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Ella Te Aho on the Thrills and Spills of Being a Female Bosun

A chance meeting with friends in a bar when she left school at 18 paved the way for Ella Te Aho’s career in yachting, and ever since she left Australia for Antibes for her first season temping and day working, she hasn’t looked back.

Having worked her way up to bosun, Ella spends her days on deck, managing teams and ensuring the efficient day-to-day running on board, excelling in what tends to be a typically male-dominated department.

From the daily challenges and tips for overcoming them to the far-flung parts of the world she can’t wait to discover, Ella tells us exactly what it is she loves so much about the superyacht industry, and why she’ll be sticking with it for many years to come.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into the industry? What was your first job?

I grew up in a small surfing town on the east coast of Australia so I’ve spent my whole life in and around the ocean - it’s kind of in your blood when you come from that part of the world.

I was out in a bar one night after I’d just left school at 18, and I got chatting to some friends of friends who were already in the industry. They were showing me photos of their adventures, talking about tips, salaries and the parties they would go to, and I thought that sounded like a bit of me. I found a school nearby that did the STCW, signed up, booked a plane ticket and I was off to Antibes about four months later with absolutely no clue what I’d really gotten myself into. To be honest, when I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself, but I knew university or more study wasn’t really for me. Travel seemed to be a good fit.

My first season I spent temping and day working, it was a real struggle to find that first full time position. My first temp role was as a tender driver/deckhand on a 110m and it was an unbelievable experience. I had an epic deck team and was actually one of four girls on deck, all very very strong women.

Have you always had a passion for the sea?

Yes, I love the ocean. Any opportunity to be in it and I will be - it brings me such joy and calmness, as I’m sure it does for many crew in the industry. It’s the perfect place to escape from your day on board and find some Zen.

As a bosun, what’s the scope of your role on a day-to-day basis?

Directing the traffic on deck mostly, plus daily tasks that need to be completed by the team. These tend to be laid down by the CO or myself. My days tend to involve a lot of forward planning, scheduling one job or task after the other so we maintain the vessel to the highest standard possible while staying efficient and diligent with our time and manpower. Lots of training goes on as well, plus overseeing jobs that are to be completed by the team. It’s great to see junior deckies come in and be eager to learn all the skills that will make them a star.

What do you love most about the job?

The travel for me is at the top of the list for obvious reasons, but also the community that yachting creates. I’ve been to some unreal places on leave with friends that I met in the game years ago. You tend to find that most people in yachting are of like mind, which is sometimes not always 100%, but that’s what makes it a blast.

I also find overcoming the challenges that arise each day rewarding. I don’t always overcome them, but I will always learn from them. Then there’s managing a team from such different backgrounds, mindsets, views, ages and all of the other bits that make us individuals. Sometimes to get the best out of everyone is quite the task, and it also makes me look at myself in the mirror quite hard, question who I am and if I am doing the best I possibly could be.

And what’s your least favourite thing?

That has to be the night shift and a difficult garbage run in the heat. I don’t think either of those things excite any deck crew.

Why do you think there are so few female bosuns?

I don’t think there are so few ‘female bosuns’ anymore - I am currently in Barcelona and out of 13 boats I have seen at least six with girls on deck as either officers, bosuns or deckies. It’s slowly changing, and I have worked under quiet a few female COs, seconds and bosuns. The phrase needs to change as we are all bosuns regardless of our sex, sexuality or race.

What do you think needs to change for more women to take up this role?

I think it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that needs to change - many things need to grow and evolve, and we are already seeing that happen. It’s going to take time though, and as women we have chosen to work in a male-dominated sector of the industry, so there are going to be continuous challenges. If we continue being resilient and intelligent then we will pave the way for more and more girls on deck and in the bridge. I think that’s going to be the most bold, positive movement we can make.

Have you come across many hurdles or resistance due to your sex?

Yes, of course. It’s very normal to see something along the lines of “male candidates only due to cabin arrangements” at the bottom of a job post or email from an agent. I have also worked with some sexist captains, COs, some very passive aggressive peers that would make their opinion about girls on deck well voiced. I don’t think it’s right, but I have chosen this department of the industry knowing full well the challenges I would face. It’s a ruthless industry on a good day so throw a bit of sexism and some passive aggressive comments and it can really affect your mindset and mental health. Luckily there are some epic platforms for any crew to reach out, not just females on deck, so I encourage everyone to reach out. It’s so important. At the end of the day the industry will give you a very thick skin which is good for life. And just remember, it’s only yachting!

Are you currently taking any training courses?

Constantly, that’s why I’m always broke! On a serious note I’ve been putting off my OOW oral for a while now, but hopefully I can bash that out early next year and keep hustling.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Tough but fair. I’ve also been described as old school, which was nice seeing as I was 25! I am very direct in my approach to what I want to be achieved by the team as a team. In saying that, I can be very soft at times. It’s something that I would love to be extremely well rounded in, but it’s still a work in process and forever will be.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career so far?

To never take myself or anything we do too seriously. Be confident in your decisions, even if it’s the wrong one - accept the mistake and learn from it. It’s taken a long time. One of my first COs said to me one day: ‘A pinch of salt, always back yourself, and always always use the bloody sticks.” He was very Aussie.

Where do you see yourself in five years? And 10?

I want to say retired but that’s highly unlikely. Hopefully in five I’ll be on a nice bridge at sea as a CO with a strong team exploring the world. In 10 maybe a bit closer to home but still at sea.

Tell us a lesser-known fact about yourself that would surprise your colleagues.

I spent about 10 years doing a martial art called aikido in my early teens…I think that’s as interesting as I get!

You enjoy photography – is this something you would like to take to a more professional level?

I really enjoy being behind the lens, but I am still very much at an amateur level. With so many inspiring Instagram pages it’s hard not to want to make it more professional. I doubt I’ll ever make a career out of it but it will forever be a passion.

What are your favourite cruising grounds and why?

That’s such a difficult one. I still have so many places I want to see whilst in the industry. Croatia has to be up there. Going stern to the rocks on an uninhabited island with absolutely no one around in completely flat calm conditions with not a breath of wind does make you stop in your tracks. However the Maldives drop off day surfs with a cold beer are something else for the eyes. Both very special in their own ways.

What one lesson would you give a young female crew member looking to make it as a bosun on a large yacht?

Always back yourself and be humble. Hone the skills you learn each and every day, show those guys up.

With thanks to wilsonhalligan

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