Captain of her own ship

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 8:45am

Chevron’s first woman captain hails from Narragansett

“I’m hoping to get to our mooring in El Segundo, California by Tuesday. I’ll call Monday if the weather lays down,” said Capt. Lisa Chaplin-Dixon. “The cell phone service isn’t good at that anchorage, I’ll let you know when we get closer to land.”

Captain Lisa was a former student of mine — a very quiet, shy, and bright student — whose maritime career has landed her in the wheelhouse of the 620-foot MT Oregon Voyager heading toward the Chevron Terminal on the Southern California coast. She currently works for Chevron Shipping, and is engaged in the refinery service trade: gas, diesel, jet fuel, et al. She’s a tanker Captain, and holds a serious license — a USCG Master of Unlimited Tonnage Any Oceans. Moreover, she holds a First-Class Pilotage ticket for Areas A and B in San Francisco Bay. She is licensed to bring her ship into San Francisco Bay, and to the Chevron Terminal in Richmond. Then, as protocol requires, she’ll hand over her command to a docking captain. After a 48-hour turnaround time, the drill is reversed and she takes back her command to continue back to El Segundo. She works 75 days on, and 75 days off — time, speed and distance drives a busy schedule. This is how Chevron makes money; however, safety is imperative, and Capt. Lisa is responsible; the buck stops with her — heady stuff for a former “shy and quiet” high school kid.

After graduating from Narragansett High School, she joined the United States Coast Guard. During her five-year hitch, she shipped aboard a 95-foot cutter as a boatswain’s mate E-5. She served as a Safety and Training Officer, and as a Federal Law Enforcement Officer and conducted rescues and salvage operations at sea. After her time in the Coast Guard, she’d stop by the car shack at the ferry and keep me apprised of where she was heading with her career.

“I remember stopping to talk to you by the ferry dock, and you always gave me good advice,” she said, “I always came away from our talks on the docks, and in high school, knowing I could be successful even if I didn’t fit in with the normal kids and follow the conventional paths.” Indeed, Master Mariner Lisa Chaplin-Dixon did not follow a conventional path; she took the road less travelled, and it did make all the difference.

In 1992, Lisa graduated from Massachusetts Maritime Academy with a BS in Marine Transportation. Then, as I had suggested to her countless times, she went to sea and started stacking serious sea time and experience — necessary stuff for upgrading her license. One day she stopped by the ferry dock to tell me about shipping out as third mate for Sun Transport in the Gulf of Mexico. Although she worked on a ship staffed mostly by men, Lisa was moving forward with her career at a quick step — nothing was going to stop this young lady.

“I’ll tell you, as a woman, I had to work twice as hard as the guys when at sea. I am kind of small, and so I literally had to work physically twice as hard.” Her focus and resolve date from way back in her high school days, it must be duly noted; she was forthright, and her wheels were always turning even then.

Of course, Lisa’s career has been a work-in-progress. “After three years at Mass Maritime, I graduated with a Third’s Mate License into a very stale U.S. Merchant market,” she said, “For a year, I packed rotten fish for lobster bait.” Sometimes, she would grab a site on a commercial fishing boat out of Galilee, or she’d clean horse stalls — whatever it took. Furthermore, she has held a series of other interesting jobs: waitress, charter boat captain, fishing net builder, and house painter. Those were the lean and hard days when Lisa would stop by the car shack and keep me posted. Subsequently, she would be hired by the aforementioned Sun Transport, and that was her shot to make her career begin in earnest, and get some traction. It also led her to her husband, Campbell Dixon, who sails as a chief mate for Chevron. The seagoing couple work a similar schedule and sometimes pass each other while transiting in their respective ships. They reside in Florida and Maine when off duty. “My husband is a great guy, and is so supportive of my career,” she said.

As the Master of a Merchant ship, Capt. Lisa Chaplin-Dixon has full responsibility of the crew, vessel, and cargo. “I have a crew of 24 on the ship, and we work well as a team,” she says, “we do a serious job where things can go wrong and people can get hurt, so it’s a serious working culture.” She also noted that they have a good time, while fostering a purpose of professionalism. “Morale aboard the ship is what it’s all about; we all have a sense of pride in our work.”

“Once I was bringing the ship to the Columbia River, and a man came up the accommodation ladder from the pilot boat to take us into the river,” she said. “When the pilot came into the wheelhouse to take command, I heard an accent that was familiar. I asked him where he was from, and he said ‘Block Island.’”

The pilot was none other than Block Island’s own, Captain Bill Black — small world. Lisa told him she had lived in Galilee and was familiar with the ferry docks and the island. “He’s a great guy,” she said. “With these two seasoned sailors in the wheelhouse the ship was in good hands.

Master Mariner Lisa Chaplin-Dixon has come a long way in her career. She was the first female captain hired in the 170-year history of Chevron, once named Standard Oil. I salute her hard-earned success, and wish her fair winds and tides as she captains her own ship — forward, always forward.