Women of the Northwest

Erin Hulti-Want to only work 6 months a year? Become a Merchant Mariner

August 15, 2023 Jan Johnson Episode 75
Erin Hulti-Want to only work 6 months a year? Become a Merchant Mariner
Women of the Northwest
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Women of the Northwest
Erin Hulti-Want to only work 6 months a year? Become a Merchant Mariner
Aug 15, 2023 Episode 75
Jan Johnson

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Erin Hulti was in that in between space, trying to figure out what she wanted to do in life, when of all places, she was having blood drawn and her conversation with the phlebotomist triggered her career choice.

She is enrolled at Cal Maritime to receive her major in Marine Transportation. She just spent 90 days interning on an oil tanker and loved it.

She will receive her Merchant Mariner license at the end of her four year studies.

Subscribe to the Women of the Northwest podcast for inspiring stories and adventures.
Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Erin Hulti was in that in between space, trying to figure out what she wanted to do in life, when of all places, she was having blood drawn and her conversation with the phlebotomist triggered her career choice.

She is enrolled at Cal Maritime to receive her major in Marine Transportation. She just spent 90 days interning on an oil tanker and loved it.

She will receive her Merchant Mariner license at the end of her four year studies.

Subscribe to the Women of the Northwest podcast for inspiring stories and adventures.
Find me on my website: jan-johnson.com

[00:02] Jan: Are you looking for? An inspiring listen, something to motivate you. You've come to the right place. I'm Jan Johnson, your host. Welcome to Women of the Northwest, where we have conversations with ordinary women leading extraordinary lives. Women telling their stories and sharing their passions. Motivating. Inspiring, compelling.

[00:36] Jan: Erin Hulti was in that in between space, trying to figure out what she wanted to do in life, when, of all places, she was having blood drawn. And her conversation with the phlebotomist triggered her career choice. She's enrolled at Cal Maritime to receive her major in marine transportation. She just spent 90 days interning on an oil taker and loved it.

[00:56] Jan: She will receive her Merchant Mariner license at the end of her four-year studies. Welcome, Erin.

[01:08] Jan: Hi, Erin.

[01:09] Erin: Hi. 

Jan: Erin has chosen an interesting profession, and I thought maybe she could share that with us. So, how do you decide to get started?

[01:21] Erin: Yeah, so, I think, long story short, I realized that I wanted to work on the water in so,me capacity. It started with a love for tall ships and sailing tall ships like the Lady Washington.

[01:41] Erin: Yes.

[01:41] Erin: And so, then from there, COVID happened. Well, okay. Prior to that, I was going to enlist in the Coast Guard. They rejected me. And then COVID happened.

[01:56] Erin: Well, I guess that was their loss.

[01:58] Erin: Yeah, I'd like to think so,. Yeah. I didn't have a job. I was just living with my mom here.

[02:08] Erin: That in between place. And I was feeling really stuck, and I just didn't know what to do. And I went and I was, at the time, getting into Clatsop Care's CNA program because I just needed something to do. I was like, I don't really want to do this, but I know it's something I could do and would feel okay doing. 

I went and got my blood drawn, and the phlebotomist was talking to me about how she loves commercial fishing. And I told her that I love being out on the water, too. And I hated the CNA program. So, if you feel like you want to be out there on the water, you should do it. So, immediately after getting my blood drawn and talking to her, I called my dad, and I was like, I'm serious. I want to do something. I don't know if it's at Mertz or another program or like, a maritime academy like he went to, but from there I applied to Cal Maritime, and they accepted me. And I'm two years. Wow.

[03:01] Jan: Wow. Isn't it kind of neat how just you can be at that place, and then just one person just says that thing that you know you just know.

[03:10] Erin: That's it was really wild. And I like to include that when I tell people because it's so, vivid. I'm just sitting there. And she had such a hard time finding the vein, and I'd almost passed out. And so, she was like, talking to me to keep me alert and awake. And I was like, oh, my, she's right. Like blood loss, like epiphany. I was like, yes, this is it. She's right.

[03:30] Erin: Okay, so, you enrolled in the program. What kind of classes do you have to take?

[03:35] Erin: Yeah, so, for my major, which is marine transportation, which I think is most deck majors out there at other maritime academies, we take a bunch of gen Eds because we're a part of the CSU system. But then on top of those, we take navigation classes like terrestrial navigation, celestial navigation we take just in case the sky is clear and you can actually see.

[04:04] Erin: Yes, exactly. And I think we take a lot of boat handling classes. I take a very intro marine engineering program, so, I kind of know how all the systems work. What else? I take a lot of classes that go over cargo handling and a lot of classes that kind of touch the economics, that kind of surround shipping, because it's such like a right. Yeah, it's in the middle. It's not the beginning or the end. But that's the way I take those classes as well.

