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Angus trailblazer Fiona reveals inspirations behind seafaring career on International Women’s Day

Fiona Scrimgeour
Fiona Scrimgeour

A trailblazing Angus mariner is encouraging other young women to consider a life at sea and says the days of women being unwelcome onboard vessels are long past.

Fiona Scrimgeour grew up near Kirriemuir and went on to sail ships of all sizes across some of the world’s most expansive and treacherous waters.

She now sits on the board of non-executive directors at Montrose Port Authority.

Fiona Scrimgeour.

On International Women’s Day, Fiona revealed a Tayside marine engineer and war heroine was one of the inspirations behind her choice of career.

And she encouraged young women to consider a career which she embarked on as a teenager with a “baptism of fire” 80-day cargo vessel trip across the globe.

Fiona, 38, said: “Seafaring is not a traditional career for a female, invariably I was the only woman onboard with multinational crews, who very often culturally have differing views on females being at sea – you quickly have to learn to accept that.

“Being at sea for extended periods of time, sometimes months at sea before you can get ashore – if you can get ashore – you very quickly learn to be resilient.

“You have to adapt, and very quickly realise that you need to give as good as you get and make every attempt to fit in.

The former Webster’s High School pupil said: “I’ve experienced my own fair share of sexism, discrimination and banter – you learn to deal with it.

“If anything it makes you work harder and strive to be better to prove that you can do it.

“However, you do need to understand your limits as a female and know when to ask for help – it’s not a failure it’s a strength.

“Thankfully things have changed greatly since then.”

Fiona also says the once-held view that having a woman on board a ship would bring bad luck to the vessel and crew has thankfully been consigned to history.

New chairman sets out future plans for Montrose Port Authority

Her love of the sea goes back to childhood when she looked up to her ‘Grandpa Scrim’ and Fiona embarked on her career at the age of 18.

Inspiration

She also cited the inspiration of pioneering Tayside woman Victoria Drummond, the UK’s first woman marine engineer.

“I started a cadetship with full sponsorship from Lloyds of London, now Maritime London, directly from sixth year at Webster’s High School,” said Fiona.

“My first trip was on the Teignbank, a general cargo vessel which traded on an 80-day trip round the world.

“I joined the vessel in Le Havre and sailed across to the Panama Canal, down to Tahiti.

“We had port calls in New Caledonia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, various ports in Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Malaysia, and back to Europe via the Suez Canal.

“It was a baptism of fire and I loved it,” said Fiona.

After securing her Officer of the Watch ticket, Fiona took a post with BP Shipping and, still only 21, was often alone on the bridge of a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) responsible for the safety of the near 20-strong crew.

“When I had sufficient sea time I was able to sit my Chief Officer’s ticket and finally my Master’s ticket – at 23 I had a Master’s Unlimited Ticket – I could theoretically captain any vessel, of any size, anywhere in the world.

“It was my biggest achievement at that age, but ultimately Angus was where I always came home to and I came ashore in late 2012 and had my first baby the following year.”

Fiona now has a successful career in marine logistics and operations with a major North Sea energy producer, in addition to her position at Montrose Port Authority – and being mum to Eilidh, 7, Agnes, 4, and two-year-old Archie.

Grew up close to Montrose port

She said she was drawn to working with Montrose Port Authority having grown up around the port and having experience from the “other side of the quay.”

“It was a great opportunity to be involved with a local port that I had seen throughout my childhood having been born along the road at Egypt Farm, Farnell, and had seen it develop over the years at a distance,” she said.

On International Women’s Day, Fiona said she would encourage any girl with a passion for the sea to seek out an opportunity and see the world.

“A career at sea is different, it’s not something everyone does, nor can do,” she said.

“Ships and seafarers will always be needed, it’s a brilliant way to see the world, albeit not often the nicest parts of the world.

“There’s a structured and regulated training regime and due to the training costs, it’s something that you require sponsorship from a shipping company to pursue, and you can find information on these from the Merchant Navy Training Board.”

Victoria Drummond: From the banks of the Tay to heroic courage under fire.

Born in 1894 at Errol on the banks of the River Tay, Victoria Drummond was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s groom-in-waiting, Captain Malcolm Drummond of Megginch, and named after the Monarch who was her godmother.

In 1913 she cast aside traditional gender roles and a childhood fascination with machinery, nurtured at Robert Morton and Sons engineering works in Errol, led to an apprenticeship at the Northern Garage in Perth.

She completed her apprenticeship at the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Dundee before becoming Tenth Engineer on the Blue Funnel passenger liner Anchises in 1922, serving on it for two years and making four voyages to Australia and one to China.

Victoria Drummond

Drummond tried to return to sea with the outbreak of war, but despite her Second Engineer status, saw her applications initially rejected.

However, she subsequently took up engineer posts on a number of ships, including the cargo vessel Bonita.

It came under attack by the German Luftwaffe around 400 miles from land in the North Atlantic in August 1940.

Bonita survived a sustained attack by bombs and machine gun fire, and for her courage aboard the ship Drummond was awarded the MBE and the Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea in July 1941.

SS Anchises, the first ship on which Victoria Drummond sailed. Copyright Scottish Maritime Museum. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk

Her First Mate on Bonita said of the Tayside engineer: “She is about the most courageous woman I ever saw.

“She seems to be without fear or nerves, is very good at her job and has an uncanny power over engines, for which I once thanked God.”

After the war, she worked in shipyards in Dundee and Burntisland.

In a career spanning 40 years, Victoria made 49 ocean-going voyages and she died in Sussex on Christmas Day 1978 at the age of 84.

Her biography, The Remarkable Life of Victoria Drummond – Marine Engineer, was written by her niece, Cherry Drummond,16th Baroness Strange.

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