Molly Kool of Alma New Brunswick the first woman in North America to earn her Captains papers.

1939

Myrtle Kool, known to everyone as Molly, was born in Alma, New Brunswick, in 1916, to a Dutch sea captain, Paul Kool, and his wife. Her father built and operated a scow the "Jean K.", named after Molly's older sister. As she grew older, Molly loved spending time on her father's scow. A scow is a small ship which is used to transfer cargo back and forth between ships anchored out in the Bay and the shore. Paul Kool's scow operated in the waters around Alma, Point Wolfe, Moncton, and sometimes traveled as far away as Boston. Molly often spent her summers working with her father, learning about the sea, and gaining valuable experience. 

Molly graduated from high school in the 1930's during the depression era when jobs were difficult to find, so she decided that the only thing she could do was to go to sea with her father. Molly loved the sea, and because she was a skilled sailor, intelligent, and strong minded she possessed all the qualifications required to become a captain. At the age of 21, she entered the Merchant Marine School in Saint John, but only after convincing them that she was capable. She was the only woman to ever attend the school. After receiving her Mate's Certificate, Molly was made a mate on her father's scow the "Jean K.".

The 'Jean K.' tied up at the wharf in Saint John, New Brunswick.
1940
Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

At first, some of the men who worked under her gave her a hard time, but they soon came to respect and admire her. Two years later, Molly graduated from the Merchant Marine Institute in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, after completing 3 papers (or tests) and an extensive harbour examination which simulated every situation she might encounter while at sea. It was not easy for Molly to get her Master's Certificate. The school appointed two hard boiled sea captains as examiners, to make sure she was qualified, but Molly passed with flying colours. Her experience sailing the difficult and dangerous waters of the Bay of Fundy made her more than qualified. She became the first woman in North America to become a deep sea Captain, and only the second woman in the world to obtain that title. She sent a telegram home saying "Call me Captain from now on."

Molly became famous and was invited to be interviewed on the Ripley's Believe It Or Not radio show. Her family was extremely proud of her, but she always remained very humble, saying she only did what she had to do.

Paul Kool then stepped down to allow his daughter to become Captain of the "Jean K.", he stayed on as mate until his retirement. Following her father's retirement Molly remained Captain of the ‘Jean K.' until her retirement, when her brother took over command of the ship. During her career, she experienced at least three shipwrecks. One wreck occurred in Moncton when a Norwegian captain told her to move her ship which was tied up at the wharf She refused to give up her berth and the Captain first tried to jam the ship into the dock. He then offered Molly money to move the ship. When she refused he rammed the ship bow on, which cut the lines of the ‘Jean K.', setting it adrift. Molly ordered her men to jump off the boat because she had no way to pilot the ship and was worried that the ship would drift into the Petitcodiac Bridge and be destroyed. The tidal currents in this part of the river can be quite dangerous and a ship that could not be maneuvered could easily have been smashed into the bridge or run aground on the river banks and been destroyed. When Molly ordered her crew to abandon ship the Norwegian Captain became afraid that a lot of damage might be done to the boat, so he ordered his men to board the vessel and cast off the anchors. That attempt was not successful, but luckily for him the boat grounded itself on a nearby river bank, with little damage being done. Molly and her father later successfully sued the Norwegian for the damage that was caused. In another incident, the ‘Jean K.' collided with another boat. The impact caused Molly to fall overboard and she was dragged under the boat. Molly swam under the boat and up the other side where she was thrown a life jacket, but she refused the life jacket and instead swam until she found some lumber to hold onto until she was rescued. In another incident, a fire caused by a gasoline explosion destroyed the engine room, the cabin, and the wheel house of the ship, along with everything Molly owned except for the clothes on her back.

Molly's career came to an end when the ‘Jean K.' caught fire. It was towed to Maine for repairs and Molly had expected to return to the sea when the repairs were completed. However, the break from the sea made Molly realize that she was ready for a change. Molly quit going to sea, got married and now enjoys her retirement years living in Maine.