By Peter Greenberg
IT’S 11 A. M. on a Sunday morning at the port
in Bayonne, New Jersey. Two thousand passengers have just disembarked Celebrity
Summit. Another 2,000 are waiting to board.
Down on the docks, the forklifts are;zipping
alongside, unloading large containers of food,
supplies, spare parts, alcohol and, of course,
passengers’ luggage. Nine hundred and fifty
metric tons of fuel are pumped aboard. And
951 crew members, already on board, are racing through their tasks, from cleaning guest
cabins to preparing dinner. In just a few hours
the; 91,000-ton ship will slide away from her
moorings and head out to sea.
It’s a typical turnaround day for the ship.
What’s not typical is who is in charge.
The master mariner on Summit is;Kate
McCue, and the 37-year-old is the first
American woman to helm a cruise ship.
For Captain McCue, who prefers the simpler and more informal title “Captain Kate,”
this command assignment has been more
than 25 years in the making.
Her love affair with the sea started when
she was 12, when her parents took her on a
four-day cruise to the Bahamas. “I remember
standing in the parking lot when we were
packing the trunk, and I said to my dad, “I
want to be the cruise director; I want to be
Julie [the cruise director on the TV series The
Love Boat], the person who plans all of the fun
events on board. But then my dad said the
words that would change my life. He said, ‘You
can do anything you want in the world, includ-
ing driving this thing.’ And that’s where the
seed was planted.”
McCue, a Costco member, started as a
cadet at the California Maritime Academy in
1996, when men outnumbered women
15-to- 1. Nineteen years—and 10 ships—
later, she earned her captain’s stripes.
And when that day happened, the first
person she told was her dad.
“I was supposed to keep the
news under wraps until the
company announced it, but it
was close to Father’s Day and
I asked for special permis-
sion to tell my dad on that
day,” she says.
“And then I gave my dad
the official notification letter.
And when he finished the
letter he looked at me, and he
said, ‘Captain?’ Tears were
streaming down his face.”
McCue is acutely aware that she is a role
model for other women hoping to command
their own ships. “It’s an adrenaline rush to
drive a ship like this, to have all of this horse-
power and girth underneath you,” she
acknowledges. “It’s impressive. And it’s a huge
responsibility as well.”
She doesn’t take this responsibility lightly.
In addition to passenger safety, which she con-
siders her greatest priority, “My job involves
constant recurrent training and updating
information—from navigation, to ship’s sys-
tems, to food and sanitation, to [the] weather.”
But she does have a distinctive tattoo on
the top of her right foot, featuring a small
anchor and a ship’s compass. She acquired it
when she got her master’s license. “Well, every
sailor has to have a tattoo, right?” she asks.
“This is my anchor to keep me grounded. And
then I have my compass rose, my ship’s wheel,
to see where I’m going.”
Now that she has her ship, what is Captain
Kate’s biggest challenge? “Learning two thou-
sand new names every cruise,” she laughs.
Learning her name doesn’t seem to be a chal-
lenge for the passengers. Now that the word is
out, more and more of the cruisers boarding
the Summit already know her name. And can’t
wait to meet her. C
Peter Greenberg is the multiple Emmy Award–
winning travel editor for CBS News and host of
The Travel Detective on public television
a new course
The Costco Connection
Costco Travel offers a variety of exciting voyages with Celebrity Cruises and other world-class cruise lines, including Buyer's Choice
theme sailings. To learn more, click "Travel"
at Costco.com or call 1-877-849-2730.
McCue at the helm
of Celebrity Summit.