Chief Officer Bernadette Paponette cuts a striking figure in her hijab and crisp, black and white uniform. Then there is her effusive smile. She is second in command only to the captain of the vessel and is the only female Chief Officer serving onboard Nidco's water taxis.
While passing the Breakfast Shed on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, patrons and passersby hail Paponette out as 'Captain', she is not officially one as yet, but sometimes performs the duties as a captain in his absence.
Speaking to Guardian Media at the adjacent Ferry Terminal Building, Paponette said "Everywhere I go people are amazed seeing what I do being a female Chief Officer operating a vessel. For me, it's so normal because I love what I do.
"I've always been fascinated by the sea, I feel that I'm in my element and comfort zone, seeing all the water it's like a home away from home for me.
"I spent my childhood in Cumaca, Valencia and Tunapuna and now live in St Augustine. I started with the company in January 2012, I also spent some time on the Galleons Passage.
"I told myself let me try it, not knowing fully what it was about. I wouldn't change my career for anything. The only thing, if I could do differently, is to start sooner."
She studied Maritime Operations at the University of T&T's (UTT) maritime campus in Chaguaramas, sailed and trained on oil and gas tankers on our continents, North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, reaching as far as South Korea.
After Paponette's training as a deck cadet, she sailed ammonia tankers for a while before moving on to her first passenger ship, the Bourbon Offshore.
She said she would love to see a lot more women working onboard ships in T&T—internationally women on board vessels was a more common sight, but locally she doesn't know if they find it too challenging, with the ratio of women in the local maritime industry at just two per cent.
Paponette, 36, said her shift begins at 4:30 am with the first sailing. As safety and security officer, some of her duties include ensuring the safety of the more than 400 passengers during the voyage, the crew and boarding and disembarking operations.
She is also responsible for what occurs on board the deck, the Master or Captain is in charge overall, and she assists him with berthing and unberthing of the vessel.
Paponette said sometimes she acts as captain onboard vessels since captains may not come out for various reasons, such as emergencies, illness or vacation.
She said during downtime while not sailing in Port-of-Spain, she oversees the needs of the vessels' maintenance until they are ready to sail for San Fernando, the vessels' home base where they overnight.
Paponette said she had encountered a storm before, but now more often than not the water taxis may encounter fishing vessels with their nets spread out in the water.
She said sometimes the water taxis had to alter course and go around them to avoid damaging the fishing vessels' nets, which causes some delay.
Paponette said rough waters did not occur too often, it occurred once a year like in August, and the water taxis had to delay sailing because it was difficult to berth.
She said they tried to keep the crews together assigned to a vessel, one week the crew will rotate shifts between the Paria Bullet and Calypso Sprinter.
Paponette said she could carry out her Islamic religious practices such as fasting during Ramadan while working because of the prayer times and sailing times, they were not a problem as she received her privacy to fast and say prayers.
She said, however, it was challenging being a single career-driven mother of a five-year-old daughter, who started primary school just over a year ago.
Paponette said after she finished her sailing job, she had two more jobs at home being a mother and a teacher helping her daughter with her homework, but she wouldn't change it for the world.
She said her daughter understood what her job entailed—unborn babies are aware of their surroundings while in the womb and she sailed with her for a full nine months.
Paponette said her daughter was used to her work time, she doesn't question or feel left out and grew into it.
She said she would allow her daughter to follow in her footsteps if she chooses—she already told her she was going to be steering ships just like her.
Paponette said she would encourage her daughter because many times she was the only female working onboard a ship.
She said there were challenges in the maritime industry, but she had never encountered any discrimination in any form or bias.
Paponette said she tries to bring up her daughter as best as she can so that she can confidently go out in the world to make a living. She feels asured that her daughter will be fine.