[04:37Jan: How many women are in this program?

[04:40] Erin: In my school, which combines all the majors, I think we're at like, 17% women and out of, like I think we're just under 900 students. So, yeah, there's not many of us.

[04:54] Jan Yeah, that was what I was supposed.

[04:56] Erin: I think it's even less out in the actual workforce because I think when you look at the workforce, it's not just nationally, it's, like, globally because it's like an international business, so, I think it's even less.

[05:09] Jan: Do you feel now that you're in it a little bit like it's something you would just recommend to all kinds of gals?

[05:15] Erin Yeah.

[05:16] Jan: What kind of a person do you need to be? Too.

[05:20] Erin: I think women would do really well because you're in these small spaces with people you just see every day. And I feel like, I don't know, being a woman, just having that intuition and that spatial awareness and that sort of thing is really good, that sense of community. Yeah, definitely. And so, I think it's definitely a special kind of person just because it's so, male dominated right now. But I think if more women were in the industry, it would open up that feeling much more time, like describing it. But yeah, I think the only thing that people struggle with is being gone for so, long. Having that community on board is important because those are the only people you see.

[06:08] Jan: Well, they're people you depend on.

[06:10] Erin: Too yeah, definitely. And I think there's just a lot of men out there and a lot of men from an older generation.

[06:21] Jan: Who do you think has the better level of getting along with a female in their midst? The older guys or the younger ones or the older ones, thinking, what the heck are you doing here? You should be home making cookies or something.

[06:34] Erin: I was really lucky that the ship I was just on this summer, everyone was so, nice. And the captain that I had, he had met his wife at school and so, he kind of knew what she had gone through. And so, he was sympathetic to that and was explaining to me that it used to be much worse and it still can be way worse. And I was like, oh, I was very prepared for it to be way worse. So, I don't know if there's a specific person age that is more accommodating. I think it's probably just, like, how they grew up and how women play a role in their lives.

[07:12] Jan: I would think that that would be changing.

[07:13] Erin: Yeah, I think so, too. I'd like to think so,. As more women come out in the industry.

[07:19] Jan: Yeah, you're kind of a little bit of a pioneer as far as starting in a role that's not traditionally yeah.

[07:29] Erin: It's definitely not traditional, but yeah, it's really cool to meet all of the women that came before me. Yeah, they're really cool.

[07:38] Jan: So, you get on the ship. Describe the ship, what you did on there.

[07:42] Erin: What was that like? Yeah, so, this summer I did after my sophomore year, you do your commercial shipping. So, you're basically like an intern. And I interned on a tanker with Crowley. They're a crewing company. Sorry. Okay. So, they crew through a union. So, all the crew on my ship were via union and I worked on a tanker. So, they just carried oil around the West Coast, which was super. We just went from Long Beach to Anacordis, Washington, Clatskanie in Portland. Yep. Just a big loop.

[08:20] Jan: And then you deliver each place or.

[08:21] Erin: You're picking up for the most part, it was a lot of delivering to Long Beach and then a lot of picking up in Anacordis, delivering to Portland and picking up in Clatskanie. But there were know, sometimes we pick up in Long Beach and then deliver to, like, pick up from Portland and deliver that delivery truck type of, like, wherever the charter wants you to go, whatever they need. And I have no idea how money works at that level of how much oil we're moving. Because there was one instance where we were in Portland, we had just discharged all of this diesel into Portland, and then we got a call later and they're like, we want you to load diesel. Load the diesel you just discharged. And we're like, okay.

[09:16] Jan: Yeah.

[09:16] Erin: I have no idea how money moves like that, but that's just the way it is, and it's the job.

[09:23] Jan: So, what's your daily routine like when you're on the boat?

[09:26] Erin: Yeah, as a cadet, they had me just on waking up for Breakfast 730. And then I'd go up to the bridge and be on watch. I'd stand watch with the mates that were on watch in the mornings, then lunch in the afternoon, and then whatever kind of day work we had in the afternoon, which is whatever they needed me to do.

[09:46]Jan: So, when you're standing watch, are you daydreaming, or what are you doing? What are you looking for?

[09:49] Erin: Well, I don't live on the west coast. There's not a lot of traffic. There's not a lot of anything going. So, like, when there is traffic, it's pretty exciting. But they're usually not anywhere close to us just because there's so, much space out in the Pacific.

[10:05] Jan: Yeah.

[10:05] Erin: On watch, there's certain things we have to do. If we can. We take, like, an azimuth of the sun, which is just getting your location based on the sun's location, and it gives you, like, a compass error.

[10:20] Jan: Yeah.

