At home on a stormy sea

Johanna Loos, Anna Toontjies and Celeste Swartbooi are three of the women who work on Harvest Krotoa. Their crew mate, Rafieka Visagie was on shore leave when this photograph was taken.

In 2007, Sea Harvest became the first fishing company in South Africa to offer women the opportunity to work at sea and Johanna Loos, who had worked in the company’s fish processing plant in Saldanha for 18 years at the time, was one of the first women to take up the opportunity.

Johanna Loos, pictured in the galley (kitchen) of Harvest Krotoa.

“It was always my dream to work at sea,” reflects Johanna, who is fondly called “Mumsy” by her crew mates on Harvest Krotoa. Speaking in Afrikaans, with a characteristic west coast lilt, Johanna remembers:

“When I was working in the factory in Saldanha, I would see the fishermen coming from sea, and I always thought to myself, if the company gives me the opportunity, I would love to work at sea.”

Johanna was one of a group of 30 women who in 2007 were trained and prepared to work in Sea Harvest’s ship-board factories.

“My motive was always to make a better life for my family,” says Johanna, explaining that the wages for sea going factory workers are higher than for those who work ashore.

Anna Toontjies, at work in the fish factory of Harvest Krotoa

From the first day that she worked at sea, Johanna enjoyed the work and was curious to find out everything she could about the operation of a fishing trawler. Today, a ten-year veteran, she has developed a deep love for the sea and her way of life. She has also smoothed the way for other women to work at sea, as her friend and colleague, Anna Toontjies, describes.

“I was terribly seasick,” says Anna of the first time she worked at sea, “but Mumsy looked after me, she got me through it.”

Anna is dwarfed by the male crew mates who stand side-by-side with her in the fish factory of Harvest Krotoa, but she is valued for her skill and efficiency in sorting and handling hake, kingklip and other species she helps to process every time the net is hauled.

The diminutive Anna has worked at sea for six years and in this time she has overcome debilitating seasickness and a fear of storms at sea. She is fond of her crewmates and happy with the life she leads on Harvest Krotoa.

“We are like a family,” she reflects. “We are very comfortable with each other and have a very good understanding on board, especially with our captain. We can talk to him and he is always there to solve our problems.”

For Anna, the best thing about working at sea is the experience of travel – she enjoys visiting the different ports where she sometimes joins the vessel and she likes seeing the different types of fish that are caught.

Another valuable member of Harvest Krotoa’s fish processing team is Celeste Witbooi who is proud to be continuing her father’s legacy by working at sea:

“My father was a fisherman,” she says, “when they asked me at school what I wanted to do for a living, I replied that I wanted to be a fisherman! So I went to Sea Harvest and I gave them my CV and I didn’t stop asking if I could work at sea until they gave me the opportunity!”

Celeste Witbooi is pictured with a very large specimen of the deep-sea fish John Dory.

Celeste has worked at sea for the past seven years and in that time she has had an opportunity to work on deck and in the fish factory. She would like the opportunity to train as an officer.

“There is no woman bosun, mate or skipper,” she says pointedly, “that is the next step for us, to get training, to be given a chance.”

Although the three factory workers acknowledge that their choice of career is unusual for women, they believe it is the right choice for each of them.

Says Anna: “My family don’t really understand the work I do at sea, but my father was a musician and he was known as ‘’n man van durf en daad’ (an adventurer, a man of action). Now I just tell my family, ‘ek is vrou van durf en daad’ (I am an adventurer, a woman of action).”