I&J veteran is Skipper of the Month

I&J veteran is Skipper of the Month

Andrew Steenkamp, Skipper of the I&J fresh fish trawler, Freesia, is the latest SADSTIA skipper to be nominated as Skipper of the Month.

Andrew, who has worked for I&J for 40 years, was nominated by Johann Botha, Head of Trawling at I&J who says: “As a skipper Andrew is very professional, disciplined and environmentally conscious. He has the respect of his officers, crew and peers and really cares about I&J – the people, the brand, the vessels, everything.”

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An illustrious 40-year career at sea

If you step aboard the fresh fish trawler, Freesia, you will be met by one of I&J’s most experienced skippers: lean, bright-eyed Andrew Steenkamp who on January 5 this year marked an illustrious 40-year career.

The veteran skipper is clearly at home on the bridge. As he quickly and efficiently responds to the queries of his crew who are preparing for sea, or answers a question on the radio, Andrew admits that over time fishing has become “second nature” and he doesn’t feel the stress that many of his colleagues in the industry say is a feature of their day-to-day lives: the stress of responsibility and expectation. 

Andrew’s comfort on the bridge may also be related to the feeling he has developed for the Freesia, a vessel he has skippered for the past 10 years, working side-by-side with his long-standing friend and colleague, First Mate, Mervin Wolhuter, with whom he has worked since the two were first employed at I&J as Deck Cadets in 1976.

“I’ve sailed the whole fleet at I&J and this is my favourite vessel,” he says with a smile, “I will retire from this vessel.”

Andrew turns 60 this year and is starting to discuss his retirement with his family, but for now he remains a key member of I&J’s fishing team and a figure that many, including his managers, turn to for advice or an opinion. After 40 years of working at sea, Andrew’s knowledge is invaluable, but in common with many others in his profession, his first experience of working at sea was difficult and disheartening. When he first stepped aboard a fishing trawler in the mid-1970s, he was fresh out of high school and troubled by some of irresponsible behaviour he encountered. It was his mother who encouraged him to persist with his chosen career.

She told him: “go back to sea, you can save people’s lives” and she encouraged him to work hard and get the training and experience that would help him to change the risky practises of the fishing crews of the time.  Her words proved to be prophetic: not only has Andrew been a mentor for younger officers as they studied and qualified, he has also been at the scene of several accidents at sea and participated in the successful rescue of scores of fishermen.

Andrew achieved his skipper’s ticket in 1983, only six years after his first fishing voyage. He trained and qualified with Abe Thomas, now a SAMSA surveyor, and Roy Diedericks, a skipper with Viking Fishing. The experience of working and learning together as young men has forged strong ties between these three friends. 

“We are like brothers,” says Andrew.

A year after qualifying as a skipper, Andrew took command of the I&J trawler, Pioneer. Since then, he has experienced all the wonders and difficulties of working at sea, and yet he still knows the thrill of a good day’s fishing:

“I love my job,” says Andrew, “especially big bags of fish!”

Andrew pays tribute to his wife Karin, a retired schoolteacher, who worked hard to raise their two children, Arlen (25) and Sheena (20) while he was away at sea.

“I must give credit to my wife, she was part of this 40 year career,” says Andrew. “For the duration of our marriage I have worked at sea and I am looking forward to spending more time with her when I retire.”

Andrew was nominated as Skipper of the Month by Johann Botha, Head of Trawling at I&J’s Cape Town Fishing division, who says: “As a skipper Andrew is very professional, disciplined and environmentally conscious. He has the respect of his officers, crew and peers and really cares about I&J: the people, the brand, the vessels, everything.”

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