With Oddrun Irene Bø at the helm of the Christian Radich, Norway now has its first female sailing ship captain.

“I applied for the job because I felt ready to take on the challenge. The Windjammer project was also very appealing,” says Bø.

Oddrun Irene Bø has always had a great sense of adventure. When she was young, she dreamed of sailing around the world, of discovering new cultures and people. Eventually, she realized that the maritime life was going to be her livelihood and started moving up the ranks. In the autumn of 2023, she started her job as captain of the Christian Radich.

“I was already familiar with the sailing community, and coming back to it felt like coming home. I left the community in 2011 when I started in the cargo shipping industry along the Norwegian coast from Fredrikstad to Kirkenes,” says Bø.

Before she became a captain on the Christian Radich, Bø had also been stationed in Finnmark for four years working as a skipper on the rescue boat in Båtsfjord. When we spoke to Oddrun Irene at the beginning of 2024, she was in Las Palmas where Christian Radich was on a maintenance stop and docked for four weeks. Oddrun Irene started skippering when our sailing season began in February.

Important to feel part of something bigger

So far, Bø has skippered on one voyage with Windjammer, and she can already say, “Being at sea for four weeks, working together and doing tasks necessary for the ship to keep going, will I think provide experiences that can set ‘Windjammers’ on a new course in life. Our goal is for the young people to feel both taken care of and challenged.” She is also pleased that we now have the Able Seafarer Programme, which is an advanced programme for Windjammer graduates.

Above all, it’s the sense of community at sea that can do wonders for everyone, and that is also what Bø herself appreciates most. She thinks the people drawn to the sailing community are generally very good people. The fact that the Christian Radich crew is so experienced makes her feel secure in her role of responsible captain.

“It is important to feel that one is part of something bigger than oneself and can make a contribution. Perhaps that is what is missing for many young people today. It is certainly something I can appreciate myself,” says Bø.

Good impression of women in leadership positions

Bø is Norway’s first female sailing ship captain, and it is not the first time Bø has been asked about her maritime experience. Being a woman at sea attracts attention. She works in four-week shifts, and when on land she lives in Tvedestrand with her husband and two children.

“As a woman at sea, one is constantly confronted with old ideas about women. There are other women who are captains on other vessels, but there are still not so many of us. I would say that the sailing community is more modern than the maritime industry as a whole. Christian Radich opened up for women onboard already in the 1980s, and I am a product of that philosophy,” says Bø, who considers it important that young people get a positive image of women in leadership positions.

“Most of all, I am focused on doing a good job, regardless of gender. But I know that I am particularly visible because I am a woman in a male-dominated environment. Therefore, it is important that the young girls and boys on board get a good impression of women in leadership positions.”

She believes that life at sea is so good that any woman who feels attracted to it should jump headfirst into it, saying, “Some of the traditional attitudes towards women at sea are really unproductive and need to be addressed. But I do not think this should stop girls who want to try working at sea.”

History written by, and about, men

Life at sea has lacked female role models, which has also affected the recruitment of women. Bø believes this is now starting to change, but it is a slow process: “Take any history book. If we look back in time, there are almost only male names to be seen. Anyone would think there was not even a single woman living in the 19th century,” says Oddrun Irene.

Bø has an art education and once created an exhibition about women in maritime professions. She contacted 20 women and asked if they would tell their stories and send her pictures from their lives at sea. One she mentions is Anne Marie Prytz, who became Norway’s first female captain in 1981. Prytz was the captain of the tanker Athene, which sailed in the Middle East. Now Bø is helping to write a new chapter in this history, about Norway’s first female sailing ship captain.

“I am incredibly grateful for my career at sea. I have an exciting and rewarding everyday life, and I thrive as a captain. And being able to inspire others is a real plus!”

Lisbet Jære