Seafaring Life Suits Sisters Stacy, Samantha

March 2010

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Although it’s not every day that one sees two sisters working together in the deck department aboard the same vessel, it should come as no surprise that ABs Stacy Murphy and Samantha Murphy-Ortiz each found a home in the SIU.

That’s because the sisters hail from an SIU family. Their father, Richard Murphy, along with a half-dozen cousins and uncles all are or were members of the union. At various times, all of them also upgraded at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md. – experiences which helped lead Samantha and Stacy to the school’s unlicensed apprentice program.

Samantha graduated with more than a certificate – she met her eventual husband, AB Hector Ortiz (then a fellow trainee), at the school, thereby adding to the SIU family legacy.

Like so many of their other family members, the sisters, who ship from the Houston hall, have returned to Piney Point for additional training. Both say they would recommend the union, school and industry to individuals looking for career opportunities.

For Samantha (who also recently earned a 1,600-ton mate’s license) and Stacy, the ultimate professional goal is to follow in their father’s footsteps and become harbor pilots. Richard Murphy has been a pilot for Alaska Marine Pilots Association since 1990.

Samantha also is continuing with part-time modeling work “for fun and for extra money when I’m off the ship.”

But it all begins at the Paul Hall Center, say Stacy and Samantha, who are natives of Aransas Pass, Texas. Foundation at Piney Point Stacy enrolled in Class 644 and graduated in 2004 “because it’s the quickest way to get into the industry, know if you’re going to like it and not have to depend on anyone,” she recalls.

Stacy’s achievement inspired her sister, who arrived at the school later that year and also graduated in 2004 (Class 655), but both of them already had been influenced by their father long before traveling to the southern Maryland campus.

“He grew up dirt poor and got into the maritime industry as a teenager so he could better his life,” Samantha states. “He always told us both to do whatever we wanted, but he also told us that maritime was a really good career choice.”

Adds Stacy, “He used to take us for rides when he was a tugboat captain. He taught us to never give up and to pursue your goals. He showed us that no matter where you come from, you can make something of yourself as long as you work hard.”

That message obviously got through, notes Recertified Bosun Tom Minton, who recently sailed with the sisters on the USNS Benavidez.

“Their abilities and their willingness to learn really stand out,” says Minton, who has been sailing for 41 years. “They are very good crane operators and they’re fun to work with. Most of all, they just have the right attitude – they understand that the only way to get anywhere is through hard work. They always help me out greatly.”

Attitudes Change with Times
Both the bosun and the sisters say that most mariners nowadays seemingly take it in stride when females are part of the crew, even though it’s still a mostly male industry.

“Most people are really accepting, open and nice,” Samantha says. “Some of the guys treat us differently at first until they see we’re hard workers.”

Both sisters describe the merchant marine as a great career choice, but they also caution that it’s not easy.

“Especially if you’re female, you have to be strong,” Stacy advises. “You have to not let things bother you, and let your work do the talking. But it’s a great way to go. For one thing, we both make more money than all of our friends” who work in other fields. “I personally love it when we set sail and you’re just surrounded by nothing but water,” Samantha says. “I also like the navigation aspect of it. And even though you‘re confined to the ship, there’s an element of freedom.”

Stacy agrees, saying she enjoys “being out there in the middle of the sea. Plus we both like being outside – that’s something we realized right away.”

Not Quite Moonlighting
There’s little doubt that shipboard life has become more inviting to women than it was 20 or 30 years ago. The industry has changed in other ways, too, especially in terms of additional government regulations.

Altogether, the trends have blurred if not extinguished old stereotypes of merchant seafarers. Still, whatever might qualify as the standard image of today’s U.S. mariner, it certainly doesn’t involve bikinis or leopard-print miniskirts. On that front, Samantha’s part-time modeling is unusual and maybe even groundbreaking.

She began modeling in her mid-teens when someone approached her with the idea. In the approximately 10 years that have followed, she graduated from a modeling program based in Corpus Christi, Texas, and has built a long and very diverse list of “photo shoots,” live runway shows and other assignments. Showing off everything from handbags to lingerie, from wedding dresses to tequila, and from hair styles to fitness equipment, Samantha has covered lots of ground.

Despite the potential lure, however, she isn’t interested in abandoning her maritime goals for more work as a model.

“It’s not as glamorous as it looks,” Samantha explains. “There’s a lot of sacrifice that comes with modeling in the big time. People say you’re away from your family as a mariner, but it’s much worse in modeling if you accept one of those jobs.

“It’s also a lot of hard work,” she continues. “I took my sister with me once, and Stacy basically said the pictures were awesome but it took forever. It’s fun, but it’s difficult.”

Her avocation isn’t something Samantha routinely mentions to fellow Seafarers. “The only people on the ships who know about the modeling are the ones I’ve built up friendships with,” she says. “I don’t just freely offer that information, but they all think it’s really cool and they are supportive.”

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