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Meet Second Officer Aafke Bergsma

Second Officer Aafke Bergsma

Do you ever wonder who drives the ship while the captain is not on the bridge? One of the “watch keepers,” formally known on board as a “deck officer,” is Second Officer Aafke Bergsma from Rotterdam. She is one of only 17 female deck officers in the 14-ship Holland America Line fleet and the only woman in Eurodam’s Deck Department.

Aafke is used to being the only female, as the lone girl among five brothers. She also was one of only two women in her graduating class of 25 at Rotterdam Nautical College.

“I am just one of the guys, and it is a novelty, but also a downside as I would like to have another woman colleague and friend with me,” Aafke said. “It’s a shame there are not more women in this line of work.”

Aafke comes from a family of seafarers. Her grandfather was a pilot in Holland, and she recalls riding with him on pilot boats. Although she was fascinated by water as a youth, she admits that she also was afraid of it. She overcame her fear with some unwelcome assistance.

“While we were on a lake, my father put me in a sailboat and just pushed it away and there I went,” Aafke recalled. “The more difficult something is for me to get, the more I want it. The freedom of overcoming something such as fear is a great feeling of success.”

Her training included eight years of school and then another four years of schooling and licensure. She completed cadet training on a cargo ship, then joined Holland America Line. In five years Aafke quickly rose through the ranks of fourth and third officer, and is serving her first term as second officer.

As second officer, Aafke is responsible for the administrative side of navigation such as charting Eurodam’s course on navigational charts.

“There is still much manual planning, like telling the computer where to go,” she said.”Not all is done by GPS.”

She also calculates Eurodam’s sailing speed, calculating distances so the chief engineer can order fuel and plan engine maintenance. The second officer also advises the captain of arrival times so he can order pilots in each port, provides the “From the Navigator” information for the daily program, and inputs navigation information into the chart pilot computer system and the navigational display available on stateroom televisions. In addition, Aafke trains the crew in safety and lifesaving, and maintenance of lifeboats and navigation equipment.

She says her favorite part of the job is “watch-keeping and navigating, being on the bridge and sailing the ship with 3,000 souls on board.”

Aafke even met Queen Beatrix during the naming ceremony in Rotterdam.

“That was very exciting and special for me being from the Netherlands,” she said. “We had a short conversation and she asked if I was the only female officer and where I went to school. It was the icing on the cake for me!”

Aafke says she wants to become a pilot and follow in the footsteps of her grandfather.

For Aafke Bergsma, sailing is not just a job, it’s a way of life, and she enthusiastically encourages more women to go to sea to experience the adventure.

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