Women on the Waterfront: Katherine Pogue

By Vanessa Chin, Maritime Washington Storytelling Intern

“I’ve made the best friends that I’ve ever had in my life through this job. That’s, I think, the actual number one. The boats are really cool, sailing the boats are a lot of fun, sunsets are beautiful; all of that happens, but it’s the people that really make it worthwhile.”

Katherine Pogue, Captain of the Lady Washington

For as much as she feels at home on ships, Katherine Pogue did not grow up sailing. Her love of boats began during a 5th grade field trip to the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Katherine continually found herself drawn to the museum throughout her childhood and started volunteering there doing ship maintenance when she turned 16. She eventually was able to join the crew, and since then, sailing has been all she’s wanted to do.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in history, Katherine bounced around the country gaining sailing experience by working on a search boat and several tall ships. Now, as a tall ship captain, she draws upon her love of history and sailing to transport visitors back to a time when tall ships were the height of maritime technology.

Katherine Pogue in front of the Lady Washington. Photo by Vanessa Chin.
The Lady Washington exits Point Hudson on the last day of Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Festival in 2022.

From May through September, Katherine directs the crew of the Lady Washington, a full-scale replica of the original 18th century ship that was the first American vessel to sail around Cape Horn and make landfall on North America’s west coast in 1788. The official ship of Washington State, the modern-day Lady Washington was built and launched in 1989 as part of the Washington State Centennial celebration and is owned by Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport in Aberdeen.

As captain, Katherine’s job aboard the ship is to navigate to, from, and around Puget Sound: “I’m looking at the bigger, broader picture of where the boat is in space and trying to maneuver so that we’re going in the right direction.” Working under Katherine are several tiers of crewmembers who then run around the ship to pull on lines and move the sails to follow her direction. She says that while “it looks all like a maze of string and ropes…it’s just a very perfectly made machine for what they had at the time.”

During the off-season, Katherine makes plans for the next year. This includes selecting which ports to visit, reserving moorage dates at those ports, answering emails, and hiring the seasonal crew. While rare in the overall maritime industry, the number of female crew members and even captains is surprisingly high in the small world of tall ships. It is also rare for a crew member to work more than one season on a particular ship. However, more than half of last year’s crew will be coming back this season, including one of the office cats, Marlin.

Marlin the office cat warming up on a cold March day. Photo by Vanessa Chin.

If you’re curious about tall ship sailing or just want to enjoy a beautiful sunset on the sound, you can buy voyage tickets here. More information on educational programs aboard the Lady Washington, including K-12 field trips and a two-week hands-on volunteership, can be found on Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport’s website.

All Stories