Online Exhibitions & Stories

Jessica Tyson

Rewriting Women into Maritime History
Pilot, Deputy Harbour Master

Jessica Tyson

Location: Burnham-On-Sea, Somerset, England

Sea-Struck Odyssey

In the coastal town of Cornwall, a young woman named Jessica Tyson found herself at a crossroads in her life. She came from a family with a naval background, her father having served in the Royal Navy. However, Jessica didn't envision following in his footsteps. The idea of joining the Royal Navy seemed unappealing, as she perceived the women's division, the Wrens, to be limited to secretarial roles. Jessica's heart craved a greater adventure.

Her love for the ocean blossomed when her family moved to Cornwall during her teenage years. With the waves lapping at her doorstep, she found herself bouncing around on small boats, forging connections with local pilots, and sailing along the side of magnificent ships. The thrill of those experiences ignited a spark within her, and she knew that she had to find a way to combine her passion for the sea with her dreams of travel. In the dead of night, Jessica confessed her desire to go to sea to her parents. Understanding the importance of following one's heart, they encouraged her to pursue her dreams.

Her seafaring journey began with passage on a small German tanker, where she and a friend assisted the crew on their way to a six-week backpacking adventure. That trip cemented her resolve to pursue a career at sea. With a heart set on becoming a deck officer, Jessica sent out scores of letters seeking a cadetship. Fortune favoured her when BP Shipping opened its doors and, on her return, she soon found herself at Plymouth’s Polytechnic Southwest, learning the art of survival at sea. Within a month, Jessica set sail for Singapore on her maiden voyage, a four-and-a-half-month welcome to life at sea. From there, the sea became her second home. She spent ten and a half years with BP Shipping, forging lifelong connections with mentors and leaders who left treasured marks.



After her time with BP Shipping, Jessica embraced a new chapter as she sailed with Windstar Cruises, aboard stay masted schooners that took her on unforgettable voyages. Amid the vastness of the Indian Ocean, she witnessed magnificent electrical storms, an awe-inspiring display of nature's power. Watching orcas swim by the ship, so close she could almost reach out and touch them, left an indelible mark on her soul.

Jessica's journey wasn't a linear one, and destiny took her to different roles in the maritime world. She eventually became a Master on a small tanker in Trinidad & Tobago, and then on a tug working a salvage job in the Azores, where she met an engineer with whom she formed a connection. As fate would have it, she became pregnant, but circumstances took an unexpected turn, leaving her to navigate her career and motherhood on her own.

Despite the hurdles, Jessica persevered and found her way back to the sea, utilising her skills as a master mariner to educate others about the importance of shipping. She became an advocate for the marine industry, encouraging children and adults alike to recognise the significance of maritime trade in an island nation like the UK.


"She championed the cause, trying to break the "sea blindness" that often leaves people ignorant about the ports and communities that rely on maritime commerce."
Carly Fields


Jessica's passion for the sea, her resilience, her dedication to education, and circumstance eventually led her to her current role as a Pilot and Deputy Harbour Master. Her journey has come full circle, and she takes pride in piloting ships, relishing every moment on the open waters. Her love for the environment and the camaraderie shared with her crew still fuels her every day.

For Jessica Tyson, the sea was not just a profession; it was a profound passion that enriched her life immeasurably. Through the vast expanse of the ocean, she discovered herself, her purpose, and the beauty of humanity's enduring connection with the sea.


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Written by Carly Fields

© Emilie Sandy Photography, 2023