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InsightWomen at the Helm: Jen Lyle’s maritime milestones

Women at the Helm: Jen Lyle’s maritime milestones

At the age of eight, Jen Lyle told her mum that one day she would sail on the Young Endeavour – a sail training ship offering a unique and challenging experience for young Australians. Jen’s childhood dream became a reality when she sailed from Sydney to Brisbane as part of the Young Endeavour Youth Scheme crew. The journey sparked Jen’s lifelong love of tall ship sailing.

In 2008, armed with a post-graduate diploma in museum studies, Jen joined the volunteer crew of the James Craig – a fully restored tall ship originally launched in 1874. Now part of the Sydney Heritage Fleet, the James Craig is a three-masted, iron-hulled barque that serves as both a museum and a functional sailing vessel. Since joining its crew, Jen has logged more than 4,650 volunteer hours, covered over 5,000 nautical miles, and obtained her Certificate I in Maritime Operations.

In 2013, Jen – by then a skilled sailor – returned to the Young Endeavour as part of the 2013 Fleet Review and International Tall Ships Race. It marked one of the longest voyages of her career, spanning from Sydney to Auckland and 1330 nautical miles (2463.16km).

Since 2014, Jen has held the position of Watch Leader on the James Craig. Her responsibilities include leading the crew in sail evolutions and training activities, as well as developing and leading sail training programs for the crew and other groups like The Helmsman Program and the Australian Defence Force Academy.

In 2018, on International Women’s Day, Jen led the first-ever all-female watch, with the historic occasion celebrated in the media: “Forty per cent of the crew on the day were women, and 100 per cent of the main watch were women, ably led by their watch leader Jen Lyle.”

Over 16 years on the James Craig, Jen has shared the unique joy and experience of tall ship sailing with countless visitors while imparting her knowledge to numerous crew members. “Leading a crew of volunteers from a diverse range of ages, backgrounds, and with various levels of sailing experience can be a challenge, but it’s also genuinely rewarding when you can sail safely across Bass Strait or into Sydney Harbour after experiencing either challenging weather or smooth sailing with all 21 sails set.”

This year, as the James Craig celebrates its 150th birthday, Jen will spend her time raising awareness of the ship’s plight. “The main benefactor of the James Craig, Robert Albert from Albert Music, recently passed away. Albert contributed around $500,000 over the years. We’re now facing challenges and need sustained backing to keep the James Craig afloat.”

If Jen’s determination and drive are any indication, we’re confident that she and her fellow crew will be successful in their mission to preserve this incredible part of Australia’s history for many years to come.