Captain Laura Smith is a new member of the Blue & Gold Fleet crew, but not new to the job. "Iíve been at Blue & Gold for four or five months now," she said. "I worked at Harbor Bay Maritime for 17 years, 16 of those driving. Since Harbor Bay went out of business, Blue & Gold got our contract."
Captain Laura Smith in the wheelhouse of Taurus at the Harbor Bay dock. Captain Smith is scheduled to be at the helm on the first run of the new San Francisco Bay Ferryís South San Francisco route (see pages 12-13) on June 4th. Photo by Matt Larson
By Matt Larson
Published: June, 2012
Captain Laura Smith is a new member of the Blue & Gold Fleet crew, but not new to the job. "I’ve been at Blue & Gold for four or five months now," she said. "I worked at Harbor Bay Maritime for 17 years, 16 of those driving. Since Harbor Bay went out of business, Blue & Gold got our contract."
You can find Captain Smith on San Francisco Bay Ferry’s evening Harbor Bay commute to and from San Francisco, five nights a week. Smith has also picked up an Oakland/Alameda run at 1:45 p.m. as a lunch relief for the other captains.
"I love working for Blue & Gold," Smith said. "It’s very different than our small company where we had to do everything ourselves—we didn’t have a maintenance crew, we didn’t have engineers, it was hard work." Now with all the Blue & Gold crew around, Smith can focus on what’s truly important. "Basically I can just concentrate on operating the vessel, the safety of my crew and the passengers."
Smith first found interest in navigating the waterways when she was asked to be a crew member on a sailboat that was to cruise from San Francisco to Costa Rica. "It was a couple that asked me, knowing that I didn’t know anything about sailing or cruising. I learned quite a bit on that trip."
Upon her return, Smith knew what she wanted to do. "I came back and wanted to work on the water. I heard about a job opening as a deckhand at Harbor Bay and got hired. I just enjoyed it so much; it was so different than anything I thought I would ever do."
Now with Blue & Gold, Smith has been learning to drive the other ferry boats. "They have you train on all the vessels in case you need to fill in here and there," said Smith. "I’m really enjoying that, the learning part. Working a job for this long, you usually don’t get a chance to learn something. It’s fun."
After being a San Francisco resident for 25 years, Smith now lives in Vallejo. She’s an abstract painter and enjoys going camping, hiking, biking and—of course—boating. "I like to be outdoors," Smith said.
"Being up there, on the water, in the open air—it’s a freedom," said Smith. "My favorite moments are docking the boat because that’s a challenge and every one is different. I’m constantly learning, constantly evolving. I’m always wanting to perfect it. It’s never good enough," she laughed.
Another big challenge, as we’ve heard from Smith’s fellow captains, is navigating through the fog. "Not actually on the route," she explained, "but if it’s really foggy near your dock it’s probably the most challenging part trying to find your dock. The fog in the Bay gets pretty thick."
In foggy situations, Smith said that it takes confidence to successfully navigate the waterways with so many passengers and crew depending on you to get home safely. "I feel secure in my abilities," said Smith. "I’ve never had any incident on my vessel, on our route, with anyone getting hurt. At the end of the day I’m just happy that people get to their destinations safely, and I’ve kept my crew safe as well." And, in addition to confidence, it also helps to simply enjoy the job.
"I love what I’m doing," said Smith. "I’m definitely indebted to the commuters. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have a job."
Smith said that she has developed a type of relationship with many of her passengers, whether they know it or not, as she sees them board every day from up in the wheelhouse. "I have watched them get married, have kids, their kids grow up and go to college. Even though they don’t know me personally because I haven’t had the chance to talk to a lot of them, I see them everyday, the same faces. It’s pretty neat."