What do you picture when you think of a sailor? What about a sea captain? If both images that sprang to mind were of men, it's proof that society still casts certain figures as men, even when the reality is much more diverse than that. 

When it comes to marine work, however, one woman is rewriting the casting sheet. 

Captain Sinéad Reen is the first female Master Mariner in Ireland, a distinction that takes between eight and nine years to achieve, with roles progressing from navigation officer to first mate. As such, she is the first woman to have risen through the ranks and been granted what is essentially "the top driving licences of ships." 

At the time of doing her Leaving Cert, no females were allowed to enter the navy so she decided that studying Nautical Science at Cork Institute of Technology was the next best option. Just a few years later, she was an experienced mercantile marine officer when the Naval Service started recruiting females, starting in 1994, with the first two female officers, Orlaith Farrell from Dublin and Roberta O’Brien from Co Tipperary, qualifying in 2000.

Although her path to the top was a meandering and often rocky one, she is adamant that there is a wave of female authority figures on the way. As she says: "Whilst maybe I did trailblaze, there’s plenty more behind me."

"We’ve got female Harbour Masters in Harbour Point and in Dungarvan.  We’ve got 2 recent graduates who received Intel Women in Technology awards and we’ve got 2 female undergraduates who have just been invited to Korea to see the launch of a brand new ship", she says, "all fantastic opportunities for these women". 

While new traditions are already in motion, as more and more women rise through the ranks, it's only natural that many would want to know how many mythical creatures Sinéad has seen on her travels. 

While we’re seeing changes, Sinéad told Derek that she had seen no mermaids yet, however, at sea, it’s easy for your imagination to take flight. She says she hasn't seen mermaids yet, but that at sea, it’s easy for your imagination to take flight.

"When you see the albatrosses flying around the ship you know they’re kind of like the lost souls of wandering seafarers so you always kind of look out for them…  You have a little bit of a grá for them."

Listen back to the interview above.