[10:21] Erin: So, we try to do that just to make sure that all of the compasses are working. And we'll do comparisons of the GPS, make sure all the radars are working. So, there's just tests you do, and you log every watch, and then otherwise yeah. You're just looking out the window. Just making sure.

[10:38] Jan: Looking for fish.

[10:40] Erin: I saw a lot of whales. A lot of dolphins, yeah. Do you get to fish fires? We were going too fast to fish, but they do sometimes fish. I heard that they've caught some I don't know what, maybe halibut when they were in Alaska.

[10:54] Jan: So, when you go back to school, then what happens next?

[10:58] Erin: Yes. So, I'll have my junior year coming up. I have a lot more maritime focused classes now, a lot more ship handling, boat handling classes. And then next summer, I'll have my senior cruise on a Golden Bear. So, your freshman cruise, you're kind of acting like an AB or like a deck hand. And then your senior cruise, you're acting more of, like, the maid on watch, which is what we would do when we graduate. So, we're in charge of the navigation and handling. The ABS or the freshmen.

[11:30] Jan: Because now you're the upper class. Yeah.

[11:32] Erin: Now it's my job.

[11:35] Jan: You got a little seniority on there.

[11:38] Erin: Exactly.

[11:39] Jan: Let me tell you how it's done.

[11:42] Erin: If they're doing it wrong, it's not good to let them practice bad habits. Right, exactly. And then after senior cruise, I'll go into my final semester, my senior semester. And then when I finish that in January, I'll take my Coast Guard exams and get my license and your license, too. It'll be a third May unlimited license. It's like my merchant mariner credential.

[12:08] Erin: Okay. And so, do you think you want to stay on that kind of ship, or you're looking at different kind of ships or what?

[12:16] Erin: I had a good experience on tankers, and I had a good experience with that company, so, it's definitely something that I think about heavily. There's a lot of opinions coming at you about companies to work for, unions to apply to, even if you should sail. So, there's a lot of chatter just coming at you all the time and there's so, many options.

[12:40] Jan: Yeah.

[12:41] Erin: I don't know.

[12:42] Jan: So, how's the pay for a job like that?

[12:47] Erin: It depends on what you do, but for third mates that I was working with, I think before taxes, it was like around $105,000.

[12:57] Jan: That's not shabby.

[12:59] Erin: I think they take around, like, 80, $80,000 home.

[13:02] Erin: So, yeah, I think it's somewhere around there and I think they're on the lower paid end, so, I think it could only go up from there. It depends on what kind of ship you work on and who you're working for, sort of thing.

[13:14] Jan: And so, where do you think you'll end up landing? I mean, to live or your base, where's your base going to be?

[13:20] Erin: I don't know if it's going to be here in Astoria, because I love it here.

It's definitely my home, but I don't know. Washington also, sounds nice, but definitely like, the Pacific Northwest.

[13:37] Erin: And Washington has no income tax, which is a that is huge thing for the Mariner.


[13:44] Jan: How long are you usually out for?

[13:46] Erin: Yeah, so, this last the summer, I was out for 88 days and I just got my two days to make it 90, so, I was very exciting. But, I mean, it's up to you and your relief. So, it's just you and one other person just constantly cycling on and off.

[14:03] Jan: Oh, I see.

[14:04] Erin: So, it can be anywhere from, like, 45 to 90 days. So, it's kind of just what you guys decide. I think a lot of people go for, like, 70 ish so, you can keep when the year rolls over and 90 is a long time, but 45 is just like a little not enough time to get into a groove, but you want the months to roll over. So, not one person is just missing the holidays all the time? Just what, 60? It's kind of finding that sweet spot and then yeah.

[14:40]Jan: And then how much time do you have? So, your time off is the same? It's back to back, usually. Sweet.

[14:48] Erin: 50 50.

[14:48] Jan: So, you're working, like, six months out of the year, basically.

[14:51] Erin: Yeah. For a good salary.

[14:55] Erin: And every day you work, you get a day of vacation. So, when you get off, you just get this huge vacation check.

[15:02] Jan: Bummer.

[15:03] Erin: I know. Just a huge check in your account. And you're like, what do I do with this?

[15:08]Jan: Pay back my loans.

[15:10] Erin: Exactly.

[15:11] Jan: What are you going to buy?

[15:12] Erin: And I'm like, my loans are going to buy them away from me.

[15:15] Jan: Right? Yeah. Save her house and get some. Buy your mom's house.

[15:23] Erin: That's what she would like.

[15:26] Jan: That'd be slick, wouldn't it?

[15:28] Jan: So, what do you do in your free time? What do you enjoy doing?

[15:31] Erin: My free time when I'm not at school or you're not doing anything. Kind of hobbies do you have? 

