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First American woman to captain cruise ship sets sail

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Posted at 10:39 AM, Sep 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-21 10:39:39-04

The first American female cruise ship captain set sail Sunday at the helm of the Celebrity Summit.

Kate McCue will command the 91,000 ton ship with more than 2,000 passengers and a crew of almost 1,000 as it makes a trek to New England and Canada.

“Everyone has a stereotypical idea of a captain and I’m missing some pounds. I don’t have entirely gray hair. I don’t have a beard or a parrot but I think when the guests meet me they’re pleasantly surprised,” McCue told CBS This Morning.

The 37-year-old began at 3:30 in the morning with a non-stop series of inspections and checklists, including making sure the cabins were ready, the galley was fired up, and most importantly, ensuring a smooth and safe voyage for her guests.

McCue’s dream to command her own vessel began at the age of 12 when she took her first family cruise to the Bahamas. She said when she told her dad that she wanted to be a cruise director, he gave her the response that would change her life.

“He said, ‘You can do anything you want in the world, including drive this thing,'” she said.

She started as a cadet at the California Maritime Academy in 1996 when men at the school outnumbered women 15 to one. Nineteen years and 10 ships later, she is now a maritime master in charge of her own ship.

When McCue first learned that she had been certified to become captain, she broke the news to her father first.

“I asked for special permission to tell my dad on Father’s day…and when he finished the letter he looked up at me and then he looked back down at me,” she said. “Then he said, ‘Captain.’ Tears were streaming down his face.”

Captaining cruise ships still remains a profession dominated by men. But McCue’s boss, the first female chief executive of Celebrity Cruise Lines, said she hopes McCue’s example would “makes girls and women raise their hands and say, ‘yeah, I think I’d like to do this too.'”

“I think this is the greatest job in the world…traveling, meeting all these people, getting paid for it. It’s amazing,” said McCue. “And being the boss.”

Despite making history, McCue is following at least one maritime tradition of ship captains before her.

“Well every sailor has to have a tattoo, right? So this is mine,” she said, revealing hers. “This is my anchoring to keep me grounded. And then I have my compass rose, my ship’s wheel, see where I’m going.”