Local woman makes history on Nantucket

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Two Granby girls participated in the 2022 Captain’s Academy: Chloe Delaire (bottom row left) and Alyssa DiTommasso, (bottom row right) are both students in Granby public schools. Photos by Shirley Murtha

Catherine Slattery at Madaket Marine.

When she was growing up on Nantucket, Granby resident Catherine Slattery learned that being a girl had some disadvantages. She couldn’t work at or go to the Caddy Camp at the island golf club. “Boys Only” was the rule. That was always in the back of her mind, and, many years later, when she became one of the owners of the island’s Madaket Marine, she was determined to start a Captain’s camp for young women. Not only would this even the long-ago score, it would increase the talent pool from which she could draw staffing for the marina.

What Slattery would do and how she would go about it came easily to her; raising the funds to finance the project was a different story. Fortune favors the prepared mind goes the saying, and just the year before the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce had begun a business pitch competition based on television’s Shark contest. Individuals or small groups of entrepreneurs audition their ideas for projects. Four or five are chosen to present their concepts to a live audience and three judges. First prize is $10,000, second is $5,000 and third is $2,500.

Slattery receives the $5,000 check from the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce for her Captain’s Academy proposal.

On Sept. 24, 2021, Slattery, accompanied by three young ladies who demonstrated how to quickly activate a life vest, presented her plan to the audience and judges at the Dreamland theater on the island. The project won the $5,000 second prize and the Captain’s Academy began to take shape. The prize money allowed her to hire a camp director, Skylah Reis; remaining costs were covered by Madaket Marine. This year’s session lasted only eight days, but Slattery plans for it to be a full summer program in the future.

Ten girls, aged 13–15, bunked in the marina’s employee housing and took their meals at the project headquarters—Slattery’s home. All the educational components of the program took place at the marina or on the water.

The bunk house at the Captain’s Camp.

The educational components fell into the categories of a STEM curriculum: science, technology, engineering and math. A Harvard graduate working on her master’s degree in marine biology, Reis provided educational lectures and demonstrations on a wide range of marine-related topics that included how to raise shellfish, perform an aquatic survey, and codify the results.

Between Reis and Slattery, the girls learned how to pilot a boat, navigate using GPS, find fish with SONAR, snorkel, repair engines and how to successfully run a business by studying profit and loss statements and balance sheets. The girls also met with the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s team of women scientists.

This program shows the young women that marine-related careers are not just for men. At this time, only two percent of the world’s 1.2 million seafarers are women. Since 1848, there have been female marine biologists, but not so many female boat captains, and rarely a female harbormaster as there is on Nantucket. Slattery is a perfect role model for the girls: an owner of the busy Madaket Marine, she knows how to run a business and knows her way around all types of watercraft.