Online Exhibitions & Stories

Martel Fursdon

Rewriting Women into Maritime History

Martel Fursdon

Location: Southampton, UK

A Women's Seascape

Martel Fursdon's voyage into the maritime realm defied the norms and took a path less travelled. With dreams of studying marine biology beckoning her to a university in Scarborough, fate intervened with a serendipitous encounter. At the tender age of 18, Martel found herself stepping aboard the Oldenburg ferry as a galley girl, shuttling passengers and cargo across the waters between North Devon and Lundy. Little did she suspect that this fleeting opportunity would unfurl into an extraordinary odyssey of the sea.

As September rolled around, Martel's certainty in her academic pursuits wavered. Encouraged by her shipmates, she decided to take a year off and return to work on the ferry the following summer. This pattern repeated itself, and Martel found herself drawn to the dynamic nature of the maritime industry. The idea of a structured university education no longer appealed to her. Instead, she was captivated by the constant unpredictability of life at sea.

Embracing the advice of her colleagues, Martel decided to join the Merchant Navy. She embarked on a cadetship with a dredging company, where she gained valuable experience in ship operations. However, her thirst for diverse experiences led her to seek opportunities on different types of ships and with various companies. She meticulously worked her way through her imaginary checklist, ticking off each new shipping type and cargo she encountered. When she joined Holland America Line as a Fourth Officer, little did she know that this would mark the beginning of a 20-year tenure with the company, culminating in her ascent to the rank of Staff Captain.


As a woman navigating the tumultuous waters of the male-dominated Merchant Navy, Martel wholeheartedly acknowledges the trials confronted by female seafarers. Conditions onboard are not always conducive to their needs and cultural sensitivities. In her role at Carnival UK, onboard a P&O Cruises’ vessel, Martel mentors and advocates for diversity and inclusion. The company actively seeks feedback on women's experiences onboard and aims to improve practical aspects, such as laundry facilities and access to sanitary products. Martel's efforts to improve conditions and amplify awareness within the industry have ignited a beacon of hope, illuminating the path toward transformation.

However, the lack of women in higher ranks remains a significant challenge, often due to societal expectations and the traditional role of women as caregivers. The retention of promising female cadets remains an uphill battle, as many are lured away from the industry despite their promising beginnings. Martel acknowledges the need for change and encourages the industry to address these issues head-on.

In her personal life, Martel embraces the stark dichotomy between land and sea. Her friends only see her during her three months of leave, enjoying her presence as she bakes and shares cakes in her kitchen.

"The disconnect between her seafaring persona and her life on land highlights the need for the industry to raise awareness and provide more information about what life at sea entails."
Carly Fields


As an island nation, maritime education should be more prevalent in UK schools, inspiring future generations to chart their course towards the Merchant Navy.

Martel Fursdon's journey through the maritime industry serves as an inspiration to aspiring seafarers. Her determination, resilience, and commitment to improving conditions for women at sea are emblematic of the changes needed within the industry. With her voice and influence, she continues to make a meaningful impact, advocating for diversity, inclusion, and a brighter future for all seafarers.


Back to exhibition home page


Written by Carly Fields

© Emilie Sandy Photography, 2023