[15:37] Erin: When I come home, I like to see all the people in my life. That's just one of my favorite things to do, is just to catch up with them and see what's been going on.

[15:45] Jan You're a relationship person.

[15:47] Erin: Which just makes this kind of career hard, but also, special in a way. But I love hiking, too. I love being outside. I love kayaking, being out on the water in a noncommercial way, closer down to the there's less water, less stakes, like being in the water. And it's not like, a bad thing. Yeah. I love just being outside. It's really nice.

[16:13]Jan: Yeah. What is the most difficult thing about that job?

[16:19] Erin: Besides the part where you're gone? You miss things. I think there's just so, much to learn. There's so, much to know. It's overwhelming. So, I think if you have so,mebody in a higher position than you that doesn't want to take the time to explain things to you or instruct you or teach you, I think that could be incredibly difficult.

[16:44] Jan: And that's in any job anywhere. Yeah, exactly.

[16:49] Erin: So, I was really lucky. Everyone was super nice, and they were like, oh, we know about cadets. We know that you have to hold their hand a little bit. That was good. But yeah, there's just so, much to know.

[17:01] Jan: But knowing that, doesn't that make you better when you're kind of training the younger kids to just go, look, I want to make sure, you know, because tell them. If I'd have known this, it made.

[17:11] Erin: Like I feel a lot more confident pointing out and instructing people know, just sitting quiet and letting them do bad job because that's not acceptable.

[17:24] Jan: Right. And I think the same thing. I saw the same thing with my daughter nursing at Ohsu and also, my son in welding and trying to train other welders. It's like so,mebody told me this.

[17:37] Jan: It saved a lot of grief.

[17:39] Erin: Would have made life easier.

[17:41] Jan: Yeah, that's good. Well, do you need a lot of strength to do that job?

[17:48] Erin: Luckily, I had all of these people around me that were pretty strong, but.

[17:54] Jan: You don't pull the could do this for me.

[17:58] Erin: I think maybe I did, like, one or twice. Like, once or twice, I was like, it's just, like, a little heavy for me. But there's always workaround ways. If you're not there's always just things you can do to make it easier. One thing that comes to mind specifically is when on the tanker, when we'd connect the hoses, we'd have to make sure the bolts were really tight. And so, I'd always, like, I'd tighten them, and then the guys would always come around and tighten behind me because I could never get as tight as them. But it's just something where you would add another wrench on, and you'd give it more torque. It would just give you more leverage, and I could get it just as tight as them. So, there's always something that you can do to kind of help yourself. Yeah. Not being strong enough.

[18:42] Erin: You just learn the tricks of the trade, right?

[18:44] Erin: It's never an excuse.

[18:46] Jan: Because if you're the only one there at that time or something, you have to make it happen.

[18:50] Erin: Yeah, definitely.

[18:51] Jan: So, this is something you'd recommend for people to look into? 

Erin: Yeah, for sure. I think it's a really good way to one, you get a degree, a bachelor's degree, which is so, nice. I just never pictured that for myself. And then it's also, like semi trade school, where it's like hands on and you get to learn new things and yeah. The people you meet there are super cool. Everyone is just I don't know you people that have no experience. You have people that have a lot of experience on the water, like, people who sail every day. People have never looked at the ocean. It's cool to watch everyone come together and learn.

[19:26] Jan: Oh, that's awesome. So, where would a person find out how to get into something like this?

[19:33] Erin: For the Maritime Academy. Specifically Cal Maritime. They have a website. I don't know. If you Google Cal Maritime, it'll be like the first thing that pops up. But there's different maritime programs all over, like Merts for Clatsop Community College. And I think there's another one up in the Puget Sound, like in Seattle. I think they have a smaller one.

[19:52] Jan: As in because even with you wouldn't have to be tanker. You could be cruise ship, yachts or any other.

[20:05] Erin: Yeah, there's so, many options. That's the other thing I didn't realize, because I just have my dad as a frame of reference, and there's so, many options.

[20:15] Jan: What does he do himself?

[20:16] Erin: He was the captain of the Oregon Responder when I was here.

[20:20] Erin: So, they were dockside most of my life, and it's a pretty small ship in terms of vessels, and yeah, I just had oil cleanup. Just my frame of reference. But yeah, getting into school and everything and seeing just how many different kinds of ships there are and all the different things they do. Yeah, it's cool. There's something for everyone, I think.

[20:43] Jan: All right, very good. Thank you, Erin.

[20:46] Erin: Thank you.

[20:50] Jan: If you enjoyed this or any other of my podcast episodes, it would be amazing if you would take a few minutes to leave a review so, others can find it. Transcripts are available on my website@jan-johnson.com. Please join me again next week.