According to an old naval superstition, a woman on board is a recipe for bad luck. A long time ago, in the times of sailing boats, the presence of ladies at sea was treated as “devil’s ballast.” Sailors, believing that a ship embodies a woman, were afraid of her jealousy and anger for other women walking on board. The more superstitious ones carefully scraped and put salt on ladies’ footprints left when a ship anchored in the harbor and women finally could see their beloved men on board. “Today they would have a lot of scraping,” laughs Captain Katarzyna Mazurek, the first Polish woman in command of a naval unit. In the Polish Navy alone there are currently about 350 women (4.3% of the Navy). And this number has been growing steadily since military schools in Poland opened their doors to women in 1999.
Nobody would’ve thought that Kasia will be the icon of this revolution. It was almost 500 kilometres to the Baltic Sea from Warsaw’s district of Rembertów where she grew up. “The only association with sea I had, was sun and relaxation in Chałupy, a famous communist beach resort, where we used to spend holidays with our parents,” says Captain Mazurek today. Love for water came later, when her older brother started studying at the Naval Academy in Gdynia. “He came home and talked about the adventures he had during his practice hours on ships, about the foreign ports he visited. These stories seduced me. When I graduated from high school, after many years of training exclusively for men, the Naval Academy started to recruit women for the first time in history. Maybe it’s a sign, I thought and applied,” recalls the captain. Out of 107 girls accepted, only six started studies. As it soon appeared, their presence were a little problematic for lecturers. “During the conversations with us you could see the uncertainty on their faces, after all, for the past 100 years the school was open for boys only, including teachers and students,” explains Katarzyna. “But after a few months, the teachers understood that we are not too different from our male peers, that we will succeed too”.