Sailing to a career in marine engineering

Opportunities to crew traditionally rigged sailing vessels known as tall ships convinced Sophia McCloy to make a new career plan to become a marine engineer.

Her original goal was to become a Chinese interpreter. She had completed a Bachelor in International Business from Western Washington University, where she minored in Mandarin Chinese, and also spent a year studying in Taiwan.

“I studied intensive Chinese and business while I was at National Chengchi University, but then I ended up on tall ships and decided I like it better,” she said. “It was supposed to be an interesting blip on my resume when I applied to business firms later.”

Marine engineering

This summer she takes a big step toward new career path as she completes a Diploma of Technology in Marine Engineering, a four-year program focusing on the mechanical operations of vessels – maintaining, controlling and operating ship systems and machinery.

During her time at the Marine Institute, she received the Oceanex Scholarship, the Fry Family Foundation Leadership Award, the Middle Cove Memorial Scholarship and the Marine Safety Scholarship.

Her three work terms were spent with Secunda Canada, working in the province’s offshore oil industry onboard the support vessels, Avalon Sea and Siem Pilot, and logging more than 200 sea days.

In September she plans to begin a Bachelor of Maritime Studies in Safety Management. The School of Maritime Studies program focuses on developing essential skills to lead and contribute to the evolution of a safety culture for a variety of organizations, including shipping companies, that operate in the maritime sector worldwide.

“In the long run, I hope to become a marine inspector.”

Family ties

Sophia McCloy

Originally from Ohio, Ms. McCloy grew up in Bellingham, located near Seattle in Washington State.

Her grandfather was a U.S. Navy engineer who served in the Pacific during the Second World War.

“He had a sailboat when we were kids – and I loved it. I don’t remember much about it because I was so young, but apparently it was my favourite thing. He was probably part of the reason I got into boats.”

And her grandfather was all for her becoming a marine engineer.

“He loved it, he thought it was great. He was definitely part of the greatest generation – super big heart and super open-minded.”

Tall ship education

Her path to marine engineering started in 2013 when she landed a job with the Lady Washington, a full-scale replica of a 1750s sailing vessel that is operated by Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority in Washington State.

By chance she got involved in the rewiring of the entire vessel while it was in maintenance dry dock and discovered marine engineering was the kind of work she wanted to do.

“We tore everything out – all the AC, all of the DC, light switches, outlets, distribution panels, batteries. We left the generators and the battery bank. We crawled through the ship and rewired everything.”

She also served as a deckhand, cook and education coordinator on that vessel and other tall ships.

“I liked being the engineer the most. I also realized I didn’t know enough and I wanted to learn more about it.”

Her long-term plans also include a return to the world of tall ships that gave her a start as a mariner.

“Someday, I hope to go back and work with the specific ships and organizations that brought me to where I am today. I’d like to work with them during their dry docks as a free, knowledgeable hand – and give back to the community that gave me so much.”