- Riley Smith
- Captain Lise Portelance aboard the Harbour Queen.
Lise Portelance, 32, is a captain aboard the Harbour Queen—a 75-foot Mississippi-style stern-wheeler which runs daily cruises departing from the harbour. A sailor for 14 years and a captain for nine, she spoke with The Coast about her arduous journey to the captain's cabin.
How did you become a captain?
The concourse of a multitude of fortunate events, but also, by growing a heavy set of balls. The key to success is a general understanding of how a ship and its components works—I went to a school for that in Rimouski—and fearless curiosity. If you're a female in such a men's world, you ain't gonna make it unless you are very good at it. It's still the law of the jungle out there. You have to prove yourself.
What are some of the challenges of being a captain?
If you doubt yourself, the crew can smell it like the wolf smells fear on the deer, and from that moment on, getting respect from them can only be achieved by showing that this is done by any human and that gender doesn't matter. I'm fortunate because there have been other captains willing to give me a chance.
So when I get to work with a new crew, I ignore the fact that they look at me as some kind of unique mixed-gender, misconceived mutant and I show them a woman is no worse than a man and can, in fact, do just as well as two men together!
Why are there so few female captains?
I think because of a lack of role models. It's a vicious circle, but luckily the situation is slowly changing. There are lots of really wicked women out there who deserve to be reckoned with for their perseverance and abilities.
That being said, if a girl wants to be a sailor, this industry needs people and gender matters less and less.
Captaining a boat can be done by anybody, as long as you don't mind getting dirty every now and then.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.