Interviewed by Susan Hanson
London is roughly 4,600 miles from Saint Helena, the remote British outpost in the South Atlantic where captain Belinda Bennett grew up. The distance is even further from the little girl who dreamed of worlds beyond her tiny island to the woman who became the cruise industry’s first black female captain. Bennett’s 25-year odyssey has taken her from deck cadet aboard a Royal Mail Ship to captain of Windstar Cruises’ 148-passenger Wind Star, and during a ceremony last fall, she received the 2018 Merchant Navy Medal for Meritorious Service from Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. We recently tracked the trailblazer down for a one-on-one.
Did you ever aspire to break new ground in the cruise industry?
Certainly I’m proud to have accomplished my personal goals. To be honest, though, I’m simply doing my job. It just happens to be as the first woman of color to master a cruise ship.
Were you always drawn to a life at sea?
In my younger years, I wanted to be a marine biologist. That all changed when I became a deck officer and got paid to travel to places I’d never heard of.
What sort of barriers or resistance have you encountered?
I’ve run into both racism and sexism over the years, but I have never let it be an issue. It’s not my problem, it’s theirs!
As captain, what has been your greatest reward?
My goal is always for good communication with the crew so they are happy and content. That, in turn, ensures our guests have an enjoyable, memorable time on board. I can’t think of a greater reward than that.
What do you love most about the Wind Star ?
Its intimate atmosphere – you get to actually meet and greet everyone, guests and crew alike. And there are some fabulous places that smaller cruise ships call at that you wouldn’t see on a larger vessel.
How has cruising changed over the years?
Recently I’ve noticed many younger people have started cruising, which is good. Travelers can disregard the notion that cruising is just for the more mature community.
One place that still gives you goosebumps when you sail there:
I do so love the Dalmatian Coast: Its ports are beautiful, especially the run up to Kotor in Montenegro.
What are some of your favorite souvenirs?
Anyone who has sailed with me knows I have a tradition in Sorrento of buying Italian leather handbags – emphasis on the plural! The hike up to town is rewarding, and carrying a beautiful handbag back down is icing on the cake.
What are a couple of wish-list destinations?
I hope to do an Alaskan cruise as a passenger later this year, and look forward to visiting down under in the near future.
What words of wisdom can you pass on to others about blazing their own trails?
Be a good communicator who’s able to talk and listen. It doesn’t matter what color, sex, or race you are — with hard work and dedication, you can accomplish whatever you want in life. If I can do it, so can you!
If you could invite one person onto your bridge?
Channing Tatum and Vin Diesel are welcome at any time.