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  • Writer's pictureMallory Parks

Women Making Waves: An Interview with Katie Schenk

Updated: Mar 9

In honor of Women's History Month, we're thrilled to shine a spotlight on the incredible women who are choosing to live life while embracing the world of boating. Today, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Katie Schenk, a solo, female, trawler skipper with a passion for adventure and a love for the open water.


Let's dive into her inspiring journey and hear firsthand about her experiences, challenges, triumphs, and aspirations.



 

Q: Can you share a bit about your experience as a solo female boater? How did you get started, and what inspired you to pursue boating?


Schenk: I moved from Downtown Portland, OR to a floating home in Scappoose, OR right before the pandemic. Living near the water was always something I wanted but didn’t know how timely it was going to be given the need to quarantine soon after I moved. I bought a 19ft Bowrider just to have something with which I could run around on the Multnomah Channel, but then started getting envious of my neighbors going out for weekend cruises with their boating club. In April 2022, I bought a 31ft Camano Troll Trawler and christened her ‘Jimmie Kaye’ after both of my grandmothers. Since then, I’ve logged over 1600 NMs and almost 300 engine hours on the Columbia River.



My experience with boating as a child was mostly the lakes and rivers of Oklahoma and Arkansas on the family pontoon boat, so this size of boat is a first for me. I relied heavily on my broker and his wife, who just happen to also be my neighbors and great friends. He took me out for lessons so I could safely get in and out of the slip and they introduced me to NOTS Boating Club who have year-round planned cruises 1-2 times a month on the Columbia River. The club has been invaluable in supporting me as a solo woman on the river. They gave me the confidence I needed to start heading out on my own and exploring different parts of the river without the club.


It’s been such an empowering experience cruising the lower Columbia River on my own and meeting up with new friends I’ve made through boating.


Q: What does being on the water mean to you personally? How has boating enriched your life and provided unique experiences?


Schenk: Living and being on the water in any capacity reduces my stress, makes me feel closer to nature and more in tune with the changing seasons. I enjoy experiencing the salmon run and watching the seals and sea lions come further upriver. Seeing them, the numerous bald eagles and the various other wildlife is always special. It reminds me that I’m a guest along this water as this is truly their home and hunting grounds.


Q: Have you faced any specific challenges or triumphs as a female solo boater? Could you share an example or two?


Schenk: I will never forget my first cruise that I planned on my own and wasn’t with the boating club. I went to Riverplace Marina in Downtown Portland so I could work from my office for the week. I knew I wasn’t going to have any assistance with docking so I studied the marina map for hours the day before imagining the maneuver to get into the marina and hoping everything would go well. I was anxious about coming into a new slip by myself, in the middle of the city, and most likely with an audience. Everything went according to plan and just like I had imagined it. I coasted into the slip perfectly and even lassoed the cleat from my helm station window on the first try. I caught myself looking around to see if anyone else had noticed and was giving me a round of applause, but that didn’t seem to be the case. 😂


Another triumph was anchoring for the first time. I sought out help from a friend to give me a quick lesson on my boat so I could practice. He reassured me I could do this on my own. Last summer, I anchored off Tongue Point, just upriver from Astoria, OR. I got some advice on a spot with a sticky bottom so I wouldn’t have to worry about dragging or getting my anchor caught up. I stayed a week there and worked from my boat, surprised at how different the experience is when anchoring as compared to being tied up at the dock.


There have been some challenges, of course, and most of those are related to being a new boater altogether. Being a solo, woman boater, there are a lot of assumptions there is a man somewhere on the boat. I put a lot of pressure on myself on behalf of all women in boating because I don’t want to come into a dock and be the reason for anyone to say, “this is why women shouldn’t be at the helm”. I feel like women must do that much better just to be recognized at the dock.


Q: In what ways has boating positively impacted your life? Has it influenced your perspective on the world or yourself in any way?


Schenk: I consider myself a more introverted person and starting this hobby has really pulled me out of my comfort zone. I can research and learn on my own, but if I want to be a good mariner and boat owner, I have no choice but to ask for help and advice from those with more experience.


Q: What are your goals and aspirations regarding boating in the coming years? Are there any specific milestones or achievements you are aiming for?


Schenk: This summer, I'm trailering Jimmie Kaye to Olympia, WA, and dropping her into Puget Sound. I plan on spending 4 months cruising throughout the entire Sound and working remotely from my boat. I started planning this right when I bought the boat and for me, that’s part of the adventure. I’ve perused the Waggoner Guide extensively and talking to others that have made the trip North has reinforced my itinerary. I’m doing a combination of both marina stays and anchoring and I’m excited to be in a different environment and new water. I know it will be a challenge, but it’s going to be like nothing I’ve ever done before. In the future I’d also like to do the entirety of the Columbia River and I have long term visions of doing the Great Loop.



Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to women who are interested in getting into powerboating or solo boating?


Schenk: Find a supportive community that will be your cheerleaders. It might be a boating or yacht club, and it's essential to find the right fit. If you’re in the process of buying, ask the broker if they’ve worked with women before. Working with a broker you can trust will make the world of difference as you’re starting out.


Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your experiences as a female solo boater, or any message you would like to convey to aspiring female boaters?


Schenk: It would be wrong of me to not mention safety anywhere. Safety on the water is always critical but feels even more so when you’re single-handing. I always tell my network of friends and family my cruising plans and check in when I arrive, leave, or those plans change.

And truly, everyone should go at their own pace. It’s good to push yourself but also know your comfort and safety zone. It took me a year before I anchored out alone. I still don’t navigate from my flybridge helm when by myself because I feel safer at the lower helm. There may come a day when that changes, but I’m not going to sacrifice on my feeling safe.


 

As we wrap up our conversation with Katie, her journey as a solo female boater serves as a testament to the strength, resilience, and determination of women in the world of boating. Her story inspires us to embrace our passions, conquer challenges, and chart our own course on the open water.


To connect with Katie and follow her boating adventures, join her in the Women Who Sail and Power Cruise Pacific NW Facebook Group. She also recommends connecting with resources or communities in your area, like the local Coast Guard Auxiliary or Power Squadron, and taking advantage of local events like the Seattle Boat Show’s Women’s Day Seminar.



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