after completing her studies at Simon’s Town School (which she attended from Grade 1 to Grade 12) and graduating cum-laude, from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
“She received the internationally-recognised Masters Certificate of Competency (Coc) in April this year. Doing so was the final step in achieving her dreams of being in command of a ship, as its Master or Captain. As Chief Navigation officer she is currently second in command on board vessel,” said the school in a statement.
Her former educator and currently still a tutor at the STS Lawhill Maritime Center, Mr Brian Ingpen as well as the school’s administrator, Ms Debbie Owen, share their views of the great achievement for Nicole and the school in the following video.
Meanwhile, Nicole, who was away at work overseas this week and therefore not available for an interview, was reported to have attributed her success to her tutors as well as the many retired sea captains who inspired her during their visits to the school.
She told the school: “I always enjoyed the stories told by Captain Schlemmer and the other retired shipmasters and it made me want to go out and make my own stories.
“Having the opportunity to do the maritime subjects at Simons Town School also made University chartwork exercises so much easier.
“I benefitted enormously from the constant words of encouragement of my maritime educators and the time Captain Schlemmer took to help me with chart work helped me be the person I am today,” said Nicole.
According to Lawhill Maritime Center, while Nicole’s career has taken her to many parts of the world – with Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Germany, South Korea, Portugal, China, USA. Argentina, Madagascar and Australia among her favourites – one of her goals is to see more of her own country, South Africa.
“A passionate animal lover, Nicole also enjoys spending her time caring for abandoned animals on her smallholding outside Stellenbosch,” said the school
Footnote: Simon’s Town is home to the harbor located statue of Just Nuisance – South Africa’s only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. According to Wikipedia, “He was a Great Dane who between 1939 and 1944 served at HMS Afrikander, a Royal Navy shore establishment in Simon’s Town, South Africa.”