May 30, 2022
Introducing the second graduate in our Canadian marine education series, Bronwynn Whiteley. Born in Masset, Haida Gwaii, Bronwynn grew up near Ladysmith, Vancouver Island and has been actively on the water her entire life.
Here is her inspiring interview about her experiences in the marine industry, and not to mention some incredible personal stories from out on the Pacific Ocean.
Name: Bronwynn Whiteley
School: Vancouver Island University
Program: Motorcycle Mechanic & Marine Technician
Graduating Year: 2021
What is your background in the marine industry? Tell us a bit about how you got into the industry.
Both of my late grandfathers were seamen. Axel Ostrom was a deep-sea fisherman with his boat, the Karen O, built in Coal Harbour in 1963, and my dad’s father Bob Whiteley was a sailor. I’ve been messing around on boats since I was a kid.
After working for years as a chef, I chose to change careers and pursue another passion, the sea. So, I became a skipper. I got my licenses and operated passenger ferries for The Aquabus in False Creek, Vancouver where I worked as Dock Watch and Lead Hand doing radio communication. I also took the opportunity to learn boat and engine maintenance.
Bronwynn and her grandpa Axel Ostrom on the Karen O in 1987
Why did you choose Vancouver Island University?
Two reasons. First, proximity to my family. When I was laid off due to the pandemic in March of 2020, I chose to go back to university. I lived away from Vancouver Island for 17 years so decided returned home to Nanaimo to re-establish a life here.
Secondly, I liked the prospect of a multi-focused learning environment. Engines have always fascinated me and I wanted the skills to fix them all. I’m focused on a marine career, but I also want to be sufficient in motorcycle maintenance since I plan to do an American bike trip one day. So, I passed my class 6 motorcycle license, got an old 1980s Yamaha, and rebuilt it during the program.
What was your path after graduation and what are you currently doing now?
I began my apprenticeship as a Marine Technician when I graduated and entered the work force at Stones Boatyard in Nanaimo. I recently transitioned to work that uses both my marine tech skills as well as my skippers’ certificates. I’m going to be returning to school in 2023.
What kind of practical experience did you get through your program?
I worked on over a dozen different outboards, performing carb cleans, head work, lower leg rebuilds and more. I took apart chainsaws, pressure washers, lawn mowers and I assisted classmates with inboard-outboard drives in power boats.
We did a week of TIG and MIG welding which was exciting to learn. I brought two different motorcycles into the class shop and worked on the clutch assembly, transmission, efi systems, valve adjustment, brakes, the list is endless. The school has a bone-room of engine parts that we were able to access.
One thing you learned or experienced in your program that you were unexpecting?
I learned that I have a knack for precision measurement and metalwork. I also had a breakthrough in my comprehension of math! I always thought of numbers as abstract concepts separate from the material world, unapproachable and obtuse. But while completing a project where we measured the diameter of combustion chamber cylinders to 1000th of an inch, I understood how math represents reality and allows us to perceive the actual shape of physical objects in a way that our eyes and hands are not capable of seeing.
What was a highlight of your program?
Academically, my highlight was when I fully understood the combustion cycle of a 2 and 4-stroke engine and could explain the entire functional flow of the machine from fuel to propulsion in layman’s terms to my non-mechanically inclined friends. It was a treat to get to hang out with real live people in a shop environment during the pandemic.
Bronwynn and her crewmate Ben on the Paramour 2 in 2013 with a freshly caught Mahi Mahi
What is one piece of advice you could give someone entering the marine industry?
Carry a sharp knife on your belt! You never know when you’ll end up in the drink with your legs wrapped in rope. A sharp, strong, easily accessible utility knife is your best friend for countless reasons, in the engine room and on the water.
Industry wise, follow your interests! The marine world is full of different opportunities.
What do you hope to accomplish in the marine industry?
I plan on leveling up both my Marine Tech skills as well as my Skippers certs. I hope to become a Master in charge of larger vessels and to ultimately be employable for my wide range of skills with boat and engine maintenance and my navigation experience.
I’d like to continue to explore the vast coastlines of our ocean all around the world while being involved with crews who share like-minded passions, such as with Marine Biologists and Nature Documentary film makers. I ultimately plan to circumnavigate the globe in my own sailboat and teach others how to enjoy life at sea.
Are you a power boater, sailor, or both?
My favourite boats are sail or paddle powered, especially sailing skiffs, row boats, and canoes. I like being physically engaged with the elements. A purring motor is a fine thing but I prefer to hear the sound of the water on the hull and wind in the sails.
Your fondest memory out on the water?
In 2013, I sailed from Hawaii to Haida Gwaii on a 4-person crew. A few hundred nautical miles out, sailing northeast, I was on night watch as my crew mates slept. We were clipping along at 7 knots heeling hard to port. It was a new moon, not a cloud in sight and I was braced in the cockpit looking past my feet at the ocean below… and the foaming churning sea was aglow with phosphorescence! In every direction the midnight sky was washed in the brightest stars I’d ever seen. That was incredible.
Allegra Smith-Herriot is a recent (Sport Media) graduate (from Ryerson University) as well as an active sailor and power boater on Georgian Bay. She can be reached at email@example.com